15 Awesome Preservation-Themed Movies
We know there’s no substitute for visiting historic places and experiencing firsthand the stories they tell and the history they bring to life, like when you step into an old movie theater or pull up to a drive-in and feel the magic about to begin.
But for the times when you can’t get out to a historic site or for whenever you’re in the mood to simply cozy up on the couch, we’ve put together a big list of preservation-themed movies worth a watch.
1. Barbershop (2002)—One day, the son of a barber decides he no longer wants to run the barbershop his father handed down to him. But shortly after he sells the shop, he realizes how vital it is to the surrounding community and decides to try and get it back.
2. *batteries not included (1987)—Small alien machines help the tenants of a threatened apartment block save their building from demolition by developers.
3. Cars (2006)—On the way to California for a tiebreaker car race, race participant Lightning McQueen and his big rig end up being impounded overnight in Radiator Springs, an old Route 66 stopover. When the race is over, Lightning returns to the town to help put it back on the map.
4. The Descendants (2011)—A family living in Hawaii controls 25,000 acres of land that are both financially and culturally valuable. The family trust will expire in seven years and they decide to sell the land to a developer, until one member of the family changes his mind.
5. From the Ashes: The Life and Times of Tick Hall (2003)—This documentary explores the history, loss, and rebuilding of the 125-year-old house known as Tick Hall in historic Montauk, N.Y. After the house was tragically destroyed in a fire in 1997, the owners decided to rebuild it exactly as it once was.
6. From Up On Poppy Hill (2013)—A Japanese animated drama, this story centers on the relationship between two high school students who decide to clean up their school’s clubhouse. When they learn that the chairman of the school intends to demolish the building for redevelopment, they set out to convince him to reconsider.
7. Herbie Rides Again (1974)—A ruthless developer sets his sights on an old firehouse in San Francisco, inhabited by the widow of its former fire captain. Herbie steps in to help save the day, rallying together other VWs in town.
8. The Majestic (2001)—A man suffering from amnesia finds himself welcomed by a small town who believes him to be a long-lost WWII veteran. He settles into his “new” life and starts to restore The Majestic, an old, abandoned movie theater.
9. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)—Based on real-life events that took place in Savannah, Ga., the movie showcases old Savannah and follows a man on trial for murder, who has also restored a number of mansions in the city, and a reporter covering the case.
10. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)—This movie is based on a novel about an advertising executive who decides to move out of the city to fix up a 200-year-old farmhouse. The house turns out to be unsound and must be torn down, and there are many incidents along the way as the family tries to build a new house. The later movie The Money Pit (1986) is another adaptation of the original novel. (Fun fact: A replica of the home built for the 1948 movie was constructed as a promotion for the film and still stands today in Ottaway Hills, Ohio.)
11. The Muppets (2011)—A devoted Muppet fan reunites the gang to help save the Muppet Theater from a businessman who plans to demolish it to drill for oil.
12. These Amazing Shadows (2011)—The National Film Registry is a list of films deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and are earmarked for preservation by the Library of Congress. This film is a documentary on the history and importance of the registry.
13. Two Weeks Notice (2002)—A lawyer who specializes in environmental law ends up working for a real estate tycoon she meets as she’s trying to stop the destruction of the Coney Island community center, initiated by his company.
14. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)—While Roger Rabbit is suspected of murder, Toontown (a 1940s LA town) finds itself at risk of being destroyed to make room for a freeway, which people will be forced to use when the trolley system is also dismantled.
15. Xanadu (1980)—A mythical muse inspires an artist stuck in a humdrum job and an orchestra-leader-turned-construction-mogul to form a partnership and open a night club in a once-abandoned auditorium.
By purchasing any of these products using the links on this page, you'll be supporting the National Trust. A small portion of the sales comes back to us to support our work. Looking for other ways to support preservation? Consider giving a gift membership to the place-lover in your life.