"La Strada is nothing less than a rite of passage, a vision of perennially failing pig-man. Zampanò is here, at the center of a debased culture once again: a spiritually abandoned savage, who, trudging in a circle, makes a show of breaking voluntarily assumed chains--his destiny to burrow at last in shifting sand with the tide coming in and the sky bereft of illusion, having rejected the Clown and destroyed the Fool in himself."Vernon Young, Hudson Review.
During Fellini's early film career, he was closely associated with the movement known as neorealism, a set of films produced by the Italian film industry during the post-World War II period, particularly 1945–1952, and characterized by close attention to social context, a sense of historical immediacy, political commitment to progressive social change, and an anti-Fascist ideology. Although there were glimpses of certain lapses in neorealistic orthodoxy in some of his first films as a director, La Strada has been widely viewed as a definitive break with the ideological demands of neorealist theorists to follow a particular political slant or embody a specific "realist" style. This resulted in certain critics vilifying Fellini for, as they saw it, reverting to prewar attitudes of individualism, mysticism and preoccupation with "pure style". Fellini vigorously responded to this criticism: "Certain people still think neorealism is fit to show only certain kinds of reality, and they insist that this is social reality. It is a program, to show only certain aspects of life". Film critic Millicent Marcus wrote that, "La Strada remains a film indifferent to the social and historical concerns of orthodox neorealism". Soon, other Italian filmmakers, including Michelangelo Antonioni and even Fellini's mentor and early collaborator Roberto Rossellini were to follow Fellini's lead and, in the words of critic Peter Bondanella, "pass beyond a dogmatic approach to social reality, dealing poetically with other equally compelling personal or emotional problems". As film scholar Mark Shiel has pointed out, when it won the first Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1956, La Strada became the first film to win international success as an example of a new brand of neorealism, "bittersweet and self-conscious".
International film directors who have named La Strada as one of their favorite films include Stanley Kwan, Anton Corbijn, Gillies MacKinnon, Andreas Dresen, Jiří Menzel, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mike Newell, Rajko Grlić, Laila Pakalniņa, Ann Hui, Kazuhiro Soda, Julian Jarrold, Krzysztof Zanussi, and Andrey Konchalovsky.
The film has found its way into popular music, too. Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson have mentioned the film as an inspiration for their songs "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Me and Bobby McGee", respectively, and a Serbian rock band took the film's name as their own.
Rota's main theme was adapted into a 1954 single for Perry Como under the title "Love Theme from La Strada (Traveling Down a Lonely Road)", with Italian lyrics by Michele Galdieri and English lyrics by Don Raye. Twelve years later, the composer expanded the film music to create a ballet, also called La Strada.
The New York stage has seen two productions derived from the film. A musical based on the film opened on Broadway on December 14, 1969, but closed after one performance. Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, was so impressed by Giulietta Masina's work in La Strada that she attempted to obtain theatrical rights to the film in order to mount a stage production in New York. After traveling to Rome in an unsuccessful attempt to meet with Fellini, she created a one-woman play, In Search of Fellini.