26 Great Southern Movies To Watch Now

Learn more about the South with these terrific Southern movies to take you there and teach you more.

Southern Movies to watch before you visit featured photo with lined up brown cowboy boots on the floor
Travel around the U.S. with these Southern movies.

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26 Best Southern Movies

This curated movie list is written by dark tourist historian (and good friend) Jeremy Paterson. You might also enjoy these movies filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina.

My Cousin Vinny Movie Poster with image of two people sitting facing a courtroom with judge behind them

My Cousin Vinny (1994)

While driving home through rural Alabama, two young New York college students accidentally wind up in jail for a murder they didn’t commit.

The evidence is seemingly stacked against them, and there’s no hope on the horizon until one of them remembers that they have a hotshot lawyer in the family.

Who? His cousin Vinny!

Unfortunately, Vinny is less of a sure thing than they’d like, and his rapid-fire Brooklyn attitude soon gets him into trouble with the reserved Southern townsfolk – especially the judge.

This fish-out-of-water comedy is one of the best movies set in the South.

Pesci’s comedic timing is on point, and Marisa Tomei took home an academy award for her portrayal of Pesci’s sardonic yet devoted fiancée Mona Lisa Vito.

As well as being a genuinely funny and oddly heartwarming caper, My Cousin Vinny is also so well-researched that it is actually used as training material for real-life budding courtroom lawyers.

Don’t miss out on one of the greatest Southern movies ever made!

Selma Movie Poster with image of person with back to viewer in front of a large crowd

Selma (2014)

The year is 1965, and racial tensions are high in the United States as the civil rights movement continues to divide the nation.

In order to help secure equal voting rights for Black people in America, a march is organized in Alabama leading from the city of Selma to the state capital of Montgomery.

Leading the march is Dr. Martin Luther King, and as preparations get underway, various parties both civilian and political attempt to stop it from taking place, at any cost.

Based on true events, Selma is undoubtedly one of the most historically important Southern movies on this list.

David Oyelowo’s central performance as Dr. King is a standout as he channels the vocal power and charisma of his subject in a historical drama that is a captivating viewing experience.

Fried Green Tomatoes Movie Poster with green and red tomatoes and image of two people from the movie

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

Fried Green Tomatoes starts in the then-present day with frustrated housewife Evelyn meeting Ninny, a resident of the nursing home where Evelyn’s husband’s aunt lives.

Happy for some company, Ninny shares a story with Evelyn about her sister-in-law, Idgie Threadgoode.

As they grow closer, both Ninny and Evelyn begin to open up and share more of their lives – though Idgie remains the focus of the stories.

With her own story and Idgie’s, Ninny also tells the tale of the forgotten town of Whistle Stop and later the Whistle Stop Cafe where Idgie works with her best friend, Ruth.

Through the episodes of Ninny and Idgie’s life, Evelyn begins to see life through a new lens and feels more fulfilled.

One of the most famous movies set in the South, Fried Green Tomatoes is a must-watch for anyone who loves movies about female friendships.

To Kill a Mockingbird Film Poster with image of person in suit, tie, and glasses and ripped note with sketched red bird

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

To the eyes of young resident Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, the town of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s is the whole world.

She and her brother Jem spend their summers in various activities around the neighborhood, including playing games in the street and searching for their always-unseen neighbor, Arthur “Boo” Radley.

Scout also receives care and sage advice from both Calpurnia, their Black housekeeper, and Atticus, her widowed lawyer father.

The community is thrown into turmoil, however, when Atticus is called on to defend a Black man in court against a crime that it is obvious he didn’t commit.

Through the racial tensions among the adults, Scout begins to learn some tough lessons about life.

Based on the American classic novel and famous Southern Gothic book of the same name, To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the most highly regarded movies about the South of the 20th century.

Watch even more iconic Southern Gothic films.

Boyhood Movie Poster with image of young white person in striped shirt lying on green grass

Boyhood (2014)

This is not only one of the most ambitious Southern movies, but just one of the most ambitious movies, period.

