The range of stories set in Texas is as big as the state itself. From Westerns to slashers to dark comedies, the state gives films a specific flavor other locales cannot.
To honor the 181st anniversary of Texan independence, The Daily Texan has compiled the ten greatest Texas movies of all time, from “The Searchers” to “Hell or High Water,” in order of release.
The Searchers (1956)
Legendary filmmaker John Ford’s masterpiece, “The Searchers” revolutionized the classical western genre with its emotional, powerful story. The plot follows Ethan Edwards’ journey across the state in search of his niece Debbie, who was captured by Native Americans. Accompanied by Martin Pawley, Debbie’s brother, the two set off on an adventure—filled with danger and self-reflection, as Edwards continuously struggles with his racist nature.
Starring frequent Ford collaborator John Wayne as the complex Ethan Edwards, Ford takes a stand against the traditional racist cowboy heroes of the past by holding up a mirror to the audience. Simply by placing the larger-than-life and eminently-likable Wayne into this closed-minded role, the viewer cannot help but root for him against their own better judgment. Ford’s exploration of his main character sets “The Searchers” apart from all other Westerns, delivering a large-scale adventure with a deeply complex lead.
Clocking in at over 3 hours, “Giant” is an epic so massive it does justice to the scope of the state itself.
The classic western, directed by George Stevens, features terrific performances from Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, his final role before his death. It explores the impact of the booming oil industry on Texan farmlands, as well as segregation and racism, a surprisingly progressive work in the Western genre.
Epic in scope and powerful in narrative, “Giant” succeeds as both a work of art and a representation of Texas.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The infamous “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” presents audiences with a clear, unrestrained portrayal of horrific violence committed in Kingsland, Texas.
With a budget of only $300,000, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” proved the horror genre could revolutionize popular culture without breaking the bank long before “Paranormal Activity” hit theaters.
Director Tobe Hooper fundamentally changed the horror genre, helping popularize the wildly gory, brutal teen-slasher.
Paris, Texas (1984)
“Paris, Texas” leans on the more experimental side of Texas films.
It follows an amnesiac (Harry Dean Stanton) wandering around the South Texas desert, inexplicably obsessed with the city of Paris, Texas. It is stylistically fascinating, using the sweeping Western style of filmmaking to capture modern images of neon signs, advertisements and sometimes Los Angeles. Director Wim Wenders makes the familiar landscape foreign, creating an uncomfortable but enthralling viewing experience.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Austin’s very own Richard Linklater helped popularize the city’s laid-back atmosphere with “Dazed and Confused,” an extremely fun “day in the life” high school stoner comedy.
“Dazed and Confused” proved to be the perfect debut feature for Matthew McConaughey, helping him shape the easygoing Southern-boy persona he would play for years after.
As a filmmaker, this relaxed movie helped then little-known Richard Linklater propel his freewheeling style into the mainstream juggernaut.
Friday Night Lights (2004)
The film that inspired the now iconic television show, “Friday Night Lights” does not get enough credit although it refined and redefined the underdog sports film.
Based on a true story, the film follows the 1988 Permian High Panthers football team and the city that rallies behind them. “Friday Night Lights” manages to not only capture the spirit of Odessa, but also Texans‘ passion for high school football.
Though director Peter Berg is generally a hit-or-miss, “Friday Night Lights,” was a solid celebration of high school football and small Texas towns.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
An Academy Award winner for Best Picture, “No Country for Old Men” the perfect modern western.
Though born and raised in Minnesota, writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen obviously have a vast knowledge of and pure love for West Texas. Tommy Lee Jones’ character Ed Tom Bell, feels like he could very well just be a crotchety old man alone at a West Texas diner reading a newspaper.
Josh Brolin stars as the film’s semi-protagonist and Javier Bardem as Chigurh, one of the most terrifying villains of all time. “No Country for Old Men” showcases the vast emptiness of West Texas and its tenacious citizens.
As much of a celebration of East Texas as “No Country for Old Men” is of West Texas, director Richard Linklater’s delightfully strange dark comedy “Bernie” takes it another step further by casting real citizens of East Texas town Carthage in supporting roles.
Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, a beloved member of the town of Carthage who murders his close friend. Matthew McConaughey plays the detective covering the case. The plot may sound well-trodden, but Linklater puts his own hilarious, authentic spin on the trope.
Though it never received the recognition it deserved, “Bernie” is an underrated gem worth seeking out.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Acclaimed director Terrence Malick’s masterpiece, “The Tree of Life” is about a childhood in Waco, but also the history of the universe.
One of the most abstract films set in Texas, Malick’s film investigates the meaning of life through life itself, its creation and its active living. While some find the film divisive in some ways, others have called it one of the best movies of all time.
Hell or High Water (2016)
Rounding off the list is last year’s “Hell or High Water,” the most recent love poem to West Texas.
The movie still fires on all cylinders, telling an emotional story of two bank-robbing brothers and the beleaguered police officers assigned to their case.
Featuring many scenes in and around West Texas locales, “Hell or High Water” reflects its citizens perfectly, with a wry sort of humor that only makes sense if the viewer has spent a significant amount of time in