Visiting Hollywood South: Louisiana’s Film Trail

Locations tied to Louisiana-filmed movies and TV shows are numerous

Louisiana’s official state nickname is Sportsman’s Paradise thanks to rich and abundant natural resources and the fish and wild game that call it home. Related nicknames for the state include The Pelican State, about the state bird, and Bayou State, thanks to the slow-moving streams.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s another nickname for Louisiana that is not all about the flora and fauna—Hollywood South. Thanks to its diverse settings for movies (Louisiana has everything including bustling cities, antebellum mansions, and lush wilderness areas), generous state tax incentives for film producers, and numerous production support businesses, Louisiana is a global player in a movie and TV filming location. And, like other visitors to the state, movie and TV stars rave about enjoying the food, music, and joie de vivre away from the sets.

A comprehensive list of major movies and TV shows made in Louisiana in recent years would be too long to list here but here are a few ideas for mixing some of Louisiana’s more notable filming sites with your travels throughout the state.

Gator at Jungle Gardens on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Steel Magnolias (1989)

Scene: Filmed in Natchitoches, a good part of the film takes place in M’Lynn Eatenton’s (Sally Field) fictional 1830s home in the fictionally named Chinquapin Parish. It’s the site of memorable quotes such as one during the annual Christmas party when Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacClain) turns to M’Lynn and quips, “M’Lynn, what’s wrong with you these days? You got a reindeer up your butt?”

Crawley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Laugh through tears (Truvy’s [Dolly Parton] “favorite emotion”) as you enjoy a weekend staying in the actual 1830s, six-bedroom, six-and-a-half bath Steel Magnolia House. The bed and breakfast is where much of the movie was filmed.

Related: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Scene: Louis (Brad Pitt), an unwilling vampire, decides he’s had enough of his so-called life and takes a torch to his sprawling manor setting the curtains ablaze which ticks off the aristocratic vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) who was rather fond of the place.

Crawfish farming © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Louis’ homeplace was filmed at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie. Take a tour and see the restored antebellum Greek Revival mansion—sans flames—plus spots where the graveyard scenes were filmed. Decide for yourself if it’s a fitting estate for a vampire.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy Rider (1969)

Scene: On a break from their iconic, cross-country road trip, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) along with a couple of bleary-eyed prostitutes, drop acid in an ancient cemetery prompting them to get dazed, philosophical, and naked.  

Above-ground cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Don’t drop acid or get naked but do get philosophical while wandering around the famous, above-ground St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans where the scene took place. Specifically, seek out the massive, queen-like sculpture set into the “Italia” gravesite where, like Wyatt, you can imagine yourself talking to dead relatives. Several tour companies offer cemetery tours.

Louisiana sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Scene: Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) wakes up his father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), drives him out to a lake, and then carries him on his shoulders to the pier where he sets him on a chair and they watch the sunrise. During the three-minute scene, a beautiful song, Sunrise on Lake Pontchartrain, is playing in the background.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Start early and park yourself on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans where the song takes its name. Watch a real sunrise while listening to the music and chances are you’ll end up teary-eyed at the beauty of both. Afterward, take a ride by the Nolan House at 2707 Coliseum Street, a spectacular Garden District mansion where the bulk of the film took place.

Related: ‘Pass a Good Time’ on the Bayou Teche Byway

Along the Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Duck Dynasty (2012-2017)

Scene: The Robertson boys deck themselves out with camo gear, shotguns, and their famous, handmade duck calls, then cruise on an airboat through the North Louisiana marsh, gather ’round the duck blind, and proceed to gleefully blast down one quacker after another.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: If that sounds like your idea of happiness then order a few of the Robertsons’ custom duck calls from the Duck Commander company website and head to one of the prime duck hunting areas in North America: Chenier Plain in southwest Louisiana. On the Sabine and Lacassine national wildlife refuges in Cameron Parish, it’s where you can fire away at gadwalls, blue-winged teal, pintails, mottled ducks, and white-fronted geese. 

