Road Trip Movies? Discuss!

by HELEN GEIB

This post is a day late going up for the excellent to my mind reason that I just got home from a driving trip to Colorado. My excuse is the prompt for this month’s discussion topic: road trip movies.

Here I’m defining a road trip movie as a movie with a story built around a journey and the things the characters experience along the way- comic misadventures, personal growth, group bonding, being chased by determined pursuers, etc.

Answer one, some, or all of these questions about road trip movies:

Best?

Favorite?

Most overrated?

Most underrated?

Most closely resembles your personal experience?

Best exemplifies the essence of the genre?

Captures the spirit of America (or your country of choice)?

The movie you watch before you leave on a trip?

The movie you watch when you get back?

The road trip you wish you’d been on?

28 responses to “Road Trip Movies? Discuss!

  1. Tough categories. I need to think a bit.

  2. Road Trip movies that I like are:
    1.) Two-Lane Blacktop — 1971
    2.) Easy Rider — 1969
    3.) National Lampoons Vacation — 1983
    4.) Goodbye Pork Pie — 1980, which was made in New Zealand and one of the all time best.
    5.) Little Miss Sunshine —2004
    6.) Silver Streak— 1976. Yeah it takes place on a train, but doesn’t that count. They still go across the country.
    7.) It’s a Mad,Mad,Mad World — 1962. Definitely the funniest.
    8.) It Happened One Night — 1934, which is what I think you have pictured there.

  3. Night of the Hunter is definitely a contender for best/favorite, etc.

  4. Alot of people think of road movies, at least the modern day ones, as comedies, or buddy movies, but they can also work quite well in the suspense vein. A couple of good examples would be:
    1.) ‘The Hitcher’ — 1986 where C.Thomas Howell plays a truck driver that is chased by a serial killer that is aptly played by Rutger Hauer.
    2.) ‘Duel’ — 1971. This is an excellent early thriller by Steven Spielberg starring Dennis Weaver as a traveling businessman who finds himself chased on a lonely desert highway by a truck whose driver we never see.
    I also should mention ‘Midnight Run’ — 1988 starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin. I am reveing this film in 2 weeks on the Rewind column, so I won’t say much about it at this time except that it is highly entertaining.

  5. Favorite–Does a yellow brick road trip count?
    Favorite–The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
    Favorite and underrated, as few know of it–MirrorMask
    Most overrated–Sideways
    Most closely resembles your personal experience? Thelma and Louise (kidding)
    The road trip you wish you’d been on? I would volunteer to be the tenth in the fellowship on the way to Mordor. (Maybe I just want to wear a cape with a cool leaf clasp).

  6. Michelle, that is a super list. I forgot about ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, but that is a favorite of mine as well. ‘Sideways’ is definitely overrated. It was trendy at the time, but forgotten now. ‘Thelma and Louise’ is a good one. Didn’t completely care for the ending though.

  7. Yeah, I had heard so much hype about Sideways before I saw it. When I finally did, I was underwhelmed.

    Your list is great, and has a few on my “haven’t seen, and must watch” list. I saw Duel many years ago…that was chilling!

  8. @Ken: Take your time! But don’t keep us waiting too long. ;-)

    @Richard: You’re not going to take on any of my questions? And yup, the picture is from “It Happened One Night,” my favorite road movie.

    @Matt: “Night of the Hunter” is an astonishing film. I’d never thought of it as a road movie, but you’re right, it fits. The genre’s versatility is one of its best points.

    @Michelle: “Does a yellow brick road trip count?” Absolutely it does! In fact, now that you bring it up, I realize that I must have been subliminally thinking of “The Wizard of Oz” when I wrote my road trip movie definition. “Singing songs” is all that’s missing. ^_^

  9. Alright Helen, those are tough questions, but I will answer them, but only if you answer them as well with your own choices. Here is mine:

    1.) Best road movie would be a tie between ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’, which remain existential and years ahead of their time.
    2.) Favorite would be a tie between ‘Adventrures of Priscialla, Queen of the Desert’ and ‘Highway 61’, which is a Canadian road movie that starts in Winnipeg and ends in New Orleans and features a nerdy barber and a foul-mouth female punk rocker. Very quirky.
    3.) Most overrated would have to be ‘Vanishing Point’. I think Nir likes this one, but to me it tried to hard to be cool and has no depth. The lead character, played by actor Barry Newman, is dull and boring. The ending is a cop-out. I did like the nude blonde riding on the motorcycle, which is the best part.

  10. The list part 2
    4.) Most underrated would be ‘It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World’. I know critics at the time considered it overblown, but I found quite lively and genuinely funny with some very good stuntwork.
    5.) The road movie that closely resembles my personal experience would be ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’, which reminds me of all the crazy trips we took as a family when I was a kid.
    6.) The road movie that best captures the American spirit is tough because alot of road movies are about non-conformity and breaking away from it all. However, I liked ‘About Schmidt’ that especially as a drives his big camper around America and takes it the country and the countryside for the very first time in his old age and sees things in a different perspective.
    7.) The road movies that best exemplifies the genre would have to either ‘Thelma and Louise’, or the New Zealand hit ‘Goodbye Pork Pie’ because both deal with characters that don’t fit in and take to the road to escape and find new worlds and new frontiers, which is what I think we all secretly want at times.

