The Alamo John Wayne

We missed this Business Insider run-down of the most famous movies set in each state on its first go-round in October, but had we seen it then it would have chapped our hides the same way it does now. Apparently, the most renowned Texas film is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre


Yes, we are aware that it’s more than just a splatter flick and that many legit film critics and industry pros (read: people a hell of a lot smarter about this kind of thing than we are) hold it in much higher esteem than you might think.

In fact, in our pages four years ago, a panel of our Texan experts hailed it as one of the ten best films set in the Lone Star State. Here’s what its most ardent backers had to say about it.

Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League:

A lot of people have argued this is the most influential horror film of all time, and at the same time, there are Texas themes that resonate through it. There is the death of quintessential Texas industries, of the cattle industry falling apart, and that’s what drove this family to cannibalism. There is this lurking darkness in rural Texas. The movie was made by Texans in Texas; the word “Texas” is in the title …

John Bloom, a.k.a. B-movie connoisseur and humorist “Joe Bob Briggs”:  

I don’t know of any other movie that remains on banned lists for more than thirty years after its making. It’s the ultimate outlaw movie. And it is a Texas movie. What makes it Texas horror as opposed to just any horror is that it’s done with comedy—the fact that when they finally get to the slaughter room they have to hold up Grandpa’s arm to hold the hammer and the hammer keeps falling out of his hand. They’re scary but they’re also funny.

And here’s Business Insider’s October analysis:

An over-the-top slasher movie that continues to influence the horror genre today, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was filmed mostly near Round Rock, Austin, with a budget of $60,000 — raised by an Austin politician.

All good points.

But bear in mind that its inclusion on our panel’s list was contentious. Massacre was on the bubble; it squeaked into the canon via a squabbling film critics’ version of an NCAA tourney play-in game. So, it was a close shave for Leatherface & Co. And remember, that panel convened in early 2011, prior to the release of BoyhoodBernie, and Tree of Life, any one of which could have bumped Massacre from the list.

So what about coming up with a list of the best Texas movies set or filmed in various Texas towns? Yeah, we did that.

map by Katie Kramon


Here are our criteria:

First, no documentaries. That’s a different list.

Second, it had to have had a theatrical release, so no Dallas, or—and this was agonizing for us—Lonesome Dove.

Third, at least some of it had to have been filmed in the actual state of Texas. So out went a bunch of great films, including two our panel enshrined (The Searchers and Red River), whichever spaghetti westerns were set here, and Days of HeavenDallas Buyer’s ClubNorth Dallas FortyCrazy HeartCharlie Wilson’s War, and Happy, Texas.

Fourth, the converse is also true: the film had to be set in Texas as well as filmed here. That means College Station lost its shot at glory (part of Revenge of the Nerds was filmed at old Kyle Field), as did Plainview (a few scenes in There Will Be Blood), Amarillo (a closing shot or two of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and a few towns in Central Texas (where The Great Waldo Pepper was filmed). Also, two iconic Wes Anderson works: Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. Although both were shot in Texas, the films could just as easily be from Portland or Montreal as Dallas or Houston. As one of our panelists put it, Texas needed to be a character in the film. 

Lastly—and here is where it gets a little slippery—if a movie was set in an unspecified Texas place, we just kind of picked one of the principal filming locations. And if it was set in one specific Texas town but shot in another, we went with where it was shot. Hence, Brackettville gets The Alamo rather than San Antonio, where not so much of a frame of the 1960 epic (or any of the 2004 retelling) was filmed.

We’ve got our rules. Let’s get started. Speaking of the Alamo . . .

San Antonio. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The movie that spawned that legend of the Alamo basement. I’m sure many a docent has longed to kill the next tourist who asked about it. The area was also home to . . .

Brackettville. The Alamo (the 1960 version).

Boerne. All the Pretty Horses.

Now moving to the capital . . .

Austin. Boyhood. Although Houston has something of a claim on it, too, just as it does on director Richard Linklater. Hell, you could say this movie belongs to the whole state, more than almost any other, except for maybe . . .

Waco. Tree of Life. The film attempts (and does a damn good job of it, too) to encompass Texas from literally the Dawn of Time to the present-day dystopia that is downtown Houston. And then there’s . . .

