Summertime in Texas can sure get hotter’n a boiling hot tub in Hades’ back-forty, which makes Netflix and a working AC unit sound pretty dang attractive. It’s pretty fun to sit back and watch the old-timey movies of Denton starlets like Joan Blondell or Anne Sheridan. Seeing yet another list of movies filmed in Dallas reminded me that Denton has its very own cinematic claims to fame. so here is our own top 10 list of films featuring Denton County (plus one that almost did).
The race to the bottom of the list is a pretty close call. On the one hand, Lethal Seduction has infamous T&A B-movie starlet Julie Strain wiggling through a predictably cheesy plot, with scenes shot using some 1994 UNT students. Yet on the other hand, we have a Selena Gomez ‘Freaky Friday’ farce with a single quick glimpse of the Denton Courthouse Square in an establishing shot. Which is the bigger waste of time? We’ll let you battle it out in the comments, but I’d rather watch the locally-made PARTY GIRL webseries.
#9: DADDY’S DYIN’, WHO’S GOT THE WILL? (1990)
The Dude’s brother Beau Bridges and Beverly D’Angelo chew up scenery along with numerous other Hollywood character actors in this solidly average black comedy, set in a stereotypical Texas small town. It was filmed at the historic Cole Ranch just outside of town, with a few glimpses that’ll remind you how far the Denton Square has come in the last 15 years.
#8: LATE BLOOMERS (1996)
A mid-life lesbian love story about a scandalous small town romance, set in Nevada but filmed in Denton and NTX towns, Late Bloomers is a sweet Dramedy that’s better than just good. A Nominee for the 1996 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, and winner of Lone Star Film & Television awards for both lead actresses, this movie is poignant and funny and therefore worth a watch.
#7: THE APOSTLE (1997)
You probably remember this Robert Duvall tour de force that rightfully earned him an Oscar nomination, filmed partly in rural Denton and Collin Counties, but there are a ton of cameos and a handful of NTX talent peppered throughout this amazing film (Denton-raised songwriter Terry Smith contributed to the soundtrack). Not much recognizably Denton that I can recall, honestly, but dangit we’re counting this one!
#6: ARMAGEDDON (1998)
Everyone has seen this Michael Bay Hollywood blockbuster at least a half-dozen times on TV, cheering Bruce Willis and Ben Batfleck’s Earth-saving team along with Billy Bob Thornton and Liv Tyler. With establishing scenes filmed on location in Aubrey, Pilot Point, and Denton, Armageddon is a testosterone-fueled flag-waving macho space-cowboy actioneer so filled with scientific errors and implausibility that NASA uses it with new recruits to illustrate a catalog of mistakes in astrophysics. So maybe not totally worthless, after all.
#5: WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE? (1993)
Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Juliette Lewis sizzle in this award-winning indy darling that memorably launched their careers. I recall a very endearing film with DiCaprio getting his first Oscar nod for playing a mentally-challenged teen, but can’t remember for the life of me what it was eating at Gilbert? The film had scenes shot over by Circa 77 off the Denton Square and included local talent in minor roles.
#4: THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1982)
This R-rated oh-so-8os musical comedy, starring the legendary duo Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, tells the almost-true Texas story of the Chicken Ranch brothel and its cozy history with the small town’s “good ole boy” officials until a crusading TV reporter intervenes. But was it really filmed in Denton? Except for one internet wiki, and besides the fact that UNT alum George Cook helped build its movie sets, I couldn’t find a shred of online evidence that the movie ever filmed here!! Sound off in the comments if you know otherwise, because I’d hate to have this Denton movie myth busted.
#3: BENJI (1974)
Alongside Lassie and Snoopy, contenders for the world’s most famous dog would definitely have to include Benji. Joe Camp, the mastermind behind the film franchise, is no stranger to Denton since he also spearheaded the 1967-8 “Dynamic Denton” campaign. His Benji films were filmed in and around Denton as well as across NTX, the adorable ragamuffin mutt logging several scenes on the picturesque Denton Courthouse lawn. The Benji franchise may be worth a revisit since Brandon Camp is on a mission to make a new Benji movie. Might we suggest “Benji Joins a Band in Denton”??
#2: NECESSARY ROUGHNESS (1991)
This ragtag-football-team-of-underdog-misfits flick only beats out Benji because just maybe the plot seems so darn familiar to UNT football fans, but it also prominently features one of our Denton colleges. Starring Quantum-Leaping-occasional-Starship-captain Scott Bakkula with an all-star cast, these Fightin’ Armadillos filmed most of their scenes on the UNT campus and Fouts Field football stadium. How could you NOT love watching Jason Bateman and Sinbad team-up for a touchdown boogie?!? And stories about some of the stars trying to order vegetarian food while here on location scrimmaging with real Dallas Cowboys? Priceless.
#1: BONNIE & CLYDE (1967)
Entertainment Weekly ranked this classic at No. 4 on its 2013 list of the 100 greatest movies ever made, but it will always be #1 in the hearts of Denton County. Local extras in scenes from the Denton Square, downtown Pilot Point, and other NTX locales or small towns makes this the most Denton-centric movie you’ll find. Heck, the red carpet Southwest premiere of the film was at our own Campus Theater, and Pilot Point still hosts annual Bonnie & Clyde Days every October. Even today, this movie is a ton of fun to watch Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway pout and growl their way into local outlaw infamy!
… and #1 movie that just ALMOST nearly starred Denton TX:
SHOCK TREATMENT (1981), sequel to the 1975 cult hit THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW
Everyone has heard the rumor that ROCKY HORROR was really set in Denton TX, despite clues that “The Home of Happiness” was actually in Ohio, but maybe there’s some slim reasons for thinking so aside from the fact that Meatloaf is a UNT alumni. No, RHPS writer Richard O’Brien never attended school in Denton TX, but director Jim Sharman actually did scout locations in Denton TX for the Shock Treatment sequel before a Screen Actors Guild strike during ’79-’80 forced them to film instead in the UK. RHPS is also no stranger to the Denton stage, and I love it that some press for the new remake is re-circulating the delicious rumor that Dr. Frank N. Furter’s castle is indeed “somewhere near the town of Denton, Texas.” Keep it up, internets.
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.