Have you just moved to Houston and would like to see more of this city? Did you grow up here and want to indulge in some memories, or find some unknown perspectives? Well, look no further, because here are some of the ultimate films connected to Clutch City– in one way or another.
Starting with one of the best-known film quotes of all time “Houston, we have a problem!” You all know it; I’m talking about “Apollo 13” from 1995. Right now we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong put a human footprint on the moon. Two missions later, a catastrophe happens and three astronauts are stuck in space; the rest is (film-) history. Houston is Space City, and the newly renovated mission control is definitely something worth seeing with your own eyes, not just in this multi-award-winning masterpiece from Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Ed Harris. This film has the most Oscars in this list – just saying!
Hey Millennials! If y’all are interested in the generation that’s between yours and your parents’, check out “Reality Bites” from Ben Stiller. Way before going “full retard” and mesmerizing us with “Blue Steel,” he directed this Generation-X-cult-movie in 1994 starring himself, Wynona Ryder, and Ethan Hawke, who also wrote music for the soundtrack. This movie has a couple of “Hey, that’s Houston!”-scenes, and is also a window into a time that is not that far away, yet feels so distant already. If you’re interested how the world looked like before smart phones, go take a look!
Ethan Hawke also acted in another movie that is linked to Houston; Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” one of the best movies from 2014. Filmed from 2001 to 2013 in intervals, the film portrays a young boy growing up into a young adult going off to college, portrayed entirely by Ellar Coltrane. Hawke portrays his father, with Patricia Arquette as the mother. Never ever did someone attempt such a crazy endeavor in film history and also manage to keep it a secret. A lot could have gone wrong shooting a film over the period of 12 years. Just the logistics alone must have been overwhelmingly difficult, let alone creating a story that touches and is coherent too. All together they pulled it off, and that’s the spirit I always felt here in H-Town, which of course also plays a little role here. If you haven’t seen it yet, go check out the ultimate coming-of-age-movie made in Houston!
Staying with independent movies, the early Wes Anderson flick “Rushmore” from 1998 introduced the world to Jason Schwartzman and his co-star, Bill Murray, was since then in every single one of Anderson’s movies. Co-written by Owen Wilson, this was Anderson’s first commercial and critical success and laid the ground stone for a fruitful career of fantastic movies, both animated and live action. It’s also one of his most personal films, as it features several schools he attended himself. He even shares his protagonist’s fate of being expelled from one of them. Wes Anderson’s style is truly something special, and if you like it, this early work will show you the deeply rooted talent of this Houston-born writer and director.
Have you been to the Minute Maid Park yet to watch the Astros play? Did you know it used to be the Enron Field? Enron?! Well, no worries if you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s been a few years since this infamous case of massive fraud made the headlines. “Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room” tells an unbelievable yet sadly true story of a scandal based in corporate greed, criminal energy, and how easy it was. This film made many hit lists in 2005 and put director Alex Gibney on the list of the world’s best documentary filmmakers, and if you watch it, you’ll know why.
Another icon of Houston that’s connected to sports is the legendary Astrodome which some call the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Today its future remains unclear, but back in the days it used to be a very modern arena and the world’s first multi-purpose domed sports stadium. I picked two movies to represent it, the first one being “Friday Night Lights” from Peter Berg from 2004.
Billy Bob Thornton gives an enigmatic performance as the head coach of a Texas high school football team, who overcomes losing his star quarterback in the beginning of the season and deals with the blowback and the high expectations of a small town full of die-hard football fans that expect nothing but the title from the young players. And guess where the final game takes place? Loosely based on real events, this masterpiece of a sports drama also spawned a popular TV show of the same name two years later, without the Astrodome, but with some of the same actors from the movie. Checking out both is mandatory for real Texans and those who want to be, as well as fans of football. The second one is the 2017 film “Battle of the Sexes” with Emma Stone and Steve Carell. It depicts the legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs that took place in 1973 at the Astrodome.
In a fight for equal pay and to stand up against gender discrimination, King takes on Riggs’ dare to show once and for all that men and women are equal. Unfortunately, this issue wasn’t settled that night, mostly because she won (it’s not a spoiler if it’s history), but the film gives a good insight under how much pressure an athlete must be under when forced to standup for their beliefs and be bullied for it. Something that is very topical in the light of Colin Kaepernick’s activism today.
Another classic with a tie to Houston is “Independence Day” from Roland Emmerich. This science fiction movie from 1996 cemented former Fresh Prince Will Smith’s status as leading man in Hollywood and started a long series of disaster movies from the director. Who else than the later “Man in Black” would be suited to fight an alien invasion on Mother Earth? What put this movie on the list is the scene where Houston is nuked by the US government with nuclear missiles in a desperate attempt to stand up against the massive sun-covering space ships which obliterated our beloved city into dust, but left the ships unscathed. Luckily this is only a movie; let’s hope that if aliens come to visit some day, they’ll join us peacefully for some BBQ and a Shiner!
I’ll end this list of films with two honorable mentions. “Sidekicks” was released in 1992 and features the Bob Ross of Karate and true Texas Ranger Chuck Norris. There are also some great training montages with prime view on the Pennzoil Place and the Bank of America Center, two of Houston’s most iconic skyscrapers. “Robocop” from 1987 is one of the most iconic science-fiction movies and is notorious for its violence and gore, but also for brilliantly hand-made special effects. Even though it plays in future-Detroit, a good portion of the film was shot in Houston. Even today you can still book tours to visit the shooting sites.
I hope this list helps you to get a little closer to Houston and find a side of it you previously didn’t know about. If anything, it’s a nice walk through over 30 years of film history. Enjoy!