When you think of movies and films, you tend to think of LA or NYC as being the hubs of cinema. But what about Houston? Regardless of what Hollywood may predispose you to believe, Houston does have a lure that filmmakers have been attracted to for the past 40 years. So, let’s take a look at Houston in cinema.
Houston in Cinema: Feature Roles
These movies are all set in Houston! What?! You mean that there are actual movies that acknowledge there are more cities in the US than NYC and LA? Houston in cinema happens more than you think, and these are all movies where Houston plays a feature role.
Urban Cowboy (1980)
Oh, right. If it’s set in Houston, there has to be a cowboy. This movie is set in Houston where countryman Bud, played by John Travolta, falls for Sissy, played by Debra Winger. (You’ll be seeing her name some more.) While the Gilley’s Club in Pasadena burned down in a fire, you can still visit 1885 St. James Place, Houston, Texas, another filming location for the movie.
Written and directed by a Houston-born filmmaker, Richard Linklater, Boyhood is the intensely ambitious twelve-year project that was nominated for six Academy Awards. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, the film follows Mason Evans Jr., played by Ellar Coltrane, through his well, boyhood in Houston, San Marcos, Austin, Alpine, and other Texas cities. Some notable Houston spots included in the movie are the University of Houston, the Museum of Natural Science, and Minute Maid Park.
Reality Bites (1994)
Directed by Ben Stiller and written by Houstonian Helen Childress, Lelaina, played by Winona Ryder, films a documentary of her post-grad friends as they try to establish themselves in the “reality” whether that be with their relationships or jobs in Houston. Ethan Hawke shows up again in a Houston-based film. The movie has scenes filmed mostly in Houston-The Heights, Tranquility Park, and even Lelaina and Vickie’s apartment (409 West Clay Street, Houston, Texas).
Terms of Endearment (1982) and The Evening Star (1996)
Terms of Endearment has it all: An Academy Award for Best Picture, Shirley MacLaine, and Houston! You can see some of the Heights, River Oaks, and the old Brennan’s Restaurant in one sitting. Also, Debra Winger is in another Houston set movie! Good for Debra! In the film’s sequel, The Evening Star, the filming takes place at Rice University and elsewhere in Houston.
Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)
This drama based on the true story of Chinese foreign exchange dancer, Li Cunxin, takes place in Houston as he progresses in his dance career and love. Some notable Houston spots you’ll be sure to recognize are the Galleria, Miller Outdoor Theatre, the Wortham, and the China Garden Restaurant.
Paris, Texas (1984)
A beloved Criterion film, there are several scenes based in Houston, featuring the Doubletree Hotel Downtown, JP Morgan Chase Bank, and many Houston interstates.
Brewster McCloud (1970)
Sure to provoke massive doses of nostalgia, Brewster McCloud is the first feature film to have been filmed in the Astrodome. The premiere also took place in the Astrodome. This movie is so substantial to Texas film that after its release, the Texas Film Commission was created.
Barry Gabrewski, a Houstonian boy, dreams of being Chuck Norris’ partner in crime (relatable) and ultimately meets Chuck Norris (not so relatable). You’ll be sure to recognize these Houston sites (relatable!) that are featured in the movie: Lamar High school, Tranquility Park, Allen’s Landing, and the Wortham Theater Center.
The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973)
Ryan O’Neal plays a computer programmer turned jewel thief right here in Houston, Texas!
Another Criterion film, Houstonian Wes Anderson directs and Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray stars. You can see Anderson’s alma mater, St. John’s and Lamar High School. The party scene takes place at the Forest Club. Houston native Alexis Bledel is even an extra in this film.
All the Astronaut Movies:
Apollo 13 (1995), Armageddon (1998), Space Cowboys (2000), The Martian (2015)
If these space movies didn’t mention Houston, then we’d have a problem. All of these films have scenes shot at the Johnson Space Center.
Can’t get enough of Houston-based films? Try I Come in Peace (1990), Dance With Me (1998), and 6 Years (2015) to get your fill.
Houston in Cinema: Supporting Roles
These movies only have brief scenes featuring Houston. Fame is such a fleeting concept.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
Ben Affleck and Michael Bays can’t seem to get enough of Houston, as this movie features the San Jacinto Battlefield State Memorial Site.
Transformers: Dark of The Moon (2011)
This Michael Bay flick, while not set in Houston did have scenes shot at the Johnson Space Center.
Houston in Cinema: Cameo’s
These movies don’t pass the cut of being set in Houston, but they do have scenes shot in Houston. Whether we will forgive them for passing Houston off as Detroit or Virginia, Houstonians are unsure. Here are some movies where Houston plays a cameo role, portraying cities other than itself.
Tree of Life (2011)
This Terrence Malick movie with Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, and Brad Pitt is set in Waco, Texas- but still filmed in Houston. Some of the cut scenes even included clips at Houston’s Zoo and Museum of Fine Arts.
RoboCop 2 (1990)
In RoboCop 2, Houston is the key location for filming, while masquerading as Detroit. You can see The Wortham and many Houston streets in this blockbuster, or should I say “Detroit”?
Arlington Road (1999)
In this Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins movie, Houston shot footage is disguised as Reston, Virginia.
The Chase (1994)
Charlie Sheen stars as an innocent man on the run who ends up taking Kristy Swanson hostage. The movie mostly takes place inside Swanson’s character’s BMW, but you might recognize the Hardy Toll Road, Highway 290, and Rice Village from all that sitting in Houston traffic.
Houston in Cinema: Biographical Roles
These movies take a little bit of Houston with them, as they have characters who are based on Houstonians!
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)
This musical with Dolly Parton couldn’t get any better until you realize the reporter in the movie played by Dom DeLuise is based on Houston reporter, Marvin Zindler.
The Aviator (2004)
There’s a reason you thought Leonardo DiCaprio deserved an Oscar before the Revenant! It’s because he portrayed the eccentric and impressive Houstonian billionaire, Howard Hughes.
Chris Evans stars as Michael David Weiss, a native Houston lawyer who battled drug addiction while defending a nurse who succumbed to a contaminated needle.
Murder in Texas (1981)
This Made-for-TV movie centers around the real River Oaks murder drama of the Hill family. Farrah Fawcett stars as Joan Robinson Hill, who mysteriously gets sick and then dies in a matter of days. Is her husband to blame? Find out in this twisted story of high society.
Did we leave any out?