Dolly Parton's Best Movie And TV Appearances

Dolly Parton is one of the most beloved personalities of all time. She has masterfully found a way to not only appeal to country music lovers but to people of all different backgrounds, sexual orientations, political views, and music genre preferences. She's a triple-threat talent who can sing, act, and play multiple instruments, including the banjo, harmonica, and the Appalachian dulcimer

Dolly has graced the stage and screen for over six decades, earning numerous awards, including two Oscar nominations. She's not only a performer — she's an international brand. Even more impressive is the fact that she's entirely self-made and came from incredibly humble beginnings. As one of 12 children, Dolly grew up poor on a farm in Locust Ridge, Tennessee. As a young woman, she already showed promise as a singer-songwriter and even performed at the Grand Ole Opry as a teenager. Dolly never looked back, and she's never stopped being active in the entertainment industry. "I Will Always Love You" was made famous by Whitney Houston, but decades before The Bodyguard, Dolly Parton wrote and performed the original song for the first time on The Porter Wagner Show. She has her own tourist attraction, Dollywood, which is basically Disney World in the Smoky Mountains, and she even founded a reading program called Imagination Library, which spans five countries, in honor of her illiterate father.

When Dolly is the subject matter, there are endless topics to discuss. Here are some of her most memorable film and television appearances. 

9 to 5 (1980)

9 to 5 is a female empowerment comedy cult classic that still holds resonance in today's conversation about gender politics in the workplace. A young Dolly Parton made her film debut and proved her acting chops along with her singing talents in this role. Dolly was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original song for 9 to 5 in 1981. She also received her first three Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress, Best Song, and New Star of the Year.

Dolly plays a secretary named Doralee, who endures sexual harassment from her boss, Mr. Hart. She and fellow female coworkers Judy (Jane Fonda) and Violet (Lily Tomlin) get together one night over drinks and spin revenge fantasies about their boss. Pretty soon, the trio are putting their ideas into action, and the hijinks lead to kidnapping. 

Dolly proved early on in her career that she wasn't just a country singer but a dynamic and talented screen star. There was talk of a sequel, but that was officially scrapped in 2019, as reported by Entertainment Weekly. That doesn't stop Dolly, Jane, and Lily from still making appearances together once in a while, like at the 2019 Primetime Emmys, where they received a standing ovation

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)

Starring alongside Burt Reynolds in this musical comedy based on a Broadway play of the same name, Dolly Parton shines as singer/actress in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, playing Mona Stangley, a madam of a local brothel. Believe it or not, the story is based on a real place. The brothel in the play and film is based on the Texas Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, which closed in 1973. The Chicken Ranch had been in operation since 1915, and during the Great Depression, the madam in charge at the time would take chickens as payment, according to Wide Open Country. Truth is truly stranger than fiction. 

In the film, Burt Reynolds played local sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, who fights to keep the brothel open after a reporter questions its legality. Rumor has it that Parton and Reynolds were an item offscreen as well. 

Dolly insisted on singing some of her original songs in the film, including a rendition of her hit song "I Will Always Love You." She and Reynolds also sang the famous duet "Sneakin' Around." Parton received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) in 1983. 

Rhinestone (1984)

Parton certainly gets paired with some strange love interests. In Rhinestone, Parton plays Jake Farris, whose mission is to make New York cab driver Nick (Sylvester Stallone) into a country singer overnight in order to nab a contract with a club manager. The film was based on the hit Glen Campbell song "Rhinestone Cowboy." It's a modern-day Pygmalion tale at best, and at worst, it's embarrassing. There are a lot of lines like, "You can always tell when Barnett's been over to my house. The toilet ain't never flushed and the cat's pregnant!" What's even more ridiculous than the plot is that Sylvester Stallone sings. And it's not a hidden talent of his, if you were wondering. He doesn't even look like he enjoys singing onscreen, which makes the performance even more agonizing. Dolly is all charm and smiles, naturally. 

Stallone turned down lead roles in Romancing the Stone and Beverly Hills Cop to make Rhinestone, per Den of Geek. It's no secret that he regretted his choice. Of course, Dolly sings. She even garnered two top 10 country singles for her songs "Tennessee Homesick Blues" and "God Won't Get You." 

The film wasn't exactly a success. It even got a few Razzie Award nominations, including Razzie wins for Worst Actor and Worst Original Song for Dolly's "Drinkenstein." We can go ahead and blame that one on Stallone, too, who drunkenly groans through the number. But true-blue Dolly fans enjoy the film for its musical performances and fun, campy acting. 

