The Top 12 Country Music Movies

John Turturro And George Clooney In 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?'
Archive Photos / Getty Images
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'Pure Country' (1992)

pure country movie poster

Warner Bros.

"Pure Country" stars George Strait as a country singer sick of the limelight who abandons stardom for, yes, life on the farm. The setup's admittedly corny, but the movie's worth watching for Strait's first and (so far) only foray into film acting. "Pure Country" was a critical and box-office failure — proving that cashing in on the ​'90s country boom wasn't so easy. But Strait got the last laugh. His accompanying soundtrack became his best-selling album. Of all time.​

Said Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Pure Country" tells a laborious but likable story, not amazingly original ... Strait is not an actor in the class of Mellencamp or Nelson, but he is genuine and has a winning smile and holds his own in a screenplay that makes few demands." 

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'Urban Cowboy' (1980)

urban cowboy movie poster

Paramount Pictures

"Urban Cowboy" was released while disco was in its death throes, and this honky-tonk counterpart to "Saturday Night Fever"  helped boost the careers of its soundtrack singers and launched a nationwide craze. In the film, John Travolta plays Bud, a small-town Texan drawn to the dim lights and thick smoke of Houston's honky-tonks. On a stage of sawdust floors, he looks for love, blunders into heartbreak and mounts a mechanical bull. Whether you're an admirer of '80s kitsch or a sucker for redneck romance, "Urban Cowboy" is required country music viewing.

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'Country Strong' (2010)

country strong movie poster

Screen Gems

Gwyneth Paltrow plays a hot mess of a country singer trying to pull herself out of a deadly downward spiral. After a stint in rehab, she tries to put her scandals behind her and return to the spotlight. But can she keep away from the bottle? Or the pills? Or the razor blade? Tim McGraw co-stars as the singer's harried husband, and Paltrow does a fine job singing on the tunes (several of which were written by the redoubtable Hayes Carll). "Coming Home" was nominated for Best Song at the 2011 Academy Awards.

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'Sweet Dreams' (1985)

sweet dreams movie poster

TriStar Pictures

Jessica Lange delivers a phenomenal performance as country legend Patsy Cline. ​"Sweet Dreams" follows Cline's rise to fame — and tragic, too-early death at age 30 in a plane crash. Lange dazzles, but don't ignore the supporting cast. Ed Harris is remarkable as Patsy's Mr. Wrong. Lange doesn't sing in the picture, but the strength of her acting overcame any quibbles about "authenticity"—earning her an Oscar nod in 1986 for Best Actress.

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'Walk the Line' (2005)

walk the line movie poster

Twentieth Century Fox

When it hit theaters in 2005, this Johnny Cash biopic brought renewed attention to the Man in Black. Joaquin Phoenix channels the country icon, and Reese Witherspoon plays his eventual wife June Carter. If the human drama is a bit Hollywood, the stellar musical performances are hardly canned. Phoenix's performance approaches Cash's but doesn't try to impersonate him. Sure, you can think of this is a biopic, but "Walk the Line" is really more successful as a concert film.

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'Songwriter' (1984)

songwriter movie poster

Tri-Star Pictures

In "Songwriter," Willie Nelson plays Doc Jenkins, a talent-rich, cash-poor songwriter who manages the career of his pal Black Buck, played by Kris Kristofferson — and a hot young firecracker played by Lesley Ann Warren. The buddy comedy, directed by Robert Altman protege Alan Rudolph, was based in part on Nelson's experiences with the dark side of the record industry. James Wolcott called in "a litterbug comedy, eating up the white line in the middle of the road." Rip Torn shows up as an unscrupulous record producer.

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'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' (2000)

o brother where art thou movie poster

Touchstone Pictures

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?," starring George Clooney and John Turturro, follows fugitives from a chain gang through obstacles that include a crackpot Bible salesman (John Goodman) and sudden celebrity as bluegrass singers ("How can I lay a hold of them Soggy Bottom Boys?"). This Depression-era Odyssey, directed by the Coen Brothers, also brought old-timey music came back into fashion. T. Bone Burnett's soundtrack, featuring Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, became a best-seller.

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'Coal Miner's Daughter' (1980)

coal miners daughter movie poster

Universal Pictures

Sissy Spacek was handpicked by Loretta Lynn to play the singer in this movie based on her autobiography. All around, this movie is a class act. The Band's Levon Helm plays Lynn's coal-mining father; Tommy Lee Jones plays the singer's domineering husband, Mooney. The stirring results weren't ignored by the Academy. "Coal Miner's Daughter" was nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay; Spacek won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1981.

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'Nashville' (1975)

nashville movie poster

Paramount Pictures

Robert Altman's panorama of Music City will confound some viewers and delight others. The '70s drama takes place over five days in Nashville and boasts more than a dozen main characters, 20-plus original songs and a cat's cradle of plotlines. Some critics have called it a political parable, others a cutting-edge musical, still others a sprawling mess. It's a bit like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. What you get out of the movie depends on where you decide to look. The film demands repeat viewing. Whatever your take, it's worth being seen — and argued about.

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'Crazy Heart' (2009)

crazy heart movie poster

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Jeff Bridges stars as down-and-out country musician Bad Blake, made of equal parts Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Old Crow. The sleeper hit was aimed for the direct-to-video market but was spared that fate thanks to Bridges' Oscar-winning performance and T. Bone Burnett's phenomenal soundtrack — featuring the songwriting of Ryan Bingham, Greg Brown and Billy Joe Shaver.

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'Tender Mercies' (1983)

tender mercies movie cover

Universal Pictures

Robert Duvall stars as Mac Sledge, a boozing country singer on the run from his past. "Tender Mercies" has a quiet way about it and, by movie's end, you don't feel like you just know the characters — you feel like you've lived with them. This contemplative drama written by playwright Horton Foote earned Oscar nominations in 1984 for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor. Duvall and Foote both won. Foote based Duvall's character on a country singer he met who had been through the wringer of the music industry.

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'Payday' (1973)

payday video cover

Warner Home Video

Rip Torn's wild and profane performance as country singer Maury Dann is the stuff of legend. Dann sings songs in road houses set along an embattled strip of Southern highway. Between bedding fans and swilling down bottles of Wild Turkey, he's the boozy embodiment of "live fast, love hard, die young." Dann's descent into the seven circles of country music hell isn't for the faint of heart. Underrated, underseen and over the top, "Payday" is an underground classic.