St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tremé (2010-2013)

Scene: This Emmy Award-winning HBO drama (2010-2013) is set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Co-created by David Simon—best known for blockbuster television drama The Wire—Wendell Pierce (a native New Orleanian) and a cast of costars work on rebuilding their lives in the wake of one of the nation’s most significant natural disasters. The series name refers to a New Orleans neighborhood that is the historical heart of the city’s African American community through Tremé was filmed throughout the Crescent City.

Experience: All over New Orleans including numerous bars and restaurants (Vaughn’s Lounge, Liuzza’s By the Track), the French Quarter, and historical shotgun-style homes central to New Orleans’ architectural distinctiveness.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swamp People (2010–present)

Scene: This reality show based in south Louisiana focuses on the lives of alligator hunters in the Atchafalaya Basin swamps and depicts life (and wildlife) in the bayous. At times intense—alligator hunting is not for the squeamish, after all—Swamp People is a testimony to the resilience of the men and women who call the region home. 

Related: Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Throughout rural central and south Louisiana. Pierre Part, a village a few miles due south of Baton Rouge, is among the primary filming locations. Others include Houma, Hammond, Bayou Sorrel, Thibodaux, and Zwolle. An airboat swamp tour with RJ Molinere, star of Swamp People, is about as close as you can get to the real thing you see on the show.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NCIS: New Orleans (2014-2021)

Scene: A spinoff of the enormously successful CBS network show, NCIS. NCIS: New Orleans stars Scott Bakula as Special Agent Dwayne Pride whose investigations into crimes involving military personnel have made for captivating, edge-of-your-seat viewing since it premiered in 2014. While NCIS: New Orleans shows off the talent of Golden Globe winner Bakula and an extensive roster of actors, the real star may be New Orleans itself with each episode showcasing the city’s unique architecture and unconventional characters.

Experience: Iconic locations throughout New Orleans. Bourbon Street, Louis Armstrong Park, Café Du Monde, Jackson Square, Plaza Tower, and New Orleans Motorsports Park (in Avondale) make appearances.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More stops along the Louisiana Film Trail

Louisiana’s antebellum plantations on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge remain a magnet for blockbuster films. In recent years, 12 Years a Slave was filmed at Felicity Plantation. For the classics enthusiast, the tours at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens explain the mansion’s role in making Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Plantations along the Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Baton Rouge, visit Louisiana’s State Capitol to see where All the King’s Men, a story based on Huey P. Long, was filmed. Just a few blocks away sits the USS KIDD, a WWII-era battleship where Tom Hanks’ Greyhound was filmed.

Read Next: 6 of the Best RV Parks in Louisiana

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

10 Iconic Road Trip Movies

What is it about the road trip that lends itself so well to cinema?

The sun is shining, the weather is sweet, and the asphalt is calling: road trip season is here.

It’s a mood captured countless times on the big screen over the years with road trips used as a powerful device for narrative progression. Families confined within a space for hours on end, surprise encounters, and the inherent jeopardy of traveling at speed in a metal box have all played a role in some of the most memorable movies of all time.

Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is something uniquely American about the idea of hitting the open road and driving endlessly through changing landscapes, either toward the promise of something better or as an escape from real or imagined oppression. While running the gamut from liberating to terrifying, American road trip films share a common thread: through the act of driving there is the opportunity for discovery. Characters often find something new about themselves, others, or some greater principle or purpose.

I researched the history of road trip cinema and chose 10 of the most iconic films in which people drive across the U.S.

On a road trip to Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some road films reveal that running away is futile or even cowardly while others crystalize the fact that we cannot outrun the consequences of our actions even if we drive forever. At the same time, the genre reminds us that there is great potential in removing ourselves from the monotony or comfort of everyday life—that the act of leaving can be a powerful assertion of agency.

