Fans first fell in love with Dolly Parton’s angelic voice and insightful songwriting when they heard such early hit songs as “Coat of Many Colors”, “My Tennessee Mountain Home” and “I Will Always Love You,” but over the decades, the Appalachian songbird has refused to be confined to just one creative box. She’s a successful entrepreneur, beloved philanthropist, and over the course of more than a dozen films, she’s established herself as a gifted actress who never fails to light up the screen. Whether starring in the hit comedy 9 to 5 or such acclaimed dramas as Steel Magnolias, Dolly Parton movies always feature the star’s signature smile and good-hearted empathy.
Here, we take a look at the Dolly Parton movies that have furthered her career and made the country music legend a Hollywood icon.
10. Rhinestone (1984)
You’d think the combination of Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton would be enough to generate a hit film, but Rhinestone turned out to be a box office disappointment — but there’s still a lot to love. The film featured Dolly as Jake Farris, a country singer stuck performing in a sleazy club in New York City. She makes a bet with the venue’s manager that she can turn anybody into a country star. If she does, she gets out of her contract.
The manager, played by Ron Leibman, picks cab driver Nick Martinelli, played by Stallone, and Dolly proceeds to try to make him over by taking him back home to Tennessee to groom him for country stardom. Dolly scored two hits from the soundtrack, “Tennessee Homesick Blues,” which went to No. 1, and “God Won’t Get You,” which peaked at No. 10.
9. Frank McKlusky, C.I. (2002)
Who could have ever imagined Randy Quaid and Dolly Parton as husband and wife? The two star in this comedy about an insurance claims investigator who is investigating his partner’s death. Dave Sheridan portrays the title character, Frank McKlusky. Quaid plays his daredevil father “Madman” McKluksy and Dolly is his overprotective mother, Edith. Though the film isn’t well known, it features a talented cast that includes Orson Bean, Tracy Morgan, Andy Richter and Kevin Pollak.
8. Joyful Noise (2012)
This musical comedy/drama not only features fine acting by Dolly, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer and Courtney B. Vance, as the title implies, it also features some soul-stirring gospel music (Check out these 15 Soul-Stirring Gospel Songs That Are Guaranteed To Lift Your Spirits.) The plot revolves around a small-town choir with two women wrestling for creative control. It all culminates in a spirited choir competition. Dolly contributed three songs to the film’s soundtrack: “Not Enough,” “From Here To The Moon and Back” and “He’s Everything.”
7. Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love (2016)
This heartfelt TV movie is a follow up to the hit Coat of Many Colors (see below) and featured the same cast of Jennifer Nettles, Ricky Schroder, Gerald McRaney and Alyvia Alyn Lind. The plot revolves around Dolly’s father sacrificing to buy her mom a wedding ring, a gift he couldn’t afford in the early years of their marriage. The children also pitch in to give their mom a Christmas to remember. In this movie, Dolly takes on the role of a flamboyant local woman, who she has said over the years inspired her signature look: big hair and lots of make up. Christmas of Many Colors was nominated for Outstanding Television Movie at the Emmy Awards in 2017.
6. Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings (2019)
While this isn’t technically a Dolly Parton movie, if you haven’t watched this eight-show series, you don’t know what you’re missing. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll be moved by each of these mini movies inspired by one of Dolly’s hit songs. In addition to Dolly taking on various roles in the series, the episodes also feature other high profile actors and actresses. Kimberly Williams Paisley and Julianne Hough starred in “Jolene.” Melissa Leo, Ray McKinnon and Katie Stevens appeared in “Two Doors Down.” There are also episodes based on Dolly’s songs “If I Had Wings,” “Cracker Jack,” “Down from Dover,” “Sugar Hill,” “J.J. Sneed” and “These Old Bones.”
5. Straight Talk (1992)
Starring Dolly along with James Woods, Griffin Dunne and Michael Madsen, this romantic comedy finds Dolly as a failed dance instructor who loses her job for giving people advice when she should be teaching them the proper steps. She moves to Chicago to start over and gets a job at a radio station where she is accidentally mistaken for the station’s new call-in therapist. Before she knows it, she has a new job as Dr. Shirlee, and becomes a hit with listeners. Of course, chaos and romance ensue in this charming little comedy. She wrote 10 songs for the film’s entertaining soundtrack, which is always a plus with Dolly Parton movies.
4. Coat of Many Colors (2015)
This highly rated TV movie is based on Dolly’s beloved hit song “Coat of Many Colors,” about her impoverished childhood and the coat her mother made for her from a box of scraps and rags. As she shares in the poignant song, other children made fun of her, but she didn’t understand because she felt rich in the special multi-colored coat her mother had stitched together with love. The movie starred country star Jennifer Nettles, Ricky Schroder, Gerald McRaney and Alyvia Alyn Lind, who portrayed Dolly as a child. Parton herself served as narrator. Dolly’s real life younger sister Stella appears in the film as town gossip Corla Bass. During the 2016 Academy of Country Music Awards, Coat of Many Colors was presented with the Tex Ritter Award, honoring a film released in the previous year that features country music.
3. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)
Dolly joined forces with Burt Reynolds for this entertaining comedy which earned her a Golden Globe-nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical). She portrayed Mona Stangley, who runs a brothel called the Chicken Ranch, and Burt is Sherriff Ed Earl Dodd, who has been in a relationship with Mona for over a decade. Not only does the movie feature romantic sparks between two legendary sex symbols, the film is chock full of great songs, including such Dolly treats as “Hard Candy Christmas.”
2. 9 to 5 (1980)
Our runner up for one of the best Dolly Parton movies is one that delights every woman who has entertained fantasies of getting revenge on an abusive boss. Well, it’s a sure bet you and your girlfriends lived vicariously through Dolly’s character Doralee Rhodes when she described to her friends how she would turn the tables on the office tyrant. Dabney Coleman portrays the nefarious Mr. Hart and Doralee’s fantasy includes degrading remarks and then roping and hog tying him before barbecuing him over a fire. Co-starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, (Read about their iconic friendship here!) 9 to 5 was Dolly’s first film role. It not only became a success at the box office, but launched her lifelong friendship with Fonda and Tomlin. It also earned Dolly an Academy Award nomination for writing the theme song.
1. Steel Magnolias (1989)
Chances are that you’ve seen Steel Magnolias — which tops our list of Dolly Parton movies — and both laughed and cried along with the brilliant cast that included Dolly, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Darryl Hannah and Julia Roberts. In a role that seemed tailor made for her, Dolly portrayed local hairdresser Truvy Jones, known for her quick wit and sunny personality. The movie was adapted from Robert Harling’s play, inspired by the loss of his sister Susan, who died in 1985 from complications of Type 1 diabetes. The film has become one of the most beloved tearjerkers in movie history.
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Deborah Evans Price believes everyone has a story to tell and, as a journalist, she considers it a privilege to share those stories with the world. Deborah contributes to Billboard, CMA Close Up, Jesus Calling, First for Women, Woman’s World and Country Top 40 with Fitz, among other media outlets. Author of the CMA Awards Vault and Country Faith, Deborah is the 2013 winner of the Country Music Association’s Media Achievement Award and the 2022 recipient of the Cindy Walker Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Western Artists. Deborah lives on a hill outside Nashville with her husband, Gary, son Trey and cat Toby.