  11. No one mentioned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and I can’t believe that no one’s mentioned Broken Flowers. It houses Bill Murray’s best performance to date (in a tie with his performance in Lost In Translation).

    I saw Sideways in theatres before the Oscar buzz and loved it. It’s a beautiful film about second chances.

    As far as for other road trip movies, I also agree with The Hitcher. It’s a great film.
    …not the terrible Sean Bean remake, of course.

    • ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ is great and a good one to mention. I loved the scene where Candy and Martin are driving down the road in that skeleton of a car and then they get pulled over by the policeman.

      ‘Broken Flowers’ to me always seemed more like a drama due to the fact that most of the story took place in people’s homes and not on the actual road, but it is still an interesting one to mention. I am a fan of Jim Jarmush’s work as ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ is one of my all time favorites however. ‘Broken Flowers’ seemed just a bit too slow for my tastes.

  12. I guess The Princess Bride would fit this definition, too. For me, that would fall under the category of “highest number of times watched.”

    My Netflix queue is now packed with road trip films. :)

    • That’s great! I hope you enjoy them. There has been some great suggestions by everyone, so I am sure you’ll be quite entertained. Let us know what you think of them once you’ve seen them.

  13. Night of the Hunter is an honorable mention, as it is one of the greatest films ever made. I picked up the Criterion blu-ray recently (off of eBay, of course) and if anyone out there has a blu-ray player I suggest that you do likewise.

    I hadn’t yet watched “Stranger Than Paradise” but Jarmusch’s “Down by Law” (with Roberto Benigni) is also an awesome film and can be categorized as a road trip movie.

    Also, I liked most of Eurotrip. It definitely has its moments. :O)

  14. Best: Even though I asked I’m not one for picking bests. Instead, some great road movies that haven’t already been mentioned: “Badlands,” “A Canterbury Tale,” “The Road Warrior,” “Sullivan’s Travels,” “Wages of Fear”

    Favorite: The old favorite is “It Happened One Night” and a newer favorite is “The Fellowship of the Ring”

    Overrated: “Little Miss Sunshine,” which I really enjoyed, but thought overpraised when it came Oscar time

    Underrated: “My Blueberry Nights”- not a great film but better than people gave it credit for

    Most resembles your personal experience: Thinking back on my and my brother’s epic name-calling fights in the backseat, my parents would probably say “Are We There Yet?”

    Captures the national spirit: “The Grapes of Wrath” is the Great American Road Movie. For Ireland, I’d propose “Into the West” for its themes of family divided, myth, and exile, and for capturing the unique beauty of the Irish landscape.

    (By the way, for anyone who noticed that my “best” list is alphabetical: I refreshed my memory at http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/roadmovies.html)

  15. @Michelle: We have really similar tastes in road movies. “The Princess Bride” has got to be my most-watched also.

    @Nir: Is there a Great Canadian Road Movie?

    @Richard: You know, it’s the webmaster’s prerogative to throw out questions for other people to answer. ;-) However, I’ve answered some anyway.

  16. One of my favorites is Planes, Trains and Automobiles. It reminded me of a lot of my flight attendant trips, one disaster after another. I loved watching their friendship grow. It was a very touching story.

    Another one I loved was Fanboys. What a story of friendship and loyalty. Both movies left me feeling positive and all fuzzy inside.

  17. @Helen, it’s possible but I honestly don’t know. I don’t go out of my way to watch Canadian films because I’ve been brainwashed by classic Hollywood filmmaking so that now I don’t like most low budget films, and all Canadian films have tiny budgets. The most expensive Canadian film is Passchendale, which I hatem, and it cost somewhere between $16-20 million so I’m not a huge fan of those films. They’re like lighter versions of American indie films.

    There’s a film that’s come out last year that’s called One Week, starring Joshua Jackson but I hadn’t watched so I don’t know whether it is the Great Canadian Road Movie. And if I can also recall, “Canadian Bacon” is, technically a road trip film. Ironically, it was written and directed by Michael Moore. Yes, THE Michael Moore. :O)

    And Richard had already mentioned Highway 61, which I hadn’t heard of but now I am interested in.

    Last but not least, we forgot Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger (1973), and Deliverance. :O)

  18. Winning in two categories as one of my favorites and most underrated/unseen is Pow Wow Highway. It’s funny and warmhearted and, incidentally, is one for the ‘better than the book’ list.

    Michelle, I love Princess Bride too.
    Helen, I agree that Grapes of Wrath is a good choice for ‘capturing the American Spirit’. Just thinking about Into the West can make me tear up, great choice.

