Route 66 Movies (List)

Route 66, also known as the Mother Road, holds a special place in American history and culture. This iconic highway has captured the imagination of filmmakers, who have showcased its charm and adventure in a variety of movies.

From classic to contemporary, these films take us on a cinematic journey along Route 66, bringing the spirit of the open road to the silver screen.

In this article, we have curated a list of must-watch Route 66 movies, each offering a unique glimpse into the allure of this legendary highway.

Route 66 Movies

Key Takeaways:

  • Route 66 has been the backdrop for numerous films, capturing the essence of the American road trip.
  • Movies like “Easy Rider” and “The Grapes of Wrath” have become iconic representations of Route 66 on film.
  • From drama to comedy, there’s a diverse selection of Route 66 movies for every movie lover.
  • Road trip films like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Thelma & Louise” capture the freedom and adventure associated with Route 66.
  • “Cars” showcases the charm and nostalgia of Route 66 in an animated setting.

Easy Rider (1969)

“Easy Rider” is a groundbreaking biker road-trip film that was primarily filmed along Route 66.

Released in 1969, this cinematic revolution follows two “biker-hippies” as they journey from California to New Orleans, crossing the western and southern United States.

With a budget of under $1 million, “Easy Rider” went on to earn over $60 million worldwide, becoming a cinematic sensation.

The movie’s candid exploration of topics like sexuality, politics, and drugs marked a new wave of film in Hollywood and solidified its place in cinema history.

“Easy Rider” captures the essence of the ’60s counterculture movement and the freedom of the open road. Its iconic images of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on their motorcycles have become emblematic of rebellion and nonconformity. Through stunning cinematography and a memorable soundtrack, the film transports viewers to a time of cultural upheaval and challenges societal norms. “Easy Rider” not only influenced the road movie genre but also left an indelible mark on American cinema as a whole.

The Making of “Easy Rider”

“Easy Rider” was a passion project for its co-writer, director, and star, Dennis Hopper. Alongside writer and co-star Peter Fonda, Hopper embarked on a journey both on and off-screen, mirroring the characters they portrayed.

The film’s unconventional production and experimental approach mirrored the counterculture movement it celebrated.

Hopper’s visionary direction and willingness to push boundaries created a raw and authentic portrayal of the era.

Year Awards
1970 Best First Work – Dennis Hopper
1998 Top 40 Moments in Cinema History
Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time
Top 10 Ultimate Directors (Dennis Hopper)
Top 10 Legendary Performances (Peter Fonda)

Critically acclaimed and embraced by audiences, “Easy Rider” left an indelible mark on American cinema.

The film’s depiction of the counterculture movement, along with its portrayal of personal freedom and rebellion, resonated with viewers during a time of social and political upheaval.

Today, “Easy Rider” stands as a testament to the power of independent filmmaking and the impact it can have on society.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Based on John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” is a powerful film that tells the story of the Joad family as they undertake a treacherous journey from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression.

The film vividly depicts the hardships faced by the Joads and the countless others who were forced to seek a better life in the midst of the Dust Bowl and economic turmoil.

The Grapes of Wrath prominently features Route 66, the iconic highway that served as a lifeline for many during this tumultuous period.

As the Joads travel along the road, they encounter both the beauty and the devastation of the American landscape, mirroring the struggles of millions of people who were uprooted from their homes.

This cinematic masterpiece was nominated for seven Academy Awards and holds a special place in film history.

It shines a light on the Dust Bowl and the challenges faced by the working class, making it a timeless portrayal of resilience and perseverance.

The Grapes of Wrath continues to resonate with audiences today, reminding us of the power of storytelling and the enduring spirit of the human experience.

Key Details:

  • Director: John Ford
  • Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine
  • Release Year: 1940
  • Genre: Drama

Bagdad Cafe (1987)

“Bagdad Cafe,” also known as “Out of Rosenheim,” is a German comedy-drama set in a remote truck-stop café and motel in the Mojave Desert.

The film explores the friendship between two women who have recently separated from their husbands.

The setting of Bagdad Cafe is a former town on Route 66, which became abandoned after the construction of Interstate 40.

