They came. They cried. They conquered. Director Herbert Ross (he of The Goodbye Girl and Footloose fame) assembled an all-star female cast of a half-dozen of Hollywood’s most popular leading ladies—including one newcomer named Julia Roberts—to adapt Robert Harling’s play, Steel Magnolias, into one of the top-grossing films of 1989. Here are23 things you might not know about the late-’80s weepie.
1. IT’S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.
Writer Robert Harling wrote Steel Magnolias as a way of coping with the passing of his sister, Susan, who died from complications related to diabetes in 1985. In the play, Susan became Shelby.
2. IT TOOK JUST 10 DAYS TO WRITE.
“The events that inspired it were so powerful that, after I found the story arena, it just poured out into my typewriter in a 24/7 tsunami of Southernness,” Harling told Garden & Gun in 2013 about the lightning-fast writing process. “I had no idea what I’d written. I asked the first person I gave it to if it even looked like a play. I wasn’t really sure. All I knew was that I felt it portrayed my sister’s life and spirit accurately, and that was enough for me.”
3. THE PLAY WAS AN INSTANT HIT.
Harling’s original Off-Broadway play opened on March 28, 1987 at the WPA Theatre in New York City. It closed on February 25, 1990 after 1126 performances.
4. THE MOVIE DEAL HAPPENED RATHER QUICKLY.
The play’s immediate success led to some fast and furious interest in purchasing the movie rights. “It happened so quickly,” Harling told Garden & Gun. “With the buzz around the play in New York, there was a constant stream from Hollywood coming to check it out. Ray Stark bought the rights and promised me he’d film it in my hometown of Natchitoches, which really clinched the deal.”
5. BETTE DAVIS WANTED A PIECE OF STEEL MAGNOLIAS.
Bette Davis saw the play in New York and immediately began a push to be cast in the film as Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine’s part). She also thought that Katharine Hepburn could make a fantastic Clairee and Elizabeth Taylor would be a perfect Truvy. In 1989, Harling told The Morning Call how Davis had invited him to tea to lobby for the part. As he left, Davis told him, “You may give the role of Ouiser to someone else. But you and they will hear from Bette Davis.”
6. NICOLE KIDMAN PLAYED SHELBY IN SYDNEY.
One of Nicole Kidman’s earliest roles was playing Shelby in a Sydney stage version of the play.
7. BEFORE SHE WAS SALLY, MEG RYAN WAS SHELBY.
Meg Ryan was briefly attached to the film to star as Shelby, but dropped out in order to take the lead in When Harry Met Sally…
8. WINONA RYDER WAS ALSO A CONTENDER TO PLAY SHELBY.
Though the producers and director loved Ryder for the part of Shelby, she was ultimately deemed too young (she would have been just 16 when the movie began filming). Laura Dern was in the running, too, but the casting director insisted that the producers audition Julia Roberts, who was filming Mystic Pizza at the time.
9. AS SOON AS JULIA ROBERTS WALKED IN, HARLING KNEW SHE WAS IT.
“She walked into the room and that smile lit everything up and I said ‘That’s my sister,’” Harling told the Daily Mail. “So she joined the party and she was magnificent.”
10. DARYL HANNAH WAS TOO ATTRACTIVE TO PLAY ANNELLE.
But she really, really wanted the part. When she showed up to audition, she was barely recognizable. "For Daryl, who had never played a character role up unto this point, it was a real departure and she sought out the role and convinced me and Ray Stark that she could handle the role," director Herbert Ross recalled.
11. HERBERT ROSS WAS NOTORIOUSLY HARD ON HIS ACTRESSES.
“Herb Ross was basically a choreographer,” MacLaine said at a 2013 screening of the film. “That means he could be sometimes very stern and sometimes very harsh. My deepest memories of the film were how we bonded together after he told one of us or all of us we couldn't act.”
12. ROSS TOLD DOLLY PARTON TO TAKE SOME ACTING LESSONS.
“He went after Julia with a vengeance,” Field recalled of the director. “This was pretty much her first big film.” MacLaine added that Roberts “would come to my house every night and say, ‘I think I'm terrible. What am I doing?’ and she really was in tears.”
