Our city seems like it's had to fight for its identity on a national scale sometimes. How many movies have you seen set in New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago? Happens all the time, yet despite ranking right up there in terms of population, diversity, culture, and history it seems rare that movie characters actually come specifically here.
Oh they shoot movies here all the time, of course. I have a friend who threw popcorn at Robocop in Robocop 2 and I myself was an extra in a VH1 film that put me almost within touching distance of Maureen Flannigan. Still, just because they turn the cameras on here doesn't mean that they admit they did so on screen.
Today we celebrate the ones that did. Just a note, films that were shot at the Johnson Space Center were excluded since pretty much any movie that deals with space travel history sort of has to shoot there.
10. I Come in Peace: Dolph Lundgren IS Jack Caine, and he's here to clean up the drug-strewn streets of Houston! They simply don't make movies like this anymore, and I plan on calling my dad and thanking him for buying Cinemax when I was kid just so I got to see this ridiculous action flick. Did I mention that the drug dealers are from another planet? Not that it matters because Dolph Lundgren IS Jack Caine, and justice has no planetary jurisdiction. He enforces the law his own way, dammit, and that's just what this city needs. Trust me when I say that you will never regret seeing I Come in Peace.
9. Student Bodies: This is honestly one of the oddest movies ever made, and I am so proud to have it set here at the fictional Lamab High School (In reality it's Lamar High School in Richmond, TX). Out of everyone who was in this bizarre send-up of the horror genre only about three people went on to do anything ever again in the film industry. For most of the cast this is their one IMDB credit, including the double-jointed comedian known only as The Stick who plays a janitor named Malvert who pees in the wastebaskets and says things like ""Malvert pee red!"
8. Sugar Hill: Maybe you're thinking that this is some sort of docudrama on our iconic recording studio you've never heard of. That would be cool, but nope. Sugar Hill is an awesome 1970s blacksploitation zombie film that is the sole directing credit of Paul Maslansky, who would go on to produce hits like Police Academy and the awesomely dark Return to Oz. The Heights Branch of the Houston Public Library doubles as a prestigious voodoo institute, which comes in handy when the corpses of slaves from Guinea are resurrected to attack the living by a vengeful voodoo queen. It's honestly a pretty good zombie flick all things told, and one of the few that show us what Houston would look like after a zombie apocalypse.
7. Tarnation: Director Jonathan Caouette never spent a minute of his life in Houston without a camera if at all possible. From thousands of hours of footage he compiled a stunning narrative that shows what it was like living with his mentally unstable mother Renee. The film is a real triumph of composite filmmaking, and much of it takes place right here with perfectly ordinary people.
6. Rushmore: Wes Anderson briefly considered shooting his breakout success indie film Rushmore somewhere in a posh private school in England, but ultimately decided to stick with his home city of Houston where he had gone to school and from which he drew much of the inspiration for the innovative story. St. John's School stood in for the Rushmore Academy while Lamar High School in Houston was used for Grover Cleveland High School. Anderson actually got some flack from us at the time for making Lamar look much more dilapidated than it really was.
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5. Cold in July: Recently out starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Freakin' Johnson, Cold in July mostly takes place East of Houston, but ends up taking a violent road trip into town in order to uncover a strange plot surrounding the self-defense murder of an intruder. Not to reuse a joke, but Don Johnson IS Jim Bob Luke, a Cadillac-riding, pig-farming, not-one-bit-of-guff-taking private investigator who eats every inch of scenery he can find. They don't make action movies like this any more.
4. In a Madman's World: Unfortunately you're going to have to trust me on this one since it isn't out yet, but even in the piecemeal version I saw in director Josh Vargas' living room was a brutally brilliant look at Houston during the reign of our most notorious monster, Dean Corll. There are films that lay bare the heart of the city they're set in, and Madman is definitely one of them. Now if they could just release the damned thing.
3. Urban Cowboy: It's possible that no other film is nationally associated with Houston more than Urban Cowboy, and that's not such a bad thing even though we do have more here than mechanical bulls and beer. It's really a silly film, all things told, but I've lived in Houston too long to deny that the same stereotypes that made it so popular to mainstream audiences actually do exist in fair numbers here. It surprisingly holds the test of time well, and it was fun for many years having people from out of town ask to go to Gilley's.
2. Rollerball: Speaking of the best of the '70s, Rollerball is Houston's Robocop... except that much of Robocop was filmed in Dallas and Robocop 2 filmed here despite both taking place in Detroit. Actually, Rollerball was filmed in Munich, so maybe I shouldn't throw stones. The point is, Rollerball took the energy industry in Houston and made it Roman-esque emperors of the future. If you ask me when I'm not exactly sober, Gladiator is just a remake of Rollerball without roller-skates or motorcycles (And therefore far inferior). Plus, James Caan, Hero of Houston just sounds badass.
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1. Brewster McCloud: If you have never seen Robert Altman's Brewster McClould then shame on you because it's insane and beautiful. Shot in our very own Astrodome, Bud Cort plays a strange man who dreams of human flight while the city is under siege from a mysterious bird-themed serial killer. Altman's film is a wicked mishmash of religious imagery and heartbreaking humanism that seriously needs to be seen to be believed. I assert with absolute sincerity that if any one film should be held up as representative of the diverse and sometime scattered psyche of H-Town, it's this one.