The 25 Best Road Trip Movies

The 25 Best Road Trip Movies


What is it about the road trip that lends itself so well to cinema? Looking down the entries to the genre, some of our very favorite films of all time qualify as part of one of the oldest tropes in the movies, and today’s release of Todd Phillips’ “Due Date” confirms, if confirmation was needed, that the style is still alive and kicking.

It’s partly that the filmmaker gets to include as many cinematic locations as they can get their protagonists to visit, it’s partly that the nature of a chase, or a journey, is inherently filmic, and it’s partly that there are few better ways to create drama than sticking a group of characters together and forcing them to travel in the same direction.

In honor of Phillips’ movie (which as we’ll see, is dividing the staff here as much as it’s dividing critics around the world), we’ve picked over twenty of our favorite big-screen journeys. Not all are perfect, but all are worth adding to the Netflix queue.

“Y Tu Mama Tambien” (2001)
Returning home to Mexico after 1998’s less-than-triumphant “Great Expectations” adaptation, Alfonso Cuarón turned his camera’s eye on a clearly beloved country, and one engulfed in a tempest of clashing traditions and social classes. The result is “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, an elegiac look at youth in bloom, evidenced here by Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal), who are unsympathetic and seemingly permanently overtaken by adolescent lust. Their mindless roaming through upper crust circles leads to a fateful meeting with Luisa (Maribel Verdú, equally distinguished, though perhaps not as alluring, in del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth“), a confident and sexy older woman. Their hormones in furious flux, the boys and Luisa take to the backroads of Mexico on a road trip to get away from their personal demons — only Luisa’s seem to cut a little deeper and as she veers the boys into a world of sexuality as of yet unknown to them (save for their equally excitable but seemingly effervescent girlfriends, who appear briefly and in mid coitus). Cuarón paints the poverty of Mexico lovingly and curiously (aided by DP Emmanuel Lubezki’s immense skill behind the camera), well aware of the incongruousness of the cast with the silent, serene beauty that rings so far off from the lavish appearance-making parties of their lives. Perhaps it is that slow burn, the dissonance that echoes louder and louder with each passing scene, that makes the final reveal of the film so effortlessly heartbreaking, a gasp caught in the throat and two men reminiscing in silence about who they were — and who they might have been. [A-]

“Wendy and Lucy” (2008)
As silly as it sounds, Kelly Reichardt’s third film is really more of a detour movie, consisting of what happens when a naively planned life changer of a trip hits a bumpy road. These pictures tend to be minimalistic as it is, but “Wendy and Lucy” really strips the genre bare, focusing on an occurrence that any other film would probably spend a mere ten minutes on and never give a second thought. In doing so, it unearths the strange, dismal, and ultimately probable (whether you naysayers believe it or not) situation of everything falling apart in succession. It manages to hit most of the same notes that other road movies do, but by restricting the traveling to pre-movie and ending, it deals with the various unseen and frightening limits of the country, the system, and humanity in a very enclosed space. It’s also one of the few to really capture genuine and profound kindness, illustrated by Wally Dalton in a key end scene: something that its colder brethren often overlook. [A-]

“Two-Lane Blacktop” (1971)
A commercial flop on release, “Two-Lane Blacktop” was championed by Esquire as 1971’s movie of the year, and went on to acquire a cult following back when that meant something other than a marketing strategy, but the fact is it’s so completely a product of its time that it doesn’t really have much to say to modern viewers. The undeniably hip cast features Peckinpah favourite Warren Oates (the film’s strongest performance by far) and a certain “HD” Stanton, while the leads, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson and singer James Taylor mumble their way through the terse dialogue, displaying absolutely no surprise at anything that happens, not that much does: a couple of drifters have a couple of street races and a hitchhiking girl sleeps with them both, then runs off with a biker. It’s a bit of a drag (pun intended), if a very pretty one, with the same streak of self-indulgence that, for this writer’s money, mars other films of this period and this genre, notably “Easy Rider” (ooh! Controversial!) which is similarly cooler than it is enjoyable. But whatever you feel about ‘Blacktop’‘s worth, it’s certainly a road movie – one of the purest expressions of the form on this list, and director Monte Hellman exerts a huge influence to this day, even executive producing “Reservoir Dogs.” Which, to be honest, this writer would recommend you enjoy for the umpteenth time rather than sitting through this one, unless you’ve a great deal of patience, an enormous passion for cars, or a large baggie of marijuana and 100 minutes to kill, 70s-style. [B-]

