From the inspiring Motorcycle Diaries, to the comedy classic, National Lampoons Vacation, I’ve got ten great road trip movies to inspire your next vacation.
Whilst we are (somewhat) housebound, we are all most definitely watching a lot more TV, and with the variety of ‘regular’ TV combined with the streaming services on offer, we are spoilt for choice. I love a good road trip, but as it is not something that I can actively do at the moment, I thought I’d ask my movie-buff husband Cormac, to highlight his all time favourite road trip movies instead. So here we go…
Thelma & Louise
Let’s face it, Sarah made me include this one! Whilst this list is not in any particular order, this is one of her all time favourite road trip movies. Two women in a convertible hitting the open road, with a dash of Brad Pitt thrown in for good measure, of course she likes it!
Meek housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) joins her friend Louise (Susan Sarandon), a feisty and independent waitress, on a short road trip. However, their trip soon becomes a flight from the law, when Louise shoots a man who sexually assaults Thelma at a bar. They decide to flee to Mexico, but on the way Thelma falls for sexy young thief J.D. (Brad Pitt).
A sympathetic Detective Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) tries to convince the two women to surrender before their fates are sealed, but this was never going to happen. Even though it is nearly thirty years since it was released, it’s still one of the best road trip movies and you should check it out.
Little Miss Sunshine
This quirky road trip movie was shot over just 30 days in Arizona and Southern California, and premiered at the Sundance Film festival in 2006. With Steve Carell in it, you know it’s going to be funny and with four Oscar nominations, you know its going to be good!
The Hoover family – (Greg Kinnear), his wife (Toni Collette), an uncle (Steve Carell), a brother (Paul Dano) and a grandfather (Alan Arkin) put the fun back in dysfunctional, by piling into a VW bus and heading to California to support their daughter (Abigail Breslin) in her bid to win the Little Miss Sunshine Contest.
The sanity of everyone involved is stretched to the limit, as the group’s quirks cause epic problems along their interstate route. This is beautifully shot, really funny and worth a watch!
The Motorcycle Diaries
On a break before his last semester of medical school, Ernesto “Che” Guevara travels with his friend Alberto Granado from Brazil to Peru by motorcycle. The two men soon witness the great disparities in South America, encountering poor peasants and observing the exploitation of labor by wealthy industrialists. When they reach a leper colony in Peru, Ernesto’s values have changed so much that he sides with the sufferers, forgetting his own comfort.
Ché Guevara and Granado desire to see as much of Latin America as they can, more than 14,000 kilometres (8,700 mi) in just four and a half months. Granado’s purpose is also to bed as many women as will fall for his pickup lines. Their initial method of transport is Granado’s dilapidated Norton 500 motorcycle christened La Poderosa (“The Mighty One”).
I don’t want to spoil it, but the film closes with an appearance by the real 82-year-old Alberto Granado, along with pictures from the actual journey, and a brief mention of Che Guevara’s eventual 1967 CIA-assisted execution in the Bolivian jungle. It is subtitled as the whole movie is in Spanish, but I think that adds to it. In fact this is actually one of my favourite road trip movies. Want to watch it? Well you can as the full movie is on YouTube for free, just click HERE.
Smokey And The Bandit
I won’t lie, this movie probably has not aged well, but it is still a classic. I probably watched this movie twenty times, in my formative teens, on an old VHS video tape that my uncle had. Featuring Sally Field and the inimitable Burt Reynolds as ‘The Bandit”. This was my first time seeing swearing on TV, although it is pretty tame by todays standards! Most of it is provided by the very funny Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice.
The film follows Bo “The Bandit” Darville (Burt Reynolds) and Cledus “the Snowman” Snow (Jerry Reed), two bootleggers, as they attempt to drive from Atlanta to Texarkana, pick up 400 cases of Coors beer, and illegally transport it back to Atlanta in 28 hours or less. During their run, they are relentlessly pursued by Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), a blusterous Texas county sheriff.
The premise of the story is actually based on fact, as Coors was unavailable for sale east of Oklahoma in 1977. The lack of additives and preservatives meant that Coors had the potential for spoiling in a week if it was not kept cold throughout its transportation – this explains the 28-hour deadline in the movie. If you have 12 year old son, this is definitely one to watch with him. It’s action packed and funny, with some ‘cussin’ too.
If you haven’t seen this movie, stop reading now, head over to YouTube and rent it. This is one of the all time greats! The movie itself fell out of 1976 Saturday Night Live sketches and became a cult classic, with John Belushi at his finest and Dan Ackroyd leading the charge, as well as featuring a host of iconic music names and timeless classics.