14. THE FILM EARNED JULIA ROBERTS HER FIRST OSCAR NOMINATION.
Despite a gaggle of A-list co-stars, Julia Roberts’ Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod was the only nomination the film received, though she lost to Brenda Fricker for My Left Foot. It would take Roberts another two nominations and 11 years to actually bring home the golden statue (she won her first and so far only Oscar in 2001 for Erin Brockovich).
15. THE FILM WAS CRITICIZED FOR THE MALE ROLES’ LACK OF SUBSTANCE.
But the guys are lucky there were any roles for them in the film at all. Though the men are often talked about in the stage play, no men appeared on the stage at any time. In his review of the film for The New York Times, Vincent Canby noted that “The men in their lives are played by Sam Shepard, Tom Skerritt and Dylan McDermott, among others, but the male characters are no more substantial now than when they were invisible.”
16. ROBERTS AND MCDERMOTT’S ON-SCREEN CHEMISTRY WAS REAL.
When filming began on Steel Magnolias, Roberts was dating Liam Neeson, her co-star in Satisfaction. She allegedly broke up with Neeson to begin dating McDermott, and the couple eventually became engaged before breaking up in 1990.
17. THE FILM PUT NATCHITOCHES ON THE MAP.
It was important to Harling that the film be shot in his hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana, and its impact is still being felt today. "“For everyone who has seen the movie outside of Natchitoches it is synonymous with the movie," Arlene Gould, executive director of the Natchitoches Convention and Tourism Bureau, told The Shreveport Times. "It had a tremendous impact on the tourism trade and on our community.”
The bulk of the images of M’Lynn’s home are of the town’s Cook-Taylor House, which was built in the 1840s. A residential home at the time, the family who occupied the Natchitoches landmark relocated to an apartment during filming so as not to disturb the filmmakers. In 2003, the property was turned into a bed and breakfast and renamed The Steel Magnolia House.
20. THE DOCTORS AND NURSES IN THE HOSPITAL SCENES ARE NOT ACTORS.
Intent on filming the story in as realistic a way as possible, Ross hired the actual doctors and nurses who looked after Susan Harling in her final days to do the same for Shelby on the set. The nurse who turns off Shelby’s life support in the film did the same for Susan in real life.
21. A TELEVISION SERIES BASED ON THE MOVIE DIDN’T TAKE OFF.
Though the series was not picked up for a full season run, CBS did air the Steel Magnolias series pilot in August 1990.
22. A 2012 LIFETIME MOVIE PROVED MUCH MORE POPULAR.
In 2012, Lifetime remade Steel Magnolias with Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott, Adepero Oduyem, and Condola Rashad, which ended up becoming the channel’s third most watched original telecast of all time. But Harling was not a fan; though he was impressed by the remake’s caliber of actors, he didn’t appreciate that the story needed to be cut up in order to make room for commercial breaks.
23. SHIRLEY MACLAINE DOESN’T CONSIDER STEEL MAGNOLIAS A CHICK FLICK.
“To say it’s a women's film I don’t think that’s correct,” MacLaine told Entertainment Tonight. “If you've got women in your life bring them to see this film and you'll know much more about them when you go home.”
Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.
What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?
The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.
Experiment with your own designs.
The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.
For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.
Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?
Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.
Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.
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With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 45 best movies on Netflix right now.