“Thieves Like Us” (1974)
Considering Robert Altman tackled pretty much every existing genre in his 57-year-long, 36-films-deep career (ok, he never tackled horror, and his sci-fi contribution was the fairly obtuse “Quintet,” but still), it was only a matter of time that he broached the “Bonnie & Clyde”-like lovers on the run trope (actually the novel of the same name was also the source material for Nicholas Ray’s fantastic 1949 film, “They Live by Night,” which many have rightfully called the proto-“Bonnie & Clyde,” and one of Truffaut’s all-time favorite films — he obviously almost directed ‘B&C’). Starring Keith Carradine and a young and oddly beautiful Shelley Duval, much like Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” and Steven Spielberg’s “Sugarland Express” — other road movies we decided to bypass in favor of this lesser traveled one — the depression era film centers on doomed lovers on the run. Sticking close to the script and what was already seen in “They Live By Night,” Altman’s 1974 pic centers on three bank robbers who take refuge in a small town, with the youngest of the three (Carradine) injured on the job, he falls in love with a girl he meets at their hideout (Duvall). But unlike “Bonnie & Clyde,” Altman’s take on the honor, or lack thereof, among thieves is much more undynamic, unglamorous and emotionally distant (not to mention physically distant, the camera seems to be far away from the heist action at times, creating a quiet introspection not seen in most bank robberies on screen). Ultimately, Carrardine is no Farley Grainger, whose angst and anguish makes “They Live By Night” so tremendously engaging, and there’s a reason this Altman picture isn’t as recognized as his other ’70s classics “MASH,” “Nashville,” “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” and “The Long Goodbye.” But as laid-back and matter-of-fact as “Thieves Like Us” is — there’s no score for example, just diegetic sound — it’s still a fascinating piece of work in Altman’s not-always-perfect, still-interesting ouevre. [C+]

“Thelma and Louise” (1991)
You can either big up Ridley Scott’s 1991 road movie as a landmark, genre-mashing celebration of two of the best-drawn female characters ever, or you can lament the fact that nearly two decades later it still stands pretty much alone as a believable, yet cool, depiction of the awesomeness that can be female friendship, when it has nothing to do with shoes or cosmopolitans. Either way, what sets this film apart from the tearjerker dramas and fluffy romcoms that usually constitute mainstream ‘women’s film’ is the depth of the characterization (props to writer Callie Khouri) – and not just of our titular heroines: Michael Madsen and Harvey Keitel, in particular, play sympathetic menfolk in contrast to the sexists, violent partners, thieves and would-be rapists elsewhere. But still, this is a film about women, women with complicated lives, who make stupid mistakes and yet face adversity with resourcefulness, humour and, for want of a less 1950s word, moxie. It’s actually kind of thrilling to see so many of the things we’re typically told are male aspirations – freedom, adventure, even danger and risk and a glorious death – being ascribed to two downtrodden lower-middle class women; and the result, in this writer’s case, is an unembarrassed, absolute identification that has rarely been inspired since. Of course Scott’s upcoming Alien prequel will see him create another heroine, so here’s hoping he gives us another Thelma/Louise/Ripley after what now seems like decades of growly Russell Crowe performances. Hopefully these ladies will live beyond their well-earned Butch-and-Sundance freeze frame, in spirit if not in fact. [A]

“The Passenger” (1975)
Michelangelo Antonioni’s near-perfect collaboration with Jack Nicholson (during his true heyday) takes a rare step in the road movie formula, with the protagonist achieving change within the first act. The rest of the film finds him indulging his new identity while escaping the old, offering a bizarre chase/road film hybrid. The free spirited life beckons Nicholson throughout the entire film in Antonioni’s richly detailed exterior framing, but he instead feeds off of the excitement of his new job as a gunrunner for the rebel cause. Antonioni’s somewhat cynical view on the generation and the uselessness of change is apparent, but we’ll be damned if there was ever a better, singular scene reflecting that time era than the one between the two main characters. The girl, waking up from a nap, asks Nicholson what he’s actually running away from, to which he relaxingly orders her to face her back to his seat. Cut to a POV shot, the car speeding away from the very road its hugging, with little in the distance other than the surrounding trees. Any other director would’ve hammed it up, but the Italian genius’s slight touch makes it goddamned penetrating. [A+]

