Austin might get the most screen time when it comes to Texas cinema, so it may come as a surprise that a fair amount of seriously great films took place in Houston. As far as the ranking is considered, we calculated Letterboxd review scores as well as our own studied opinions. More importantly, we want to showcase the most amazing movies made in Houston that you may or may not have seen before!
1. Paris, Texas (4.4 on Letterboxd)
Incomprehensibly beautiful, Paris, Texas, opens with the recluse Travis, a haunted man wandering aimlessly around the dessert (Harry Dean Stanton). After extensive searching, his brother finds him and takes him in back to his home in Houston. Over time, Travis’s memory returns – of his estranged child, and of his child’s mother for whom he sets his journey.
The contemplative art-house western is a slow burn and an undeniable masterpiece from director, Wim Wenders. It’s a film that could be seen without sound and retain the power of its emotional gut punches. If this film doesn’t make you cry by the end, you might not have a soul.
2. Rushmore (3.9 on Letterboxd)
Following his understated cinema debut (Bottle Rocket) native-Houstonian Wes Anderson really began to come into his own with his sophomore film, Rushmore. It’s here that we first see some of Wes Anderson’s classic stylizations begin to bloom –idiosyncratic costumes, super-realistic stage designs, all-time needle drops, plot-focused color palettes, Bill Murray…
The coming-of-age tragic comedy follows Max Fischer (Jason Schwarzmann), a failing, precocious student of Rushmore Academy (based on and filmed in Houston on location of Anderson’s real-life alma mater St. John’s School) who falls in love with his teacher, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), and becomes embattled in a rivalry when his once friend, mentor, and fellow wounded heart, Herman Blume (Bill Murray) also falls for Cross.
It’s a film both hilarious and gut-wrenching and one that reveals that coming-of-age isn’t simply limited to teens.
3. Selena (3.5 on Letterboxd)
Anything for Selena! Starring Jennifer Lopez in her first lead role, Selena tells the biographical story of Texas Tejano superstar, Selena Quintanilla, from her humble beginnings to her launch toward superstardom before it was tragically cut short. Though we all know how it’s going to end, the film isn’t defined by her death, but rather the genuine and stellar talent of Tejano legend.
4. Apollo 13 (3.9 on Letterboxd)
Houston, we have a problem. Apollo 13 chronicles the harrowing journey of the real-life space mission, wherein a tank explosion lead to three brave astronauts in peril, a million miles from earth, while the crew at Houston Mission Control worked tirelessly to engineer their solution. Compelling, powerful, and meticulously focused, Apollo 13 is a film that will grip you from start to finish.
5. Boyhood (3.8 on Letterboxd)
In an utterly remarkable feat for cinema, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was filmed over the course of 12 years. A literal coming-of-age movie, Boyhood, follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a child of divorced, trying-to-make-it-work parents played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Over the course of its extensive production, the film does its part in capturing the nostalgic cultural moments that many of us share in our own childhoods.
Boyhood is an ambitious project that pays off big, providing a touching study of childhood and its fleeting nature. Boyhood was filmed in a number of different cities across Texas, including shots in Minute Maid Park and Houston Museum of Natural Science.
6. Friday Night Lights (3.5 on Letterboxd)
Arguably more than anywhere else in the United States, Friday Night Lights hits home for Texans that grew up with the electric drama of high school football. Set in the otherwise negligible town of Odessa – a town that seemingly revolves around high school football – the Permian team is on course for the state championship until their star player is sidelined.
Surprisingly – at least to this writer – the Texas football-based film features a stellar soundtrack thanks in large part to native Austin band, Explosions in the Sky.
7. The Martian (3.7 on Letterboxd)
Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is an astronaut that gets stranded on Mars after a cataclysmic storm that leaves his crew and those in mission control to believe that he is dead. Once Watney, rocket scientist that he is, discovers how to communicate with mission control revealing that he is indeed alive, a new mission quickly sets course to bring him home. However, Watney must find a way to survive starvation, solitude, and chaotic Martian weather in the inter rim.
Thrilling, comedic, and at times even educational, The Martian is another high mark for the established Ridley Scott. While most of the picture was actually filmed in Budapest, NASA’s Johnson Space Center does make an appearance in establishing shots.
8. Brewster McCloud (3.7 on Letterboxd)
Brewster McCloud just may be the most Houston movie on this list. That’s due in part to fantasy fulfillment, in which Brewster (Bud Court) inhabits the Astrodome as he builds wings to fly – all while under the eyes of a sharp detective. The dark comedy from director Robert Altman provides an easy-going watch one that is filled with gags and at-times biting social commentary.
9. Tin Cup (3.2 on Letterboxd)
Roy McAvoy is a washed-up golf phenomenon slumming it at a West Texas driving range in this 1996 romantic comedy. After falling for sports psychologist, Dr. Molly Griswold (Rene Russo) – and butting heads with her boyfriend, golf pro David Simms – McAvoy attempts to qualify for the U.S. Open. Tin Cup is a charming, fun, and funny movie all the way through to the its exciting ending that which takes place at Kingwood golf course.
10. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (3.7 on Letterboxd)
The straightforward and well-told documentary examines the collapse of America’s then seventh biggest corporation. In Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, we discover the deceit, the corruption, and the villains behind the financial scam that got out of hand.