Friday, May 3, 2013

Question the Queen City: Movies filmed in Charlotte

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Editor's note: In this series, local author David Aaron Moore answers reader-submitted questions about unusual, noteworthy or historic people, places and things in Charlotte. Submit inquires to

What movies have been shot in Charlotte and surrounding areas? - Merci Adams, Charlotte

Quite a few, actually, ranging from hugely successful blockbusters to bizarre and obscure low-budget gore flics. The following are a few films, organized by year of release, that I believe are the most significant and gathered the most media attention.

Speedway (1968)

Not surprisingly, Charlotte tends to be one of the top destinations for filmmakers of NASCAR-related movies. Many of the racing scenes in this film, which stars Elvis Presley and Nancy Sinatra and features cameo appearances by drivers Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough, were shot in Concord, and it's littered with references to the "Charlotte 600" race. Shooting began in June 1967, and the movie made its national premiere a year later, in the Queen City, in June 1968.

Presley and Sinatra in Speedway
  • Presley and Sinatra in Speedway

Stroker Ace (1983)

A racing movie for another generation, this film stars Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson. A significant portion of the shooting was done at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, with Petty, Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt Sr. making appearances. The movie was made when Reynolds and Anderson were riding high, so it generated a lot of press and, needless to say, lots of local excitement. Sadly, it was panned critically and bombed like nobody's business, capturing Razzie Award nominations for Worst Picture, Worst Director and Worst Actress (Anderson) and winning for Worst Supporting Actor (co-star Jim Nabors).

The Color Purple (1985)

Although Speedway wasn't a flop, it doesn't carry The Color Purple's pizzazz. Directed by Steven Spielberg, Purple boasts a stellar cast, including Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Rae Dawn Chong and Laurence Fishburne. Focusing on the lives of a group of African-American men and women living and struggling in the rural South during the first half of the 20th century, the film was both a critical and financial success. It got some love from the Oscars, receiving 11 nominations, but won none. Nevertheless, the film has remained one of the most beloved motion pictures in American cinema. Some scenes were shot at the Universal back lot in Universal City, Cal., but most of the footage was captured in and around the Charlotte area, including Anson and Union counties, Marshville and Wadesboro.

Goldberg in her Oscar-nominated performance as Celie in The Color Purple
  • Goldberg in her Oscar-nominated performance as Celie in The Color Purple

Days of Thunder (1990)

Former husband and wife duo Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman star in this race-car epic set in the '90s. Shot predominantly in Daytona, Fla., and Charlotte, the story follows a young racer recruited by a wealthy car dealer to race in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Cruise stars as Cole Trickle, and Kidman plays Dr. Claire Lewicki, a surgeon who becomes romantically involved with Trickle while helping him recuperate following a racing crack-up. And yes, Richard Petty makes a cameo. A financial success, it received scant attention from critics and a single Academy Award nomination for Best Sound, which it did not win.

Nell (1994)

Jodie Foster stars as the title character, along with Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson. The plot follows the experiences of a young woman who has lived an isolated life with her mother in the backwoods of North Carolina, leaving her seemingly incapable of communicating with other people and terrified of the outside world. Shot entirely on location, scenes were filmed in Charlotte, Franklin, Fontana Lake, Robbinsville and the Nantahalla Forrest. Largely a critical and financial success, the movie was nominated for an Academy Award and three Golden Globe Awards and captured the Best Actress Award for Foster from the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Foster as a speech-impaired orphan in Nell
  • Foster as a speech-impaired orphan in Nell

The Hunger Games (2012)

Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, this relatively recent sci-fi adventure flick stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in a futuristic story set in a post-apocalyptic North America where select teenagers are forced to brutally battle one another. Capturing huge bucks at the box office and a slew of positive reception both in the United States and abroad, it bears the distinction of being the first film since Avatar to remain in first place at the U.S. box office for four consecutive weekends. Practically all production took place in North Carolina, with multiple scenes filmed in Shelby and Charlotte. The movie raked in a bevy of awards, among them several Peoples' Choice Awards, two MTV Movie Awards and the Virgin Media Award for Most Wanted Movie of 2012.

Moore is the author of Charlotte: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. His writings have appeared in numerous publications throughout the U.S. and Canada.

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