• Victoria McCuen

Iconic Movies that Put Savannah on the Cinematic Map

Savannah has been exponentially growing in cinematic prominence for quite some time now. Between the picturesque, coastal scenery and film tax incentives, production companies flock to utilize our city on qualifying projects. But when did Savannah initially get put on the film industry map?

1. Gator (1976)

It all took off after the 1976 film, Gator. The drama/thriller is about an ex-con who is sought out by a federal agent to help track down another criminal, Bama McCall. The agent threatens he'll lose his young daughter if he does not comply. The movie's success and credit of putting Savannah on the map can be attributed to the star, Burt Reynolds, who not only was a big actor at the time, but also directed the film. He had a strong desire and conviction to film in the south, claiming "I want to say some nice things about the South." With his platform, some argue he was partly responsible for bringing Georgia to be the number three state for filming just behind California and New York.

2. Glory (1989)

The next cinematic hit to impact the Savannah film industry was Glory. This 1989 war film won three out of its five nomination Academy Awards and won Denzel Washington his first Oscar. The movie plot surrounds the first army regiment of all African American soldiers led by a single white officer. It is a tale of how one unit fought against discrimination and prejudice that took place during the Civil War to become a symbol for bravery and progression of inclusion for black men in the Union. Despite being met with initial scrutiny, it still ascended to acclaimed.

3. Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump won Tom Hanks twelve awards and recognitions including an Academy Award and Oscar for his portrayal of a cognitively and physically impaired man overcoming life's various challenges. The film itself won countless prestigious awards including Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and People's Choice. The movie's iconic park bench is now esteemed as a Hollywood collector's item. The narrative scene played throughout the film is shot on this park bench in Savannah's very own Chippewa Square. Though the bench is no longer there, the impact and attraction it brings to Savannah still remains. Tourists still travel to view and photograph where the prop used to be.

4. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

Based on the critically acclaimed book by John Berendt, Clint Eastwood took the reins in directing this iconic story. Based on a real murder in Savannah, this tale of mystery embodies the feel of the city through its various characters from multiple classes and backgrounds while capturing the gothic romanticism aspects of Savannah to parallel the plot. While the book set a record breaking appearance on the New York Time's Best Seller's List, the movie was not as well received. However, the intense publicity had already begun with the book's success giving the movie the exposure it needed to make its mark.

5. The General's Daughter (1999)

The General's Daughter has a special connection to Savannah for a couple reasons. Its producer Stratton Leopold was the youngest son of Peter Leopold, the original owner of the beloved Leopold's Ice Cream Parlor. Stratton was born and raised in Savannah, growing up working in his father's shop. He even took over the store after his father's passing for a time. However, eventually he decided to follow his own passion for film and left Savannah in pursuit of it.

He would soon find his way back to coproduce his first blockbuster film, The General's Daughter in his hometown of Savannah. He then opened another Leopold's Ice Cream Parlor location combining two things that made him who he was: an old school ice cream shop and cinema in its decor.

6. The Last Song (2010)

Around this time period marked a huge milestone for film and cinematography in Savannah. The city and the state of Georgia finally released a competitive list of incentives to drive up traffic for film and production in our area. So much in fact, The Last Song pulled filming from North Carolina and began setting up shop in Savannah. It was the first film to take advantage of the newly placed tax and film incentives. It was also the first film to be set primarily at the beautiful Tybee Island! Many of the film's stars, including Miley Cyrus, raved about the town publicly. She could be seen out and about enjoying the island, even giving a free sneak peek of a written song before release to patrons at the local Sting Ray's restaurant.

Now Savannah is a highly sought after location for film and production. It even hit its greatest record year in 2018. It helped boom the local economy, attributing to $120 million in direct spending locally and a total economic impact of over $250 million! Recently, Savannah was listed as being the number one best place to live and work as a moviemaker according to MovieMaker magazine. This is after it had already been in the top three list for five years in a row for "Best Small Places and Towns to Live and Work as a MovieMaker".

Major movies and productions have and continue to find the benefit and charm of our city. These include but are not limited to The Longest Yard, Now and Then, Something to Talk About, Conspirator, Baywatch, The Do Over, X Men: First Class, Magic Mike, Gifted, The Beach House, Gemini Man and the latest Lady and the Tramp.


©2019 by Victoria McCuen