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Everything’s Bigger in Big-Screen Texas
John Sayles’ Lone Star hit theaters 20 years ago Tuesday, on June 21, 1996. In honor of the classic indie’s two-decade anniversary, we’ve compiled a list of 25 of our favorite quintessentially Texan movies, from football dramas to classic Westerns. Check out our list of Lone Star State flicks ahead!
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Lone Star (1996)
Chris Cooper stars as the sheriff investigating a murder in the 1996 border town mystery, for which writer-director John Sayles picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Frances McDormand has a memorable scene as an obsessive football fan (because would it truly be a Texas movie without one?), and a little-known actor named Matthew McConaughey appears in a small but significant role early in the film.
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The Last Picture Show (1971)
Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, and Cybill Shepherd star as teenagers living in the hopelessly tiny North Texas town of Anarene in the early 1950s in Peter Bogdanovich’s evocative coming-of-age drama. Shot in bleak black-and-white, the classic picked up eight Oscar nominations, winning two, and ranks among our favorite high school movies of all time.
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Giant is just that — clocking in at over three hours and featuring legendary performances from megastars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean in the final role before his death, George Stevens’ epic Western is a thing of truly Texan proportions. The film follows the life of a Texas family over almost three decades, beginning in the 1920s and lasting through the end of WWII. Stevens won the Oscar for Best Director, and the film racked up nine other nominations, including honors for Hudson and Dean.
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Red River (1948)
Howard Hawks’ epic Western stars John Wayne and Montgomery Clift as two Texas ranchers who conduct the first cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail. The film is renowned as one of the greatest of its genre, and in a true testament to its Texan legacy, Peter Bogdanovich chose it to be the last picture shown in The Last Picture Show’s ill-fated movie theater.
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When native Texan Richard Linklater isn’t following Jesse and Celine around European cities, he often puts the action of his films right back in his home state. His 12-years-in-the-making opus Boyhood, which documents the life of a Texas boy (Ellar Coltrane) from childhood to his first day of college, collected six Oscar nominations, including a win for Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette.
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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s shockingly violent horror classic, which was shot in Texas and starred mostly unknown local actors, introduced the world to Gunnar Hansen’s terrifying Leatherface; spawned a series of sequels, prequels, and remakes; and stands as one of the most influential horror films of all time.
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Paul Newman is Hud, the selfish son of a righteous cattle farmer, in Martin Ritt’s Hud, in which the title character’s young nephew must choose, in a moment of crisis, whether to side with his arrogant uncle or virtuous grandfather. The Western picked up seven Oscar nominations and won three, including for Best Actress Patricia Neal and Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas.
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Blood Simple (1984)
Blood Simple begins with the ominous voiceover: “In Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else — that’s the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas. And down here, you’re on your own.” The Coen brothers made their debut with this bloody Texas noir, which starred Frances McDormand in her first feature film role and took home the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1985.
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Friday Night Lights (2004)
Two years before the series of the same name hit TV, Billy Bob Thornton starred in Peter Berg’s big-screen adaptation of Buzz Bissinger’s nonfiction book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, which examines the football-obsessed culture of a tiny Texas town. One of our favorite high school movies, the football drama also features Garrett Hedlund, Tim McGraw, and even Tami Taylor herself, Connie Britton.
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Urban Cowboy (1980)
Nashville doesn’t have a complete monopoly on country music movies: James Bridges’ romance stars John Travolta and Debra Winger as a couple in a tumultuous relationship, the ups and downs of which play out against the backdrop of a Texas honky-tonk. Hot off the successes of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, Travolta showcased versatility on the dance floor in Urban Cowboy, busting out some country moves for the Texan drama.
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The Alamo (1960)
John Wayne produced, directed, and starred as Davy Crockett in this historical epic about the Battle of the Alamo. The film was exceptionally costly for the time and is full of historical inaccuracies, but was a deeply personal project for the legendary actor. Remember it!
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Places in the Heart (1984)
It was when Sally Field won an Oscar for her performance in Places in the Heart that she delivered her now-famous acceptance speech, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!” She starred in the film as a mother in Depression-era small-town Texas who must save the family farm after the death of her husband.
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Richard Linklater has done his part to keep Austin weird: The beloved filmmaker (and Texas native) first hit the Sundance scene 25 years ago with understated slice-of-life Slacker, which documents a day in the lives of a collection of weirdos and misfits in Austin.
