14 Great Road Movies [Hit the Road]
After delving into Holiday’s from Hell it’s only fair that we level the playing field and remind ourselves of the fun that can be had on a local holiday. Road Movies always have a way of sparking wanderlust and making a life on the open road seem so appealing, even just for a few weeks. Sometimes there’s a set destination with a plan of action, other times it’s better to just let the wind take you where you need to go, no plans just embracing whatever may come. Not all of them have a super happy ending, but they all have fun getting to their destination. Here are 14 Road Movies to spark our adventurous natures.
Easy Rider (dir. Hooper, 1969)
As one of the originators of the New Hollywood movement that threw a giant middle finger up at the Hays Code and the rules of mainstream film, Easy Rider is a pioneering road film. The film has a stacked cast, especially considering its low budget, with three counterculture legends, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson, all starring in this landmark movie. With one hell of a groundbreaking rock soundtrack and poignant messages about the youthful disillusionment of the time, it hammers home the social commentary of the changes coming to America.
The Blues Brothers (dir. Landis, 1980)
“They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from god.” John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are Jake and Elwood, the Blues brothers, and they are the only ones who can save the orphanage they grew up in from foreclosure. To do this they have to get the old band back together which means we get a whole heap of incredible music numbers from legendary stars like James Brown, Aretha Franklin and John Lee Hooker. Based on an SNL skit this Road Musical will have you tapping your toes and wanting to ‘Shake Your Tail Feather’.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (dir. Burton, 1985)
A trip to the mall leads to Pee-Wee’s treasured red bike being stolen forcing him to travel to San Antonio in hopes of retrieving it. As a comedy parody of the 1948 film Bicycle Thieves this definitely leans more into the obscure humour, and almost sketch like situations Pee-Wee ends up in, than the harsh realism of its predecessor. This Road movie is Tim Burton’s directorial debut and he gets to showcase a lot of his future tropes, including the awesome, and yet terrifying, claymation effects on Large Marge that lives in the nightmares of every young child who watched this film.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (dir. Hughes, 1987)
When you combine a script written by the super talented John Hughes with the comedic acting talent of John Candy and Steve Martin you’re guaranteed one hell of a successful movie. It’s two days until thanksgiving and Neal is on a mission to get home, one that is at first encumbered and then enhanced by the company of Del, a travelling salesman. The journey is a comedy of circumstances with the nightmare trip involving so many setbacks and pitfalls it seems impossible they will reach their destination, but the moving and emotional ending was well worth the journey for the two. .
Thelma & Louise (dir. Scott, 1991)
The road movie genre seemed to be a real boys game until Thelma & Louise came along. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon star as the titular Thelma and Louise, two women who embark on weekend road trip and end up as outlaws and, in the greater landscape, feminist icons. This film struck a nerve at its time of release and it still does now, leaving a legacy of inspiration for female stories that don’t paint a clear black and white morality tale. These two women were truly in the driving seat of their own stories by the end of the film, even if their destination looks dire it ends with a freeze frame of hope and freedom.
True Romance (dir. Scott, 1993)
Once the Road Movie tropes were set out it was time for someone to add a post modern twist to the proceedings. Enter writer Quentin Tarantino and director Tony Scott. True Romance has a whirlwind romance at its centre, call girl Alabama and Elvis fanatic Clarence are madly in love and married before the first act has even fully peaked and by the end are in full outlaw status. Their relationship seems destined and these two could only be for each other. After a mix up leaves the couple with a large bag of cocaine they set off to sell it and live ‘happily ever after’. Nothing is easy though in this hyper-violent, darkly comedic and twisted romance story.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (dir. Gilliam, 1998)
“We can’t stop here. This is bat country.” A psychedelic road movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas explores the darkest depths of America with the help of a trunk full of weed, acid, cocaine, booze and assorted uppers and downers. Even if you watch this stone cold sober the visuals will leave you thinking that you’d joined in on the pick and mix or narcotics that the two leads have. Journalist Raoul and his attorney Dr. Gonzo travels from LA to Las Vegas to cover the mint 400 motorcycle race but that seems to just be a reference to get them there instead of the actual plot of the film. A bizarre road trip that will draw you into its dark world.
