Some people may think Dallas' only contribution to the film industry is the Zapruder film, but they would be wrong. A surprisingly large number of movies have been filmed in the Dallas area over the years; we've put together a list of our favorites, some of which you may know were made here, and some you may not.
State Fair - 1962
Dollars to donuts, the State Fair of Texas is one of the biggest fairs in the nation. It’s also a movie star in its own right. The 1945 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical film State Fair was itself a remake of a 1933 film about a family’s trip to the Iowa State Fair to show their pig, Blue Boy. In 1962, another remake was released starring Pat Boone and Ann-Margret, with the location changed to Dallas. The film was shot in and around Fair Park, and icons like the Midway entrance and the Tower Building look much the same back then as they do today. Big Tex is in the movie, too, sporting a different hat, a Lee western shirt and a noticeable paunch around the midsection, in comparison to his trim-waisted, Dickies-clad physique of today.
Benji - 1972
Benji is everyone’s favorite stray dog. Parts of the 1972 film (the first of seven films featuring the lovable mutt) were shot in McKinney and Denton. When Benji is kicked out of Paul and Cindy’s house by their dad, he escapes to a decrepit house which was said to be haunted. The actual home is far from haunted; it’s the historic Dowell House in McKinney, which serves as a bed and breakfast today. Other notable locations are Denton’s City Hall, which doubled as the police station where Benji was temporarily locked up before being freed by the janitor, and several houses on Louisiana Street in McKinney, which portrayed the neighborhood where Benji lived.
Logan’s Run - 1972
Something about Dallas’ architecture has inspired filmmakers who need a dystopian future city. In 1972’s Logan’s Run, Dallas and Fort Worth were the homes of a civilization where the inhabitants were killed on their 30th birthdays in order to ensure the continuation of their society. The title character is a Sandman, who is tasked to hunt down Runners who try to escape their scheduled deaths. The exterior shots depicting the Sandmen’s headquarters are of the Pegasus Place building off I-35E, former home to Zales and Exxon Mobil. Later in the film, Logan and a woman named Jessica are sent to locate the Sanctuary, where Runners are said to escape Sandmen. They discover the wild remains of human civilization, then sneak back into the city via a hydroelectric plant, a scene shot in Fort Worth’s Water Gardens.
True Stories - 1986
Fresh off the success of the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense concert film, David Byrne was given free reign to write, direct and star in his musical/mockumentary of Americana, True Stories. Stephen Tobolowsky wrote the first draft of the script, set in the fictional town of Virgil, Texas, as it's celebrating the 150th anniversary of the town’s founding and the state’s independence from Mexico. Byrne re-wrote most of the script, then headed to Dallas to bring the fictional town to life. Riffing on our fascination with shopping, Byrne drives his red Chrysler LeBaron convertible to the old Big Town Mall in Mesquite. The interior scenes were filmed at NorthPark Center. Byrne then follows local man Louis Fyne (a young John Goodman, in one of his first film roles) on a date with a woman who rarely leaves her bed. Finally, the parade scenes were filmed in the downtown McKinney area.
RoboCop - 1987 (Pictured at top)
Ever been to Detroit? If not, you can visit director Paul Verhoeven’s interpretation of futuristic Detroit as shown in RoboCop, and never leave our fair city. In fact, most of the movie was shot in and around downtown Dallas (the real Detroit only appears in stock footage during the film’s opening.) The OCP headquarters is actually Dallas City Hall, stretched via special effects to a 95 story height. Some interior scenes of OCP were shot in the Plaza of the Americas atrium, while the 40th floor of the Renaissance Hotel served as the OCP boardroom (with Fountain Place clearly visible just outside the windows). The historic Dallas High School building was a stand in for the Detroit Police Department, while the interior scenes at Detroit PD were filmed in what is now Sons of Hermann Hall, and the Dallas Municipal Building on Harwood was the setting for Detroit’s City Hall.
Talk Radio - 1988
Instead of attempting to pass off another city as Dallas, Oliver Stone’s 1988 film Talk Radio was actually filmed here. Talk Radio follows a Dallas-based talk radio personality whose program is about to be syndicated nationally, but his acerbic attitude incites a portion of his listener base to violence. While most of the film takes place inside the radio station studio, Dallas’ skyline is used in several establishing shots, and KDFW’s tower was used for the station's tower. Longtime Dallas television anchor Chip Moody had a small part as the radio station’s announcer.