The history and diversity of American road trip films span decades and generations and encompass countless genres. From the lawlessness and violence of “Natural Born Killers” to the horror of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and even the bittersweet optimism of “Little Miss Sunshine,” road trip films reflect the politics and sense of national identity of their time and place.

Mural at Kingman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy Rider (1969)

Starring: Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide custom motorbikes

Easy Rider stars Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as bikers who smuggle drugs from Mexico into California, sell them and head eastward to New Orleans trying to make it in time for Mardi Gras. They stash their money near the gas tank of the “Captain America”—a custom-made motorcycle with a signature long front end—ridden by Fonda’s character. Along the way, they stop at a commune in Arizona and find trouble in New Mexico where they encounter a drunken lawyer played by Jack Nicholson who they convince to join them.

Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Produced on a mere $360,000 budget, Easy Rider is remembered as a film that captures the feeling of late-’60s counterculture complete with hallucinogenic trips, a free-love commune, and a soundtrack studded with The Band, The Byrds, and Jimi Hendrix. Its legacy is also one of subverting the mainstream Hollywood studio system. Its unprecedented commercial success—grossing $60 million globally on a small budget—as well as its indie status, stunned Hollywood executives.

Related: 11 Must Watch Films Shot on Route 66

Did you know? Only one bike from Easy Rider—the “Captain America”—is known to have survived. The other choppers were stolen before filming ended and haven’t been seen since.

Depicting life as it was in West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Starring: 1953 Chevrolet 3100 and 1972 Ford Club Wagon

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre changed the horror film genre and American filmmaking more generally in profound ways. Aside from inspiring nine films in the franchise, it pioneered the slasher genre while showing surprisingly little blood and gore, relying instead on clever camera work and misdirection to suggest horrific images. Filmmakers including Ridley Scott, Wes Craven, and Guillermo del Toro count the film amongst their favorites. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” takes aspects of the traditional road trip film beginning with the group of idealistic young people piled into a car and quickly turning the viewer’s expectations into a nightmare.

Fuel stop from the past in Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The film follows a group of friends who take a road trip through rural Texas to visit a family member’s gravesite but are forced to stop when their car runs out of gas. Early signs of danger include a violent encounter with a hitchhiker and when they stop at a quiet gas station only to find out the pumps are empty. Terror builds when they come across Leatherface, the now-legendary chainsaw-wielding villain who wears a mask made of human skin.

Did you know? The film is an allegory for the Vietnam War.

The Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

Starring: Wagon Queen Family Truckster (based on a 1979 Ford Country Squire)

Road comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation follows the Griswold family led by patriarch Clark (Chevy Chase) as they embark on a road trip from Chicago to a southern California amusement park. The trip, a bid to spend more time together as a family and enjoy a picturesque vacation quickly goes awry. Driving a large, ugly station wagon, the family experiences countless misadventures along the way.

An amusement park somewhere in America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The station wagon used in the film, known as the Wagon Queen Family Truckster was specifically designed as a parody of 1970s station wagons complete with faux-wood paneling and a “metallic pea”-colored paint job. Five identical cars were produced for the film due to the extent of the mishaps experienced by the family.

Related: The Best Road Trip Songs

Did you know? The film’s fictional Family Truckster was designed by the American custom car builder George Harris who’s perhaps best known for making the Batmobile used in the Batman live-action TV series.

Traveling the roads of West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paris, Texas (1984)

Starring: 1958 Ford Ranchero

After emerging from the Texas desert unable to speak or explain where he came from, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) is rescued by a German doctor. The doctor contacts Travis’ estranged brother (Dean Stockwell) who then drives from L.A. to pick him up. When they return to California, Travis meets his young son who has been adopted by his brother and they decide to embark on a journey to find his son’s mother.

A West Texas sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling from southern California to Houston in a classic blue and white ’58 Ford Ranchero, the two reconcile. Passing through desert landscapes, past old road motels and neon signs, the aesthetics of “Paris, Texas” are part-Western, part Edward Hopper Americana.