Boyhood is the story of the coming-of-age of Mason Evans, who begins the movie at 6 years old and is living in Texas with his divorced mother Olivia, and 8-year-old sister, Samantha.

As a viewer, we check in with Mason each year over the course of 12 years – always with the same actors.

Through this long-term filming technique, writer/director Richard Linklater gives us a very natural progression of getting to know Mason during the course of his adolescence.

We are shown his transitions through his years of schooling, his early relationships, his meetings with his separated parents over time, and his eventual graduation into adulthood.

For many, Boyhood is the ultimate growing-up movie, and so it deserves a spot on this list of Southern films you must watch.

Minari Film Poster with young child in stripped shirt walking through green grass

Minari (2020)

Hoping to find their own slice of the American dream, the Korean-American Yi family move to rural Arkansas in 1983 to a small farm, in the hopes of growing and selling Korean produce.

The father, Jacob, is initially optimistic, despite his wife Monica’s reservations. But things begin to take a turn for the worse when their water situation – or lack of it – becomes a problem.

With more and more on the line in terms of the family’s financial security, Jacob and Monica’s marriage becomes increasingly strained, which their young children David and Anne are aware of.

Add to that the difficulties of adjusting to a new community, and it’s going to take a miracle for the Yi family to make it work.

Plenty of the best Southern movies deal with the domestic struggles of family, but Minari offers a uniquely Korean perspective on the proceedings.

Named after the resilient east Asian water celery plant, this is a tender and heart-wrenching gem.

Crawl Film Poster with image of massive storm flooding a residential area and yellow danger sign with image of alligator

Crawl (2019)

It’s storm season in Florida, and competitive swimmer Haley discovers that category 5 Hurricane Wendy is on its way.

However, ignoring her sister’s advice to get out of the state, Haley heads down to her estranged father Dave’s house in an attempt to make sure he’s ok.

Upon arrival, Haley discovers her father’s house is empty. Acting on a hunch, she heads down to the old family home – which sits in a flood plain (oh no!) – to see if he went there.

It turns out Dave is there, but he’s trapped and unconscious in the basement… and surrounded by alligators! And with the storm worsening, the water levels are rising!

Ah, those pesky ‘gators. If you like tense creature-feature Southern movies that constantly up the ante of tension, you’ll find a lot to like about Crawl.

Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper make for likable leads, and the 90-minute runtime will just fly by as the alligators manage to find their way to ever more levels of the house.

Mississippi Masala Movie Poster with image of two people with one's hand on the other's chest

Mississippi Masala (1991)

After coming to power in Uganda, dictator Idi Amin enforces a brutal expulsion of all Asians from the country in 1972.

Among those forced to flee are husband and wife Jay and Kinnu, and their daughter Mina, who make their way eventually to Greenwood, Mississippi to live with family there.

In their new environment, Jay remains downcast and angry at his family’s relocation, remaining insular and refusing to integrate with other local communities.

His daughter Mina, however, has fully embraced her new American surroundings and has even begun a relationship with Demetrius, a Black Greenwood local.

But due to the racially charged situation, the two try to keep their relationship a secret for as long as they can.

Mississippi Masala is an underrated gem and one of the few movies set in the South to cover the experience of Indians in America.

Whip It Movie Poster with image of person in green shirt and helmet

Whip It (2009)

Life in Bodeen, Texas is not what Bliss Cavendar would like it to be.

As a shy and reserved 17-year-old, she absolutely does not want to partake in the local beauty pageants, as much as her mother – a former beauty queen – would like her to.

She needs a different outlet, and fortunately, she’s in luck.

In nearby Austin, Bliss discovers the all-women roller-derby league, and after trying out, it seems she’s a perfect fit for the sport.

Not only that, but it seems she’s found a place where she could belong. Now all she needs to do is keep her parents from finding out exactly where she goes twice a week.

Directed by Drew Barrymore, this feel-good coming-of-age sporting drama is one of those movies about the South – and Southern living – that will have you cheering from your seat.

