The Last Picture Show

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The Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show (movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Produced by Stephen J. Friedman
Screenplay by Larry McMurtry
Peter Bogdanovich
Based onThe Last Picture Show
by Larry McMurtry
Cinematography Robert Surtees
Edited by Donn Cambern
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 22, 1971 (1971-10-22)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.3 million
Box office$29.1 million [1]

The Last Picture Show is a 1971 American coming-of-age drama film directed and co-written by Peter Bogdanovich, adapted from the semi-autobiographical 1966 novel The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry. The film stars an ensemble cast that includes Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, and Cybill Shepherd. Set in a small town in north Texas from November 1951 to October 1952, it is a story of two high-school seniors and long-time friends, Sonny Crawford (Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Bridges).


The Last Picture Show was theatrically released on October 22, 1971, by Columbia Pictures. It was a critical and commercial success, grossing $29 million on a $1.3 million budget, and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Johnson and Bridges, and Best Supporting Actress for Burstyn and Leachman, with Johnson and Leachman winning.

In 1998, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Films are selected for their cultural, historical or aesthetic significance. [2] [3]


In 1951 Sonny Crawford and Duane Jackson are high-school seniors and friends in Anarene, Texas, a small declining town in northern Texas. Duane is dating Jacy Farrow, whom Sonny considers the prettiest girl in town. Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend Charlene Duggs.

At Christmas time Sonny begins an affair with Ruth Popper, the depressed middle-aged wife of his high-school coach, "Coach" Popper. She is lonely because her husband is a closeted homosexual. At a Christmas dance Jacy is invited by Lester Marlow to a naked indoor pool party at the home of Bobby Sheen, a wealthy young man who seems to be a better prospect than Duane. Bobby tells Jacy that he isn't interested in virgins, and to come back after she's had sex.

The group of boys take their young, mentally disabled friend, Billy, to a prostitute to lose his virginity, but she hits Billy in the face when he ejaculates prematurely. When Duane and Sonny take Billy back home, Sam "the Lion" tells them that since they cannot even take care of a friend, he is barring them from the pool hall, the movie theater, and the café. Duane isn't seen by Sam because he hides in the backseat. At the café, Genevieve, the waitress, tells Sonny she knows that Duane was with the group but agrees not to tell Sam.

During the weekend of New Year's Eve, Duane and Sonny go on a road trip to Mexico. Before they drive off, Sam, who has forgiven Sonny, chats with them about their trip, wistfully wishing he still had the stamina to join them, and gives them some extra money. When they return from the trip, hung over and tired, they learn that during their absence Sam died of a stroke on New Year's Eve. In his will, Sam left the movie theater to the woman who ran the concession stand; the café to Genevieve; $1,000 to the preacher's son, Joe Bob Blanton; and the pool hall to Sonny.

Because Bobby has told Jacy that he doesn't date virgins, she invites Duane to a motel for sex, but Duane is unable to get an erection. She loses her virginity to Duane on their second attempt and then breaks up with him by telephone. When Bobby marries another girl, Jacy is disappointed. Out of boredom, she has sex with Abilene, her mother's lover, though he is cold to her afterward. Jacy then sets her sights on Sonny, who drops Ruth without notice. Duane quarrels with Sonny over Jacy, "his" girl, and hits him in the side of the head with a bottle, temporarily blinding him in the left eye. Duane then decides to join the army to fight in Korea.

Jacy suggests to Sonny that they elope in Oklahoma. On their way to their honeymoon on Lake Texoma, they are stopped by an Oklahoma state trooper; Jacy left a note telling her parents all about their plan. The couple are brought back to Anarene. On the trip back, Jacy's mother, Lois, admits to Sonny that she was Sam's paramour and tells him that he was much better off with Ruth Popper than with Jacy. The marriage of Sonny and Jacy is annulled.

Duane returns to town on leave from the Army before shipping out for Korea. He and Sonny are among the meager group attending the final screening at the movie house, which is closing that day (the "last picture show" is Red River , a western set in Texas starring John Wayne). The next morning, Sonny sees Duane off on the bus. Billy is sweeping the street and is hit and killed by a truck. An upset Sonny seeks comfort from Ruth. Her first reaction is to vent her hurt and anger, but then she takes his outstretched hand, saying, "Never you mind, honey. Never you mind."