After his release from prison, Jake (John Belushi) reunites with his brother, Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) – collectively known as the “Blues Brothers.” Jake’s first task is to save the orphanage the brothers grew up in from closing, by raising $5,000 to pay back taxes. The two are convinced they can earn the money by getting their old band back together. However, after playing several gigs and making a few enemies, including the police, the brothers face daunting odds to deliver the money on time.
It’s twee at times but a great movie none the less. It featured epic car chases involving the Bluesmobile, and musical performances by Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. The story is set in and around Chicago, Illinois.
This movie along with ‘Animal House’ show the genius of John Belushi, who unfortunately succumbed to an accidental overdose at the age of 33. It’s a classic and also available to rent on YouTube.
National Lampoons Vacation
This one sticks in my mind way back from when I was a teenager. It’s Classic Chevy Chase at the height of his career playing the bumbling idiot father – brilliantly.
Accompanied by their children, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), are driving from Illinois to a California amusement park. As Clark increasingly fixates on a beautiful woman driving a sports car, the Griswolds deal with car problems and the death of a family member.
They reach Los Angeles, but, when Clark worries that the trip is being derailed again, he acts to get his family to the park. This is an old school comedy where a typical family holiday turns into a fiasco, but it is packed with laughs.
Mad Max was made in 1979, but I didn’t get to it until the mid eighties I’d say. This is the movie that launched Australian actor and Hollywood heart throb Mel Gibson to stardom. The film became the first in the Mad Max series, giving rise to three sequels, Mad Max 2 (1981), Beyond Thunderdome (1985), and Fury Road (2015). I think the Interceptor police car sucked me in as well. It probably hasn’t stood the test of time very well, despite being set in some kind of dystopian future, but worth a look and also available on You Tube.
In a not-too-distant future, when man’s most precious resource, oil, has been depleted and the world plunged into war, famine and financial chaos, the last vestiges of the law in Australia attempt to restrain a vicious biker gang. Max (Mel Gibson), an officer with the Main Force Patrol, launches a personal vendetta against the gang when his wife (Joanne Samuel) and son are hunted down and murdered, leaving him with nothing but the instincts for survival and retribution.
Whats not to like about this road movie? Made in 1988, starring a young Tom Cruise and the great Dustin Hoffman, this movie ticks all the ‘feel good’ boxes with lots of laughs along the way. Also watchable on YouTube, Rainman won four Oscars in 1989 and was nominated in another four categories too. It was also the highest grossing movie of 1988! It should definitely be on the ‘movie night in’ list.
When car dealer Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) learns that his estranged father has died, he returns home to Cincinnati, where he discovers that he has an autistic older brother named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), and that his father’s $3 million fortune is being left to the mental institution in which Raymond lives.
Motivated by his father’s money, Charlie checks Raymond out of the facility in order to return with him to Los Angeles. The brothers’ cross-country trip ends up changing both their lives.
Perhaps not a road trip movie in the classic sense of the words, but a good movie nonetheless. This is the only one on this list of road trip movies that is black and white – it is deliberately shot that way. It is critically acclaimed and was also nominated for six Oscars at the time. It is a lovely depiction of a father and grown sons relationship. Well worth a look if you get a chance.
Cantankerous old guy Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) can barely walk down the street of his home in Billings, Montana, without stopping for a drink. So when Woody receives a sweepstakes notice in the mail and insists on making a 750-mile trip to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize, it falls to baffled son David (Will Forte) to accompany him. During a stop in their Nebraska hometown, word gets out about Woody’s fortune, first making him a hero, then later, the target of predators…
Planes Trains & Automobiles
As the title would suggest, this movie is not all on the road. With an uptight Steve Martin, and an annoying but loveable John Candy, this is a great comedy to watch. Made in 1988, its full of the slapstick comedy that Steve Martin does so well.
It is a Christmas classic and the chemistry between Candy and Martin is brilliant. It is a silly movie but at the same time heartfelt and hilarious. Another one you can catch on YouTube.
Easily excitable Neal Page (Steve Martin) is somewhat of a control freak. Trying to get home to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with his wife (Laila Robins) and kids, his flight is rerouted to a distant city in Kansas because of a freak snowstorm, and his sanity begins to fray.
Worse yet, he is forced to bunk up with talkative Del Griffith (John Candy), whom he finds extremely annoying. Together they must overcome the insanity of holiday travel to reach their intended destination.
So there it is! Ten of my favourite road trip movies from yesteryear. I’m probably showing my age as most are pre millennium. I hope you get to watch some and enjoy them as much as I did.
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