    Another great road movie that no one has mentioned is Straight Story.

    As for a trip that I wish I’d been on, maybe that would be Around the World in 80 Days.

    • “Around the World in 80 Days” is a great choice- who wouldn’t want to tag along on that trip! I’d say it’s a top contender for “best exemplifies the essence of the genre” too.

      I’m glad you brought up “Straight Story”, it’s a wonderful film. I’ve only seen it the one time in the theater but it’s really stuck with me.

  19. There is another canadian road movie called ‘Goin Down the Road’, which came out in 1970 and was lauded by all the critics as being one of the best films to ever come out of Canada although I was not all that impressed with it. I thought of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, which another favorite of mine, but I thought it would go under the action genre, or true-life crime.
    I went to where they filmed ‘Deliverance’, which is in Tallequa Falls, Georgia. The guy who played the kid playing the banjo is now a river guide who will give you raft trip down the same river that the stars of the film took. He also runs a resturaunt there, or at least did when I was there.

    • I saw a Canadian road movie, from the ’70’s I think, at a festival some years ago. I can’t remember the title but it was one of those classic weird festival experiences. The film archivist was so enthused about the film that he brought the only copy he could get, the French language print sub-titled in Italian. He “helped” all of us non-French speaking or Italian-reading folks by translating the subtitles as we went along. Most of the audience trickled out as the movie wandered through what passed for a story. It was certainly not an ideal viewing experience but I remember wondering why the critics were enraptured.

  20. So:

    Best: John Huston’s “The Man Who Would Be King”. It’s a great adventure depicting the epid story of two British soldiers who traveled to the Middle East (I’m certain that it’s Afghanistan) in order to become kings. One of them did. And it stars Sean Connery and Sir Michael Caine!

    Favorite: toss-up between The HItcher (1986) and Duel (1971). Both are great films and The HItcher contains a great performance by Rutger Hauer.

    Most overrated: The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). It’s a pretty good movie overall but in terms of telling a good Che Guevara story it lacked proper direction.

    Most underrated: Broken Flowers. Bill Murray is a better dramatic actor than he is a comedic one, and he’s an excellent comic. Broken Flowers has him playing it quiet mostly throughout and the majority of his performance is based on what his eyes showcase; much like Buster Keaton but without the pratfalls. And it’s also a great film that’s about the fact that it’s never too late to try and discover who you are. You just have to want to get off of the couch.
    And in a tie with Broken Flowers is Breakdown (1997). An almost invisible cult classic about a man (Kurt Russell) who travels with his wife and after their car breaks down, his wife travels with a trucker to get help. But she never returns and when he asks around it seems that one one’s seen his wife (Lady Vanishes, anyone?).
    Here’s a great performance by Kurt Russell and the film’s mystery is revealed half way through the film (instead of at the end) because there’s a neat plot about a bank robbery. :O)

    Most closely resembles your personal experience: don’t have one. I wish that Stand by Me (1986) would fall under that category but I never went on any adventures. Not even camping!

    Best exemplifies the essence of the genre: It Happened One Night (1934) or North by Northwest (1959).

    Captures the spirit of America (or your country of choice): ITALY – Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975) or Federico Fellini’s La Strada (1954). The Italians are just that darn good.

    The movie you watch before you leave on a trip: can’t say that I’ve ever done that. I usually watch a film while the year changes to the new year (and it’s usually Citizen Kane) but that’s about it.

    The movie you watch when you get back: same as above.

    The road trip you wish you’d been on: The Lady Vanishes (1938). It’s a great decade in American History; great clothing and such. And I love a good murder mystery. :O)

    And there you go, all. Enjoy!

    • Some excellent titles in there! I agree with everything you say about “Breakdown” except the categorization. It could start a related category though: Road Trip Interrupted Movies. ^_^ Geoff and I saw it in the theater together and loved it; very suspenseful and Russell is great.

      • Up until yesterday I always refered to Breakdown as a chase movie because there’s a brief one towards the end and it’s terrific. Now I can truly call it what it is: Road Trip Interrupted. :O)
        On that note, everyone here needs to watch (unless you already have) The Vanishing (1988). That and Insomnia (1997) are two of the best psychological thrillers in many decades.

        • Imagine that, a movie all three of us can agree on. What are the chances of that?! I too liked ‘Breakdown’ and let’s not forget the excellent performance of J.T. Walsh as the bad guy, who died much too young.

          ‘The Vanishing’, the original NOT the ill’advised American remake, is fantastic and I would highly recommend it as well. ‘Insomnia’ is tremendous also, but there I prefer the American remake starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams over the Norweigen original.

    • ‘The Passenger’ is excellent! Some very uniqe camera shots in that one. I also enjoyed Antonioni’s ‘Zabriske Point’, which the critics didn’t like at the time, but I thought it was damn good.

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