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The Cinema of San Antonio

Remember “The Alamo” – the epic 1960 western directed by and starring John Wayne? Despite its subject, the movie wasn’t actually filmed in San Antonio. Fortunately for Mission City, there have been numerous Hollywood productions that went on location to use the Texas scenery as a backdrop. As you explore San Antonio, you’re likely to see reminders of some of these flicks:

  • 8 Seconds (1994) – A biopic of Lane Frost, a champion bull rider. The movie, which stars Luke Perry and Stephen Baldwin, chronicles Frost’s marriage and his friendships with fellow riders Tuff Hedeman and Cody Lambert. Although parts of the movie were shot in San Antonio, the film is most memorable today for an early appearance by Renee Zellweger, as well as on-screen performances by Brooks & Dunn, McBride & The Ride and the Vince Gill & Karla Bonoff Band.
  • Spy Kids (2001) – The start of a popular family film series, written and directed by the prolific Robert Rodriguez, a native son of San Antonio. Two married spies (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) come out of retirement when their former colleagues – the world’s most formidable agents – start disappearing. When they, too, fall victim to a nefarious plot, the only ones who can rescue them… their kids.
  • Lolita (1997) – An updated, more adult version of the Vladimir Nabokov tale, starring Jeremy Irons and Melanie Griffith. A teacher rents a room and is immediately attracted to – and obsessed with – his landlady’s precocious (and underage) daughter. The scandalous story was filmed in various locations around the South (including New Orleans, New Mexico and North Carolina), including a number of places in Texas – including San Antonio.
  • Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – The cartoonish and childish Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) goes on a big adventure for the first time ever when his beloved shiny new bicycle is stolen. He sets off on an obsessive cross-country journey, determined to recover it. The movie, which was co-written by Reubens and the late Phil Hartman, was filmed entirely in California… except for one exterior shot… of the Alamo!
  • Syriana (2005) – Written and directed by Academy Award winner Stephen Gaghan, this politically charged epic takes an insider’s look at the state of the oil industry – and those personally involved and affected by it. The all-star cast includes Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer and – in his Oscar-winning role – George Clooney. The globetrotting drama was shot around the world (including San Antonio).
  • Miss Congeniality (2000) – An FBI agent must go undercover in the Miss United States beauty pageant to prevent a group from bombing the event. This hit comedy, in which Sandra Bullock stars with such legends as Michael Caine, Candace Bergen and William Shatner, was primarily filmed in the Austin area, but some scenes were shot in San Antonio.
  • Rolling Thunder (1977) – A violent action thriller in which war hero Maj. Charles Rane (William Devane) is robbed and maimed, and his family killed, by a local gang of thugs. Despite having never fired a gun while in combat, Rane enlists his war buddy (Tommy Lee Jones) to take on the thugs in a final showdown. Primarily shot in San Antonio.

“Rolling Thunder” Trivia

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino named his distributing company – which released B-movies, cult classics, independent films, exploitation movies and foreign films – Rolling Thunder Pictures after this film.

  • Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995) – The goofy “pet detective” returns from a spiritual quest to investigate the disappearance of a rare white bat, the sacred animal of a tribe in Africa. This sequel to the hit 1994 comedy likewise grossed more than $100 million. And despite the fact that the plot takes the main character to various international locales, the entire film was shot in the U.S. and Canada, including San Antonio.
  • The Newton Boys (1998) – The story of the most successful bank robbers in history, thanks to their good planning and minimal violence. These days, the flick is more of a curio than a fondly remembered piece of cinema, due to the involvement of future stars Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio and Julianna Margulies, and writer-director Richard Linklater. San Antonio was used extensively during filming, doubling for Toronto, Omaha and Chicago!
  • The Getaway (1972) – The first (and most successful) adaptation of a novel by pulp writer Jim Thompson, the film paired Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw as a recently released ex-con and his loyal wife, who go on the run after a heist goes awry. Though the film was a box office hit (and was remade in 1994), it is perhaps best remembered for the off-screen romance of its stars (MacGraw ended up divorcing her husband – producer Robert Evans – after falling for McQueen). The film was shot in various locations around Texas, including The Riverwalk in San Antonio.

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