Dallas. Office Space. This could be in the exurbs of any Texas city. But thanks to the Geto Boys soundtrack and a few other subtle cues, only the exurbs of a Texas city. Might as well give it to DFW, the most sprawling of our metros, and where some of it was filmed.

Speaking of sprawl, towns on the fringes of the Metroplex are the settings for some of the state’s most beloved and acclaimed films.

Venus. The Trip to Bountiful. A poignant film version of a Horton Foote play starring Geraldine Page and Rebecca DeMornay. Foote’s works remind me of kinder, gentler versions of fellow South Texan Carol Burnett’s dark and hilarious family hellscapes. And if you haven’t seen those or revisited them in a while, get after it. They hold up after all these years, trust me.

Waxahachie. Places in the Heart. Pound-for-pound, no city in Texas can compare to little Waxahachie. The Ellis County seat hosted shoots for this Sally Field/Danny Glover/John Malkovich Depression-era drama, but also Tender Mercies and Bonnie and Clyde. Between them, those movies collected twelve Oscars and won Waxahachie the distinction of Texas’s tiniest Hollywood.

Palmer. Tender Mercies. Also partially shot in Waxahachie.

Midlothian. Bonnie and Clyde. Also partially shot in Waxahachie. Spoiler alert: they die at the end.

Collin County/Denton County. The Apostle. Surprisingly, not also partially shot in Waxahachie. Maybe that’s why Robert Duvall was merely Oscar-nominated for his lead role here.

Circling back to Austin’s ’burbs, we have . . .

Bastrop. The Alamo (2004). The Lost Pines stood in for the San Jacinto battleground.

Pflugerville. Blood Simple.

Round Rock. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 

Houston. Brewster McCloud. With Rushmore out of the running, we’re going with Brewster McCloud, which one day, sadly, might serve as the Astrodome’s most evocative monument—even more so than Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. Kidding. As a friend put it, “Brewster McCloud is a movie as weird as Houston,” and the Bayou City got a far better Robert Altman treatment than Dallas (Dr. T and the Women).

Galveston. Terms of Endearment. The island wins the mostly Houston-set and -shot film thanks to the crowded field up the Gulf Freeway and the memorable scene of Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine on the beach in his convertible ’vette.

Heading southwest we have only . . .

Corpus Christi. The Legend of Billie Jean.

Port Lavaca. Alamo Bay. About the seventies conflict between native Texan shrimpers and Vietnamese immigrants. Which is one of the all-too-rare films to actively grapple with the fact that not all Texans are white Anglos. Another is . . .

Del Rio/Laredo/Eagle PassLone Star. John Sayles’s exploration of uneasy (and, um, ultimately nauseating) relations between Anglos, Tejanos, African-Americans, and American Indians on the Rio Grande. Aside from Selena and Giant, it’s one of the only mainstream films to even cursorily explore the lives of Tejanos, just as Jason’s Lyric is one of the only such movies to acknowledge the existence of African American Texans. 

Lake Jackson. Selena.

The industry has shown far more love to stark and desolate West Texas, the Lone Star State of popular myth.

Hunt. Hud.

Marathon. Paris, Texas. 

Lajitas. Fandango. Facing the draft, Kevin Costner and Judd Nelson go on one last beer-sozzled road trip in this Vietnam-era coming-of-age comic drama, which seemed destined to become a Texas classic before inexplicably falling off the cultural radar at some point in the last 25 years (much like Kevin Costner’s career). I haven’t seen Fandango in a long while. Maybe it isn’t as good as I thought it was when I was nineteen.

Fort Davis. Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81. “One of the rare movies that ever got West Texas right,” says Houston attorney and West Texan Andy Williams.   

Big Bend National Park. No Country for Old Men.

Van Horn. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. This Tommy Lee Jones-in-his-native-habitat drama drew strong consideration from the Texas Monthly panel four years ago. Some say it’s even better than that other TLJ drama No Country . . .

El Paso. The Getaway. More white-hot Sam Peckinpah violence. Gotta have some Steve McQueen.

And this last batch is self-explanatory.

Pasadena. Urban Cowboy.

Marfa. Giant. 

Carthage. Bernie.

Archer City. The Last Picture Show.

Odessa. Friday Night Lights. Another rare Texas film that examines race.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)