Country music may seem pretty far removed from Hollywood, but its also supplied some classic films related to the genre. After all, country artists know a thing or two about telling a great story. Here are 11 great country music movies every country fan should watch.
Why it’s awesome: This underrated flick follows a musicologist who travels to early 1900s Appalachia to discover and record old Scottish and Irish ballads. The music, which in part helped birth country music, is front and center.
Country music cool points: Country-folk artist Iris DeMent has a significant role and–as featured in the video above–lends her gorgeous mountain voice to the film’s soundtrack.
Why it’s awesome: Ok, so The Thing Called Love was never going to when any Oscars. It was pretty much universally panned by critics upon release. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a delight to watch. The film follows aspiring singer-songwriter Miranda Presley as she moves to Music City, auditions at the famous Bluebird Cafe and works toward her big break. Along the way she meets and falls in love with a fellow songwriter (River Phoenix, in his final role) and befriends a southern beauty queen, Linda Lue Linden (Sandra Bullock). Sorry critics, we still think this movie is amazing.
Country music cool points: This film has so many great country cameos. Trisha Yearwood appears as herself when two of the characters break into her car to leave a demo. Instead of pressing charges, she decides to record the song. Totally plausible! K.T. Oslin portrays the proprietor of the Bluebird Cafe and if you look closely in one scene you can see a baby-faced Dale Watson playing guitar with River Phoenix.
Why it’s awesome: It just doesn’t get better than a buddy movie starring Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson playing country musicians taking on the music industry.
Country music cool points: Well, it’s Willie and Kris. And the film’s script was derived from Willie’s real-life discontent with the Nashville music industry.
Why it’s awesome: Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Whitherspoon are perfectly cast as Johnny and June and the film tells one of country’s greatest love stories with grace.
Country music cool points: Shooter Jennings makes an appearance as his real life dad, Waylon Jennings. Singer Shelby Lynn plays Johnny Cash’s mother, Carrie.
Why it’s awesome: It’s been described as the Purple Rain of the country music world. Willie Nelson plays Buck Bonham, who is…basically a less successful Willie Nelson. He’s in a love triangle with his wife and an aspiring young singer who happens to be the daughter of his guitar player. But we still love him because he’s Willie–er, Buck.
Country music cool points: As expected, the soundtrack is killer. (Nelson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “On the Road Again.”) And the movie features performances by Emmylou Harris and legendary Texas fiddler Johnny Gimble.
Why it’s awesome: It’s George Strait in his first (and only) starring role. He plays a country music superstar named Dusty and sports a very un-George Srait ponytail and five o’clock shadow. Dusty leaves fame behind, hitchhikes back to Texas, gets a clean shave, gets back to his roots and falls in love with a girl on a ranch. He says things like, “Sometimes I feel like a dancing chicken.”
Country music cool points: Punk singer turned alt-country hero John Doe plays Dusty’s trusted friend and drummer, Earl.
Why it’s awesome: It doesn’t get any cooler than Jeff Bridges playing a struggling country singer named Bad Blake who begrudgingly plays gigs in bowling alleys.
Country music cool points: The novel on which the film was based was inspired by country singer Hank Thompson. Ryan Bingham, who penned “The Weary Kind” for the film, appears as a member of Bad Blake’s backing band.
Why it’s awesome: It’s the movie that launched a musical revolution, sparking public interest in old time music and bluegrass and making the century-old “Man of Constant Sorrow” a smash hit.
Country music cool points: Americana singer Gillian Welch, who appears on the famous film soundtrack, has a cameo in the film as a woman trying to purchase a record by The Soggy Bottom Boys.
Why it’s awesome: Clint Eastwood portrays Red, a Depression-era country singer traveling to Nashville with his nephew to record an album. The story is partially based on the life of Jimmie Rodgers.
Country music cool points: Marty Robbins makes his final appearance in the film as Smokey, a session singer who helps Red record his song “Honkytonk Man.”
Why it’s awesome: Robert Duvall plays Mac Sledge, a washed up, recovering alcoholic country singer trying to make a new start in a small Texas town. Duvall’s work in the quietly beautiful film won him an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1984.
Country music cool points: Duvall does his own singing in the film and even wrote some of the songs on the soundtrack. Willie Nelson was so impressed with the film’s honest portrayal of a struggling singer, he offered to help promote the film.
Why it’s awesome: Portraying one of the most beloved country singer-songwriters of all time is no easy task, but Sissy Spacek did it with gusto. Spacek is Loretta Lynn in this film. It’s kind of uncanny. Loretta handpicked the actress for the role, due to their physical similarities. Incredibly, Spacek did all her own singing for the role.
Country music cool points: Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl all make cameos in the movie. Levon Helm of The Band plays Loretta’s father, Tedd Webb.