“The Sure Thing” (1985)
If you’re worried that Rob Reiner’s 1985 comedy about a misfit college-age couple who fall in love on a cross-country trip might be one of those films that you remembered enjoying but then saw again and ended up thinking less of the person you once were that you ever could have liked such drivel (this writer is still burned from a recent run-in with “Cocktail”), don’t fear – it actually holds up pretty well, due in no small part to the ever-charming John Cusack, some genuinely funny scenes, and a heart firmly in the Right Place. If some elements are unnecessarily telegraphed (her English writing assignment needs loosening up, his needs buttoning down; she has a filofax, he has a six pack of beer etc) it really doesn’t matter – subtlety is not the order of the day here. With able supporting cameos from Tim Robbins as the mercilessly chipper showtune-singing rideshare driver, and Anthony Edwards as the hard-partying West Coast best pal with the connection to the luscious (and ludicrous) Sure Thing of the title, (a practically mute Nicolette Sheridan) this is an amiable, if not essential entry into the road movie canon: comedy division, and a film that, like its main character, is obsessed with the idea of sex, but is all the more likeable for never actually getting any. [B+]

“Stagecoach” (1939)
Is “Stagecoach” the first road movie? Let’s see, band of strangers, bonding over the circumstances of a treacherous Western journey… sounds like it! This stone cold classic cemented into immortality three of the most influential grandfathers of the Western: John Wayne, John Ford and Monument Valley. Ford keeps his narrative tight, his pace at breakneck, and his vistas sweeping in his first sound film. Ford smartly makes the landscape and setting as much of a character in the film as the rest of his mismatched bunch, setting in stone this treatment of location that would inform road movies forever. John Wayne establishes his everlasting Western character with the Ringo Kid– sassy, knowing, and never giving an inch. Claire Trevor is saucy and lovable as the prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold, and the rest of the cast is spot-on in their nuanced treatments of typical characters. The scene in the stagecoach, during the Apache siege, where the doctor points his gun with a lone bullet at the pregnant white woman became an established story element in many other Westerns to come, and the “save the last bullet” trope persists to this day, although mostly in zombie movies rather than Westerns. “Stagecoach” is the most influential Western to date, and it set off a whole century’s worth of road movies with its treatment of characters and location, not to mention its style and energy. [A]

“Rain Man” (1985)
While superficially a mental-illness picture, the type that earns actors Oscars for playing ‘special’ — as it did in this Barry Levinson film for Dustin Hoffman — for all intents and purposes, “Rain Man” is a road trip film that has several layers and dynamics to it. While it follows the tried-and-true American road trip arc — an alpha male is burdened with a lesser creature, but learns to love him regardless, not to mention learns a little somethin,’ somethin’ from him — in 1988 maybe it wasn’t as quotidian as it sounds (Todd Phillips admits “Due Date” is highly influenced by “Rain Man”). Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbit, a successful douchebag who’s become apoplectic with rage when he discovers his rich asshole dad — who has just passed away — has given his millions away to someone he didn’t know existed: his autistic older brother sent away from the family at a very young age. Indignant that he is being denied what he believes is his natural birthright, he kidnaps his sibling Raymond (Hoffman) as a way to ransom the money back from his father’s attorney at will. Raymond is nothing but a burden at first, but soon after endangering the impaired man’s life a few times, the ignorant and self-involved Charlie starts to realize just how much his brother needs special care. During their road trip (Raymond can’t fly), which leads them to Vegas, and then eventually L.A., the brothers bond and we see that the vapid Charlie does have a soul despite his insufferable cool-guy exterior. Kudos to Cruise and the script for not fully redeeming the character of Charlie (seeing Josh Hartnett play the role on stage in London only reemphasized how good Cruise is here), and Hoffman is obviously and iconically great as the tic-filled autistic man. [B]

“The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert” (1994)
“I’ll join this conversation on the proviso that we stop bitching about people, talking about wigs, dresses, bust sizes, penises, drugs, night clubs, and bloody Abba.” If cackle-filled chatter about the aforementioned topics isn’t your (sequined) bag, then “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” might just make for the trip from hell. For the rest of us, Stephan Elliott’s Australian disco-filled comedy is a campy classic that was sadly overshadowed, at least in the States, by the similar (and inferior) “To Wong Foo.” Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Terence Stamp may not have then had the star power of Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo, but they’re each uniquely wonderful in their roles as two drag queens and a transvestite who make a cross-continent road trip from the city to the country (and there’s something to be said for seeing Agent Smith, Leonard Shelby, and General Zod be so entirely convincing in dresses and heels). Outback vistas are nicely shot, but it’s Lizzy Gardiner’s Oscar-winning costume designs that really make this a glittering visual stunner. Bette Midler’s taking the lead in a Broadway musical version of the show next year — something we have decidedly mixed feelings about… [B+]

