The Man With No Name. Dirty Harry. A western movie icon. There are movie stars and then there are Hollywood legends. Clint Eastwood rose from a TV actor to an Oscar-winning filmmaker, forever making his mark on the entertainment industry as one of the greatest we’ll ever see. His moody glare has made his acting roles iconic and his undeniable directing skills have made him one of the most talented entertainers not only of his generation but ever.
Early on, Eastwood’s rise to fame can be tied to his starring roles in spaghetti western movies which are some of the most beloved from his lengthy resume. Though most of those were filmed overseas this Clint Eastwood-inspired road trip will take you around the United States to visit some other notable film sites from his legendary career.
Pale Rider – Boulder Mountains, Idaho
Eastwood has made a career starring in memorable westerns and this was one of the most popular of the ’80s. He stars as the mysterious Preacher, an enigmatic character who helps protect a struggling California mining town from treacherous prospectors. The title and Eastwood’s character are based on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with a pale ghost rider portraying death itself. Eastwood even directed this epic western which was primarily filmed in the beautiful Boulder Mountains of Idaho despite taking place in California.
Bronco Billy – Treasure Valley in Boise, Oregon
Another solid ’80s western directed by and starring Eastwood is this action comedy. He stars as the title character and star of Bronco Billy’s Wild West Show, a traveling show similar to Buffalo Bill’s real western-themed show that traveled the world. Billy struggles to keep his show popular and relevant while dealing with declining interest from the public. Despite his best efforts to keep his team’s spirits up they seem to run into a series of bad luck after a spoiled heiress joins their group as Billy’s assistant. It’s funny, unique, and one of the least Clint Eastwood movies on his resume. The stunning Treasure Valley in Oregon served as the backdrop for filming.
There are a handful of roles that come to mind when you think of Eastwood and this is one of them. Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan gets assigned to a serial killer case on the SFPD, a case inspired by the real-life zodiac killer. Frequently recognized as one of the iconic films in Hollywood history it’s the ultimate ’70s action film whether or not you’re a die-hard Eastwood fan. Filming was kept as authentic as possible mostly taking place in San Francisco.
Outlaw Josey Wales – Kanab, Utah
Set after the Civil War, Eastwood directed and starred as Josey Wales, a Missouri farmer whose family gets murdered by Union soldiers during the war. He sets out on a war path of revenge on those who took his family joining up with a Confederate guerrilla band and earning a reputation as a feared gunslinging outlaw. It’s another incredibly iconic performance from the beloved star, especially in his repertoire of memorable westerns. Despite taking place in the Midwest the movie was filmed in the small Utah town of Kanab known for being a popular spot for western films. You can visit the town and see some fun Josey Wales memorabilia and filming spots.
Joe Kidd – Tucson, Arizona
Eastwood rocked the ’70s and ’80s with a slew of solid westerns. Joe Kidd was another standout with Eastwood starring as the bounty hunter Joe Kidd hired by a wealthy land baron to hunt down a Mexican revolutionary leader. Though set in New Mexico the movie was filmed in the state next door in Tucson, one of many western films to be shot at the historic Old Tucson Studios. It’s now a western theme park and tourist attraction you can visit but has been temporarily closed to the public since 2020.
Back in the ’60s, Eastwood was quickly becoming one of the biggest western stars in Hollywood. In Hang em High, he stars as an innocent man falsely accused of cattle rustling and sentenced to hang. He somehow survives the incident and becomes a lawman, later able to bring the men who falsely convicted him to justice for other crimes. The movie was filmed at the White Sands National Park where Eastwood allegedly did his own stunts including letting a horse drag him through the park with a noose around his neck.
Cry Macho – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Eastwood’s most recent film is this modern western which he directed and starred in. Based on the 1975 novel the movie follows an old rodeo star hired to reunite a young Mexican boy with his father (played by country singer Dwight Yoakam) in the U.S. The film follows the Texan rodeo star (Eastwood) as he travels across the Texas border and back but it was fully filmed in the city of Albuquerque.
Rawhide – Tucumcari, New Mexico
The western TV series that helped turn Eastwood into a star was shot all over California and parts of New Mexico. Multiple episodes were notably filmed on ranches in the Tucumcari area back in the late ’50s. The actor played the role of cattle driver Rowdy Yates for eight seasons notably gaining the attention of Italian director Sergio Leone who took his career to the next level by casting him in his historic spaghetti westerns.
The Beguiled – Napoleonville, Louisiana
In this 1971 thriller, Eastwood plays a wounded Union soldier seeking care from a southern girls’ school. The school matron holds him captive but becomes angered when he rejects her romantic advances. It becomes a psychological game of wits for the soldier to try and escape the school and make it back to his troop, but does he? The Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville served as the main filming location for the film which mostly takes place in the house itself. Real Union soldiers had a hospital on the plantation’s grounds during the Civil War.
Later in his career, Eastwood primarily focused on directing projects so when he stars in something you know it’s good. Trouble with the Curve follows an old baseball scout whose adult daughter joins him on his last scouting trip. It was the first time Eastwood starred in something he wasn’t directing himself since 2005. Eastwood’s character is a scout for the Atlanta Braves so the movie was fittingly filmed in the nearby city of Athens.
People love westerns worldwide. There’s something fantasy-like about an individual fighting the elements. Or even bad guys and the elements. It’s a simpler time. There’s no organized laws and stuff.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.