Adam Sandler is Howard Ratner, a gambling addict who sees opportunity in every game and in every customer who walks into his Diamond District jewelry store. When NBA player Kevin Garnett insists on taking a rare opal out on loan and giving his championship ring as collateral, Howard can't resist the urge to use it as fuel for his vice. Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, the film has been called among the best of Sandler's career. —Jake Rossen
Martin Scorsese’s long-in-the-making epic brings together three of the mob genre’s heaviest hitters in Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. But the story of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), who alleged he befriended and then betrayed union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), isn’t your typical organized crime movie. It takes its time to examine the toll of a criminal life, from the alienation of Sheeran’s family to the fate that awaits old men no longer capable of resolving their problems with violence. The de-aging effects aren’t always convincing, but Scorsese’s ability to weave a captivating gangster tale remains timeless. —JR
Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators. —JR
When Marvel promised a comic book film of unprecedented scale with Avengers: Infinity War, they were not messing around. This film, one of 2018’s biggest, was the culmination of a decade of planning, casting, and cinematic storytelling all pulled into one massive movie event. It would be impressive for its ambition and scope alone, but it’s also perhaps the best attempt yet to tell a comic book crossover story on the big screen. —Matthew Jackson
Fans of the Coen brothers get a trail mix of stories in this anthology set in the Old West. A gunslinger (Tim Blake Nelson) proves to be a little too arrogant when it comes to his skills; an armless and legless man (Harry Melling) who recites Shakespeare for awed onlookers begins to grow suspicious of his caretaker’s motives; a dog causes unexpected grief while following a wagon train. Knitted together, the six stories total are probably the closest we’ll get to a Coen serialized television series that this feature was once rumored to be. —JR
Spider-Man may have been in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town. —JR
Alfonso Cuarón’s tribute to his upbringing in 1970s Mexico City tells the story of a housekeeper (Yalitza Aparicio) watching over the children of her employers after their father runs off with his mistress. Cuarón’s film is a living photograph, an intensely personal story that holds no major surprises aside from the sheer craft it took to make it a reality. —JR
If you didn’t think the adventure of a young girl and her super pig could make you pump your fist in the air, it’s time to check out this quirky firecracker from Parasite director Bong Joon-ho. Thought-provoking and breathtaking? That’ll do, super pig. —Scott Beggs
Here's a film that starts with an uncomfortable arrangement (a young punk band has booked a gig for a den of Nazi skinheads) and descends from there into expertly crafted cold-sweat terror. Though it's primarily a siege scenario, the band barricading themselves in the dressing room after witnessing a skinhead-on-skinhead murder, the story goes in more directions (figuratively and geographically) than you'd expect. Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier never lets it get stagnant. He barely lets you catch your breath. —Eric D. Snider
Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail. —JR
Barry Jenkins’s trailblazing film, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, chronicles the life of Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes) as he grows up under the burden of his own and others’ responses to his homosexuality. It’s a stirring portrait anchored by phenomenal performances (including an Oscar-earning turn from Mahershala Ali). —SB
Vibrant, effervescent, and deeply weird, Paul Dano stars in this musical collage as a depressed loner stranded on an island until he finds a talking, farting corpse played by a very post-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe. They save one another and, together, attempt to get back to civilization while singing the praises of Jurassic Park. —SB
Delicately crafted with an eye toward historical accuracy, this existential horror film focuses on a New England farming family in the wilds of 1630 who believe a witch has cursed them. Anya Taylor-Joy’s standout performance acts as a guide through the possessed-goat-filled insanity. —SB
Colin Farrell stars in a black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks. —JR
A woman (Brie Larson) is held captive by a deeply disturbed man for seven years. During that time, her son (Jacob Tremblay) has never experienced the outside world. That kind of set-up is usually reserved for thrillers, but Room is not as interested in Larson’s potential escape as much as it is in her courage giving her son sanctuary in an unsafe space. Larson won an Academy Award for the role. —JR
Alex Garland's quiet—and quietly subversive—robot parable didn't arrive with all the hype of a major studio sci-fi release, but still manages to outdo most big-budget android tales. As the enigmatic CEO of a robotics company, Oscar Isaac uses an underling (Domhnall Gleeson) to test his eerily lifelike AI (Alicia Vikander). But Gleeson may be the one who's really being tested. —JR