“Planes, Trains & Automobiles” (1987)
The contemporary standard for road trip comedies, the tag is certainly deserved and really, its one that directors could stand to study a bit more carefully as an idea of how to do it right. Written and directed by John Hughes, the film follows stuffy ad executive Neal Page (Steve Martin) and shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (John Candy) as they try to make it back to Chicago after their flight is grounded on Thanksgiving weekend. But what makes the film work — and makes it a go to staple every holiday season — is that beyond its impeccably contrived comedic set pieces, there is a real (and yes, admittedly corny) heart beating in these characters. Del is just a big old bear, a warm, giving people-person who gradually defrosts the frigid core of Neal. Hughes is an old fashioned sentimentalist but it’s easily forgiven when the film’s frequently big laughs are equally generous and spirited. And c’mon, don’t tell us you still don’t well up just a little bit at the film’s climatic subway station scene because it still sort of gets us every time. Now something of an annual ritual, “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” is a trip we look forward to taking every year. [B+]

“Pierrot Le Fou” (1965)
Coming immediately after one of the very greats in Godard’s canon, “Alphaville,” “Pierrot Le Fou” marks a major transitional step in the director’s career — his first film in color, for one, and the first step in a move towards post-modernism that, eventually, became all-consuming. Here, Godard uses a fairly standard set-up — a married man (Jean-Paul Belmondo) runs away with the babysitter (Anna Karina), who, as it emerges, is being pursued by Algerian gangsters. But the plot is never the point: Godard uses it as a hook on which to hang a primary-colored pop-art trifle. It’s as ineffably cool a movie as ever made, summing up the French New Wave for generations that follow but, unlike some of Godard’s better work (even the equally road movie-like “Weekend”), it never becomes about anything other than style and technique. The photography, by Raoul Coutard, and the score, by Antoine Duhamel, are both stunning, but like most true pop art, it’s all surface dazzle. [B-]

“Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985)
Is there such thing as a perfect film? Possibly not, but we contend that exhibit Q, Tim Burton’s feature-length debut starring Paul Reubens as the titular Pee Wee character is as close to perfect mainstream storytelling as cinema gets. We’re not really sure what happened to the rest of Burton’s career afterwards (a few gems like “Edward Scissorhands” and “Ed Wood” and then a motherload of awful), but the ‘Big Adventure’ is a hilarious, engrossing and inspirational tale of a young man — a loner, a rebel — who treks across our great nation in search for his stolen bicycle — a heartbreaking metaphor for the loss of innocence we endure by becoming adults. Part road film with a various cast of characters — Judd Omen as Mickey being this writer’s personal favorite — part coming of age tale and part Iliad-like epic of adventure and self-discovery that would make Homer more than proud, why we’re not celebrating the 25th anniversary with a 10-disc Criterion box-set is beyond us (one of the reasons this thing is so good? The late Phil Hartman is one of the co-writers). The cloying bag of tricks that are rote and pedestrian in Burton’s films now are fresh and inventive here. And Danny Elfman, who has become another predictable clown, does some of his greatest work here (arguably, he’s been remaking this score for ages). Judd Apatow might be producing Reuben’s next Pee Wee film, but they should be careful, as the ‘Big Adventure’ is an ever-dynamic, masterfully constructed piece of pop cinema that raises a profound question that has dogged humankind for ages: “I know you are, but what am I?” [A+]

“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000)
The Coen Bros. put their distinctive spin on “The Odyssey” (the original road trip tale) with this Depression-era comedy filled with strange characters and the brothers’ most quotable dialogue (outside of “The Big Lebowski,” that is). George Clooney gets goofy (and starts a winning partnership with the fraternal filmmakers) as Ulysses Everett McGill, a chain-gang refugee who travels across dusty landscape to retrieve his buried treasure with the help of fellow convicts Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson). Like road trips themselves, the best road trip movies feature a solid soundtrack, and the T-Bone Burnett-produced sounds were just as big as the movie. The seductive sirens scene gets even better with the dubbing of the angelic voices of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris, and the now-iconic Soggy Bottom Boys’ hit “Man of Constant Sorrow” gets an extra push from Union Station’s Dan Tyminski’s subbing in for Clooney on lead vocals. [A-]

