Route 66 – The 10 BEST Must-Watch Movies/Films Shot on Mother Road

Route 66 - The 10 BEST Must-Watch Movies/Films Shot on Mother Road

Route 66, also known as the “Main Street of America,” has been featured in a variety of films throughout the years. The iconic road, which runs from Chicago to Santa Monica, has been used as a backdrop for stories of adventure, family, and self-discovery.

Many movies have used Route 66 as a symbol of the American spirit and the open road, and have captured the unique landscapes, culture, and history of the towns and cities along the way. From classic films like “The Grapes of Wrath” to more recent films like “Cars,” Route 66 has played a significant role in the storytelling of American cinema.

Top ten movies that feature Route 66:

1. “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940)

Movies and films shot on Route 66.  "The Grapes of Wrath"

“The Grapes of Wrath” is a 1940 American drama film directed by John Ford, based on John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The film follows the Joad family, a poor family of tenant farmers during the Great Depression, who are forced to leave their land in Oklahoma and travel west to California in search of a better life. The Joads travel along Route 66, also known as the “Mother Road,” encountering various struggles and hardships along the way.

The film is considered a classic of American cinema and is widely recognized for its powerful social commentary and realistic portrayal of the struggles faced by the poor during the Great Depression. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two, including Best Director for John Ford.

2. “Easy Rider” (1969)

"Easy Rider" (1969) - great and well known movie about Route 66.

“Easy Rider” is a 1969 American independent road film directed by Dennis Hopper, who also co-stars in the film. The film follows the cross-country journey of two bikers, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper), as they travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans, passing through Route 66 and the American Southwest.

Along the way, they experience the freedom of the open road, but also encounter the darker side of American society, including drug use, racism and hostility towards counterculture figures. The film was a commercial success and a cultural phenomenon, and it is widely considered to be a defining film of the counterculture movement of the late 1960s.

3. “The Last American Hero” (1973)

"The Last American Hero" (1973) - best movies about Route 66

“The Last American Hero” is a sports drama film released in 1973. It stars Jeff Bridges as the protagonist, a young man named Elroy ‘Roy’ L. Jackson who becomes a successful NASCAR driver. The film is loosely based on the real-life story of NASCAR driver Junior Johnson and takes place largely on the iconic Route 66 highway, which runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. It depicts the struggles and triumphs of Roy’s life as a racecar driver and the challenges he faces on and off the track.

4. “The Hitcher” (1986)

"The Hitcher" (1986) - another very good Route 66 movie.

“The Hitcher” is a 1986 American road horror film directed by Robert Harmon and written by Eric Red. It stars Rutger Hauer as the titular hitcher, a mysterious and psychopathic hitchhiker who terrorizes a young man named Jim Halsey (played by C. Thomas Howell) during a cross-country trip on Route 66. The film is known for its intense and suspenseful scenes, and has since become a cult classic in the horror genre.

5. “Bagdad Cafe” (1987)

"Bagdad Cafe" (1987) - movies list of best Route 66 films.

“Out of Rosenheim” (1987) is a German film also known as “Bagdad Cafe.” It is a comedic drama set along Route 66 in the Mojave Desert, California. The film follows the relationship between two women from different cultures who bond over their mutual frustration with their husbands and eventually turn the rundown motel into a popular cafe.

6. “Midnight Run” (1988)

"Midnight Run" (1988) - Best Mother Road films

“Midnight Run” is an action comedy film directed by Martin Brest and starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. The movie follows the story of Jack Walsh (De Niro), a bounty hunter who is tasked with bringing an embezzling accountant (Grodin) from New York to Los Angeles. Although the movie is not set entirely on Route 66, several scenes take place along the famous highway as Jack and his quarry make their way cross-country.

“Midnight Run” is known for its witty dialogue and strong performances, and it has become a classic of the buddy movie genre. The film’s depiction of the odd-couple relationship between its two lead characters has been widely imitated, but it remains one of the best examples of the genre.

7. “Thelma & Louise” (1991)

"Thelma & Louise" (1991) - Route 66 movies about American highway Route 66. Get into the right mood!

“Thelma & Louise” is a road movie directed by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri. The film stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as the titular characters, two friends who embark on a weekend road trip that takes a turn for the worse. The movie features several scenes set along Route 66, including a memorable sequence in which Thelma and Louise visit a roadside bar in Oklahoma.

“Thelma & Louise” was a critical and commercial success, and it is widely regarded as a feminist classic. The film’s depiction of two women taking control of their own lives has had a lasting impact on popular culture, and it remains a seminal film in the road movie genre.

8. “Natural Born Killers” (1994)

"Natural Born Killers" (1994) - What are the best movies about Route 66?

“Natural Born Killers” is a black comedy crime film directed by Oliver Stone and written by Quentin Tarantino. The movie follows the story of Mickey and Mallory Knox, two lovers who embark on a killing spree across the American Southwest. Although the movie is not exclusively set on Route 66, it features several scenes that take place along the highway, including a memorable sequence in which the couple robs a diner.

9. “Get Shorty” (1995)

Another very good movie, where you can see Route 66.

“Get Shorty” is a crime comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and based on the novel of the same name by Elmore Leonard. The movie stars John Travolta as Chili Palmer, a loan shark who travels from Miami to Los Angeles to collect a debt.

Although the movie is not set entirely on Route 66, Chili travels the highway as part of his journey, and several scenes take place along the famous road. “Get Shorty” is known for its witty dialogue and strong performances, and it has become a cult classic in the years since its release.

10. “Cars” (2006)

Famous "Cars" movie by Disney was "shot" on Route 66.

“Cars” is a 2006 American computer-animated comedy-adventure film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and directed by John Lasseter. The film follows the journey of a race car named Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) as he travels across the US to participate in the Piston Cup Championship.

Along the way, he meets a rusty tow truck named Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) and travels with him on Route 66, a famous highway that runs from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. The film was well-received by audiences and critics, and has since spawned several sequels and spin-off media.

If you are traveling with kids check also my post: Route 66 with family – The 10 BEST Attractions for Kids Along Mother Road

Hope you enjoy my list of Route 66 – The 10 BEST Must-Watch Movies/Films Shot on Mother Road. Have a great Route 66 trip!

👍 Find out more:

Discover the best stops along the Mother Road in my travel guide, “Route 66 Travel Guide – 202 Amazing Places”, which is available on Amazon. This is the ultimate travel guide and pocket reference for anyone wishing to experience the nostalgia and wonder of America’s Route 66! MUST-HAVE for all Route 66 travelers. Visit 202 places on Route 66 with “Scan QR and go” for easy navigation.


Traveling on Route 66

Mark Watson is a California-based member of a Los Angeles Motorcycle Club and a keen traveler. He’s traveled the entirety of U. S. Route 66 seven times on his Harley-Davidson. He strives to interest others in the historic drive to keep the legendary Route 66 alive. He also traveled through the Alaska Highway. He is an author of bestseller books on Amazon: “Route 66 Travel Guide – 202 Amazing Places” and “Alaska Highway – 202 Best Stops”.

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