Peter Bogdanovich was a 31-year-old stage actor, film essayist, and critic, with two small films – Targets (also known as Before I Die) and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (both 1968) – to his directorial credit, the first of these having been made with his wife and collaborator, Polly Platt. As Bogdanovich said in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter , while waiting in a cashier's line in a drugstore, he happened to look at the rack of paperbacks and his eye fell on an interesting title, The Last Picture Show. The back of the book said it was about "kids growing up in Texas" and Bogdanovich decided that it did not interest him and put it back. A few weeks later, actor Sal Mineo handed Platt a copy of the book. [7] "I always wanted to be in this", he said, "but I'm a little too old now" and recommended that Platt and Bogdanovich make it into a film. [7] According to Bogdanovich's recollection, Platt said, "I don't know how you make it into a picture, but it's a good book." [4] Bogdanovich, McMurtry, and Platt adapted the novel into the film of the same name. [8]

Stephen Friedman was a lawyer with Columbia Pictures but keen to break into film production as he had bought the film rights to the book, so Bogdanovich hired him as producer. [9]

After discussing the film with Orson Welles, his houseguest at the time, Bogdanovich decided, for aesthetic reasons, to shoot the film in black and white, which was unusual for the time. [4]

The film was shot in Larry McMurtry's small hometown of Archer City located in northern Texas. McMurtry had renamed the town Thalia in his book; Bogdanovich renamed it Anarene (a ghost town eight miles south of Archer City) for the film. This name was chosen to correspond to the cowtown of Abilene, Kansas, in Howard Hawks' Red River (1948). [10] Red River, significantly, is the movie, indeed the last picture show, that Sonny and Duane watch at the end of the film. [11]

After shooting the film, Bogdanovich went back to Los Angeles to edit the film on a Moviola. Bogdanovich has said [4] that he edited the entire film himself but refused to credit himself as editor, reasoning that director and co-writer was enough. When informed that the Motion Picture Editors Guild required an editor credit, he suggested Donn Cambern who had been editing another film, Drive, He Said (1971), in the next office and had helped Bogdanovich, with some purchasing paperwork concerning the film's opticals. [4] Cambern disputes this, stating that Bogdanovich did do an edit of the film, which he screened for a selection of guests, including Jack Nicholson, Bob Rafelson and himself. The consensus was the film was going to be great, but needed further editing to achieve its full potential. Bogdanovich invited Cambern to edit the film further, and Cambern made significant contributions to the film's final form.

Bogdanovich obtained a rare waiver from the Directors Guild of America to have his name appear only at the end of the film, after the actors' credits, as he felt it was more meaningful for the audience to see their names after their performances. [12] [13]


The film features many songs of Hank Williams Sr. and other recording artists.

Reception and legacy

Box office

The film earned $13.1 million in domestic rentals in North America. [14]

Critical reception

On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, The Last Picture Show holds an approval rating of 100% based on 58 reviews, with an average rating of 9/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Making excellent use of its period and setting, Peter Bogdanovich's small town coming-of-age story is a sad but moving classic filled with impressive performances." [15] According to Metacritic, which assigned a weighted average score of 93 out of 100 based on 15 critics, the film received "universal acclaim". [16]

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars in his original review and named it the best film of 1971. He later added it to his "Great Movies" list, writing that "the film is above all an evocation of mood. It is about a town with no reason to exist, and people with no reason to live there. The only hope is in transgression." [17] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it a "lovely film" that "rediscovers a time, a place, a film form—and a small but important part of the American experience." [18] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four stars out of four and wrote, "Like few films in recent years, Peter Bogdanovich's 'The Last Picture Show' ends with us wanting to see more of the people who occupy the small town world that is Anarene, Tex. in 1951. This emotion is not easily achieved. It is a result of a thoro[ sic ] Peyton Place investigation into Anarene's bedrooms, parked cars, football games, movie theater, restaurant, and pool hall." [19] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "the most considered, craftsmanlike and elaborate tribute we have yet had to what the movies were and how they figured in our lives." [20] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "an exceedingly well-made and involving narrative film with decent aims, encouraging us to understand and care about its characters, though not to emulate them." [21]

