Stuck at home? Us too. Here’s a list of the top 10 road trip movies to help break that cabin fever.
From The Odyssey to Don Quixote to the Bildungsroman, the hero’s journey is one of the most classic and fundamental of all story forms. The modern American version, the road trip movie, speaks to a national mythos of boundless possibility, adventure, and individualism. And the road trip movie wouldn’t be possible without the automobile. Our list features not only the top 10 road trip movies but also some of the most unforgettable movie cars of all time.
The Journey: An indie film gem, Oscar darling, and classic road trip movie, Little Miss Sunshine follows one family’s journey (in a great yellow VW bus) to fulfill their young daughter’s dream of appearing in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty pageant. Pathos and humor intermingle in this comedic drama featuring all-time great performances from Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, and Abigail Breslin. The movie manages to balance humor, darkness, and some feel-good notions of perseverance in a way that felt refreshingly genuine.
The Journey: On a truly noble quest (in fact, no less than a mission from God), brothers Jake and Elwood Blues set off on a journey to save the orphanage where they grew up. In the process of “getting the band back together” for a benefit concert, the Blues brothers make a lot of friend and even more enemies (including Neo-Nazis, a Country & Western band, a mysterious machine gun-toting woman, and a whole lot of law enforcement). The movie long held the title for the most cars wrecked in a feature film. Cameos included Carrie Fisher, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Ray Charles, just to name a few.
The Journey: The duo of Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) travel through the American southwest from California to New Orleans in Easy Rider. But like most good road trip movies, Easy Rider is more about the journey than the destination. Along the way, the pair are jailed basically for being hippies, befriend a hard-drinking lawyer named George (Jack Nicolson is magnetic in his film debut), and have a bad trip in a New Orleans cemetery. Traveling west to east, the lack of real purpose in their journey beyond hippie hedonism, and the tragic ending all spoke to a formerly boundless and optimistic American West thoroughly transformed by the late 1960s.
The Journey: In Ridley Scott’s classic Thelma & Louise, a vacation from behind the wheel of a classic Thunderbird turns into a run from the law for the titular characters following an unfortunate incident outside a honky-tonk. A tale of friendship, romance (involving a young Brad Pitt), and female empowerment, Thelma & Louise concludes at the Grand Canyon with one of the most iconic automotive scenes in film history.
The Journey: Though it’s Max (played by Tom Hardy) that gets title credit, it’s Charlize Theron’s Furiosa that is the film’s true protagonist. George Miller’s post-apocalyptic gasoline drenched opus follows Furiosa and Max as they flee Immortan Joe for the “the Green Place”. This road trip movie is a monument to world-building, death-defying stunt work, and Miller’s ability to sustain a chase scene (with brief interludes) for nearly the entire film.
The Journey: Almost Famous is based on Camron Crowe’s own experiences covering the Allman Brothers as a teenager for Rolling Stone. The film is a coming-of-age story that manages to be both charming and funny enough to (almost) entirely avoid the dead weight of cliché. When the band Stillwater, though barely on speaking terms, is brought together by singing along to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” might sound corny in the abstract but ends up being the film’s most indelible scene.
The Journey: All Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase at his best) really wanted was to give his family a proper vacation. Their mishap-filled journey in their green Wagon Queen Family Truckster is the stuff of comedy film legend. Racing Christy Brinkley’s Ferrari 308 GTS, hanging with cousin Eddy (Randy Quaid’s unforgettable here), and the demise of Aunt Edna are just some of the misadventures the Griswolds encounter on their sojourn to the mecca of family fun, Walley World.
The Journey: Rarely has the odd couple comedy bit been done to greater or more hilarious effect than in the John Hughes’s classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Steven Martin and John Candy deliver career-high performances as a marketing executive and a salesman who strike an uneasy alliance to get Neal Page (Martin’s character) back home in time for Thanksgiving. Simple lessons of humility and compassion (Hughes hallmarks) ring true in this charming holiday classic.
The Journey: In Midnight Run, Robert DeNiro plays a bail bondsman tasked with transporting a mob accountant (played by Charles Grodin) from New York to LA. DeNiro and Gordin display great odd-couple chemistry in this comedic action/thriller. Dodging cops and mobsters in a cross-country sprint ain’t easy, but director Martin Brest (of Beverly Hills Cop) makes it a romp.
The Journey: Though the modern road trip movie tends to take place in the US (it’s where many movies are made after all), America doesn’t have a monopoly on great road trip movies. In the romantic comedy Two for the Road Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney play a married couple on a road trip through the south of France. The non-linear tale features flashback scenes of the couple’s rocky twelve-year marriage. The movie is actually a good deal more dramatic than the screwball trailer would make it seem. Audrey Hepburn narrowly missed out on an Oscar nomination for the film, edged out by her own Best Actress nomination for her performance in Wait Until Dark.
It was very hard to limit this list to the ten best, and we have no doubt that there are others that could have or should have made it. Here’s our list of recommended viewing for other classic must-see road trip movies.