6 Films That Showcase the Allure of Route 66 Through the Decades

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Ever dreamed of cruising down a highway soaked in nostalgia? Where quirky diners and neon signs whisper tales of freedom and adventure? We're talking Route 66, the "Main Street of America," and we've got 6 cinematic gems that'll have you itching to hit the gas.

Movie cinema with route 66 setting

From Depression-era grit to Pixar charm, get ready to explore the open road, one silverscreen masterpiece at a time.

1. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

"The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), directed by John Ford and based on John Steinbeck's novel, is a classic film that vividly portrays the struggles of a family during the Great Depression as they travel along Route 66 in search of a better life.

In this poignant drama, Route 66 becomes a symbolic artery of both hope and hardship, guiding the Joad family's westward migration toward an uncertain future. The film even scored two Oscars, with John Ford bagging the Best Director award.

If you want to learn more about Route 66's history, read: Route 66 Forgotten Ghost Towns & Their Tragic History

2. Easy Rider (1969)

"Easy Rider" (1969), directed by Dennis Hopper, is an iconic counterculture film that takes viewers on a cross-country journey along Route 66 with two bikers.

This film captures the spirit of freedom and rebellion that became synonymous with Route 66 culture during the 1960s.

As the bikers ride along the highway, they encounter different landscapes and attitudes, which reflect the changing times of that era.

"Easy Rider" is a cultural icon that celebrates how the highway mirrored societal changes. This film even made it into the National Film Registry.

3. Paris, Texas (1984)

"Paris, Texas" (1984), directed by Wim Wenders, is a drama about a man reconnecting with his estranged son during a road trip along portions of Route 66.

The film beautifully showcases the diverse landscapes along the highway, emphasizing the idea of rediscovery and self-exploration.

The film shows how Route 66 represents personal journeys and fresh starts, mirroring its role as a symbol of self-discovery and change. Plus, it snagged the top prize at Cannes.

4. Rain Man (1988)

"Rain Man" (1988), starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, features a cross-country journey that includes stretches of Route 66. While the highway is not the central focus, it symbolizes the characters' journey toward understanding and acceptance.

It shows how Route 66 symbolizes personal growth and family connection, portraying it as a journey toward self-discovery and reconciliation. This movie even snagged four Oscars, including Best Picture.

5. Cars (2006)

"Cars" (2006), an animated Pixar film, creates a fictional world inspired by Route 66, with the town of Radiator Springs embodying the charm and nostalgia of Route 66 culture.

The movie is reminiscent of the highway's iconic roadside attractions and small-town charm, an homage to the cultural significance of Route 66 as a symbol of Americana and adventure.

For more road trip adventures, check out our recommended Las Vegas spots here: 13 Fantastic Self-Drive Day Trips Around Las Vegas

6. 3 Women (1977)

"3 Women" (1977), directed by Robert Altman, explores the lives of three women working at a desert spa along Route 66.

While not a traditional road trip film, it delves into the mystique of the Southwest and the highway's cultural influence on the characters' lives.

Despite not being a box office success upon release, "3 Women" has gained cult status and is considered a significant film in the career of director Robert Altman.

The film's exploration of identity, memory, and female relationships continues to resonate with audiences today.

At the Cannes Film Festival, Shelley Duvall's performance earned her a shared Best Actress award, cementing her place in cinematic history.

Sissy Spacek's captivating portrayal, too, garnered recognition, with nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress from prestigious organizations like the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle.

Hit the Open Road

A motorcycle drives by the marker on historic Route 66 in Arizona

As you can see, Route 66 has served as an iconic backdrop reflecting the spirit of America throughout cinema history. This highway represents hopes, dreams, personal transformations, and new horizons.

Now it's your turn. Let these cinematic gems spark inspiration for your own adventure — big or small. Chart your personal route and cruise towards the rising sun. The open road awaits, so embrace what lies ahead.

Stay curious, courageous, and carefree as you write your own story. This highway has endless tales left to tell, and yours is sure to be a classic. The journey begins today.

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