Although the film was shot in a different location, the town of Bagdad and its cafe have become tourist attractions along the historic route.

Rediscovering the Charm of Bagdad Cafe

Transport yourself to the heart of the Mojave Desert and experience the quirky charm of “Bagdad Cafe.” This German comedy-drama takes viewers on a journey to a remote truck-stop café and motel that once thrived along Route 66.

The film tells the story of two women, Jasmin and Brenda, as they navigate their way through the ups and downs of life after separation from their husbands.

Against the backdrop of the Mojave Desert, the unlikely friendship that blossoms between these two characters brings warmth and humor to their lives.

“Bagdad Cafe” captures the essence of human connection and the resilience of the human spirit in the most delightful and unexpected ways.

Although the actual filming took place in a different location, the town of Bagdad, Arizona, the abandoned town that inspired the film has become a popular stop along Route 66. Visitors can step into the world of “Bagdad Cafe” and relive the magic of this cult favorite.

Release Year Director Genre
1987 Percy Adlon Comedy-Drama

No Country for Old Men (2007)

“No Country for Old Men,” based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, is a gripping thriller set in the desert landscape of West Texas.

While the final scene is depicted as El Paso, it was actually filmed in the Route 66 town of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The film, known for its tension-building narrative and powerful performances, received critical acclaim and won four Academy Awards.

Its exploration of morality and the human condition captivated audiences and solidified its place as a modern classic.

Award Category Result
Academy Awards Best Picture Won
Academy Awards Best Director Won
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Academy Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Won

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Little Miss Sunshine is a heartwarming family comedy-drama that takes audiences on a cross-country road trip with the quirky Hoover family.

Determined to get their daughter Olive to a beauty pageant in California, the Hoovers embark on a hilarious and heartwarming journey filled with unexpected obstacles and personal growth.

Portions of the film were shot in the picturesque Route 66 town of Flagstaff, Arizona, adding to the authentic Americana charm of the movie.

Little Miss Sunshine explores the themes of family, self-discovery, and the pursuit of dreams, making it a relatable and enjoyable film for audiences of all ages.

Despite its modest budget, Little Miss Sunshine exceeded expectations and became a box-office success, grossing over $100 million worldwide.

The film’s delightful blend of relatable characters, comedic moments, and heartfelt moments resonated with audiences and critics alike, earning it four Academy Award nominations and widespread acclaim.

Main Cast Genre Release Year
Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin Comedy, Drama 2006

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

“National Lampoon’s Vacation” is a hilarious family comedy that chronicles the misadventures of the Griswold family as they set off on a disastrous road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Starring Chevy Chase as the bumbling yet well-intentioned patriarch, Clark Griswold, the film follows the family as they encounter one comedic obstacle after another along the way.

Throughout the movie, Route 66 serves as a backdrop for the Griswolds’ escapades. From downtown Flagstaff, Arizona, to the majestic Grand Canyon, the iconic highway provides the perfect setting for their comedic encounters.

The film captures the allure and unpredictability of a family vacation, appealing to audiences of all ages.

Directed by Harold Ramis and written by John Hughes, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” became an instant hit, grossing over $60 million at the box office.

Its success led to a series of sequels, including “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” and “Vegas Vacation,” further solidifying the popularity of the National Lampoon franchise.

This family comedy struck a chord with audiences by humorously depicting the challenges and mishaps that often accompany family travel.

From car troubles to excessive heat and amusing encounters with eccentric characters, the film captures the relatable and humorous aspects of embarking on a long road trip with loved ones.

The Griswold Family Road Trip – A Comedy of Errors

“I think you’re all f***ed in the head. We’re ten hours from the f***ing fun park and you want to bail out!” – Clark Griswold

In “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” Chevy Chase delivers a memorable performance as the well-meaning but hapless Clark Griswold.

His comedic timing and knack for getting into outlandish situations make for a laugh-out-loud viewing experience.

The film’s satirical take on family dynamics, vacation expectations, and the challenges of traveling together strikes a chord with audiences, as many can relate to the Griswolds’ hilarious misadventures.

From losing their way in the desert to encountering quirky locals, the Griswolds’ road trip is a laugh riot from start to finish.

