WATCH: The Definitive Dolly Parton Movie List
Here’s what to watch if you adore the queen of country.
Country music singer and performing artist Dolly Parton may be most venerated for classic hits like “Islands in the Stream” and “Jolene,” but this multi-talented songwriter, instrumentalist, producer, and Grammy Award winner is also a television and music star in her own right. She first showed up on television sets on The Porter Wagoner Show in the 1960s and 1970s. She even had a few self-titled variety shows in the 1970s and 1980s, but her first movie, 9 to 5 in 1980, rocketed the beloved East Tennessean and philanthropist to stardom. Many of her films stand the test of time, even today, for their good-natured joyfulness and sense of Southern spirit. Indeed, Steel Magnolias, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, is still as popular as it was when it was first released. (What Southerner doesn’t know Shelby’s wedding colors?) 9 to 5 is perhaps even making a comeback soon.
Whether you admire Ms. Parton for her timeless presence in the music and television worlds, or because you just want a good movie for a long weekend, this list of the best Dolly Parton movies is a fun place to start watching.
9 to 5 (1980)
Parton’s introduction to the big screen came in this funny and heartwarming comedy. Three friends and working women (Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda) are tired of their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" of a boss (Dabney Coleman) and his demeaning demands. The film’s title song was record by Parton. Even better? The trio remain close friends today. In fact, they’re rumored to all be a part of a 9 to 5 sequel.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)
Texas brothel madame Mona Stangley (Parton) has developed a good relationship with her small town, thanks in part to her romantic past with the local sheriff (Burt Reynolds). But when a snooping reporter (Dom DeLuise) reveals the arrangement, the madame’s life is upended. Parton was nominated for her second Golden Globe Award for this screen adaptation of the 1978 Broadway musical of the same name. (Her first nom was for 9 to 5). She re-recorded her 1974 chart-topping single “I Will Always Love You” for this film, though it would go on to have a new life with Whitney Houston’s recording for The Bodyguard.
Jake Farris (Parton) wagers with her boss, a sleazy club manager (Ron Leibman) who keeps Farris locked into a long-term contract at a New York City urban cowboy nightclub, she’ll turn any normal person into a country star, if he’ll let her out of her agreement. The boss accepts—but then chooses cabbie Nick Martinelli (Sylvester Stallone) who thinks country music is "worse than liver" to be Farris’s guinea pig. She has her work cut out for her indeed. The film didn’t get a lot of love—but it did produce two top 10 country hits for the big-haired beauty: “Tennessee Homesick Blues” and “God Won’t Get You.”
A Smoky Mountain Christmas (1986)
Long before there was Hallmark’s Christmas movie selection, there was Dolly Parton’s made-for-TV holiday movie. Parton plays Lorna Davis, a disheartened and exhausted country music superstar who decides to regroup and relax by visiting a friend’s cabin over the holidays. But when she arrives, she finds seven orphans living there instead. In what can only be described as Snow White meets Dollywood, Lorna cares for the seven kids, even protecting them from an evil “witch woman” who is out to poison Lorna. Will it be a happy Christmas for all? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Steel Magnolias (1989)
This story of Louisiana mom-and-daughter pair (Sally Fields and Julia Roberts) is adored for its one-liners (“My colors are blush and bashful.”) as much as it is its supporting cast. Parton, Daryl Hannah, Shirley MacLaine, and Olympia Dukakis are the finest friends anyone could ask for in happy times and sad—and there are lots of sad moments in this movie, indeed. But settle in for a moment when you spot Parton as Truvy Jones, beautician and gossip, who is as sweet as pie. Her character brings a lot of love, big hair, and hilarious quips to the timeless soul-warming film.
Straight Talk (1992)
Arkansas dance teacher Shirlee Kenyon (Parton) leaves behind a loser boyfriend to head to the big city—Chicago—to get a fresh start. But the typical 90s rom-com mishaps spring up, and Shirlee ends up with her own radio show where she portrays herself as “Doctor Shirlee,” a therapist. Local television reporter Jack (James Woods) catches wind of this new popular show and the doctor, and he begins to dig into her past, which reveals she isn’t who she says she is. But luckily for Kenyon, Jack seems to fancy her as much as he fancies digging into her past.
Unlikely Angel (1996)
Country music star Ruby Diamond (the name is perfection) dies unexpectedly in a fatal accident, but before she can get into heaven, she has to do good deeds back on Earth. Saint Peter (Roddy McDowall) sends her to persuade a workaholic father (Brian Kerwin) to reunite with his children for the holidays. Diamond can sing like an angel, but can she act like one? Unlikely Angel features two original Dolly Parton songs and a lot of holiday cheer.
Blue Valley Songbird (1999)
Any movie with original Dolly Parton music is a movie we want to see. Parton plays a country music singer trying to move beyond her troubled, abusive past. Her good-looking guitarist (Billy Dean) is a source of strength and comfort. The storyline here isn’t the greatest, if we’re being honest. We’re just watching to hear Ms. Parton sing, especially a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace. For it, we can forgive the bad screenplay.
Frank McKlusky, C.I. (2002)
You’re excused if you’ve never heard of this Dolly movie. It was, well, a flop, though Dolly was outstanding as Edith McKlusky, an overprotective mother whose son Frank (Dave Sheridan) goes undercover to try to solve his best friend’s untimely death. It’s worth it for the cringes and eye rolls—and of course Dolly’s performance.
Joyful Noise (2012)
An unlikely partnership, a choir director’s widow (Parton) and a single mom of two teenagers Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) come together to try to save a small Georgia town’s gospel choir. But it doesn’t go as planned, as the two spar regularly and publicly. As the hopes of keeping their choir alive fade, the two learn to put aside their differences and sing from the same song sheet. Come for the sass and the soul. There’s plenty of both.
Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors (2015)
Parton’s 1971 signature song of the same name laid the groundwork for understanding how this country star’s roots were humble from the start. And in this gut-wrenching movie (one of the two made-for-TV films about Parton’s life), you get to see the family struggle as they cope with the premature birth and subsequent death of Parton’s younger brother. Her mother, played by country music singer Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, stitches the baby’s unused blankets into a patchwork coat for young Dolly. At school, the coat is a point of ridicule, as it’s clear Dolly’s family doesn’t have a lot of money. While all very sad (bring the tissues), the story is ultimately uplifting.