5 Great Hillbilly Movies

Winter’s Bone inspired me to think of other great movies set in a hillbilly milieu.  If there is a Hillbilly Genre, these movies don’t fit because they aren’t about Being a Hillbilly.  They are human stories that happen to be set amongst hillbillies.  Winter’s Bone and Ulee’s Gold are about determined individuals determined to protect their families no matter the risk.  Coal Miner’s Daughter is about an artist’s journey from naive teen to superstar.  Harlan County USA is about a community banding together to find justice.  And Deliverance is about men sharing an ordeal and the secrets from it.

1.  Deliverance: Four suburban guys seek a mild adventure – canoeing down a backwoods river before it is dammed.  The adventure becomes an ordeal.  The most horrible things happen to them, and they are forced to do horrible things.

I have watched this twice in the past few years, and it still really stands up today.  In particular, the cinematography and editing are fantastic.  Here is the famous banjo scene.



2.  Harlan County, USA: This is the story of coal miners seeking a union contract with a hostile mining company.  It won the Oscar as best documentary.  Filmmaker Barbara Kopple embedded herself among the strikers and got amazing footage – including of herself threatened and shot at.



3.  Winter’s Bone: A 17-year-old Ozarks girl is determined to save the family home by tracking down her meth dealer dad – dead or alive.  The girl’s journey through a series of nasty and nastier Southern Missouri crank cookers is riveting – without any explosions, gunfights or chase scenes.  Every moment of this film seems completely real.



4.  Ulee’s Gold: In his finest performance, Peter Fonda is a rural beekeeper who must enter a dangerous underworld to track down his druggie daughter-in-law.   Here is how Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert saw it.



5.  Coal Miner’s Daughter: Sissy Spacek won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn in this successful biopic.  In an early major role, Tommy Lee Jones plays Loretta’s husband Mooney.  Levon Helm, the Arkansas-bred drummer for The Band has one of his rare but compelling film roles as Loretta’s Daddy.  Besides the performances, the movie works because Loretta must grow from nobody to star, girl to woman and hick to worldly.

Levon Helm at left and Sissy Spacek in Coal Miners Daughter

5 thoughts on “5 Great Hillbilly Movies

  1. Here’s a hard one for you. A old black and white movie based on two hillbilly families fueding. Not the Hatfields and McCoy’s but, guy from one family and girl from other family are in Love and want to be together but can’t because of the families disputing. Last scene in the movie, the two ride off together on one horse while the families are fighting. Leaving what ever the outcome will be. Can you help me with the title?

    • You’re right – that is a hard one. I came across a movie that I haven’t seen but that comes close to your description – 1949’s ROSEANNA MCCOY. It’s a corny take on the Hatfields and the McCoys which ends with the lovers (Joan Evans and Farley Granger) riding off together. It’s B&W, but the feuding families lay down their arms at the end. It’s in the Turner Classic Movies library, so you may have seen it on TCM. You can read more about it on IMDb.com, Wikipedia and TCM.com.

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