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On Location: Nine Essential Memphis Movies

Posted by Holly Whitfield | June 18th 2020 18228 0

Though Memphis is more well known for its music, we’ve had our fair share of movies shot in the city. Here’s a list of nine major releases that were shot in and around Memphis:

1. The Firm (1993)

The Firm is based on John Grisham’s novel about a young hotshot lawyer who gets hired to a law firm that’s involved in some seriously shady dealings. The film was nominated for two Oscars (best supporting actress for Holly Hunter and best musical score).

Starring: Tom Cruise, Holly Hunter, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman

On location: The Shrine Building (masquerading as the Peabody), Riverside Dr., Mitch’s house was located on Tuckahoe in East Memphis.

2. Walk the Line (2005)

Walk the Line is the life story of legendary musician Johnny Cash, from childhood through his marriage to June Carter. It’s a story of love, substance abuse, standing up for others, and really great music. It was nominated for five Oscars, and won one (Best Actress, Reese Witherspoon).

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Gennifer Goodwin (a Memphis native), local band The Dempseys (who play Elvis’ band in the movie).

On location: The Pipkin Building at the Fairgrounds (aka Folsom Prison), Sun Studios, The Orpheum (which the film locates in Canada), South Main, Bozo’s Hot Pit Barbecue (in Covington)

3. Mystery Train (1989)

In Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, three stories come together at a sketchy Memphis hotel: a Japanese couple making a pilgrimage to Memphis to worship rock’n’roll, an Italian widow stranded in the city, and Englishman known as “Elvis”. Mystery Train was an independent film, but it’s considered to be one of the quintessential Memphis movies.

Starring: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Steve Buscemi, Youki Kudoh, Joe Strummer (as “Elvis”)

On location: A (now demolished) South Main hotel, The Arcade restaurant, A. Schwab, Sun Studio

4. Hustle and Flow (2005)

Hustle and Flow was local writer / director Craig Brewer’s first major release. One critical review described it as “‘Rocky’ for pimps”. It’s the story of D-Jay, a Memphis pimp and aspiring rapper whose mid-life crisis prompts him to partner with a childhood friend (and recording engineer) to make his first record.

Much of the music in the film was recorded by Memphis rappers, including Al Kapone, Nasty Nardo, and Three-Six Mafia (who won an Oscar for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”).

Starring: Terrence Howard, Taryn Manning, DJ Qualls, Taraji P. Henson, Ludacris

On location: The entire film was shot in Memphis, so locals will recognize just about every location. Some to note: Consignment Music, the Poplar Lounge, Crystal Palace roller rink.

5. Great Balls of Fire (1989)

“Great Balls of Fire” is a biopic about musician Jerry Lee Lewis, who is known for his arrogance, stage presence and wild-man antics. According to IMDB, Jerry Lee Lewis hated this movie.

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder, Alec Baldwin (as Sam Phillips)

On location: Great Balls of Fire was shot primarily in Memphis and Marion, Ark. Memphis locations include South Main, Sun Studio, and the Orpheum.

6. 21 Grams (2003)

Though it’s never mentioned in the film that “21 Grams” is set in Memphis, the city is easily recognizable. The movie is dark – it’s about a freak car accident that connects a widow, a dying man and an ex-con.

Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro

On location: Central Gardens, Earnestine & Hazel’s

7. Nothing But the Truth (2008)

“Nothing But the Truth” is possibly one of the only movies about the rights that journalists have to protect their sources. Set in Washington DC, it’s the story of a reporter who is jailed when she refuses to name her sources in a controversial story. Think Valerie Plame, the movie.

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Angela Bassett

On location: Though the movie is set in Washington DC, most of it was shot in Memphis. The newsroom scenes were all filmed at the Commercial Appeal.

8. Christmas at Graceland (2019)

The Hallmark channel struck gold using the Graceland mansion as the backdrop for tooth-tingling sweet romance in a series of films, starting with Christmas at Graceland in 2018. A workaholic city slicker comes home to Memphis for the holidays and meets up with an old flame from her singing days…and you won’t believe what happens next. Spoiler alert: it’s a sequel, released on the Hallmark channel in June 2019 called Wedding at Graceland, which showcases the mansion’s Chapel.