A Smoky Mountain Christmas (1986)

Dolly Parton stars in this sweet family tale as country music star Lorna Davis, who finds refuge from her chaotic life in Los Angeles in the Smoky Mountains at a friend's cabin. She then runs into some strange and lovable characters, including a witch and seven seriously adorable orphan children on her journey. Her first made-for-TV Christmas film was, and still is, a wholesome classic tradition for many Dolly fans during the holidays. 

Does the story sound familiar? That's because Dolly basically becomes the Smoky Mountains version of Snow White with her seven "dwarves," as described by Southern Living. The witch tries to poison Lorna with an apple pie, but all's well that ends well in this Christmas gem. 

Did we mention there's lots of singing? Dolly performs nearly a dozen Christmas tunes, including the classic "Here Comes Santa Claus" and her own song, "Country Memories."  If the Hallmark Channel had been around in 1986, this would have definitely been on it.

Steel Magnolias (1989)

A classic film and a certified tear-jerker, Steel Magnolias has an all-star cast in which Dolly Parton is an irreplaceable part as hair stylist and beauty shop owner Truvy Jones. Based on the book and play by Robert Harling, the story touches on some incredibly dark family topics, including diabetic pregnancy. Shelby, played by a young Julia Roberts, decides to get pregnant despite the life-and-death medical risks involved with her type 1 diabetes diagnosis. According to The Atlantic, the touching storyline is based on Harling's sister's experience with the disease, which is possibly why it comes across as so real and personable. Over the course of the film, Shelby decides to go against the medical advice she receives to become a mom, and the film's cast of close-knit women find ways to support her in her journey, even if they don't all agree with it. 

Steel Magnolias has been praised as a celebration of women. It is rare for a film's stars to be all women, while the male characters take a back seat.

Dolly's character Truvy was created for Harling's friend, Margo Martindale, who played the character off-Broadway. Apparently, the film's director, Herb Ross, was not a huge fan of Parton. The cast of ladies have discussed Ross years later, divulging that he was not only harsh on Roberts but said to Dolly, "Why don't you take some acting lessons?" to which Sally Field exclaimed, "You don't say that to Dolly Parton!" To this day, the film's cult audience couldn't imagine the movie without her.

Wild Texas Wind (1991)

This one is almost like watching a warped B-movie set to music. The made-for-television film, co-starring Gary Busey, was an excellent vessel for Parton to prove people like Steel Magnolias director Herb Ross wrong. 

The plot is rather serious, and Parton and Busey don't seem like an obvious pair. Parton stars as an aspiring country singer, Thiola Rayfield, who isn't having the best luck with her career. While singing in nightclubs on the road, she meets Justice Parker, the owner of a Texas club, and they fall in love. But it turns out that Justice is an alcoholic manic-depressive who physically abuses Thiola. When he's murdered, she becomes the prime suspect. 

Wild Texas Wind gets a lot of criticism for not handling domestic violence the right way, but it generally received positive reviews. Parton financed and produced the film. A sequel and studio album were both discussed, but neither ever materialized. Could this movie be any stranger? Yes. Per Entertainment WeeklyWillie Nelson makes a cameo appearance as himself. Does he even act? 

Straight Talk (1992)

Another film that doesn't get talked about much in the 21st century is Straight Talk, starring Dolly Parton and James Woods. Dolly plays a lovable Southern failed dance instructor, Shirlee, who leaves her boyfriend and moves to Chicago to start anew as a modern career woman. Shirlee quickly finds herself working for a sleeper hit psychiatric radio show and becomes an accidental radio psychologist. 

It's a romantic musical comedy with Woods as Parton's love interest. Sound strange? It is. But it's worth it to see Parton's charismatic performance. She was easily hailed as the best part of the film and quite possibly its only saving grace. Woods, as Empire's William Thomas writes, "[looks] terrible [and] is less happily employed with quite the most excruciatingly corny lines of his career." Ouch. 

The late great critic Roger Ebert gave Straight Talk only two stars, writing, "The screenplay is so painfully conventional that it's clear nobody involved with the movie wanted to push it into new ground or let it take chances. Nothing happens that is not permitted in cliche heaven." However, he does give credit where it's due to Parton by adding that, "The best scenes in the movie are the ones where the Parton character simply speaks her mind. Her advice is sound, earthy and blunt." 

Tell Dollyphiles something they don't already know, Roger. 

Unlikely Angel (1996)

In this lighthearted feel-good story, Dolly plays a narcissistic singer, Ruby Diamond, who dies suddenly by crashing her car after avoiding a deer on a country road. Ruby enters Heaven, and as Variety so poignantly points out, it's Dolly's version of Heaven, which "means soft lighting, flowing clouds and an eternity of good hair days." Apparently because Ruby was willing to risk her life for a deer, she has a chance to stick around. However, she has to pay her dues first. Angel in charge Peter tasks Ruby with helping a dysfunctional family come together after the death of the matriarch in time for Christmas. Ruby accepts the challenge and becomes the family's new nanny, even singing and playing guitar for the forlorn youngins. 

