Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.

Memphis: As Seen Onscreen

Photo: Morgan Jon Fox's "Feral" filming in Memphis. Photo by Breezy Lucia.

So we’re stuck at home, AND stuck inside because of rain? Ain’t that a bi…Okay, let’s stay positive! We’re lucky to have houses, running water, groceries, hopefully good health, and all the entertainment options at the click of button. If Netflix originals aren’t doing it for ya, and you want things to hit a little closer to home, there are a handful of Memphis movies and tv series that can keep you distracted amongst these dreary days.

Mystery Train (1989)

One night in Memphis, three different stories, linked together through one hotel— the Arcade Hotel. The hotel itself has long since been demolished. In fact, it had even been closed for several years before the filming of “Mystery Train.” However, the Arcade Restaurant is definitely still standing. This shot is probably my favorite one in this article, and it’s also probably one of the easiest to recreate. Grab a partner and a suitcase, and suddenly “Mystery Train” has four narratives instead of three. 

Great Balls of Fire (1989)

“Great Balls of Fire” follows the story of Jerry Lee Lewis, who built his name in Memphis after a deal with Sun Studio, and the story that follows the rock ‘n’ roll singer and the unexpected relationship he had with his cousin, Myra. “Great Balls of Fire” was shot mostly in Marion, AR, however, a few key scenes were filmed in Memphis as well. The scene pictured was shot outside of Bruce Elementary school. The old Shelby County Courthouse and Jerry’s Sno Cones can also be seen in some of the background shots.

The Firm (1993)

We all know local treasure John Grisham and in turn, we all know his hit novel “The Firm” that became a hit film, as well. “The Firm” is shot almost entirely in Memphis. It’s not hard to find familiar scenery throughout the movie, but there’s something about those gold elevators inside of the Cotton Exchange Building that catch everyone’s attention. Feel free to walk into the lobby to check it out during museum hours and snap a couple pics. 

Hustle & Flow (2005)

“Hustle & Flow” is one of those movies that really embodied Memphis. It was written, set, and filmed right here in the Bluff City. The film’s writer and director, Craig Brewer, is also a Memphis native. About a pimp struggling with his life while wishing for something greater, “Hustle & Flow” is the story of DJay who, in turn, uses those hardships to inspire his rap music. Some of the iconic sets around town include Rock House Live, St. Paul Avenue, Galloway Church, and Crystal Palace Skating rink, which is now closed. 

Elizabethtown (2005)

A lot of the things that have been filmed in Memphis are no brainers, like basically any John Grisham film, for example, but others might surprise you, like Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown.”  Kirsten Dunst sends Orlando Bloom on a road trip that leads him to some of Memphis’s finest stops like the National Civil Rights Museum, Earnestine and Hazel’s and to eat chili at the Arcade Restaurant. 

Walk the Line (2005)

“Walk the Line” hits home for the locals for a lot of reasons. Not only were several scenes filmed throughout Memphis, but the story itself follows Johnny Cash’s life and trials. Cash recorded a lot of music at Sun Studio between 1954 and 1958, ensuring his spot in Memphis’ rich music history. There were a lot of great scenes to pick from, but in the end, I had to highlight my personal favorite – “June Says Yes” – which was filmed in our very own Orpheum Theatre. 

Black Snake Moan (2006)

Memphian Craig Brewer makes our list for a second time with “Black Snake Moan.” After the success he received from “Hustle and Flow,” Brewer put this film into works starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci. Worn down bluesman, Lazarus finds alcoholic nymphomaniac, Rae, beaten and left for dead. He decides to cure her of her affliction the best way he knows how—by chaining her to his radiator. Now, if you’ve seen the movie you know there’s a lot more to it than that, but we’re anti-spoiler around here. Several of the scenes were shot around town, but my favorite one is the “Stack-O-Lee” club scene, shot in our very own beloved Earnestine and Hazel’s. 

Feral (2016-)

Made is Memphis, directed by a Memphian, AND staring Memphians?! Can I get a hell yeah! Feral, an online series created by Morgan Jon Fox, is an exploration of what it’s like to be in your early 20’s in modern day America. You’ll see the struggle that comes with finding a good roommate and figuring out how to to pay rent—but most of all you’ll see friendship, love, love-lost and more as you follow the journeys of young, queer artists, who are trying their best to navigate some of the complexities that come with being gay in the south.

This is Us (2016-)

Photo: This is Us Cast at A. Schwab’s on Beale

No, I’m not telling you to binge watch This is Us…I don’t need this turning into a Corona cry fest. But, if you’ve already seen the show and want relive some of that Memphis magic, might we suggest you re-watching Season 1, Episode 16 (YOU KNOW THE ONE) For those of you that haven’t tuned in yet, you’ve had four years to do so—but I’ll let you figure out for yourself how a story of a family from Pittsburgh has a touching Memphis narrative that’ll have you in tears.

Bluff City Law (2019)

Let’s all pour one out for Bluff City Law, or as I’d like to call it The Little Show That Could. I remember gathering at Hi Tone, White Claw in hand, to watch the drama unfold between the father-daughter lawyer duo. It was there that I learned two things: 1. Bars= not good for paying attention to shows. 2. Memphians really wanted to see this show succeed. Even though it’s end came quicker than expected, there’ll always be BCL in our hearts—and on the internet, because it’s available for streaming.

A few more honorable mentions include “Nothing But The Truth,” which was shot at the Commercial Appeal and on South Main, and 21 Grams, which had several scenes filmed on South Main as well.

Memphis also made appearances in films like “Castaway,” featuring the FedEx World Hub, and “The Silence of The Lambs,” that filmed one of the court scenes at the old Shelby County Courthouse. 

There’s also, of course, the Hallmark Channel movie “Christmas at Graceland” and it’s sequel “Christmas in Graceland: Home For the Holidays” where they notoriously created “snow” during the dead of summer in Memphis. 

Shout out to the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission for their role in bringing these productions to town. Keep up with what’s on the way and their impact by following them on Facebook, and see more projects that were filmed in Memphis on their website’s filmography

Drop your favorite Memphis film and TV moments in the comments!

Cover Image: Morgan Jon Fox’s “Feral” filming in Memphis. Photo by Breezy Lucia.
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