On Location: Nine Essential Memphis Movies
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.