“The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004)
This story of young Ernesto “Che” Guevera on a long road trip with his friend Alberto Granado is an incredibly intriguing coming-of-age adventure movie that provides insight in to the revolutionary’s beginning. When Steven Soderbergh released his two-part epic on Che’s guerrilla war efforts in Cuba and Bolivia, a wonderful, inadvertent trilogy was finished (franchise, anyone? “Che Guevara: On Stranger Tides?”). Director Walter Salles, DP Eric Cautier and the music by Gustavo Santaolalla paint a lyrical look at South America, as Ernesto and Alberto cruise along the continent via the titular vehicle, providing a worthy backdrop that expresses Guevara’s love for the people and culture while hinting at the motivations to his future revolutionary philosophy. The landscapes are lush and wonderful as the two friends journey through a life changing experience. Lead actor Gael Garcia Bernal (“Amores Perros,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien”) has rarely been better, and it’s proof that Salles is the perfect choice to helm the ultimate road movie, next year’s Kerouac adaptation “On The Road.” [A-]


“Midnight Run” (1988)
It’s fair to say that, even though his biggest hits in recent years have been in the genre, Robert De Niro has never had a great capacity for comedy. But the great exception over the years was Martin Brest’s action-comedy “Midnight Run.” In it, De Niro plays bounty hunter Jack Walsh, who’s hired to track down errant mob accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin), and the bickering pair travel from New York to LA, pursued by the FBI (embodied by the great Yaphet Kotto), the Mafia (led by Dennis Farina), and rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton). It’s the same formula established by Frank Capra, but it’s rarely worked quite as well: “Beverly Hills Cop” helmer Brest was capable of matching action and comedy as well as anyone in recent memory (or was — his skills seem to have left him by the time “Gigli” came along), and the film trots along at a fair old pace. But what the film really flies on (and it’s true of all road movies, really) is the chemistry between its travelers: you suspect that De Niro’s funny here because he’s being elevated by Grodin. The two bicker and feud in an endlessly entertaining fashion. It’s not much more than an unusually well-executed action-comedy, let down by a needlessly convoluted script, but whenever you watch one of the many films that have tried and failed to capture the magic in its wake, you appreciate how rare it is to get something like this right. [B+]

“La Strada” (1954)
Everything you need to know about “La Strada” can be found in the lovely, expressive, humorous and heartbreaking face of Giulietta Masina. She plays the innocent Gelsomina who is sold to strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) after her sister dies and her mother is anxious to rid the family of another mouth to feed. Zampano teaches Gelsomina some basic clowning skills so she can assist in his shows, she immediately takes a liking to it. But if Gelsomina tries to make the best of the situation she’s thrown into, Zampano makes life insufferable. Mean, stubborn and cold-hearted he eventually drives her away, and she finds a wise friend in a street performer, Il Matto (Richard Baseheart). They wind up traveling together and it isn’t long before Zamano is at odds with Il Matto and the film drives into it’s tragic third act. It’s difficult to describe the beauty of “La Strada” to those who haven’t seen it, or the pure joy it is to watch Masina on screen, who with a flicker of her mouth or a quick look with the eyes can bring laughter, tears or both at the same time. But this is one of Federico Fellini’s finest efforts; a whimsical tale with exaggerated and broadly-stroked characters, but with an emotion as real and moving as it gets. With a gently evocative score by Nino Rota, and the tenor of a well loved and familiar fable, “La Strada” is a devastating, aching and tender tale of a man who realizes too late that the best thing he’ll ever have in his life has passed him by. [A+]

“It Happened One Night” (1934)
It’s entirely possible that without Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night,” none of the films on this list would exist at all. The first, and possibly still the best, road movie, and the first film to sweep the five main categories at the Oscars (which went unmatched for forty years), it’s that rare film that’s a deep, deep pleasure to watch from start to finish — even Stalin was allegedly a fan. Following a newspaper journalist (Clark Gable) who meets a runaway heiress (the unbelievably great Claudette Colbert), married against her father’s will, it’s a timeless story that hasn’t aged a day, and proved endlessly influential — just check out Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters,” for proof, essentially a remake of Capra’s film, albeit one with giant creatures. There’s a zip and pace to the film that every similar comedy should aspire to, consistently, gut-bustingly funny, and there’s a pre-Production Code sexiness to the film absent from 99% of romantic pairings (the film just snuck in under the wire before the restrictive Hays Office started operating). We were lucky enough to catch the film on the big screen this week in London (It’s playing at the BFI Southbank until November 11th, and we urge anyone in town to check it out). It continues to play like gangbusters with audiences. Quite simply, it’s a wonder. [A+]