Obscenity controversy

In 1973, largely because of the skinny-dipping party scene, the film was banned in Phoenix, Arizona, when the city attorney notified a drive-in theater manager that the film violated a state obscenity statute. Eventually, a federal court decided that the film was not obscene. [22] [23] Ed Ware, the district attorney of Rapides Parish, Louisiana, managed to block the showing of the film but only temporarily because the theater filed suit successfully to overturn Ware's directive. [24]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards Best Picture Stephen J. Friedman Nominated
Best Director Peter Bogdanovich Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jeff Bridges Nominated
Ben Johnson Won
Best Supporting Actress Ellen Burstyn Nominated
Cloris Leachman Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Larry McMurtry and Peter BogdanovichNominated
Best Cinematography Robert Surtees Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film The Last Picture ShowNominated
Best Direction Peter BogdanovichNominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Ben JohnsonWon
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Eileen Brennan Nominated
Cloris LeachmanWon
Best Screenplay Larry McMurtry and Peter BogdanovichWon [lower-alpha 1]
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Peter BogdanovichNominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama The Last Picture ShowNominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Peter BogdanovichNominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Ben JohnsonWon
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Ellen BurstynNominated
Cloris LeachmanNominated
New Star of the Year – Actress Cybill Shepherd Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle AwardsBest Supporting ActressCloris LeachmanWon
Kinema Junpo Awards Best Foreign Language FilmPeter BogdanovichWon
National Board of Review Awards Top 10 Films The Last Picture ShowWon
Best Supporting Actor Ben JohnsonWon
Best Supporting Actress Cloris LeachmanWon
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry The Last Picture ShowInducted
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actor Ben JohnsonNominated
Best Supporting Actress Ellen BurstynWon
Cloris LeachmanNominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film The Last Picture ShowNominated
Best Director Peter BogdanovichNominated
Best Supporting Actor Ben JohnsonWon
Best Supporting Actress Ellen BurstynWon
Cloris LeachmanNominated
Best Screenplay Larry McMurtry and Peter BogdanovichWon [lower-alpha 2]
Online Film & Television AssociationBest Motion PictureThe Last Picture ShowWon
São Paulo Association of Art Critics AwardsBest Foreign FilmPeter BogdanovichWon
Texas Film AwardsFrontier AwardCybill ShepherdWon
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium Larry McMurtry and Peter BogdanovichNominated

It ranked No. 19 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies. [25] In 2007, the film was ranked No. 95 on the American Film Institute's 10th Anniversary Edition of the 100 greatest American films of all time.

In April 2011, The Last Picture Show was re-released in UK and Irish cinemas, distributed by Park Circus. Total Film magazine gave the film a five-star review, stating: "Peter Bogdanovich's desolate Texan drama is still as stunning now as it was in 1971." [26]

Home media

The film was released by The Criterion Collection in November 2010 as part of its box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story. It included a high-definition digital transfer of Peter Bogdanovich's director's cut, two audio commentaries, one from 1991, featuring Bogdanovich and actors Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman, and Frank Marshall; the other from 2009, featuring Bogdanovich "The Last Picture Show": A Look Back, (1999) and Picture This (1990), documentaries about the making of the film, A Discussion with Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, a 2009 Q&A, screen tests and location footage, and excerpts from a 1972 television interview with director François Truffaut about the New Hollywood. [27]

Director's cut

In 1992, Bogdanovich re-edited the film to create a "director's cut". This version restores seven minutes of footage that Bogdanovich trimmed from the 1971 release because Columbia imposed a firm 119-minute time limit on the film. [4] With this requirement removed in the 1990s, Bogdanovich used the 127-minute cut on laserdisc, VHS and DVD releases. The original 1971 cut is not currently available on home video, though it was released on VHS and laserdisc through Columbia Tristar Home Video.