Almost Famous (dir. Crowe, 2000)
A love letter to rock music and touring the open road, Almost Famous had every teenager wanting to get into journalism and follow the hedonistic thrill filled life of a famous band. William Meller, based semi-autobiographically on director Cameron Crowe, is a teenage journalist who charms his way on tour with fictitious rock band Stillwater. It’s a pinnacle film of the Coming of Age genre that revolves around freedom, Rock music and first loves. With an incredible soundtrack that often finds itself on many best of lists and the much celebrated sequence of a singalong to ‘Tiny Dancer’, this is a music lovers film about our love for music.
O Brother Where Art Thou? (dir. Coen Brothers, 2000)
The Coen brothers take on Homer’s epic poem ‘Odyssey’ but transfers us from Ancient Greece and the Trojan War to Deep South Mississippi and the era of prohibition. Three convicts, Ulysses, Pete and Delmar escape their chain gang and head off in search of buried treasure. The three men are portrayed exquisitely by George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson who, alongside a solid gold supporting cast, bring the satirical humour and idiosyncratic dialogue of this epic film to life. Another road movie with a killer soundtrack, dubbed by an impressive range of Country and Folk genre musicians whose musical talents compliment this sepia toned Crime Comedy.
Y tu mamá también (dir. Cuarón, 2002)
Sex, weed and an attractive woman are all at the core of this Road movie. The destination of the road trip doesn’t really matter, in fact it may not even exist, this is instead, like many great Road movies, all about the journey. When best friends Julio and Tenoch meet Luisa at a wedding they offer to take her to a fantasy beach which, after finding out her husband has cheated on her, she agrees to travel with them. A Coming of Age on the road narrative with a love triangle and many sexual escapades but also a bittersweet lesson on life, it is not just a personal story but an exploration of exile and the socio-economic and political contexts of Mexico.
Little Miss Sunshine (dir. Faris & Dayton, 2006)
An overworked mother, a ‘self help’ father, suicidal uncle, mute brother, inappropriate grandad and aspiring pageant queen daughter set off on a road trip to become ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. Sounds like the set up to a very long joke right? Instead it is an exploration of the will of humans, at times beautifully heartwarming and at other times soul crushingly solemn, but always caveated with dark and awkward humour. The ensemble cast are incredible and the culmination of this 800 mile road trip is one of the best scenes in any comedy with the most hilariously inappropriate dance routine. A true character study wrapped in a bright yellow VW bus.
Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015)
Rebooting, revisiting and reinvigorating the Mad Max franchise, the latest feature set in this post-apocalyptic universe is damn close to being the perfect action movie made. Max may be the namesake of the film but the narrative revolves around Imperator Furiosa and her mission to save the five wives from tyrannical Immortan Joe, the leader of this desert wasteland. With nonstop action sequences and some breathtaking visual choices that bring every moment on the screen into jarring life. Their journey may be a loop but it’s a visually spectacular one that hold strong messages about toxic masculinity and ultimately ends in an uplifting manner.
The Fundamentals of Caring (dir. Burnett, 2016)
Based on the novel of the same name, The Fundamentals of Caring is a sentimental and darkly comedic Coming of Age film with a poignant story to tell and an uplifting Road Movie edge. After suffering a personal tragedy Ben gives up his writing career and instead becomes a personal carer for 18 year old Trevor who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The two bond and set off on a road trip tour of roadside attractions with the intention of seeing the world’s deepest pit and visiting his estranged father along the way. The genuine relationship between these two characters dealing with their own issues is what drives this movie forward and brings a sweet and joyful tone whilst still allowing for some sardonic humour.
Logan (dir. Mangold, 2017)
This road movie signals the heartbreaking goodbye to a comic book legend and it makes sure he goes out both a hero and a true icon. Logan moves away from the Superhero genre of its predecessors saying goodbye to spandex and bright visuals and instead welcoming Western genre tropes and saying hello to the darkness of the world. Hugh Jackman as Logan and Patrick Stewart as an unseen version of Charles Xavier get to play against their usual superhero roles and show the ravages of age and cynicism life can create, whilst Dafne Keen, as Laura, shines as the new wild child ready to step up to the mantle. A bold and emotive final chapter that earns the tears it creates.