With its clever writing, memorable characters, and Chevy Chase’s comedic charm, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” has become a beloved classic, consistently ranked as one of the funniest family comedies of all time.

Experience the hilarity of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and join the Griswold family on their unforgettable road trip along Route 66.

Highlights of “National Lampoon’s Vacation”

Aspect Description
Release Year 1983
Main Cast Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid
Director Harold Ramis
Writer John Hughes
Setting Chicago to Los Angeles, with various locations close to Route 66
Genre Comedy
Box Office Gross $60,000,000+

Starman (1984)

“Starman” is a captivating science fiction film that takes viewers on an unforgettable journey of love and acceptance.

The story revolves around an alien encounter as an extraterrestrial being assumes the form of a young woman’s deceased husband.

Set in the enchanting location of El Paso, Texas, the film’s final scene was actually filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, along the historic Route 66.

Directed by John Carpenter and starring Jeff Bridges in an Oscar-nominated role, “Starman” received critical acclaim for its heartfelt storytelling and thought-provoking themes.

The film explores the power of empathy and understanding as the alien-human connection develops throughout the narrative.

“You are at peace with yourselves. You have touched the stars.”

— Starman

This sci-fi masterpiece leaves a lasting impact, touching hearts with its portrayal of compassion and the universal desire for connection.

The combination of thrilling moments, emotional depth, and stunning visuals makes “Starman” a must-watch for both science fiction enthusiasts and those seeking a poignant cinematic experience.

Starman (1984)

Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen
Genre Science Fiction, Romance
Setting El Paso, Texas (filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Awards Oscar nomination for Best Actor (Jeff Bridges) and Best Makeup

Thelma & Louise (1991)

“Thelma & Louise” is a crime drama that follows two women on a road trip adventure gone awry.

Although the movie is not directly set on Route 66, it captures the spirit of the open road and the freedom of a cross-country journey.

The film’s exploration of female empowerment, friendship, and rebellion struck a chord with audiences worldwide.

“Thelma & Louise” has become a cultural touchstone and a symbol of the enduring power of sisterhood.

Female Empowerment on the Road

“Thelma & Louise” is a powerful testament to female empowerment, challenging societal norms and giving voice to women’s experiences. The film showcases the strength and resilience of Thelma and Louise as they break free from their constrained lives and embark on an unforgettable journey of self-discovery. Their unwavering determination and fierce loyalty to each other highlight the power of female friendships and the enduring bond that can be forged on the road.

An Iconic Road Trip

While not overtly set on Route 66, “Thelma & Louise” captures the essence of an iconic road trip.

As the two protagonists traverse the vast American landscape, they encounter a series of adventures and misadventures that test their resolve and push the boundaries of their freedom.

The open road becomes a symbol of liberation and escape from societal constraints, allowing Thelma and Louise to rewrite their own destinies.

A Cultural Touchstone

“Thelma & Louise” has left an indelible mark on popular culture, resonating with audiences and sparking discussions about gender roles, justice, and the complexities of human relationships.

The film’s unforgettable climax has become synonymous with female rebellion and the pursuit of freedom.

Over three decades since its release, “Thelma & Louise” continues to inspire and empower women, reminding us of the transformative power of storytelling.

Key Themes Impact
Female empowerment The film challenged gender stereotypes and encouraged women to embrace their strength and independence.
Sisterhood The enduring friendship between Thelma and Louise showcased the power of women supporting and empowering each other.
Rebellion “Thelma & Louise” challenged societal norms and sparked conversations about justice and self-determination.
Cultural impact The film became a cultural touchstone, firmly establishing its place in cinematic history and inspiring future generations of filmmakers.

Cars (2006)

“Cars” is an animated film that takes place in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic vehicles.

The movie’s protagonist, Lightning McQueen, finds himself stranded in a rundown town along Route 66 and learns valuable life lessons.

The film celebrates the charm and nostalgia of Route 66, capturing its unique roadside attractions and small-town charm.

With its heartfelt story and memorable characters, “Cars” became a beloved family favorite and spawned a successful franchise.