Did you know? The moving character study was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard,

A scenic byway in Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain Man (1988)

Starring: 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible

Rain Man tells the story of Charlie (Tom Cruise), a young hustler who discovers he has a brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) after his father dies and leaves Raymond his lucrative estate. Charlie travels to Ohio and finds that Raymond is an autistic savant who has been institutionalized. In an attempt to gain control of the money from their father’s estate, Charlie kidnaps Raymond from the institution. The two embark on a road trip from Cincinnati to Los Angeles where Charlie plans to fight for custody of his brother in their father’s 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible.

The film’s enduring legacy is complicated: While it was groundbreaking for its representation of a character with autism some have called its portrayal of autism spectrum disorder reductive or stereotypical.

Did you know? The owner of the Buick Roadmaster used in Rain Man is the film’s director, Barry Levinson.

Wigwam Motel, Halbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Starring: 1966 Ford Thunderbird

Thelma & Louise stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as two best friends who depart their unsatisfying home lives in Arkansas for a weekend away only to become fugitives on the run from the law. The two head in the direction of Mexico in Louise’s 1966 blue Ford Thunderbird convertible hoping to cross the border and evade capture by the FBI. Louise insists they avoid driving through Texas so they take a meandering route west traveling through New Mexico and the Grand Canyon.

Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thelma & Louise remains a landmark film in the feminist cinema for its politics, exploration of gendered violence, centering on a best-friend relationship, and for subverting several genres: the Western, the road film, the buddy film, and the crime drama. Davis and Sarandon both received Best Actress Oscar nominations for their co-starring roles.

Did you know? Thelma and Louise isn’t the only famous film to feature a fourth-generation Ford Thunderbird convertible: a yellow example also appeared in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Shoot-out in Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Born Killers (1994)

Starring: 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible

Starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as a murderous married couple, Natural Born Killers grapples with the way mass violence and its perpetrators are given celebrity status by the media.

The film follows the couple as they go on a multi-state killing spree traveling from New Mexico to Arizona and Nevada, all the while attracting media attention that turns them into macabre cult heroes. Featuring a red 1970 Dodge Challenger convertible, the film subverts the often family-friendly conventions of the road trip movie while incorporating images of Western landscapes to remind viewers it is a particularly American story. The film sparked controversy over its gratuitous violence and director Oliver Stone was sued when the film allegedly inspired copycat crimes (the suit was later dismissed).

Did you know? According to Tom Sizemore, he got the part of Detective Jack Scagnetti after writing a monologue for the character which he made Oliver Stone listen to in the parking lot of a bar. 

The Straight Story (1999)

Starring: 1964 John Deere 110 lawnmower

Based on a true story, The Straight Story follows Alvin (Richard Farnsworth), an elderly Iowa man who decides to visit his estranged brother after he has a stroke. Unable to drive, Alvin hitches a trailer to his lawnmower and embarks on a journey to Wisconsin. Only able to travel at five miles per hour, the journey takes several weeks and involves a series of mishaps and connections made with other long-term travelers and passersby.

The Straight Story was filmed along the actual route that the real Alvin Straight took on his original journey. Farnsworth who died by suicide one year after the film’s release had been suffering from cancer that left his legs partially paralyzed during the filming of The Straight Story. He received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for the role.

Related: Ultimate Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way Across America

Did you know? As crazy as it sounds, The Straight Story is based on a true story. In 1996, the real-life Alvin Straight really did drive his ride-on mower for 240-mile trip to visit his unwell brother.

Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sideways (2004)

Starring: 1987 Saab Turbo convertible

Sideways stars Paul Giamatti as Miles, an unsuccessful writer who brings his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip to California wine country as a final adventure before Jack gets married. Traveling up the coast of California in a bright red ’87 Saab Turbo convertible, the two men experience a range of mishaps leading up to Jack’s wedding ceremony.

Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The film which centers largely around Miles’ obsession with wine (particularly pinot noir) has been credited with influencing the California wine industry. As of 2017, production of California pinot noir wine had increased by 170 percent since the film’s release—a trend that winemakers labeled “the Sideways Effect.”

Did you know? The reason for the film’s title is never explained in the film itself but it is made quite clear in the novel on which the film is based as the two main characters use the term “sideways” to mean “intoxicated.”

Wigwam Motel, Halbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Starring: 1978 Volkswagen Type 2 camper van

Starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, and Abigail Breslin as members of a dysfunctional family, Little Miss Sunshine tells the story of Olive (Abigail Breslin), a young girl and aspiring beauty queen trying to get to a beauty pageant to compete.

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Based in New Mexico, her large family—including her parents, grandfather, uncle, and half-brother—travels 800 miles in a yellow VW bus to reach southern California for the competition that is just two days away. Along the way, issues with the bus as well as personal trials and misadventures, bring the family together in unexpected ways. Breslin earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress at just age 10.

Related: Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

Did you know? Little Miss Sunshine’s screenplay writer Michael Arndt based the issues affecting the Volkswagen on the unreliability of a camper van from a real-life childhood road trip of his own.

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase, Tamed

11 Must Watch Films Shot on Route 66

Coined the ‘Main Street of America’, driving along this historic road elicits memories of days gone by when a nickel could buy you a bottle of coke and the sweet sounds of Billie Holiday crooned from every radio

No American road is as iconic as Route 66. Starting in Chicago, Illinois, and snaking cross-country to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 originally consisted of 2,418 miles of highway rich with neon-lit motels, quirky roadside attractions, and stretches of deserted landscape.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With such a wealth of inspiration, it’s no surprise that so many filmmakers have used Route 66 as a backdrop for their films. One of the pivotal scenes in the 1988 film Rain Man takes place at Route 66’s Big 8 Motel in El Reno, Oklahoma. Rain Man went on to win numerous accolades and prizes including four Academy Awards. While not every movie filmed on Route 66 goes home with an Oscar, there are many that are worth a watch.

So pop some corn, get yourself comfy, and binge watch these eleven must-see movies on our list.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy Rider (1969)

Filmed along Route 66, primarily in Santa Monica, California, and Flagstaff, Arizona, this 1969 film follows two “biker-hippies” (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) as they head to New Orleans, crossing the west and southern United States. Along the way they encounter a host of interesting characters and strange situations. The ultimate biker road-trip film, this movie had a budget under $1 million and yet went on to gross more than $60 million worldwide. This movie is especially interesting because it marked the beginning of a cinematic revolution in Hollywood. Addressing topics such as sexuality, politics, and drugs with unprecedented candor, it marked a new wave of film and was one of the first low budget movies to enjoy such a high level of success.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Based on John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name, this 1940 film tells the story of an Oklahoman family heading to California on Route 66. Taking place during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl period, the poverty stricken Joad family leaves Oklahoma in search of a better life. Interestingly, Steinbeck was the person who first coined the term the “Mother Road” to describe Route 66, and many of its locations are prominently featured in this movie including spots through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, this movie is also listed 230 on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the best movies ever made.

Related: Route 66 across Arizona

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bagdad Cafe (1987)

This 1987 film, also known as Out of Rosenheim, is a German comedy-drama set in a remote truck-stop café and motel in the Mojave Desert in California. The story centers on two women who have recently separated from their husbands and the friendship that grows between them. The setting of this film, Bagdad, California, is a former town on Route 66 which was abandoned and eventually razed after being bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1973. While the town of Bagdad did have a Bagdad Cafe, the film was actually shot 50 miles west in the town of Newberry Springs, California, at the now titled, Bagdad Cafe. This café has since become something of a tourist destination on the route.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No Country for Old Men (2007)

This picture, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, is a tension building cat and mouse drama which follows a Texas welder and a Vietnam veteran in the desert landscape of west Texas. Interestingly however, The Desert Sands Motel in the final scene, while depicted as El Paso, Texas, was actually filmed in the Route 66 town of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Critically acclaimed, this film took home four Academy Awards as well as numerous other prizes.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