“Down By Law” (1986)
Playing out like a smooth, languorous jazz tune on a sweltering summer evening, Jim Jarmusch’s “Down By Law” follows three guys, who are down on their luck, as they stumble and struggle their way to freedom. It really doesn’t get better than the trio of Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni; as a disc jockey, pimp and misguided Italian tourist, respectively. They find each other in prison and after a daring escape, hit the road together. As they travel the swamps of Louisiana, the relationship between Zack (Waits) and Jack (Lurie) continues to fray but it’s Bob’s (Benigni) inextinguishable lust for life, and naive innocence, that keeps them together. Featuring some breathtaking cinematography by Robert Muller, Jarmusch’s film is one of his best; a sweet, sad, achingly funny riff. While Benigni would later gain much more attention for his Italian comedies and his breakthrough to mainstream North American audiences via his Oscar-winning role in “Life is Beautiful,” his role here is one of his finest. With the stature of silent comedian, combined with mouth spitting garbled English idioms mixed with astonished Italian outbursts (the quotes from the film are endless) he’s the pulse of life between the sour and sourer duo of Waits and Lurie, whose unique charms are an acquired taste worth developing. Set to songs by Waits, music by Lurie and guided by Jarmusch’s unhurried direction, “Down By Law” opines that, “It is a sad and beautiful world.” We couldn’t agree more. [A-]
P.S. The film is a great double bill companion to Jarmusch’s previous and equally solid road trip film “Stranger Than Paradise.”

“Due Date” (2010)
All apologies to our fellow writer who we respectfully disagree with, and to our audience, who are now likely confused, but opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one and Todd Phillips’ latest “Due Date” is, to this writer, nowhere near as dire as we painted it in our first review. Sure, it’s no ‘Hangover’ and it’s certainly no “Old School” (the crown jewel in the Phillips ouevre), but it’s still a funny, entertaining and enjoyable picture, if albeit a little predictable and maybe even too wacky near the end. If you find Zach Galifianakis remotely funny — and you should — you’ll appreciate how sad, pathetic and hilariously dumb his perm-haired Ethan Tremblay character is. The film has some balls the way it paints Robert Downey Jr.’s Peter character as a complete selfish, workaholic jackass with little redeemable qualities (he spits on cute dogs, he punches kids) and the script does little to soften his edges. There’s also some really nice mature notes and emotional scenes from Galifianakis who one day is going to have a career as a dramatic actor if he wants it (see his solid semi-dramatic turn in “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story”). Like most comedians, he seems to have a gulf of pain bubbling underneath and when it simmers to the surface, goddamn if it doesn’t choke you up. Sure, the story is super familiar, two guys who hate each other are forced to go on the road together and the bigger asshole eventually builds empathy for the lesser man (it’s total “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”). And yes, it’s not as balls-out funny as some of Phillips’ greater films, but it’s just a minor work, not a disaster by any means, and one that should still probably connect with audiences.
[B-]

“Flirting With Disaster” (1996)
At times it’s a screwball comedy, then it’s a road movie, then it’s an existential look into a character’s search for his real family, then it’s a drug comedy. regardless of its focus hopping like a frog from lily pad to lily pad, David O. Russell (“Three Kings”, “I Heart Huckabees”) balances all of this into a cohesive and intelligent comedy with inklings of Woody Allen and “Seinfeld,” one this writer would argue is Ben Stiller’s best film. Russell’s talent can’t be denied, and has only solidified since. And Stiller, in one of his earliest leads, is terrific, playing the role he always plays but with a subtler, more character-based approach here. The now-huge comedic actor is almost always the guy who gets shit on throughout a movie, but here we actually care about him because he feels real. The last half hour is so off-the-wall funny, when Stiller finally meets his parents and they turn out to be former Grateful Dead-loving hippies that still produce drugs (“you can’t outrun the wind!” uttered by the irreplaceable Richard Jenkins in his whitey-tighties during an LSD trip, is a highlight, and should’ve been the tagline for “The Happening”). What follows concerns a jealous brother, a wrongfully misplaced drug, a gay couple that happen to be police partners, crazy step-parents, a brilliant infidelity storyline, and two words: armpit fetish! It’s all wonderful. A truly hilarious film that proves modern cinema is not without a smart, well-crafted comedy. [A]