Main Characters in “Cars”

Character Description
Lightning McQueen A rookie race car on a journey of self-discovery
Mater A rusty tow truck and McQueen’s loyal friend
Sally Carrera A sleek Porsche and love interest of McQueen
Doc Hudson An old and wise retired race car

Through colorful animation and a heartwarming story, “Cars” brings the world of automobiles to life while showcasing the iconic Route 66 setting.

The film’s exploration of friendship, self-discovery, and embracing one’s roots resonates with audiences of all ages.

Whether you’re a fan of animated films or have a passion for classic American road trips, “Cars” is a must-watch movie that captures the magic and spirit of Route 66.

Route 66: The Wild Ride (2020)

“Route 66: The Wild Ride” is a captivating documentary series that takes viewers on a thrilling journey along the historic Route 66.

This epic road trip follows the adventures of seven diverse families as they traverse the iconic highway, immersing themselves in the rich history, breathtaking landscapes, and mouthwatering cuisine that Route 66 has to offer.

With its stunning cinematography and engaging storytelling, “Route 66: The Wild Ride” brings the spirit of adventure and discovery to life.

Through the eyes of these intrepid travelers, audiences get a firsthand glimpse into the enduring legacy of the Mother Road and its significant place in American culture.

From the bustling cityscapes to the charming small towns, each episode of the documentary series uncovers the hidden gems that dot the route, showcasing the unique experiences and cultural landmarks that make Route 66 a must-visit destination for road trip enthusiasts.

As the families navigate their way through the diverse landscapes and encounter fascinating locals, they also delve into the delectable world of American cuisine.

From mouthwatering barbecue joints to nostalgic diners, the culinary delights along Route 66 add flavor and depth to the journey.

Through the eyes of these intrepid travelers, “Route 66: The Wild Ride” reminds us of the enduring spirit of adventure and the profound impact that this iconic highway has had on American history and culture.

This visually stunning and emotionally resonant documentary series is a love letter to the open road, capturing the essence of the great American road trip.


Are these movies based on true stories?

Some of the movies on this list are based on true stories, such as “The Grapes of Wrath,” which is based on John Steinbeck’s novel about the Great Depression. Others, like “Easy Rider” and “Thelma & Louise,” are fictional stories set along Route 66.

Where can I watch these Route 66 movies?

Many of these movies can be found on popular streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. Additionally, you may find them for rent or purchase on DVD or Blu-ray.

Are there any other famous movies set on Route 66?

Yes, there are several other famous movies set on Route 66. Some notable mentions include “Two-Lane Blacktop” (1971), “Road House” (1989), and “Selena” (1997).

Can I visit the locations featured in these movies?

Many of the locations featured in these movies are still accessible and can be visited along Route 66. However, it’s important to note that some filming locations may have changed over the years or no longer exist.

Are there any documentaries about Route 66?

Yes, “Route 66: The Wild Ride” is a recent documentary series that explores the history and allure of Route 66. It follows the journey of seven families as they embark on a road trip along the iconic highway.

Are there any family-friendly Route 66 movies?

Yes, movies like “Cars” and “Little Miss Sunshine” offer family-friendly entertainment with themes of adventure, humor, and heartwarming storytelling.

Which of these movies won awards?

Several of the movies on this list have received critical acclaim and won awards. For example, “No Country for Old Men” won four Academy Awards, and “The Grapes of Wrath” was nominated for seven awards, including Best Picture.


Route 66 movies have become a cinematic journey that captures the essence of the American road trip and showcases the beauty, history, and cultural significance of this legendary highway.

From iconic classics like “Easy Rider” and “The Grapes of Wrath” to contemporary favorites like “Little Miss Sunshine,” these films transport audiences to the heart of Route 66.

With their diverse genres spanning drama, comedy, and adventure, Route 66 movies offer something for everyone. They allow viewers to experience the allure of the open road and the spirit of exploration that Route 66 embodies.

Each film invites audiences to join in on a captivating journey, revealing the hidden gems, unique landscapes, and compelling stories found along this historic route.

Whether you’re a fan of the old or the new, the timeless appeal of Route 66 movies continues to captivate audiences worldwide.

These films serve as a reminder of the enduring legacy of this iconic highway, celebrating its significance in American culture and inspiring future generations to hit the road and embark on their own Route 66 adventures.

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