Moonlight Movie Poster with image of person's face

Moonlight (2016)

Set during three separate time periods, Moonlight tells the story of three significant stages of the life of its protagonist, Chiron.

We first meet Chiron as a young Black boy – living in squalor with his crack addict mother in Liberty City, Miami – as he struggles with his mother’s abuse and with bullies who deride his sexual identity.

Next, we follow him as a teenager as he explores his sexuality and his place in the world.

Finally, we see Chiron as an adult, now himself a drug dealer in Atlanta, and dealing with the fallout of a coming-of-age filled with setbacks and hardship.

This hard-hitting drama is a powerful study of how someone’s experiences during their upbringing and their adolescence shape who they are as a person.

Moonlight is also the first LGBTQ film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, cementing its position as one of the most important Southern movies of the 21st century.

Get On Up Movie Poster with image of person bent over and singing into a microphone

Get On Up (2014)

As he makes his way to the stage for a performance, James Brown’s mind wanders through some of the pivotal moments in his life and career in show business.

We follow Brown for the entirety of his life, from his beginnings in extreme poverty in Augusta, Georgia, to his time in jail for stealing a suit, right through his rise to fame and fall afterward.

During this time, we see Brown at both his best and his worst.

At one time, he’s riding high as he raises the self-worth of the African-American community; at another, he’s waving a gun around while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

This biopic is told in a non-linear format and is every bit as intense and full-on as you would expect from a film about the “Godfather of Soul.”

Get On Up is an interesting addition to the library of music-based biographical Southern films.

Dumplin Film Poster with image of two people, one in red dress and one in white, with red spotlight coming down on them

Dumplin’ (2018)

Willowdean “Will” Dickson isn’t thin. And she’s fine with that; she likes who she is. Even if it means she doesn’t always fit in with her small Texan town.

But she has never really felt like her mother, Rosie – a former beauty pageant queen – gets her (after all, she calls her Dumplin’), and because of this, she is much closer to her aunt, Lucy.

When Lucy unexpectedly dies, Will and her mother are suddenly forced to spend a lot more time together, and immediately butt heads over Will’s weight.

As an act of protest – and to honor Lucy – Will and several “misfit” friends sign up for the Miss Teen Bluebonnet Pageant, much to her mother’s chagrin.

To feel closer to Lucy, Will also visits one of her favorite bars and meets a few drag queens who help her feel more comfortable dressing up and strutting her stuff.

Dumplin’ is one of the best Southern movies for teens and anyone who feels different or self-conscious.

Sweet Home Alabama Movie Poster with image of blonde short-haired person in form-fitting black dress with brown dog and luggage

Sweet Home Alabama (2002)

Having left her rural Southern hometown behind her for a glitzy career in New York fashion, Melanie Carmichael is now living the dream.

She’s got the career, she’s got the lifestyle, and her rich, future-President boyfriend has just proposed! There’s just one thing she needs to take care of first: her current husband, Jake.

So it’s off to Pigeon Creek, Alabama for Melanie, so that she can tell her parents about the upcoming wedding and finally get Jake to sign the divorce papers she sent him 7 years ago.

But returning to her roots isn’t so easy for Melanie, especially considering how much effort she’s put into swapping her underprivileged Southern background for NYC high society.

And maybe, she’ll learn an important lesson about love along the way.

There’s something very comfortable about a solid romantic comedy, and Sweet Home Alabama is as cozy as they get.

This is one of the best movies about the South to enjoy with friends and a big bowl of popcorn.

The Color Purple Film Poster with shadowed person sitting in chair in front of large curtained window with sun or moon

The Color Purple (1985)

Trigger warnings: Sexual assault, rape, child abuse, domestic abuse

Although it was filmed in North Carolina, this modern classic Southern movie is actually set in Hartwell, Georgia during the early 1900s.

We follow a young Black girl named Celie Harris who endures rape and other abuses from her father before being given away as a wife to another man.

In this new household, Celie continues to be abused and, over time, loses pieces of herself.