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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway starred in Arthur Penn’s iconic film about the outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, who have since been elevated to a legendary status in the American cultural imagination. Bonnie and Clyde is an essential entry in the 1960s–'70s New Hollywood cinema, and it won two Oscars out of ten total nominations.
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Tender Mercies (1983)
Robert Duvall won an Oscar for his performance in Tender Mercies, in which he plays a washed-up country singer struggling with alcoholism; Tess Harper co-stars as the young widow who helps him turn his life around, and Betty Buckley plays his ex-wife. The Bruce Beresford-directed drama also picked up an Original Screenplay Oscar in addition to three other nominations.
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Varsity Blues (1999)
“In America we have laws. Laws against killing, laws against stealing. And it’s just accepted that, as a member of American society, you will live by these laws. In West Canaan, Texas, there is another society, which has its own laws. Football is a way of life.” So begins Brian Robbins’ Varsity Blues, which stars James Van Der Beek as a reluctant high school football star who dreams of leaving West Canaan forever. Jon Voight plays the team’s cruel coach, Paul Walker is the golden boy quarterback, and Ali Larter is the cheerleader wearing the whipped cream bikini.
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No Country for Old Men (2007)
More than 20 years after their first Texas movie Blood Simple, the Coen brothers returned to the Lone Star State for their Best Picture-winning Western thriller No Country for Old Men, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem (in an Oscar-winning performance) get caught up in a whirlwind of violence in the West Texas desert after one man stumbles upon a fortune left behind from a botched drug deal.
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Office Space (1999)
It may not make use of any of the more recognizable cinematic iconography of the Lone Star State, but Mike Judge’s cult classic Office Space rings very true for a certain contemporary Texan experience. The cynical workplace comedy speaks to the corporate culture of software companies of the 1990s, when much of the industry was based in Austin.
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The Searchers (1956)
John Ford’s 19th-century drama stars John Wayne as a Civil War veteran determined to track down his abducted niece, played by Natalie Wood. While the Texas-set classic was filmed in Arizona and Utah and was technically not, in fact, made in Texas, The Searchers is constantly cited as one of the best Westerns — and in fact one of the greatest films — ever made, so we’ll give it a pass.
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Paris, Texas (1984)
Wim Wenders’ strange Paris, Texas opens with Harry Dean Stanton wandering out of the desert wordlessly. Over the course of the film, he reunites with his brother, son, and wife in a journey that takes him across Texas, making extensive use of the state's visual iconography. The drama was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1984.
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Dazed and Confused (1993)
Richard Linklater followed up Slacker with this iconic coming-of-age comedy, which ranks in the top five of our 50 favorite high school movies of all time. The movie helped to launch the careers of Ben Affleck and Linklater’s fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey (who also appears on this list three times!). Alright, alright, alright.
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Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013)
David Lowery’s romantic, visually stunning indie crime drama stars Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as an outlaw couple, cast in the Bonnie and Clyde mold, who strive to reunite after Affleck’s character escapes from prison. The film won the cinematography award at Sundance in 2013, and soon after, Lowery was enlisted by Disney to helm two of the studio’s new live-action remakes of animated classics: this summer’s Pete’s Dragon and the upcoming Peter Pan.
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Days of Heaven (1978)
In Terrence Malick’s second film, Richard Gere plays a young farmworker who convinces his girlfriend to marry their ailing employer, so that she may inherit his farm and fortune. The film was nominated for four Oscars, winning for cinematography, and Malick took home Best Director at Cannes. The filmmaker would return to the Texas landscape decades later, for his 2011 film The Tree of Life.
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Wes Anderson’s sophomore feature stars Jason Schwartzman, in his film debut, as a Texas teenager in private school who has grand ambitions and countless extracurricular commitments, but little academic drive. Anderson and his co-screenwriter Owen Wilson reached back to their Texas prep school days for inspiration writing the indie hit, which is one of our 50 best high school movies of all time.
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Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Twenty years after he broke out in Dazed and Confused, Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for his performance in Jean-Marc Vallée’s drama. Dallas Buyers Club is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, an HIV-positive rodeo cowboy who smuggled non-FDA-approved pharmaceutical drugs across the border, and then distributed them among other AIDS patients in the 1980s.