Authors most often associated with Memphis and the Mississippi Delta are an interesting assortment of people. There's Civil War historian Shelby Foote, of course, and literary heavyweight William Faulkner, whose stories of the people and characters of a segregated South are indelibly etched in American pop culture. The great playwright Tennessee Williams also spent formative years in Memphis, and he wrote and produced early works here. But let's face it: No other writer put Memphis on the pop-culture map in a bigger way than John Grisham did in the 1990s.

The former Memphis-area attorney wrote a string of best-selling legal thrillers, including The Firm. When Tom Cruise (and then-wife Nicole Kidman, who now calls Nashville home with country-singer hubby Keith Urban) came to Memphis to star in the book's film version, directed by Sydney Pollack, the city was completely star struck. Screaming fans waited on street corners for a glimpse of the famous actor. Locales featured in some of the movie's scenes became tourist hot spots, and a cottage industry sprang up to promote the city's association with the Memphis-area film shoots that followed.

Among the many Grisham films, some are more memorable than others. Susan Sarandon was terrific in The Client. Joel Schumacher directed that film, which co-starred Mary Louise Parker and Tommy Lee Jones. Matt Damon and Danny DeVito did star turns in The Rainmaker, and Matthew McConaughey became an overnight sensation after his first big starring role in A Time to Kill. Less commercially and critically successful was The Chamber, with Gene Hackman playing a death-row inmate.

In non-Grisham movies, there have been several significant offerings. European filmmaker Milos Forman chose to film The People Vs. Larry Flynt in Memphis.

Sean Penn and Naomi Watts spent time here filming gritty drama “21 Grams,” and director Craig Brewer’s “Hustle and Flow” about an aspiring rapper played by Terrence Howard drew rave reviews, even scoring an Academy Award for local rappers Three 6 Mafia. Their acceptance speech for “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” was so unexpected that the trio vamped to fill time, which included inexplicably thanking George Clooney. Brewer’s follow-up, “Black Snake Moan,” didn’t get quite the same acclaim, but the sultry drama did bring a lot of heavy hitters to town including Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, and Justin Timberlake, who grew up in Millington, just north of Memphis. In 2000, a home in Memphis was featured in “Cast Away,” though the FedEx piece of that plot is far more tied to Memphis than the visuals. In 2005, “Walk the Line,” the life story of legendary musician Johnny Cash, also shot at several Memphis locations, including the Pipkin Building at the Fairgrounds (which was turned into Folsom Prison), Sun Studio, and on South Main.

As with most things in Memphis, our movie past is colorful and uneven. In 1989, the universally panned “Great Balls of Fire!” was filmed here. The Jerry Lee Lewis biopic starred Winona Ryder (as Lewis’ 13-year-old child bride and second cousin) and an overly-committed Dennis Quaid, who went full-caricature in his portrayal of Lewis. Before that, in 1972, Memphis made headlines when pornographic movie “Deep Throat” was shown at the now-defunct Lamar Theater. Its run in Memphis is what led to actor Harry Reems being convicted of federal obscenity charges. The movie went on to become one of the most popular X-rated movies of all time, and on a visit to Memphis before his death in 2013, Reems told “The Commercial Appeal” he found it “extremely ironic” that “Deep Throat” was now available on pay-per-view at one of the city’s most dignified locations: the Peabody hotel.

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