This 2006 film follows the motley Hoover crew as they pile into a canary yellow Volkswagen bus, embarking cross-country to get the seven-year-old protagonist, Olive, to a beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California. Portions of the road trip were filmed in Route 66 locations including Chandler, Phoenix, and Flagstaff. Interestingly, this film, while having a relatively small budget of $8 million made a profit exceeding $100 million worldwide. Watch it for the great locations, but stay for the weird family antics.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

In this classic movie, starring funny man Chevy Chase, the Griswold clan drove from Chicago to Los Angeles to visit the theme park Wally World. Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona, and other Arizona highway locations were used in this comedy. Other locations close to Route 66 included Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon which the cast actually visited (unlike the cast of Thelma and Louise). This film was a box-office hit earning more than $60 million and increasing the popularity of the National Lampoon series.

Related: Get Your Kicks (And Burros) On Route 66

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starman (1984)

Although filmed in numerous locations throughout the United States, this 1984 film featured the Meteor Crater Trading Post, just west of Winslow, Arizona, on Route 66. Telling the story of an alien who has come to Earth in response to the Voyager 2 space probe’s gold phonograph record, this crater location served as the movie’s rendezvous point where the main character (Starman) was to meet and return to his ship. Interestingly, this film represents a rare instance where a film from the science-fiction genre received an Academy Award nomination for acting (Jeff Bridges for Best Actor).

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beneath the Dark (2010)

Located along Route 66 in the heart of the Mojave Desert sits Amboy, California, the backdrop for this 2010 mystery thriller film. Set largely in Roy’s Motel and Cafe (used over the years in many horror films), this movie introduces us to a couple driving through the desert to attend a wedding. When they end up at Roy’s for a roadside rest stop, it proves to be a strange and unsettling place where uncomfortable secrets will be revealed. Once a popular spot to stop along the route, Amboy struggled after the opening of Interstate 40 in 1973 and is now largely abandoned. Turn this movie on to be spooked, but take in a little piece of Route 66 history while you watch and get out and pay a visit to Roy’s for yourself.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild Hogs (2007)

In this 2007 film, a group of middle-aged suburban bikers hit the open road on a quest for adventure. These “Wild Hogs” soon find they’ve gotten a little more than they bargained for when they encounter a New Mexican biker gang called the Del Fuegos. Filmed in a variety of locations in the Route 66 town of Albuquerque, New Mexico, this comedy flick has led to an influx of recreational bikers to the area. One key spot to visit is The Library Bar & Grill, a Central Avenue (Route 66) location in Albuquerque that was featured as a friendly biker bar in the film.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

One of the darker films on our list, this 1994 satirical film about serial killers on a murder spree was filmed in a variety of locations on Route 66 (Illinois, New Mexico, and Arizona). Following Mickey and Mallory Knox as they drive down the highway in their Dodge Challenger, murdering every few miles, this controversial film focuses on how mass media can irresponsibly glorify individuals. Shot in a unique frenzied and psychedelic style making use of animation, different color schemes, and a variety of camera angles, filters and special effects, this film, while not the archetypal road trip film, is definitely a must-watch.

Related: Route 66: The Road to Adventure

The Outsiders (1983)

Shot on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma (Route 66 runs through the heart of the city), this 1983 coming-of-age drama is an adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel of the same name. In this film a teen gang (the Greasers) are continually at odds with a rival group (the Socials). When a brawl ends in the death of a Social member, the consequences for everyone involved are serious and tragic. A well acted and crafted film that stars some of Hollywood’s biggest names when they were still young and up-and-coming, this movie performed well at the Box Office, and solidified its place on our list.

Read Next: Road Trips Ratings: America’s Classic Routes Analyzed

Worth Pondering…

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way
Take the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

—Bobby Troup (1946)