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After losing everything in the Great Recession, a woman embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.


Chloé Zhao


Jessica Bruder (based on the book by), Chloé Zhao (written for the screen by)
26 ( 7)
Nominated for 6 Oscars. Another 216 wins & 140 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Frances McDormand ... Fern
Gay DeForest Gay DeForest ... Gay
Patricia Grier Patricia Grier ... Patty
Linda May Linda May ... Linda
Angela Reyes Angela Reyes ... Angela
Carl R. Hughes Carl R. Hughes ... Carl
Douglas G. Soul Douglas G. Soul ... Doug
Ryan Aquino Ryan Aquino ... Ryan
Teresa Buchanan Teresa Buchanan ... Teresa
Karie Lynn McDermott Wilder Karie Lynn McDermott Wilder ... Karie
Brandy Wilber Brandy Wilber ... Brandy
Makenzie Etcheverry Makenzie Etcheverry ... Makenzie
Bob Wells Bob Wells ... Bob
Annette Webb Annette Webb ... Annette
Rachel Bannon Rachel Bannon ... Rachel

A Guide to the Films of Chloé Zhao

From The Rider to Nomadland, we explore down the cinematic trademarks of writer, producer, and director Chloé Zhao.

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Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. The third feature film from director Chloé Zhao, NOMADLAND features real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern's mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West. Written by Searchlight Pictures

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some full nudity. | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Frances McDormand nicknamed the van used in the film "Vanguard," which she decorated with her own personal items and slept in during the shoot. Eventually she stopped doing so because "it's much better for me to pretend to be exhausted than to actually be exhausted," she told The Hollywood Reporter. See more »


At the Thanksgiving celebration in Mendocino, David Straithairn's character likens the wineglasses clinking, very clearly, to 'the bells of ACROsanti.' Both his pronunciation and the subtitle spelling agree. He is referring to, however, the bells of ARCOsanti. See more »


Dolly: You know, when you were growing up, you were eccentric to other people. You maybe seemed weird, but it was just because you were braver and more honest than everybody else. And you could see me when I was hiding from everybody. And sometimes you could see me before I saw myself. I needed that in my life. And you are my sister. I would have loved having you around all these years. You left a big hole by leaving.
Fern: That one's on me.
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Featured in WatchMojo: Top 10 Best Movies of 2020 (2020) See more »


Foot Stompin' Banjo
Composed and Produced by Stephen Edwards
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User Reviews

"Nomadland" written by Gregory Mann
14 February 2021 | by gregorymannpress-74762See all my reviews


Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. "Nomadland" features real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern's mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of 'The American West' A sweeping panoramic portrait of 'The American' nomadic spirit set on the trail of seasonal migratory labor, "Nomadland" is a road movie for our times, now doubly relevant and resonant in this moment of redefinition and change. We see the grandeur of 'The American West', from 'The Badlands' of South Dakota to 'The Nevada Desert', to 'The Pacific Northwest', through the eyes of 61-year old Fern. Fern is a woman who has lost a husband and in fact her whole former life, when the mining town where she lived is essentially dissolved. But in her process, she gains strength and a new life. Fern finds her community in the nomad gatherings she attends which include Linda May and Swankie (real life nomads who play themselves), closer companionship with Dave (David Strathairn), and along with others she meets on her journey. But most importantly, in nature, as she evolves, in the wilderness, in rocks, trees, stars, a hurricane, this is where she finds her independence. The film incorporates non-actors and have them be themselves in the moment, then Fran has to somehow be herself in the moment as well, because she couldn't know what they're going to do. That's why the film has so much of her in the character. It's a way to make practical things that you need, things for bartering on the road. A big part of Fern's evolution is learning to live with nature. Living in a van, she becomes increasingly more exposed to nature, it's beauty and hostility, it's ability to replenish and to heal. The sound design is very important to the film and is tailored to the very different specific landscapes Fern travels through. The film keeps the sound design true to the soundscapes of the places where Fern finds herself. This film is based on the non-fiction book 'Nomadland: Surviving America In The 21st Century' by Brooklyn writer Jessica Bruder. The book is a work of investigative journalism and each chapter has a different topic. Half of the book focuses on nomadic living, and the other half is actually undercover reporting. Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear; the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break. We sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun. We've always been deeply drawn to the open road, an idea we find to be quintessentially American; the endless search for what's beyond the horizon. The film captures a glimpse of it, knowing it's not possible to truly describe 'The American Road' to another person. One has to discover it on one's own. The film uses the classically male/'Western' genre tropes to tell a more universal story of triumph over adversity and the will to survive and adjust one's dreams. There's been this promise made to the baby boomer generation, that if they just did 'X', 'Y', and 'Z', it would all work out by the time they got to retirement age. Clearly that didn't happen and isn't happening. The safety net has ripped, and many people are now falling through it. It's like 'The Titanic's' going down. And this situation dovetails with the tradition of rugged American individualism. Many of these people who are finding themselves forced into this sort of life are discovering an independence and a new sense of themselves. Beholden to only themselves for the first time in their lives. It's inspiring, complicated, of course, in the way that so much in America is so layered and complicated right now. These are people who are redefining 'The American Dream'. The film grapples with this idea of 'The American Dream', and seeing it from a fresh perspective. "Nomadland" enters this world, explores a unique American identity; the true nomad. Being a 'Nomad' is a choice, not a circumstance.

written by Gregory Mann

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Release Date:

19 February 2021 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Nomadland See more »

Filming Locations:

Arizona, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$503,000, 21 February 2021

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

2.39 : 1
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