Dolly composed original songs for Unlikely Angel with help from Velton Ray Bunch. The film follows the classic Christmas Carol tropes, with Parton essentially playing Ebenezer Scrooge, and even has a little Sound of Music thrown in. Unlikely Angel is still an unlikely Christmas classic among die-hard fans but goes vastly unacknowledged outside the "Dollywood" clan. 

Blue Valley Songbird (1999)

Only a true Dolly fan would appreciate this film. It may not be the best-written script, but Dolly diehards just want to watch her perform. In this made-for-television flick that aired on Lifetime, Dolly plays Nashville singer Leanna Taylor, who channels music as a kind of therapeutic method in order to face her troubled childhood. 

Parton was inspired to make the movie after writing the song "Blue Valley Songbird," on her album Hungry Again. According to her official website, Dolly said, "As soon as I wrote the song, I had full intentions of making a movie from it... In my mind, I thought, 'This is like a screenplay.'"

Dolly executive-produced the film and was very involved throughout the process. "I felt it was very important to find Southern people to write this script... The writers we chose were both from the South, so they had an understanding of it," Parton recalled. She sings a stunning rendition of "Amazing Grace," among other songs, in the film. While there is no official soundtrack, most songs featured in the movie can be found on the album Hungry Again.

Joyful Noise (2012)

Dolly Parton paired up with fellow powerhouse performer Queen Latifah for a film celebrating and featuring the church choir in this lively rock-gospel musical. Latifah plays Vi Rose Hill to Parton's G.G. Sparrow, who are friendly rivals at Georgia's Sacred Divinity Choir of Pacashau. A young Keke Palmer is cast as the choir's young starlet and Queen Latifah's daughter, Olivia. Parton and Latifah enjoy playing off of each other as polar opposites: Vi Rose is pious, humble, and god-fearing, whereas G.G. is loud, gaudy, and audacious. 

Parton wrote and performed two new original songs for the film, though most of the music is dominated by covers of well-known favorites from various genres, per The Hollywood Reporter. The film's raucous finale is a Glee-like mashup of songs by Usher, Sly Stone, and Stevie Wonder, among others. While some critics panned Joyful Noise for being embarrassingly cheesy, others lovingly refer to it as the unofficial Sister Act 3

Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love (2016)

Everyone loves a good Christmas movie — especially if it stars a country music legend who sings Christmas songs in said movie. And especially if that legend is Dolly Parton. Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love is a Dolly Parton biopic and acts as a sequel to her film, Coat of Many Colors

The story focuses on Dolly's childhood growing up poor in the Smoky Mountains. Dolly narrates, giving the audience some background as the story unfolds, and of course, her songs supply the musical backdrop. Deeply personal songs like "Nickels and Dimes" make an appearance. 

The film is about family and sacrifice and hones in on a story about a "Christmas miracle" that Parton says she experienced one holiday season, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. Parton's father, played by Ricky Schroder, is determined to buy his wife, played by Jennifer Nettles, a belated wedding ring for Christmas. The holiday special originally aired on NBC.

Dumplin' (2018)

Dolly was the unequivocal driving force behind the Netflix film Dumplin', which features her songs and is about a teen girl who happens to be one of her biggest fans. 

Parton makes a musical appearance in the film, but otherwise she is omnipresent through posters, songs, and personal quotes. The story follows overweight teen Willowdean Dickson, played by a very talented Danielle Macdonald, whose mother is a former pageant queen in small-town Texas. Rosie Dickson, Willowdean's mother, is played by Jennifer Aniston, who delivers a heartwarmingly comedic performance. Willowdean decides to enter a beauty pageant that her mother runs as a kind of willful protest. Other colorful teenage characters follow her lead, throwing Rosie's pageant into complete chaos. 

The film would have likely never been made without Dolly's approval and involvement. Screenwriter Kristin Hahn, who adapted the story from the bestselling young-adult novel by Julie Murphy, reminisces about the development stage. "She ended up being, essentially, a fairy godmother to the movie," Hahn said. Dolly's manager, Danny Nozell, was a fan of the script and approached Dolly enthusiastically about the project. It turned out that Dolly had a copy of the book already sitting on her bookshelf! 

Not only did Dolly help the film get made, but she paired up with Linda Perry to curate the soundtrack, which features original versions of Dolly classics "Dumb Blonde" and "Jolene."