Born on the Fourth of July - 1989
Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July helped establish Tom Cruise as a serious actor (he would earn his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Vietnam vet Ron Kovic). While the Vietnam scenes were shot on location in the Philippines, a large part of the film was shot in and around Dallas. Keen eyes will note that the Independence Day parade was filmed on Jefferson Avenue in Oak Cliff. After the parade, Kovic travels to Syracuse and attends a rally against the Kent State shootings at a college; the college scenes were filmed on the campus of SMU. Regulars of Milo Butterfingers will recognize the iconic bar where Kovic gets in a fight with a Korean war vet.
Problem Child - 1990
1990’s Problem Child reminded all parents how good they have it with their own kids. Unable to conceive with his wife, John Ritter’s character adopts a true problem child, who had been returned to the orphanage 30 times. In the film, bow-tie wearing Junior destroys the family home, terrorizes his Little League teammates with a baseball bat and starts a pen pal relationship with a serial killer. Much of the film was shot in Dallas and the surrounding suburbs. Most notably, the scene were Junior goes to the fair was filmed in Fair Park, but months before the actual opening of the State Fair. Producers hired thousands of extras to populate Fair Park, and paid to have the rides running months ahead of schedule.
Bottle Rocket - 1996
Dallas natives Luke and Owen Wilson both made their feature-length film debuts in Wes Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket. Owen also co-wrote the movie with Anderson, about two friends who hatched an elaborate plan to become career criminals. Look past Owen’s crew cut (“You’re in the Army, yes?” his character Dignan is asked. “No, I just have short hair!”), and parts of the DFW area are easily recognizable. The motel where Luke’s character Anthony meets a maid and falls in love is in Hillsboro, and the future thieves learn to shoot guns in a field just outside of town. Back in Dallas, Anthony and Dignan plot their next job at their accomplice Bob’s house, which is none other than the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Gillin House near Northwest Highway. Northpark Mall is the site of a bookstore that the trio rob for practice, before tackling the big job of Hinckley’s Cold Storage (now the Texas Ice House) on Commerce Street in Deep Ellum.
Boys Don’t Cry - 1999
The critically acclaimed Boys Don’t Cry earned Hillary Swank an Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who attempts to live a normal life in small town Nebraska. Budgetary constraints prevented filming the movie in Nebraska, and Greenville, Texas, was chosen as the stand in to depict the midwestern setting. Downtown Greenville is featured as Teena walks through town and toward the courthouse, and the Hunt County Courthouse is clearly shown as Teena walks up the steps and goes inside. Curiously, the filmmakers made no attempt to hide the name on the courthouse as the camera pans upward.
Dr T. and the Women - 2000
Director Robert Altman satirically nails all things Dallas with Dr. T. and the Women. The story follows a wealthy Dallas gynecologist, the titular Dr. Sullivan Travis, who treats many of the wealthy women of Dallas. In fact, women all over Dallas flock to Dr. T to have their lady parts checked out by the handsome Richard Gere. All is not gravy for Dr. T, however, as his wife has a breakdown while shopping at NorthPark Center. (Honestly, who hasn’t come close when shopping there?) Meanwhile, his eldest daughter plans to go through with a spectacular wedding held at the Dallas Arboretum, despite that she’s secretly a lesbian in love with her maid of honor. Dr. T’s youngest daughter is a conspiracy theorist with a fitting job as a tour guide for a conspiracy museum in Dealey Plaza.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius - 2001
DNA Productions was a small animation studio founded in Dallas in 1987. As computer animation took off, DNA produced a series of 3-minute animated shorts that aired on Nickelodeon in the late 1990s featuring Jimmy Neutron, a fifth grader who invents gadgets from regular household products. DNA developed a television pilot, which was cancelled before it aired, but was given the go-ahead to develop the feature-length film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, using mostly off-the-shelf animation and design software. The film was a commercial and critical success, and was nominated for the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2001 (but lost to Shrek). DNA continued to work on the Jimmy Neutron franchise, notably with a 4-year run of TV episodes, but the studio closed its doors shortly after Jimmy Neutron’s run on Nick ended.
Primer - 2004
Stephen F. Austin alum Shane Carruth wrote, scored, directed, produced and starred in the low-budget indie flick Primer, about two engineers who accidentally discover time travel. Operating on a shoestring budget, Carruth shot the film in and around Addison and Richardson, after extensively storyboarding his planned shots via 35mm photos. Notable scenes were shot in and around Addison Circle park, where engineers Aaron and Abe discuss their invention, and a U-Haul near Marsh Lane and Belt Line Road is filmed where the engineers store their time travel device. Later, Aaron and Abe sit on the patio of a Sonic Drive In adjacent to Addison Airport to discuss how they’ll use the time travel device. It's said that Carruth took almost two years to post-produce and edit the film, and that he was close to bonding the project at several points.
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