The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk. (Oscar-winner Olivia Colman and her fellow Fleabag co-star Andrew Scott, a.k.a. "The Hot Priest," are two of the people whose voices we hear on the other end of the line.) —JR
Years before Bong Joon-ho made Oscar history in 2020 with Parasite, he adapted French graphic novel Le Transperceneige into Snowpiercer (which was recently turned into a television series with Jennifer Connelly).In a dystopian future—in sci-fi, there may not be any other kind—a train carrying cars separated by social class circles the globe. Soon, the have-nots (led by Chris Evans) decide to defy authority and get answers from those in charge. —JR
Jake Gyllenhaal has an uneasy feeling that his exact double—a man who looks like him but is substantially more successful—is intruding on his own life. The Gyllenhaal collision is the foundation for this psychological thriller from director Denis Villeneuve, who offers no pat answers but an effective undercurrent of dread. —JR
Scarlett Johansson explores alien seduction as a being from another world who arrives on Earth to pursue companionship. Unfortunately, she prefers short-term commitments. This erotic sci-fi drama was nominated for Best British Film at the BAFTA awards, the British equivalent of the Oscars. —JR
The perils of falling in love with artificial intelligence are at the core of Her, which features a terrific performance by Joaquin Phoenix as a rumpled office worker who finds his soulmate in something without a soul: An Alexa-esque disembodied voice (Scarlett Johansson). —JR
Director Paul Thomas Anderson delivers a steady but absorbing tale of a World War II veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls under the spell of a charismatic philosopher (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose teachings soon become the focus of a cult movement. Both Phoenix and Hoffman were nominated for Academy Awards. Of the films he’s directed, which include 1997’s Boogie Nights and 2004’s There Will Be Blood, Anderson has said The Master is his favorite. —JR
On paper (like in the pulp novel it's based on), Nicolas Winding Refn's tale of a taciturn getaway driver whose life spins out of control is familiar. But on the screen, the combination is uniquely intoxicating—a fresh, lurid, melancholy neo-noir with a hint of existential crime thriller and, for some reason, an '80s-ish techno-pop soundtrack. Spinning its uncommonly entertaining yarn out of perilous characters and nightmarish scenarios, it feels dazzlingly original. —ES
This exhilarating account of how a total jerk started Facebook is even more alarming given what we've learned about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook since then. Jesse Eisenberg's crisp lead performance, Aaron Sorkin's verbose dialogue, and David Fincher's energetic direction combine to make this a cautionary tale of Shakespearean proportions. It might be the best document of how the internet and social media have fundamentally changed us. —ES
A rare adaptation for writer/director Edgar Wright brings Bryan Lee O’Malley’s popular graphic novel series to life. Michael Cera is perfectly cast in the title role as an awkward young man who is determined to win the heart of the woman he loves (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) by literally winning video game-style battles against her “Seven Evil Exes.” Wright throws every trick in his book at the screen, and the result is a film you can watch again and again. —MJ
From laughingstock to maestro of one of Great Britain’s finest public addresses, The King’s Speech tells the true story of King George VI’s triumph over stuttering. The film took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Actor (Colin Firth), and Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler). —James L. Menzies
Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a man whose faith is being tested at home, at work, and all points in between. A Serious Man is equal parts dark comedy and existential drama, and it’s a perfect encapsulation of why the Coen brothers are masters at their craft. —JS
An ensemble cast (Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, and Wesley Snipes) navigate the temptations and pitfalls inherent in police work in this drama from director Antoine Fuqua. Producer John Langley also created the long-running reality TV series Cops for Fox. —JR
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has been alone on a lunar mining mission for three years, but his isolation comes to an end one day when a stranger shows up at his facility—and this mystery man happens to look just like him. —Jay Serafino
Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-hunting, scalp-retrieving mission is available to stream without the danger of highly flammable nitrate film reels. Our introduction to Christoph Waltz as a charming villain, who faces off against Brad Pitt’s American GI and Mélanie Laurent’s French Jewish cinema owner as everyone tries to kill Hitler. —SB
