Memphis in the Movies

Earnestine & Hazel's bar in Downtown Memphis was named by Gun & Garden Magazine as one of the 50 Best Southern Bars. Photo by Kerry Crawford.

Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and more have all recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis. Photo by Brand USA

Main Street Collierville Movie Night

The Arcade has been featured on The Food Network, Travel Channel and has been the backdrop to numerous feature films. Photo by Phillip Parker

Since Jim Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train” was filmed here in 1989, Memphis has become a hot destination for filmmakers looking for a unique setting. Many of the locations featured in these movies can be seen on visits to downtown.

Jarmusch’s bluesy “Mystery Train” follows the stories of four strangers staying at the same seedy downtown hotel. Most of the film was shot in the area that is now the South Main Arts District. The film also features priceless cameos by legends Rufus Thomas, Marvell Thomas, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Joe Strummer and Tom Waits.

John Grisham also found Memphis to be the perfect setting for the movie version of “The Firm." The film features shots of Tom Cruise tearing through famous downtown sights (like the Cotton Exchange, the Peabody Hotel and Mud Island) as he tries to outrun the mob.

Memphis’ gritty vibe was a big part of “21 Grams." The story of addiction, redemption and vengenace saw Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts driving through Central Gardens in Midtown, eating at the Arcade and partying at Earnestine and Hazel’s.

Filmmakers can’t resist Memphis’ musical history. The Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” was largely filmed in Memphis. The film follows Cash’s life from his Arkansas boyhood through his years recording at Sun Studio. Resse Witherspoon won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Cash’s second wife, June Carter.

Another film with major Memphis influence is Craig Brewer’s “Hustle & Flow." Brewer, who is a Memphian, transformed the city’s film scene with this story of a pimp with an up-and-coming rap career and a midlife crisis set to music by acclaimed local rappers Three 6 Mafia and Al Kapone. The film was a huge hit locally and went on to win big at the Sundance Film Festival and the box office.

Memphis is still filming and will be the set for the upcoming CMT series "The Million Dollar Quartet" in March 2016. The drama series will be about Sun Records founder Sam Phillips along with his four artists Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins. On Dec. 4, 1956, the foursome got togehter to recod an impromptu session that coined the name “The Million Dollar Quartet”.