Austin’s Most Iconic Movie Filming Locations
The capital city has been home to productions like Miss Congeniality, True Grit and Friday Night Lights
Illustrations by Bryan Spear
Lead photo by Charles Fair
Austin has a rich production history, with hundreds of movies and television shows filmed in the area over the decades. The growth and evolution of Austin throughout the years is documented in these productions, whether the locations are representing themselves or another city entirely. The friendly people and varied locations continue to attract filmmakers, and Austin continues to evolve — both on and off screen.
WE SLAUGHTER BARBEQUE:
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”
An ingenious commentary of the 1970s political landscape, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” inspired a new wave within the horror film genre at that time. Made with a budget of only $140,000, the film ended up grossing over $30 million. And the filming locations around Austin continue to be frequented by fans to this day. One such location is a gas station in Bastrop, where the characters in the movie stop after a chilling run-in with a hitchhiker. The gas station has been converted into a gift shop and popular barbeque joint called We Slaughter Barbeque.
TOP NOTCH BURGERS:
“Dazed and Confused”
One of the most famous debuts in the history of film was made at Austin’s very own Top Notch Burgers when Matthew McConaughey, as Wooderson in “Dazed in Confused,” utters his first-ever words on the big screen: “Alright, alright, alright.” From his Chevy Chevelle — with long blonde hair and a cigarette in hand — he coolly hits on a younger girl still in high school, setting the stage for Wooderson’s notorious character. To this day, the retro drive-in on Burnet Road remains a mainstay for carhop service and good food. And, luckily for us, McConaughey has decided that Austin is an “alright” place to put down roots: he moved back to Austin in 2011, this time with his family, and has been a professor at the University of Texas since 2019.
BAKER STREET PUB & GRILL:
Even though it flopped in theaters when it was released in 1999, “Office Space” went on to become one of the most successful home video releases of all time and gained a cult following. Most of it was filmed in Austin, including scenes at Chotchkie’s, a sports bar frequented by the main character Peter (played by Ron Livingston). This is where he meets his new love interest, a waitress played by the one-and-only Jennifer Aniston. The interior shots were set in what’s now Baker Street Bar & Grill on South Lamar.
BASS CONCERT HALL:
“Miss Congeniality” is an action comedy released in 2000, starring Sandra Bullock as Gracie Hart, a tomboy FBI agent who is asked to go undercover as a beauty pageant contestant. While the story was set in New York City and San Antonio, most of this cult classic was actually filmed in Austin. The Miss United States Pageant scenes were shot at the Bass Concert Hall at the University of Texas.
MANOR WATER TOWER:
“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”
While the 1993 film “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” is set in a fictional town in Iowa, most of the filming was done in Manor — just northeast of Austin. Starring Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, this coming-of-age story tugs at the heartstrings in all directions. Young DiCaprio plays an autistic boy named Arnie who is fascinated by Endora’s water tower, which is really the Manor Water Tower that’s located in the center of town. When his older brother Gilbert (Depp) sees someone scaling the tower from afar, he immediately knows who it is and rushes to save Gilbert.
THE MILLETT OPERA HOUSE:
An American Western film at its finest, “True Grit” has an all-star cast including Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. Some of the movie was filmed on downtown Austin’s Ninth Street, set to resemble an early-1900s Memphis, Tennessee. Modern details like streetlights and road paint were replaced by horse and buggies. The centerpiece is a historic building called the Millett Opera House, currently used by The Austin Club.
MCKINNEY FALLS STATE PARK:
“Spy Kids 2”
The majority of scenes in box-office family hits “Spy Kids” and sequel “Spy Kids 2” were shot in Austin. In the sequel, a new mission brings the Spy Kids — Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) Cortez — back for another adventure, this time on a distant island. While some shots for this one were done in Costa Rica (and Lake Travis!), as the adventure moves inland, scenes were shot at McKinney Falls State Park to replicate a rocky beach.
OLD DEL VALLE HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC FACILITY:
“Friday Night Lights”
The award-winning network drama television series “Friday Night Lights” centers around high school football. Scenes set at the Panther Field House and Practice Field — both of which were central locations throughout the five-season series — were filmed at the former Del Valle High School athletic facility near the Austin Bergstrom International Airport.
The highly acclaimed “Boyhood” was filmed over 12 years — from 2002 to 2013 — and tells the story of Mason Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane) from early childhood to his first year in college. Shot from Mason’s point of view, yearly vignettes portray the ups and downs of a boy growing up in Texas with divorced parents. The Continental Club, a bustling landmark on South Congress, is the venue where Mason and his girlfriend see a country band with their friends while they’re visiting Austin together.