A good road trip movie reminds us that a big unexplored world is waiting out there with the promise of something exciting at the end of the journey. Wide open highways, self reflection, and meaningless conversations all stoke the flames that keep us engaged as we travel with the film’s characters from one destination to another.
These are some of the most memorable films to kick up some dust and take us somewhere interesting while keeping us entertained along the way.
EASY RIDER (Dennis Hopper, 1969)
What’s It About?: Two bikers head out from LA to New Orleans to see what the American dream looks like, they end up finding a nightmare.
Why’d You Pick It?: It’s a superb time capsule that gives you a look into the 60’s counter culture. With it comes small town America and their backlash against the hippy alternative lifestyle that many weren’t ready to accept. Tons of gorgeous scenery and the textbook example of a road trip movie.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (Harold Ramis, 1983)
What’s It About?: Clark Griswold and his family set off across America to Wally World, in what seems to be the ideal family vacation, except it’s riddled with problems along the way.
Why’d You Pick It?: It’s the perfect comedic road trip movie. It’s encapsulates why road trips and comedy so easily blend together.
NEBRASKA (Alexander Payne, 2013)
What’s It About?: An old man thinks he won a million dollars and travels with his son to Nebraska to claim it.
Why’d You Pick It?: Nebraska is an instant classic in my book and infinitely rewatchable. It’s poignant, human, and filled with humerous moments that draw you in. Will Forte and Bruce Dern sell their characters so well, you’d almost think they really are father and son.
BADLANDS (Terrence Malick, 1973)
What’s It About?: A young girl and her would be boyfriend head out across South Dakota on a ruthless killing spree.
Why’d You Pick It?: This was the first Terrence Malick film I saw and what helped spawn my addiction with the filmmaker’s work. No other director could make a road trip massacre look so beautifully warm and inviting.
THE STRAIGHT STORY (David Lynch, 1999)
What’s It About?: One of the stranger road trip movies you’ll see – an old man travels from Iowa to Wisconsin on a John Deere riding lawn mower to try and smooth things over with his sick brother after a falling out.
Why’d You Pick It?: It’s simple and easy to digest, with great performances all around. Probably… no… definitely the most un-Lynch David Lynch film ever made.
DUMB AND DUMBER (Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, 1994)
What’s It About?: Two men of lesser than average intelligence travel across country in order to return a missing briefcase to a beautiful woman in Aspen Colorado.
Why’d You Pick It?: As the title would lead you to believe, this movie is dumb, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a film I think most people will either love or hate. I’m on team love.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 2013)
What’s It About?: A folk singer in Greenwich Village tries to make ends meet during the early 60s.
Why’d You Pick It?: Technically this isn’t a road trip movie, but there is a large section of the film that centers around a road trip and it’s awesome. So awesome, I had to include it. The Coens take their propensity to blend genres and skillfully weave a road trip film which is unforgettable and horrific right into the heart of Inside Llewyn Davis.
INTO THE WILD (Sean Penn, 2007)
What’s It About?: A young man drops off the grid and travels across the country to Alaska in order to live alone in the wilderness.
Why’d You Pick It?: It’s about as flawless as a film can be, let alone the fact that it’s a road trip movie. The range of emotions it will evoke are intense. You’ll feel anxiety, depression, excitement, love, fear, and anger… it’s a real rollercoaster.
PLANE, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES (John Hughes, 1987)
What’s It About?: A man desperate to get home for Thanksgiving must team up with a sloppy salesman in order to make his way across country.
Why’d You Pick It?: It’s the ultimate mashup of every means available for travel (except a riding lawnmower, but I got you covered on that already). John Candy and Steve Martin play against each other hilariously, making an incredible odd couple.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (George Miller, 2015)
What’s It About?: The world is in ruin and madness. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron team up and try to save a group of slaves from a crazy warlord.
Why’d You Pick It?: It takes the road trip genre and turns it into one of the grandest spectacles I’ve ever seen on the big screen. I could pick other Mad Max films for this list, but this is the best of any of them hands down.
DUE DATE (Todd Phillips, 2008)
What’s It About?: Take Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and switch Thanksgiving for the birth of a child, add in a cute dog, plus Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downy Jr… you pretty much have Due Date.
Why’d You Pick It?: While it’s not original, it takes an established formula and works it very effectively. There are loads of laughs throughout and Galifianakis’ character (which, let’s be honest, is mostly the same in every movie) is at its peak. Plus, the dog. Did I mention how cute that damn dog is?
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, 2006)
What’s It About?: A family with it’s share of issues travels across country in a VW bus so their daughter can compete in a beauty pageant.
Why’d You Pick It?: This Sundance phenomena actually lives up to the hype. It manages to mix drama with laughter in a well constructed and succinct manner which is effortlessly watchable.
SIDEWAYS (Alexander Payne, 2004)
What’s It About?: Two friends travel up to California’s wine country for a bachelor trip before one of them ties the knot.
Why’d You Pick It?: A road trip film that’s loaded with fantastic characters you want to invest in. The actual trip isn’t as prolonged as some of the others on this list, but it serves as a gateway into a theatrical setting that’s fresh and undersaturated.