Few people can pull off the role of an 18th century aristocrat as well as Keira Knightley. In this case, she's forced to contend with a cruel and philandering husband (Ralph Fiennes) who makes it clear that his only use for his wife is for her to produce a male heir. But the Duchess knows that two can play at this game, and begins a scandalous (and not-quite-hidden) affair with a rising politician (Dominic Cooper). Come for the compelling period drama, stay for the stunning costumes. —Jennifer M. Wood
It was Citizen Kane for the new century: a sprawling epic about a flawed, wealthy man who lets his own power destroy him, directed by a wunderkind already revered by most of Hollywood. Paul Thomas Anderson and stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano all do some of their best work in the story of a duplicitous oilman who meets his match in the fiery son of a preacher. —ES
Following the end of the Spanish Civil War, a young girl (Ivana Baquero) escapes the turmoil of her militant stepfather and ill mother by exploring a hidden labyrinth that houses a variety of strange creatures. Director Guillermo del Toro was praised for his specialty: weaving a fairy tale with sharp edges. —JR
Chronicling the true story of Polish-Jewish pianist Władysław Szpilman (Adrien Brody), The Pianist is widely considered one of the best World War II accounts ever committed to film. As Nazis overrun Warsaw, Szpilman tries to maintain his sanity by clinging to the only thing that makes sense in an increasingly senseless world: His love of music. —JR
The controversially sensual road movie that put Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna on the international map scored an Oscar nomination for writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. It's hard to believe he followed up this drug-and-sex-filled coming-of-age trip with a Harry Potter movie. —SB
Keanu Reeves utters many a "whoa" on his way through this sci-fi classic about a computer programmer who discovers reality is just an artificial simulation. Bullet Time is still just as spectacular as it was when the film premiered more than 20 years ago. —JR
Sports agent Tom Cruise wrestles with clients—including the charismatic and Oscar-winning Cuba Gooding Jr.—as well as love in Cameron Crowe's winning dramedy that continued Cruise's run of '90s hits. —JR
James Ivory's adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1910 novel tells the story of free-spirited Londoner Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) who befriends a dying woman, Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), who ends up bequeathing Margaret her beloved country home, Howards End. It's a stroke of luck for Margaret, who is about to be ousted from the home she has leased for years, but the Wilcox family feels that something is amiss. As Ruth's widower attempts to investigate the situation, he finds himself falling under Margaret's spell. —JMW
Not only did a gory horror film win Best Picture at the Oscars that year, it also won the other four top categories—Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay—a feat achieved only twice before (by It Happened One Night and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Turns out America has a taste for cannibalism when it’s impeccably acted, smartly directed (by Jonathan Demme), and creepy as all hell. It remains one of the best examples of "art-house" horror.
Spike Lee’s feature directorial debut also sees him playing one of three men under the thumb of Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns). None of them can stand Nola’s gender-reversing approach to casual relationships, and the three hope to goad her into living a monogamous life. Nola, however, wants to pursue happiness on her own terms, not society’s. Lee’s love letter to Brooklyn is still a standout in his filmography, which quickly grew to include 1989’s Do the Right Thing and 1992’s Malcom X. —JR
The 1980s were a pretty great decade for Steven Spielberg (even more so if you believe he's the true director of Poltergeist), and followed up Raiders of the Lost Ark with this instant sentimental classic about a boy and his alien friend. Spielberg's sappiness would get the better of him in duds like Always, but here he found the right blend of emotion and nostalgia by giving it a bitter undercurrent (Elliott's parents' divorce, the inevitable farewell) to remind us that even the sweetest memories often have tinges of sorrow. —ES
All four Indiana Jones movies are on Netflix, but the original still stands its ground as the best in the series and one of the finest action movies ever made. Indy (Harrison Ford) pursues the Lost Ark of the Covenant while evading and diverting Nazis chasing the power the Ark is believed to contain. —JR
Robert De Niro drew justifiable accolades for his portrayal of Travis Bickle, a mentally askew cab driver in the hellscape of 1970s New York City in director Martin Scorsese's gutter noir masterpiece. —JR
The Monty Python team delivers their best-known work, a silly and sharply satirical feature that uses the King Arthur legend as a springboard for sequences that feature brave-but-armless knights and highly aggressive rabbits. Opening to mixed reviews, it’s since become a perennial entry in lists of the best comedies ever made. —JR