However, two independent women who enter her life – Sofia and Shug Avery – have a profound effect on Celie, especially Shug.

Based on the book of the same name by Alice Walker, The Color Purple is one of the most well-known movies set in the South.

However, this is not an easy watch. Though the film sought to portray what life was like for young Black girls of the time, it is full of triggering topics – and scenes.

Forrest Gump Movie Poster with image of person with suitcase sitting on a bench

Forrest Gump (1994)

In one of the most beloved Southern movies ever made, we follow the life and exploits of local hero, international sports sensation, and chocolate enthusiast, Forrest Gump.

Born and raised in Greenbow, Alabama by his single mother, Forrest gets “diagnosed” early on as having a lower IQ than other children his age.

Determined to make sure her son has all the same opportunities that the other kids do, she instills in him a strong sense of moral values and a positive worldview.

With these attributes, Forrest goes on to live a life full of adventure, danger, loss, lucrative business acumen, and, eventually, love.

He might have traveled across the United States and the world in general, but Forrest is Alabama through and through – and makes for one of the most likable heroes of all Southern films.

If you’ve yet to enjoy Forrest Gump for the first time, prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster.

I Know What You Did Last Summer Movie Poster with four people's faces looking off to the side in the dark

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

What would you do if you accidentally killed someone?

In one of the most iconic 90s movies set in the South, four friends driving on the night of the 4th of July accidentally knock down a pedestrian.

In a panic, they decide to hide the body. But, the man wakes up mid-cover-up and after a struggle, he falls into the sea, and disappears.

The group agrees to keep the accident to themselves, and all is well for one year until one of them receives a mysterious note saying only: “I know what you did last summer!”

Before long, each member of the group begins to see an unknown hooded figure with a hook hand, and they seem to be out for revenge!

Like many of the best Southern movies, I Know What You Did Last Summer was filmed in North Carolina, specifically in Southport.

So if you’re watching and thinking “that looks a lot like Cape Fear River” or “that place reminds me of Duke University,” that’s why!

Watch even more movies filmed in North Carolina.

Beasts of the Southern Wild Film Poster with fantastical image of person running through rainbow like fog and fire sparks

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Six-year-old Hushpuppie lives a simple life (from her point of view) with her father Wink in a place called the Bathtub; a small community on an island in the Louisiana bayou.

But while Hushpuppie is relatively free to roam around and experience the world from a child’s perspective, the more worldly Wink knows that he won’t be around to look out for her forever.

This leads to some tough love for Hushpuppie, and when Wink begins to get sick from a mysterious illness, it sets in motion a chain of events that starts a mini-apocalypse in the Bathtub.

Young Hushpuppie knows she has to do something, and so she sets off on a quest to save her world.

While we watch, fantasy mixes with reality through the eyes of Hushpuppie as she tries to make sense of things.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the best Southern movies from the 2010s.

It earned nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis the record for being the youngest-ever Best Actress academy award nominee.

True Grit Film Poster with title of movie and actors in thick letters

True Grit (2010)

Arkansas, the late 1800s: while on a journey to Fort Smith, a man is murdered by a hired gunman named Tom Chaney, who escapes to whereabouts unknown.

The man’s daughter, 14-year-old Mattie Ross, arrives to collect her father’s body and decides to set out for revenge against the man who killed him.

But she knows she can’t do it alone, so she enlists the help of the meanest Deputy U.S. Marshall she can find: a highly unsavory man named “Rooster” Cogburn.

Together, this extremely odd couple set out to retrieve Chaney and bring him back to Arkansas for hanging. What could possibly go wrong?

Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, this dramatic Western could be considered one of the best movies about the South for Jeff Bridges’ accent alone – you may well need the subtitles on.

Some Like It Hot Movie Poster with image of blonde adult with arms around two children

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Joe and Jerry are musicians playing in a jazz band in prohibition-era Chicago.

One evening, notorious gangster “Spats” Colombo and his men raid the club where they’re performing and gun down a lot of people.

