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6 Must-See Classic Films for Southern Film Lovers

There are certain classic films that every film lover should see, but there are also ones that every Southern film lover shouldn’t miss. Plenty of well-regarded classics take place in the South, feature Southern characters or expertly portray Southern history, fiction and drama on the big screen. It certainly doesn’t hurt that many of these films feature beautiful cinematography and the best Southern writers and screenwriters, either.

You may notice that the following list doesn’t include “Gone with the Wind” (1939), “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) or “Steel Magnolias” (1989). While these are certainly must-see Southern films, there are plenty of other Southern classics that deserve your attention. Here are six must-see films that every Southern cinephile should see:

Jezebel (1938)
In this drama, Bette Davis stars as a self-important Southern belle who is engaged to be married to a wealthy banker but ruins her prospects due to her problematic behavior. Her ex-fiancé leaves town—only to return some time later—but by the time she apologizes, it might be too late. “Jezebel” is often spoken of in relation to “Gone with the Wind,” mainly because of Davis’s role as a Southern belle, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. But according to TCM, she was nearly cast as Scarlett O’Hara.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
There’s nothing like a good Southern drama. This one is based on the award-winning play by Tennessee Williams (who also wrote the screenplay), and takes place in New Orleans. Starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando, the film follows a woman with a troubled past who travels to New Orleans to stay with her sister and brother-in-law. The combination of Williams’ writing and Brando and Leigh’s critically-acclaimed performances make this a must-see film for any Southern film lover.

Giant (1956)

The list would not be complete without a great Western-inspired drama. This epic stars Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean (in his last film role before his death). The film spans several decades and follows the lives of a wealthy Texas rancher and his wife, along with a poor handyman whose life changes forever when he’s left a piece of land and strikes oil. Naturally, drama and tension ensue as these characters adapt to a changing world.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Another film adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play (and one of his most famous), this drama takes place on a plantation in Mississippi. It stars Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, and it focuses on their marital troubles as their family gathers to celebrate the patriarch’s birthday. The film was nominated for a number of Academy Awards, but ultimately lost to Academy favorite “Gigi,” which won Best Picture.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
One of the best classic films about Depression-era outlaws is “Bonnie and Clyde.” There’s no denying that many people are fascinated by outlaws in Texas circa 1933, which is why this era has influenced numerous films, TV shows, musicians and artists for generations. “Bonnie and Clyde” stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. This film, which was inspired by French New Wave cinema, focuses on the thrilling rise and fall of two of Texas’s most infamous criminals.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)
This celebrated classic won three Golden Globes and five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film takes place in a small town in Mississippi and centers around a murder mystery. As the local police attempt to solve the murder, they mistakenly arrest an African-American homicide detective from Philadelphia. When his identity is confirmed, it is recommended that he join their investigation and help them solve the murder. The film stars Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.

Although not a comprehensive list, this is a great start if you’re looking to delve deeper into the world of classic Southern films—whether you’re a Southern film lover or fan at large just looking to immerse yourself in the South’s history and art.

Photo Credits: Feature photo by by Felix Mooneeram/The Unsplash License and Texas ranch by from CC0 Creative Commons.

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  • richard / July 6, 2022

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