The holiday-inspired feelings of Graceland were so strong, they touched the hearts of an entirely new couple in Christmas At Graceland: Home For the Holidays (Dec. 2019) in which a workaholic world traveler comes home to Memphis for the holidays, only to work for a workaholic widower. Things get spicy under the lights and faux snow in the Bluff City.

Starring: Kellie Pickler, Wes Brown, Tamara Austin (Christmas at Graceland; Wedding at Graceland); Kaitlin Doubley, Adrien Grenier (Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays)

On location: Mostly at Graceland and The Guest House at Graceland hotel, as well as in Court Square and other locations around town.

9. Uncorked (2020)

Netflix chose Memphis as the setting for the family drama Uncorked, about a young man torn between his family’s legacy—a beloved local barbecue joint—and his dream of becoming a sommelier.

Starring: Mamoudou Athie, Courtney B. Vance, Niecy Nash

On location: Plenty of spots around town including the Hernando de Soto bridge, the I Love Soulsville mural, and the Century House in downtown Memphis.


Memphis has love on the silver screen too. See our city featured in recent fun, albeit short-lived televisions shows Sun Records (CMT) and Bluff City Law (NBC).

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Comments

  1. Right on target, with one teeny correction: Bozo’s is in Mason on Highway 70, not Covington.

    Other than that, great post!

  2. Film Fan says:

    Did 21 Grams use a home from Central Gardens
    or was it Chickasaw Gardens,
    as reported below?
    http://amemphisdailyphoto.blogspot.com/2008/01/residence-chickasaw-gardens.html

  3. Great post! I’d have to say my seven favorite Memphis movies are…

    1. MYSTERY TRAIN
    ->Jim Jarmusch makes Memphis look like a ghost town, a place that used to be the epicenter for American pop culture before the world moved on. Elvis’ specter hangs over ever scene, from the ethereal use of Blue Moon on the radio, to Joe Strummer’s unwanted application of the nickname to his character, he even shows up to say hello. Not only is it the most essential film creation that has been, or ever will be, made here, it’s also, quite simply, the best.

    2. THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT
    ->Milos Forman directed what is probably the best Hollywood offering from Memphis. While Memphis isn’t necessarily a character in the film, local folks were used well behind, and in front of, the camera. Examples include local filmmaker/artist Mike McCarthy’s porno cartoon sketchings and Film Commissioner Linn Sitler’s cameo as a news reporter.

    3. FORTY SHADES OF BLUE
    ->A lot of people overlook this amazing film when they talk about Memphis movies. Ira Sachs is an underrated filmmaker that is able to dig into his characters the way only the best directors can. Rip Torn’s performance is a revelation.

    4. HUSTLE & FLOW
    ->Everyone loves a local Cinderella story, and this one made a hometown hero out of Craig Brewer and shot Three 6 Mafia into stardom.

    5. THE RAINMAKER
    ->The best Grisham adaptation this city has attracted, a lot of people talk about it as though its place in Francis Ford Coppola’s filmography is a black mark, but it’s hard when it draws comparisons to other titantic entries Coppola’s incredible body of work. Fact is, RAINMAKER is a classy, often overlooked film with memorable performances from the entire cast, even if Union Avenue gets referred to as “Union street.”

    6. SUPERSTARLET A.D.
    ->Mike McCarthy is the godfather of Memphis filmmakers, he was the first here to pick up a camera and start making movies, and he’s always made them his way, the ever-growing film scene here owes him a tremendous debt. SUPERSTARLET A.D. is essential McCarthy viewing, it has a really wacky post-apocalyptic premise that takes place in the ruins of “Femphis.” All men have devolved into apes, and women have banded into tribes based on hair color, and they battle over lipstick and ammo, and since gay men no longer exist, fashion is dead, so they all dress in lingerie (nice one, Mike). A couple of them set out in search of the stag films of their ancestors, and violence, hilarity, and musical numbers ensue. There are precious few things out there quite like it.

