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The Last Picture Show (1971)

R  |   |  Drama  |  22 October 1971 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 29,745 users  
Reviews: 164 user | 84 critic

A group of 1950s high schoolers come of age in a bleak, isolated, atrophied West Texas town that is slowly dying, both economically and culturally.



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Won 2 Oscars. Another 16 wins & 22 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Charlene Duggs (as Sharon Taggart)
Joe Heathcock ...
the Sheriff
Bill Thurman ...
Coach Popper
Barc Doyle ...
Jessie Lee Fulton ...
Miss Mosey


In tiny Anarene, Texas, in the lull between World War Two and the Korean Conflict, Sonny and Duane are best friends. Enduring that awkward period of life between boyhood and manhood, the two pass their time the best way they know how -- with the movie house, football, and girls. Jacey is Duane's steady, wanted by every boy in school, and she knows it. Her daddy is rich and her mom is good looking and loose. It's the general consensus that whoever wins Jacey's heart will be set for life. But Anarene is dying a quiet death as folks head for the big cities to make their livings and raise their kids. The boys are torn between a future somewhere out there beyond the borders of town or making do with their inheritance of a run-down pool hall and a decrepit movie house -- the legacy of their friend and mentor, Sam the Lion. As high school graduation approaches, they learn some difficult lessons about love, loneliness, and jealousy. Then folks stop attending the second-run features at the ... Written by Mark Fleetwood <mfleetwo@mail.coin.missouri.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


THE PICTURE SHOW THAT INTRODUCED AMERICA TO THE FORGOTTEN 1950S. It launched the meteoric career of its brilliant new director and its talented cast. It won 2 Academy Awards, and nominations for 8. If you missed it the first time, you owe it to yourself now. If you saw it once, remember it again. See more »



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for sexuality, nudity and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

22 October 1971 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Die letzte Vorstellung  »

Box Office


$1,300,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (director's cut)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Location manager Frank Marshall doubled in the role of the football team's quarterback. See more »


The movie is set in the early 1950s, but at 50 minutes and 19 seconds in, when Sonny is driving through town at night just after he first has sex with Mrs. Popper, a car from the mid-1960s or later is briefly visible. See more »


[first lines]
Radio announcer: President Truman'll be here tomorrow, so all you folks in Dallas turn out, chuh hear? This is Cowboy Rhythms on KTRN, Wichita Falls, here's Hank Williams' big hit tune, "Cold Cold Heart".
Sam the Lion: You ain't ever gonna amount to nothing. Already spent a dime this morning, ain't even had a decent breakfast. Gimme the chalk. Why don't you comb you hair Sonny, it sticks up, look like you smelled'm wolf. I'm surprised you had the nerve to show up this morning after that stomping y'all took last ...
See more »


Referenced in AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Henry Fonda (1978) See more »


It's in the Book
Written by Johnny Standley and Art Thorsen
Performed by Johnny Standley
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

There are few perfect movies and this is one
7 March 2006 | by (Boulder, CO) – See all my reviews

Here is a movie that perfectly captures a time and place. The time is the year between November, 1951 and November, 1952 and the place is Anarene, Texas, a small town in north central Texas. The screenplay was written by Larry McMurtry, in collaboration with director Bogdanovich, based on McMurtry's novel of the same name. Anarene is just south of Archer City, McMurtry's home town where the movie was filmed. McMurtry knows whereof he speaks, the movie has the feeling of total authenticity.

The story centers around two best friends, Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges), as they pass from being high school seniors into adult life. Given their backgrounds, coming from broken homes and living in boarding houses, there is little idea that they will go to college. The movie details how the two handle this pivotal and bewildering time from being on the high school football team one year to being on their own without much of a safety net the next. In a wider context the movie is about larger transitions: from youth to adulthood for the young people, from a frustrated and bored middle age to an even less promising future for the older folks, and from a town with some social cohesiveness to a town dealing with the isolating effects of a bankrupt economy and the advent of television. The rather bleak prospects that Sonny and Duane face parallel the prospects of the town. You are made to think about transitions in your own life.

The movie is populated with many finely drawn characters, all acted with supreme skill. There is not a false note struck in the entire movie. By the end we know the characters so well that they seem real. Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar, and I don't understand why Timothy Bottoms was not nominated as well, since his performance is of equal quality. Bottoms plays Sonny with such genuine good-natured charm and honest sincerity that it is hard to believe he is acting. And Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman both won well-deserved Oscars. Kudos all round to the entire cast.

The movie is beautifully filmed in black and white befitting the stark settings and story, and the time period. It is filmed as if it were made in the period portrayed.

If you have ever lived in a small town or if you grew up in the American heartland in the 1950s, this movie will evoke overwhelming nostalgia. But the story is so powerfully told that I think that for everyone it will evoke nostalgia for a time and place, even for that which they may never have known.

The town, as well as the movie, is held together by Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) who owns the movie theater, the café, and the pool hall. In fact he owns just about everything there is to do in Anarene, except for watching the hapless Anarene High football team ... and sex. It is no wonder then that sex, in its many faceted varieties, plays a big role in this town, and in this movie.

There are so many wonderful and memorable scenes that it would simply require a small volume to recount them. One scene that grabbed me was when Sam and Sonny are at a lake outside of town, ostensibly fishing, and Sam reminiscences about old times, about when he came to the lake twenty years earlier with a lover. Sam makes the comment, "You wouldn't believe how this land has changed." The camera pans the surroundings and it is hard to see how this area could have changed much in the last thousand years, but Sam is clearly attuned to the subtle changes, since memories were impressed on him in a time of strong emotion. We all have clear memories from when and where we have been happy, even if it is a small lake in a desolate flat land. And Sam's specific comment can be taken to apply more generally to the basic theme of the movie. This incredible scene ends with Sam's saying, "Being a decrepit old bag of bones, that's what's ridiculous," and anyone who is not close to tears at that point will never truly appreciate the beauty of this movie.

Seemingly this movie should be depressing, but the effect is more of a melancholic look into the lives of ordinary people who are just trying to play the hands they have been dealt in life.

It wasn't until the movie was over and I was reading the credits that I realized how cleverly the music had been woven into the film. All of the music is from the time period and is a part of the action and not background music. It is played on home radios, car radios, truck radios, 45 rpm players, jukeboxes, and at a community Christmas dance. The Hank Williams song, heard on the radio in Sonny's old truck in the opening scene, "Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used to Do?" sets the tone for the music as well as the movie. There are great songs taken from over a dozen country and western classics from the era. Ruth (Cloris Leachman) is listening to Johnny Standley's quirky, "It's in the Book," (a unique and strangely satirical offering to be popular at any time, let alone reach the pop charts and sell a million records in 1952) during the final scene between her and Sonny.

Why is this movie so special? That's kind of like asking why one likes a certain piece of music or a painting. Everything comes together here in one of those magic moments - the acting, the filming, the story, the music, the editing - to create a simply-told and remarkably affecting work of art.

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