AFI Movie Club: STEEL MAGNOLIAS – American Film Institute
Steel Magnolias Film Still - Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, and Olympia Dukakis



STEEL MAGNOLIAS stars Shirley MacLaine – who was honored with an AFI Life Achievement Award in 2012 – and features the cinematography of AFI Conservatory alum John A. Alonzo.

Watch Dakota Fanning announce STEEL MAGNOLIAS:

Movie Trivia for STEEL MAGNOLIAS


STEEL MAGNOLIAS is based on the off-Broadway play of the same name by Robert Harling, who also adapted his work for the screen. STEEL MAGNOLIAS began as a short story paying tribute to Harling’s sister, Susan, who received a kidney transplant from their mother but died of complications, leaving behind a two-year-old son she bore despite doctors’ warnings. The movie is dedicated to her.


Writer Robert Harling finished the “Steel Magnolias” play in 10 days. Centered on his sister’s pregnancy and failed kidney transplant, the play was set in a beauty parlor on four Saturday mornings over the course of several years. After STEEL MAGNOLIAS ran off-Broadway, producer Ray Stark optioned the film rights for $350,000.


Seventy-five actresses auditioned for the role of Shelby. Although Meg Ryan was originally cast, she did not remain with the project and the part went to Julia Roberts, who was nominated for an Oscar® and a Golden Globe. Roberts had previously been in only two feature films, MYSTIC PIZZA and SATISFACTION.


Filming began 32 years ago this month, in Natchitoches, Louisiana – the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory. At that time, only one other Hollywood movie had been shot in Natchitoches – the Western THE HORSE SOLDIERS, starring John Wayne. STEEL MAGNOLIAS reportedly brought $4 million to the local economy.


Sally Field called the production “a giant slumber party for three months,” referring to the camaraderie among her female co-stars. However, Hollywood trade magazines noted that the offscreen friendships between the actresses was bolstered in the media as an integral part of the studio’s marketing strategy.


The original trailer for STEEL MAGNOLIAS included theme music from the 1985 movie ST. ELMO’S FIRE and footage of a wedding car decorated with condoms, inflated like balloons. As such, the MPAA forbid the spot from airing on television.


The benefit premieres for STEEL MAGNOLIAS in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta raised $1 million for the American Diabetes Association.


A sitcom spinoff of STEEL MAGNOLIAS debuted on CBS in August 1990, starring Cindy Williams and Sally Kirkland, but was canceled. In 2012, a TV remake with a Black cast premiered on Lifetime, drawing an audience of 6.5 million viewers and marking Lifetime’s third most successful telecast at that time.


Julia Roberts was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. It was her first Academy Award® nomination. She and Sally Field also received Golden Globe nominations. 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-In STEEL MAGNOLIAS, Shelby defies her doctor’s orders and decides to have a baby, which leads to her death several years into motherhood. Why do you think Shelby put her life in jeopardy to achieve her dream? Do you see themes of self-sacrifice in the other women in the film? Do you agree with her choice?

-STEEL MAGNOLIAS was hailed by some critics as a long-overdue celebration of female friendship. However, many male reviewers at the time took issue with the film’s lack of men in lead roles and disparaged the supporting actors as weak caricatures. What differences do you see in the male and female characters? Why do you think gender was a subject of praise and criticism?

-STEEL MAGNOLIAS takes place in Louisiana and is infused with traditional Southern customs. This depiction of quaint, provincial life gave some viewers pause, particularly Black audiences, who disputed this idealized and misinformed nostalgia for the old South. Do you think STEEL MAGNOLIAS takes too many artistic liberties in its treatment of Southern culture? Why is it important to have a more thorough representation, and why was there a remake with an all-Black cast?

-The story of STEEL MAGNOLIAS unfolds around a central location, a beauty parlor. What does this tell you about how the female protagonists feel about their personal presentation, their hair and their need for community? How do these themes come to the fore in the salon?

-STEEL MAGNOLIAS shows uniquely tender and complicated female relationships between mothers and daughters. Can you describe a scene that depicted motherhood most convincingly? Did the movie’s female friendships resonate with you?

-How would you rate STEEL MAGNOLIAS?

In this exclusive AFI Archive video, Sally Field praises her co-star Shirley MacLaine:

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