    7. WALK THE LINE
    ->2005 was a red-letter year for Memphis, FORTY SHADES OF BLUE won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, HUSTLE & FLOW took home the Audience Award from the same festival, scored an Oscar nomination for Terence Howard, and won the Oscar for Best Original Song for Three 6 Mafia. To top it all off, WALK THE LINE won Best Actress for Reese Witherspoon and netted a bevy of other nominations, including Joaquin Phoenix in the Best Actor category. If anything, this explosion in awards could well have started the ball rolling on the Memphis chic we are seeing all over the place in pop culture today, and it’s partially thanks to this biopic of a Memphis music legend. And hey, if this movie didn’t exist, we never would’ve gotten WALK HARD.

  4. GrishamReader says:

    The Client.

  5. Gigi says:

    I loved The Firm, Mystery Train, The Rainmaker, Nothing But The Truth. I just wish that The Blind Side would have been filmed here – it would be the number 1 choice.

    And, yes, Bozo’s is on Hwy 70, Mason, Tn, just past the original Gus’ Fried Chicken. They have the best BBQ – delicious ribs on the weekend only. Their desserts are pretty good also.

  6. Ryan says:

    I also really liked BLUE CITRUS HEARTS a very sweet little coming out/coming-of-age film set in Memphis and made by Memphis native Morgan Jon Fox.

  7. Also, correction, Alec Baldwin did not play Sam Phillips in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, he played Lewis’ infamous cousin Jimmy Swaggart.

  8. Ann Matthews says:

    The only thing missing from this list is a weekly tv show to be filmed in Memphis. We lost out on Memphis Beat because Louisiana gives better film incentives than Tennessee. This is a real shame and loss to our areak, because A SUCCESSFUL TV SHOW ABOUT MEMPHIS WOULD BE A WEEKLY PR BONANZA! Rather than a movie that is shot and then they leave, there is no residual effect from that other than reminding people now and then about a movie shot here. Great, but a weekly show would bring people from miles around each week during their filming. I believe Memphis Beat probably has a 4-month shooting window for the 10 show season. What we need to do is generate more support from the Mayor on down to bring this show’s filming to Memphis. Mayor Wharton wrote a piece a few months back that he was going to support increased incentives for filming here. I hope he is following up on this. With all the great publicity we are getting for stage productions (2), tv productions (2) recent music albums with Memphis in the title(2), we surely have some clout to demand this. Unfortunately, any state benefits that Memphis wants have to come through Nashville. Do you think there is some prejudice and jealousy that might taint the film commission’s decisions? Just a thought.

  9. George says:

    One glaring omission: Silence of the Lambs!!!  Cannot forget that major scenes of that movie occured in Memphis, including the Senator's daughter's kidnapping, airport hanger scene, FBI building, and Courthouse. 

  10. Richard says:

    A short lived 1990 series on ABC  Elvis: The Early Years came to Memphis for some principle photography.  Broad Ave & Merton area was one location.
    Francis Ford Coppola's "The Rainmaker" is a prime movie that is omitted here. Locations include:
    The parking lot of Danny's strip club (now demolished) @ Winchester & Airways
    Miss Birdy's home near York and Rozelle
    Dot and Donny Ray's house on S. Willet St. near Lamar Ave.
    Kelly Riker's apartment courts where her husband Cliff is killed @ Harbert & E. Parkway
    An opening scene in Court Square. The  Courthouse hallways and exterior (the courtroom was a soundstage set)
    Tobey Park @ Central & Hollywood (Cliff Riker's baseball game)
    "The Med" — hospital on Jefferson ,  Las Savell's Jewelry Store @ Union & McClean
    Stand-alone building @ 369 N. Main (Rudy and Deck's law office)
    Great locations. Great Movie!  Perfect cast.
     
     
     
     

  11. Craig Stein says:

    People vs Larry Flynt filmed in Memphis at my dad’s warehouse -1711 Latham st

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