As living witnesses, Joe and Jerry decide they need to get out of town – and fast.

Unfortunately, the only way they can escape is to pose as women and join an all-female band heading south to Florida.

While undercover, the two men find it difficult to keep a low profile after two things happen: Joe falls for the band’s singer, the gorgeous Sugar Kane, and Jerry attracts the affection of a rich older man.

This is classic Hollywood cinema, and not just because of the vocal and acting talents of Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane.

The film skips along at a great pace, with plenty of wicked humor and farcical antics to enjoy. Don’t miss out on one of the greatest Southern movies ever made!

Big Fish Movie Poster with green landscape, tree branches over the title and person walking between the words of the title

Big Fish (2003)

For as long as he can remember, Will Bloom has been hearing the fantastical stories his father Edward keeps telling. And he has had enough of all the lies.

After Edward tells another story at Will’s wedding party, Will decides to cut ties and stops speaking to him.

However, three years later, Edward now has cancer, so Will travels to his hometown of Ashton, Alabama to spend some time with him.

As his father regales him with more outlandish tales from his life, Will decides to finally try to work out just how much truth there is (or isn’t) in his father’s stories.

Based on the Daniel Wallace novel of the same name, this is considered by many to be director Tim Burton’s under-appreciated masterpiece.

Burton’s distinctive style is definitely here, but instead of being distracting, it complements the larger-than-life narrative to make a very unique experience.

This is one of the more emotionally intense movies set in the South on this list.

Enjoy more movies based on books on our sister site, The Uncorked Librarian.

12 Years a Slave Movie Poster with image of Black person in white shirt and pants running

12 Years a Slave (2013)

This is undoubtedly one of the darkest Southern movies on this list.

In 1841, having been living as a free African-American man in Saratoga Springs, NY with his family, violinist Solomon Northup is lured away from New York under false pretenses.

The two white men who offered him possible employment in Washington DC instead drug, kidnap, and sell Solomon to a slave trader, who has him shipped to a plantation in New Orleans.

There, Solomon suffers the cruelties, indignities, and life-threatening assaults that many slaves were put through during this period, including torture, abuse, and dehumanization.

He would be forced to live in this way for 12 years.

Based on the memoir of the real-life Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave won the Best Picture Academy Award upon its release.

It remains a tough, compelling, and extremely affecting achievement in cinema, and one of the most poignant movies about the South ever made.

Scarface Film Poster with image of person in suit in white and black contrast with red title

Scarface (1983)

Hard drug abuse meets brutal violence in one of the most imitated Southern films ever made.

Arriving as an immigrant in Miami in 1980, ex-con Tony Montana dreams of being made for bigger and better things than the dishwasher job he first ends up with.

It’s not long before he manages to find work under a local Miami drug lord, and soon Tony is on the way up, working his way from hired goon to eventual trafficker himself.

However, the path of greed is never-ending, and Tony’s about to find out that you can have too much of a “good” thing.

This is the rags-to-riches gangster movie to end all gangster movies – Southern movies rarely have this kind of raw intensity.

The chaos on display here is thanks to the combined power of Brian De Palma’s direction and a fearsome central performance from Al Pacino, in one of his career-defining roles.

Miss Congeniality Movie Poster with image of white woman in pink dress with slit and wearing a sash that says FBI

Miss Congeniality (2000)

All her life, Gracie Hart has had to contend with the disapproval and chauvinism of her male contemporaries, from grade school right up to her time as a Special Agent with the FBI.

Following the bad fallout from an operation gone wrong, Gracie has been demoted to a desk position.

Unfortunately, this means the operation to track down a domestic terrorist known as “the Citizen” goes to her much less competent partner, Eric.

But when the Citizen reveals he will target the Miss America Beauty Pageant in San Antonio, Texas, Gracie is the only one who can go undercover in order to discover their identity.

Can she fake it long enough to make it as a successful beauty pageant contestant?

Like many movies set in the South, Miss Congeniality is some light-hearted good fun, with plenty of gags and points about the troubles of being a successful woman in a male-dominated field.

