Dallas has always had a certain iconic allure. From gridiron (and rhinestone) cowboys to titans of American industry, our great city can point to a long list of household names on its roster of famous residents. But Dallas’ serious star power isn’t limited to such celebrities. Dallas is symbolic — Dallas represents opportunity, innovation and prosperity to individuals the world over. Perhaps that’s why Dallas has served as the primary set location for a number of memorable movies and television shows that have showcased our city’s striking architecture and uniquely Texan culture.
The Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Brian De Palma is an American auteur. That is, his films reflect his one-of-a-kind artistic sensibility, not only in the way they’re shot but also in how they’re conceived, cast, scored and edited. Nowhere is this more evident than in his early films, of which The Phantom of the Paradise is one of the most unusual. A modern, glam-rock-inspired retelling of The Phantom of the Opera (with elements of Faust thrown in for good measure), Downtown Dallas’ Majestic Theater plays the role of the titular Paradise. And the villain’s abode? It may look like a haunted castle, but its forbidding exterior is actually the Old Red Courthouse. Fun, frightening and often downright weird, this Phantom revisited The Majestic in 2016 for its first-ever screening in the theater where it was filmed.
Perhaps the first show to really put Dallas on the map was this long-running nighttime soap opera that was also one of the first television dramas of its kind. It followed the wealthy Ewing family through their ups and downs managing a huge oil company. First airing in 1978, Dallas ran for 14 consecutive seasons. That’s a lot of famous cliffhangers, from the national obsession over “Who shot J.R.?” to the suggestion that an entire season had been dreamed by one of the show’s principal characters. In that time, this fictitious Dallas became an integral part of every real Dallasite’s identity. (Most longtime residents can still hum the theme from the show’s opening credits.) Southfork Ranch, home to the Ewing Mansion, is still a popular tourist attraction and sits just north of Plano. Dallas was revived in 2012 to critical acclaim but just wasn’t able to quite capture that same ratings magic. It was canceled after three seasons. Yet the original lives on in reruns — and in the memories of television fans everywhere.
A true treasure trove of late ‘80s pop culture (“Your move, creep.”), Robocop’s blend of action, dystopian themes and science-fiction-infused satire scored a major win at the box office and kicked off an entire franchise that’s seen everything from video-game to comic-book spinoffs. Although the film is set in Detroit, it was mostly filmed in Dallas and made extensive use of the city’s futuristic skyline. The infamous Omni Consumer Products, responsible for the creation of superhuman robocops, has its headquarters in a Dallas City Hall subsequently altered by the film’s special effects artists. Plus, if you watch closely during one of the movie’s car chase sequences, you’ll be able to spot Reunion Tower in the background.
Oliver Stone’s JFK, starring Kevin Costner, follows the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination and its alleged cover-up. The Texas School Book Depository Building (now the Dallas County Administration Building) and Dealey Plaza both play primary roles in this conspiracy-thriller. Stone enjoys Dallas so much that he’s filmed numerous movies here, including Any Given Sunday (1999), Talk Radio (1988) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), which earned Tom Cruise his first Oscar nomination.
Bottle Rocket (1996)
Native Texan (Houstonian, to be precise) Wes Anderson made his directorial debut with this film, which stars Dallasites Luke and Owen Wilson. This film is chock-full of recognizable locations, from the Texas Ice House in Deep Ellum to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Gillin House to the Highland Park Pharmacy, among others. Although the film has never been more than a cult classic, it helped launch the career of its now-famous director and stars.
Dr. T and the Women (2000)
This romantic comedy starring Richard Gere and Helen Hunt is another Dallas-filmed classic, but it captures more than just the city’s scenery. Gere plays an exceedingly successful gynecologist who’s especially popular among Dallas’ most wealthy women, and the film can be seen as a lighthearted poke at certain aspects of what makes Texas Texas. Be sure to watch for the scenes set at NorthPark Center and the Dallas Arboretum. Directed by Robert Altman of Mash, Nashville and Gosford Park fame, Dr. T and the Women is a film ripe for rediscovery.
Upstream Color (2013)
Director Shane Carruth made a big splash in 2004 with Primer, a philosophically heady film about time travel produced DIY-style in and around Richardson. Carruth’s second feature resists easy synopsis and is perhaps best classified as “experimental.” However, despite the challenges Upstream Color presents the average viewer, its lyrical tone and stunning visuals have endeared it to movie buffs. Downtown Dallas has rarely looked so fantastical and yet so timeless.