“Happy Together” (1997)
Wong Kar-Wai may have gone off the boil a little in recent years, with the disappointing likes of “2046” and “My Blueberry Nights,” but thanks to “Happy Together,” he’ll always be one of our favorite working directors. One of the most incisive and well-rounded looks at a gay couple ever made (and, over a decade later, it’s depressing that nothing else has really come close since), it’s the heartbreaking love story of Ho (Leslie Cheung) and Lai (Tony Leung), two people almost uniquely unsuited to each other. The pair give storming central performances, and, to no one’s great surprise, DP Christopher Doyle, never better than when working with Kar-Wai, turns in eyeball-meltingly gorgeous visuals. Some argue the director can be shallow, more of a sensualist than anything else, but he’s never dealt with such well-drawn characters as he does here. It might not strictly speaking be a road movie, but it’s certainly structured as one — starting with the couple’s arrival in Argentina, and ending with Lai finally reaching the Iguazu waterfalls he’s been chasing. More importantly, it’s as truthful and painful a relationship movie as Kar-Wai’s ever made. There’s a glorious new Blu-Ray out there now, so if you’ve never seen it, now’s as good a time as any. [A-]

“Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)
There’s no point in understating the seismic effect Arthur Penn’s 1967 biopic/gangster film/road picture had on the films that followed. The ripples of this film, especially the cathartic, equal parts gloriously savage and tragic finale, can still reduce an audience groomed on violence to stunned silence. With all the hyperbole about Penn’s way with bullets and wounds, it’s easy to forget that “Bonnie and Clyde” is, at its unhinged core, a road picture about a surrogate family that comes together and falls apart while on the run from the law. With Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s larger-than-life doomed would-be-lovers spending almost every scene of the film on screen bickering or tempting each other, it’s a wonder that Michael J. Pollard (C.W. Moss), Gene Hackman (Buck Barrow), and of course Estelle Parsons (who won an Oscar for her performance as Blanche) still manage to make themselves noticed. On the road with the titular thieves, the group dynamics are revealed and explored with enough intricacy to secure audience sympathy not only for our titular criminal rock stars, but their less well-known cohorts. Parsons is especially amusing in her portrayal of the shrill, nervous, and occasionally grating Blanche, while Pollard plies his devil-may-care young cool and Hackman practices the tough guy shtick he’s done so well throughout a storied career. All in all, as far as road movies go, “Bonnie and Clyde” may be one of the very best, not to mention the most underhanded about revealing its trajectory. [A]

Honorable Mentions: Ending on the note of “Bonnie and Clyde” highlights another major absence — “Badlands.” As much as we adore Terrence Malick’s debut, it’s been well-covered elsewhere, and we thought the space could be better used. “Easy Rider” is another one, and indeed, possibly the single most iconic road movie, which we simply didn’t have anything new to say about — Steven Spielberg’s “Duel” fits the same category. Otherwise, the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road To…” series is occasionally entertaining, but fairly dated, while Preston Sturges’ “The Palm Beach Story” is wonderful, but comes off worse against “It Happened One Night.” Like “Two Lane Blacktop,” “Vanishing Point” is another pared-down chase flick not without its charms, while both Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” and Ruben Fleischer’s “Zombieland” are as much road trips as they are horror films.

“Faster ,Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” is one of Russ Meyer’s best exploitation flicks, while, albeit far more highbrow, Wim Wenders’ “Alice in the Cities,” the first in a trilogy of road movies, is also among its director’s best work. David Lynch’s “The Straight Story” is beautifully observed (and unusually matter-of-fact for the director), and perhaps the slowest road movie ever made. Unless we’re counting Gus Van Sant’s “Gerry,” of course. Van Sant is something of a road trip connoisseur, his best being “My Own Private Idaho.”

Comedy wise, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” is fairly definitive, with Chevy Chase rarely on better form, while “Little Miss Sunshine,” despite becoming a derisive byword for a certain kind of big name indie flick, remains a wonderful little film. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention “The Cannonball Run” and “Smokey and the Bandit,” which were huge successes in the 70s, even if they are both terrible. But the film that probably got closest to inclusion? “Apocalypse Now,” as much a travelogue as it is a war movie.

— Kevin Jagernauth, Christopher Bell, Oli Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez, Katie Walsh, Kimber Myers, Mark Zhuravsky, Erik McClanahan, Jessica Kiang

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Comments

Patty

Okay, let’s not get carried away. You are quoted as saying “It’s entirely possible that without Frank Capra‘s “It Happened One Night,” none of the films on this list would exist at all.”

