As we’re taking a summer vacation through the movies Thursdays in July and August, this is our last week looking at U.S. cities in the movies. We’ve already been to New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In August, we’ll go to five different European countries. Now, here are the best New Orleans movies. That doesn’t mean the best movies that happen to be set in New Orleans but the best portraits of the city that the movies have given us.
8. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)
Often disregarded as a worthless and unfunny movie, Abbott and Costello Goes to Mars may be far from a masterpiece but it does succeed at one thing. It shows just how unique a city New Orleans is. The characters end up in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but they think they’re on Mars!
7. Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Based on a play by Tennessee Williams, who loved to write about New Orleans, Suddenly Last Summer is set in the city’s Garden District. Though the movie doesn’t deeply explore the dark mystical practices known to be so common in New Orleans, the movie explores very deeply a family that has probably been influenced by those practices, with a very creepy woman in a very creepy home in what the movie makes to look like a very creepy Garden District.
6. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
The movie fails to bring the charm and joy of most Disney animated films, but there is one thing The Princess and the Frog does very well, and that’s portray the city. Randy Newman’s opening song “Down in New Orleans” shows us the French Quarter, the street musicians, the palm readers, and especially the restaurants since the story’s “princess” isn’t really a princess but a girl who dreams of owning a restaurant, and the animated food looks so real that it makes us as hungry for creole and fried food as Ratatouille does for all things of French cuisine.
5. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Another Tennessee Williams adaptation, this time adapted into a great film for Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, shows a very dark picture of New Orleans that reflects Blanche’s stereotypes more than the city in any time period. Yet her insane caricature of the city, of its people, of all people she thinks of as “common,” and especially her own family is all set in something that looks very much like the real New Orleans, no matter how unrealistic the story may deal with its culture.
4. Jezebel (1938)
The quintessential movie of the South before Gone with the Wind, Bette Davis plays a role very much like Scarlet O’Hara in a film that recreated the New Orleans of the Reconstruction period just like Gone with the Wind recreated the Atlanta of the same time.
3. All the King’s Men (1949)
A fictionalized version of the corrupt Louisiana senator Louis P. Long, Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) is definitely a product of his culture. We see the character formed by the good, the bad, and the ugly of his surroundings, including the city of New Orleans.
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
“The Bathtub” is a fictional bayou, but the filmmakers leave no room for doubt that it’s part of New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina. Like many bayou communities in New Orleans, the residents of the Bathtub are so cut off from the rest of the world that they don’t even have a name for the storm that’s coming (and I mean a name as basic as hurricane, not the specific name Katrina). Beasts takes us to the extremely self-sufficient, self-governing, self-enclosed bayou communities that really do exist around New Orleans.
1. Easy Rider (1969)
Billy and Wyatt travel through many parts of the U.S., but through their whole trip, they talk about their plans for Mardi Gras so vividly that we get a tour of New Orleans before the characters ever get there. When they do get there, we see a lot of the French Quarter and its most famous Beale Street, we see the festivities of Mardi Gras, and we even get a scene taking us through one the city’s above-ground cemeteries.