Mardi Gras 2021 culminated this week in Fat Tuesday and despite a historic freeze and pandemic, the soul of New Orleans couldn’t be kept down for long. There were no traditional Fat Tuesday parades this year for just the 14th time since 1857, but that didn’t stop New Orleanians from decorating their houses and yards like the historic krewe parade floats and transforming the city into Yardi Gras instead.
To celebrate the city’s long and storied spirit and to keep that Mardi Gras feeling going, check out our list of great movies set in the Big Easy. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Interview With The Vampire (1994)
A brooding Brad Pitt, a cocky Tom Cruise, and a powerhouse performance by an exceptionally young Kirsten Dunst that earned her a Golden Globe nomination, Interview with the Vampire is perhaps the crown jewel of films that capture New Orleans supernatural, gothic underbelly. Though a portion of the movie takes place in France, the beating heart of it is in antebellum New Orleans. It’s a sumptuous visual feast and following it through the eyes of Louis’s and Lestat’s exploits – okay, mostly Lestat’s – reminds one of the time in the not-so-distant past that New Orleans used to be a wild and unfiltered port where voodoo, plantations, sailors, the bourgeoisie, and lavish lifestyles drenched the sultry city in the gothic vibe that still persists today.
The Princess And The Frog (2009)
If Interview with the Vampire speaks to New Orleans supernatural underpinnings, then Disney’s The Princess and the Frog speaks to another two of the Big Easy’s major tentpoles holding up the city: food and jazz music. The last of Disney’s classic 2D animation, Princess and the Frog brings 1920s New Orleans to life, from the brass jazz bands playing on random street corners to the bustle of cafés full of beignets and crawfish etouffee. Tiana’s love of food being part of her is the same love that winds through the fabric of New Orleans, one of the reasons it has some of the most trademark regional cuisines in the world.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008)
David Fincher’s strange little gem of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story is a trip through 80 years of New Orleans history. Brad Pitt’s Benjamin Button is a man who was born old and ages backward, all while the love of his life, Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is growing older. But as Daisy ages, so does the city around Benjamin, even as he grows younger. Most of the attention at the time was given to the makeup and prosthetics work for Pitt, but the film also rightfully earned an Oscar for art direction for its loving and detailed recreation of New Orleans through the decades starting from the end of WWI up to the hours before Hurricane Katrina hit.
Girls Trip (2017)
It’s impossible to separate New Orleans from its Mardi Gras traditions, but the Essence Fest is another yearly tradition, albeit a younger one. The raunchy comedy of four friends heading to NoLa for a weekend getaway is filled with just about as much R-rated fun as the French Quarter itself has to offer. The city is what you make of it. You can go for the music, the history, the gothic allure, the food, or simply to party – and if you’re there for the latter, you’ll find plenty of it as you carry a giant mug full of a boozy hurricane down the middle of Bourbon Street before wandering into an absinthe bar or a strip club.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Despite being mostly shot on a studio lot in Burbank, Elia Kazan’s masterful adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play somehow still remains one of the most quintessentially “New Orleans” of movies set in New Orleans. Perhaps it’s the narrow apartment that the brutish Stanley and harried Stella share so evokes the stacked apartments of the French Quarter. Or maybe it’s the weighty heat that lays over every scene, young Marlon Brando’s sex appeal oozing through the screen just as clearly as the sweat soaking his shirt. Or perhaps it’s the way aging movie star Blanche (Vivien Leigh), with her air of ruined gentility, is the symbolic match of New Orleans herself, the grand old city worn down but still showing her beauty in flashes. Either way, a stroll around the real French Quarter can’t help but bring to mind an image of Stanley on his wrought-iron balcony yelling for Stella in the humid night air.