There are two substantial scenes restored in the director's cut. The first is a sex scene between Jacy and Abilene that plays in the poolhall after it has closed for the night; it precedes the exterior scene where he drops her off home and she says "What a night. I never thought this would happen." The other major insertion is a scene that plays in Sam's café, where Genevieve watches while an amiable Sonny and a revved-up Duane decide to take their road trip to Mexico; it precedes the exterior scene outside the poolhall when they tell Sam of their plans, the last time they will ever see him.

Several shorter scenes were also restored. One comes between basketball practice in the gym and the exterior at The Rig-Wam drive-in; it has Jacy, Duane and Sonny riding along in her convertible (and being chased by an enthusiastic little dog), singing an uptempo rendition of the more solemn school song sung later at the football game. Another finds Sonny cruising the town streets in the pick-up, gazing longingly into Sam's poolhall, café and theater, from which he has been banished. Finally, there is an exterior scene of the auto caravan on its way to the Senior Picnic; as it passes the fishing tank where he had fished with Sam and Billy, Sonny sheds a tear for his departed friend and his lost youth.

Two scenes got slightly longer treatments: Ruth's and Sonny's return from the doctor, and the boys' returning Billy to Sam after his encounter with Jemmie Sue—both had added dialogue. Also, a number of individual shots were put back in, most notably a handsome Gregg Toland-style deep focus shot in front of the Royal Theatre as everyone gets in their cars. [4]


Texasville , the 1990 sequel to The Last Picture Show, based on McMurtry's 1987 novel of the same name, was also directed by Bogdanovich, from his own screenplay, without McMurtry this time. The film reunites actors Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, Eileen Brennan, Randy Quaid, Sharon Ullrick (née Taggart) and Barc Doyle.

Stephen King's novel Lisey's Story makes repeated references to The Last Picture Show as the main character Scott Landon frequently watches the film throughout the novel during flashbacks.

The 1972 Roxy Music UK hit single Virginia Plain includes the line, "Last Picture Show's down the drive-in."

Season 3, Episode 20 of Dawson's Creek, "The Longest Day" features two characters, Dawson Leery and Joey Potter, watching "The Last Picture Show" and comparing it to their similar relationship.

The real-life woman who inspired the character of Jacy Farrow was Ceil Cleveland Footlick (1936-2021), originally from Archer City, who died in Durham, North Carolina in January 2021 at age 85. [28]

See also


Related Research Articles

Cybill Shepherd American actress

Cybill Lynne Shepherd is an American actress and former model. Shepherd's better-known roles include Jacy in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971), Kelly in Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid (1972), Betsy in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), and Nancy in Woody Allen's Alice (1990). She is also known for her roles in television, such as Maddie Hayes on Moonlighting (1985–1989), Cybill Sheridan on Cybill (1995–1998), Phyllis Kroll on The L Word (2007–2009), Madeleine Spencer on Psych (2008–2013), Cassie in the television film The Client List (2010), and Linette Montgomery on The Client List (2012–2013).

Peter Bogdanovich American film director

Peter Bogdanovich is an American director, writer, actor, producer, critic and film historian. Part of the wave of "New Hollywood" directors, Bogdanovich's career started as a film journalist until he got hired to work on Roger Corman's The Wild Angels (1966). After the success of the film, he got a chance to direct his own film Targets (1968), a critical success. He later gained wider popularity for his critically acclaimed drama The Last Picture Show (1971), which earned eight Oscar nominations including Academy Award for Best Director.

Larry McMurtry American novelist, essayist, bookseller

Larry Jeff McMurtry was an American novelist, essayist, bookseller, and screenwriter whose work was predominantly set in either the Old West or contemporary Texas. His novels included Horseman, Pass By (1962), The Last Picture Show (1966), and Terms of Endearment (1975), which were adapted into films. Movies adapted from McMurtry's works earned 34 Oscar nominations.

Cloris Leachman American actress

Cloris Leachman was an American actress and comedienne whose career spanned more than seven decades. She won many accolades, including eight Primetime Emmy Awards from 22 nominations, making her the most nominated and, along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, most awarded actress in Emmy history. She won an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Daytime Emmy Award.

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