The Green Mile Movie Poster with person in professional black hat and suit and tie

The Green Mile (1999)

Trigger warning: child endangerment and death

While watching a screening of an old Hollywood movie in his assisted-living accommodation, elderly resident Paul Edgecomb becomes visibly distressed.

Seeing this reaction, his friend Elaine asks him about it, and Paul begins to tell the story of his time working as a guard at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary death row facility in the 1930s.

Through flashbacks, we learn about Paul’s routines; his interactions with the other guards and inmates, his duties overseeing the executions, and his marriage outside his work.

But things are forever changed by the arrival of a new inmate John Coffee – an enormous yet gentle man whose manner is greatly at odds with his supposed crime.

Adapted by writer/director Frank Darabont from author Stephen King’s novel of the same name, The Green Mile has a deserved reputation as being a deeply emotional film.

It’s also one of the darkest but best Southern movies on this list.

Steel Magnolias Movie Poster with 6 people holding arms and shoulders in group snapshot

Steel Magnolias (1989)

Anyone who enjoys the tight-knit bonds of small-town friendship will enjoy Southern movies like Steel Magnolias.

The story follows the interconnected lives of a group of women living in the Louisiana town of Chinquapin Parish.

When the withdrawn beauty school graduate Annelle arrives in town, she is hired to work in local gossip Truvy’s home salon.

There, she meets M’Lynn Eatenton and her daughter Shelby, who are preparing for Shelby’s upcoming wedding, though Shelby may be harboring second thoughts.

On top of this, Annelle is hounded by the unpleasant Louisa, whose constant scrutiny might reveal some truths Annelle wanted to keep under wraps.

Add in a supporting cast of colorful characters and some dramatic plot developments, and you’ve got a recipe for an engaging and humorous Saturday afternoon treat.

Happy Death Day Film Poster with image of cake with blood-like red frosting for the title

Happy Death Day (2017)

On her birthday, Theresa “Tree” Gelbman wakes up in a stranger’s dorm room after a night of heavy partying.

Throughout the day, she ignores a call from her dad, antagonizes her sorority sister, and is revealed to be sleeping with a professor.

That night, on her way to a party, Tree is murdered by someone dressed as her school’s mascot – a large, creepy baby.

But the next day… Tree wakes up, again in the bed of Carter – the stranger from the previous day. And soon realizes she is reliving the day again.

Tree is understandably confused but takes advantage of this to avoid the spot where she was murdered… only to be murdered again, but now at the party she was originally going to.

Again, Tree wakes up in Carter’s bed. Again Tree is murdered. Realizing she is stuck in a time loop, Tree enlists Carter’s help to solve her own murder and make it to tomorrow.

This dark comedy slasher is one of the most fun and unique Southern movies. It is perfect for anyone looking for horror movies set in the South.

Save Your Favorite Movies About The South For Later:

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Did you find new movies set in the South to watch? Save this list for later, and travel like a local with Uncorked Asheville.

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What movies set in the South do you enjoy?

What are your favorite Southern states to visit, and what Southern movies and books do you recommend? Let us know in the comments.

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Thank you to UA contributor, Jeremy Paterson

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Jeremy (pronouns: any) is an autistic writer, hobbyist, and movie buff, as long as that movie is Labyrinth. Since leaving the corporate world behind in 2018, he has read more books than he thought possible. True to his British upbringing, his first instinct in any given situation is to put the kettle on.

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Christine Frascarelli

Christine (pronouns: she/her) is the owner and lead writer of Uncorked Asheville. After falling in love with those gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, Christine and her husband Tom decided to call Asheville, North Carolina home. When her pointy Italian nose isn’t stuck in a book, Christine is adopting all of the kitties, getting lost in the forest, and drinking an ESB. She has a BA in English and History from Smith College, her MLIS from USF-Tampa, and is a former U.S. Fulbright Scholar - Indonesia. Christine also owns The Uncorked Librarian LLC with books and movies to inspire travel.

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