As if brilliance and reference to one’s own personal experience (like road trips we’ve all been on) don’t come into play and operate freely and independently of previous attempts to convey just such brilliance and experience on film?

In saying “THIS wouldn’t have been possible without THAT” (one of the oldest cliche ideas in art) you risk dismissing ANYBODY’S ability at having an original idea.

And how do we know “It Happened One Night” didn’t reference something the director or writer or actors saw or read previously?

How about saying “Without the great morality play ‘Everyman,’ (perhaps the ORIGINAL road-trip bit of literature) ‘Thelma and Louise’ might have not come into existence”?

lewis

seriously? no mention of “the sugarland express”? not even once? you did say road trip movies, right? but no mention of “the sugarland express.”
wait…..
doesn’t make sense.
great road trip movies.
no “sugarland express.”
wait…..

Nuv

Also, I would probably add that Tim Burton, in my opinion at least, didn’t really go off the rails until Planet Of The Apes…Beetlejuice rules and, I know it’s not popular to feel this way, but I liked the flawed but fun 1989 Batman…Oh. Forgot about Mars Attacks. That sucks too…never mind. Ed Wood probably was the last excellent Tim Burton film. You win, dammit!

Nuv

Long-time reader (since before The Playlist came to Indiewire) first-time commenter…Great article! That’s a lot of good cinema up there.
I’m glad to get an alternate take on Due Date. I can’t really see how I wouldn’t be entertained by that duo!

Anyway, here’s a different twist on the same subject over at my website:
http://review2akill.com/2010/08/27/high-five-vol-9/
(Basically it’s road trip films, but all drug fuelled…)
Check us out, I think you might like our site too!
Keep writing ’em, I’ll keep reading ’em!

ken

contempt wasn’t godard’s first color film either, that’s “a woman is a woman”

Oliver Lyttelton

I hadn’t seen Flirting With Disaster since I was 13/14, but rewatched yesterday after Erik’s piece. Holy shit, it’s funny.

Trent Club

Bette Midler is one of the producers (not lead) of the Stage production of ”The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert”, which already got rave reviews in the London and Toronto productions, next stop Broadway. Why would anyone have mixed feelings about that?

jimmiescoffee

did you watch due date? the film was a catastrophe on every level. i love the opinions but that is easily the biggest load of shit opinion i’ve seen on this blog.

N.

Lovely list! I agree with some additions in the comments and would definitely add Araki’s THE LIVING END. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but distinct and applicable in such a grab-bag of a list.

Dan S

I’m really surprised that Clouzot’s “The Wages of Fear” isn’t mentioned in this article. I would consider that an A+ road movie.

Kevin Jagernauth

Oli, you should also give “The Daytrippers” a whirl. A very good road movie I was reminded of by a friend. Really good.

Uh

No, actually, that “award” goes to Une femme est une femme, and his “first” step towards post-modernism happened wayyyyyy before Pierrot. But you’re totally right, Pierrot le fou is exactly as good as Due Date if you’re fourteen years old

theoC

fantastic feature this week, definitely given me some new movies for my net flix (illegal downloads list) I cannot believe two lane black top got a B- that movie bored me to tears, (and the forgotten arm Aimee mann’s album inspired by this movie is one of my favourite albums of the last 10 years) but yep it still bored me much like this post but it’s always been a C with added cute James Taylor. But a great list thank you for the education.

Christopher Bell

I really don’t understand the love for Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild.” I found it a little forced, with a number of silly cinematic devices that modern day film-makers should be smart enough not to use. Respectfully, though, to each his own.

Bryan

I second keeping up with more lists like this. Great job.

Robert Merk

Shame you couldn’t find room for Jerry Schatzberg’s “Scarecrow” (with Gene Hackman and Al Pacino). For my money one of the finest road picture ever made.

jonathan

The Sure Thing was the first movie to pop in my head when I saw the artlice, but didn’t think it would be on your list. Very nice. More lists like this please.

Ryan

Pierrot le fou was not Godard’s first color film. That award goes to Contempt.

Victron

Great read, but I’m missing Into The Wild. Not only a fantastic road movie but one of the most moving and beautiful films of the last decade.

J.R. Williams

I was a bit surprised that Cuaron’s “Children of Men” didn’t make the list as you guys gave the movie a ton of love and it’s undeniably a road movie.

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