There’s not a person out there who doesn’t have some desire to travel, see the world and experience things not local to your native environment. This is a basic human impulse, an inclination towards restlessness that explains, in some capacity, our fascination with travel narratives, or “road trip” stories. Whether it’s Homer’s The Odyssey or Kerouac’s On the Road, people have long been interested in the idea of moving, and moving fast, which is why we here at Goliath have taken the time to look deep into this fascination and pull together 10 great road trip movies that are sure to sate your desire for a kinetic experience. A good blend of action, comedy and drama, there’s a travel film for all sort of folks here, so buckle up that seatbelt and strap in, because we’re going to kick it into a higher gear for this one!
10. Road Trip (2000)
An aptly named film to kick off our list, Road Trip was directed by Todd Phillips (of Old School and The Hangover fame) and released in 2000, right as the era of teen comedies was kicking off good and proper. Starring Breckin Meyer, Sean William Scott, Amy Smart, Paulo Costanzo, DJ Qualls and Tom Green in a career making role, Road Trip revolves around the somewhat ridiculous plot of the central protagonist Josh Parker (Meyer) accidentally mailing an explicit videotape to his long-distance girlfriend who lives in the faraway land of Texas. With a relationship at stake, Parker and his friends must saddle up and make the long trek from New York to Texas in four short days in order to prevent his belle from seeing the incriminating evidence on the tape. While the film’s plot is about what you’d expect from a teen comedy, the film itself delivers laughs aplenty and rides the wave of its ensemble cast’s likeability. A career launcher for several cast members, Road Trip remains one of the better teen comedies of its era and its devotion to motion is what makes it a perfect candidate for this list.
9. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
There’s a laundry list of hilarious and influential people who were involved in the making of this film, and because the list is so impressive we’re going to write it in its entirety. How’s this for talent? Directed by Harold Ramis (of Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day fame) and written by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club), National Lampoon’s Vacation stars Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid (ok, so they aren’t all talented), Dana Barron, Anthony Michael Hall, John Candy, Christine Brinkley and a young Jane Krakowski (of 30 Rock fame). Now that’s how you put a film together. Following the misadventures of the Griswold clan as they pack up and head for Walley World (a Disneyland-esque theme park that’s clear across the country), National Lampoon’s Vacation is a riotous ride that mixes clever writing and slapstick humor in equal parts to produce a comedy that’s still revered to this day, some 30 years after its release.
8. Into the Wild (2007)
Driving away from comedy and venturing into dramatic territory, we’ve chosen the 2007 film Into the Wild to occupy the number seven spot on our list. Directed by Sean Penn (ugh…thank heavens he doesn’t play a role in the film) and starring Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a wealthy young man who, inspired by the likes of Henry David Thoreau and Jack Kerouac, abandons his significant material possessions and commits to wandering the country as a vagabond, meeting interesting people and working only when he is in dire need of money. The film, which also stars Kristen Stewart, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook, also features one of the best soundtracks of a film from its generation, with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam scoring the entire film with unique songs. Into the Wild is a must-watch for any fans of the “road trip” film, but you’ve gotta promise we won’t find you hidden out in a bus in Alaska when the film’s over, alright?
7. Tommy Boy (1996)
We’re pretty sure on a list of the most quotable films of all time, 1996’s Tommy Boy would have to rank pretty high. Starring the late Chris Farley and his Saturday Night Live alumni David Spade, Tommy Boy is a road trip comedy for the ages, one that sees Farley’s Tommy Callahan on a quest to save his recently deceased father’s business from shutting down and costing his local town thousands of jobs. Accompanied by Spade’s Richard Hayden, Callahan must travel the country and sell 500,000 brake pads in an urgent manner. An odd couple film that invests heavily in the differences between the protagonists, Tommy Boy succeeds on Farley’s gimmicks alone, but what elevates the film to legendary status is the solid supporting cast and overall hilarity of the work, which also stars Rob Lowe, Bo Derek and Dan Akroyd in a small but important role.
6. Sideways (2004)
We’re jumping back and forth between comedy and drama here, but that’s alright since variety is the spice of life. Know what else comes in many varieties? Wine and also mid-life crises, both of which are the subject of Alexander Payne’s 2004 dramedy Sideways. Sideways, which follows two middle-aged men (played by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip through the California wine circuit of Santa Barbara, traffics heavily in the idea of middle age malaise, and the film’s success in communicating the intricacies of both wine and existential angst earned it a place among the year’s best films; it was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Adapted Screenplay (the film is based on Rex Pickett’s novel of the same name). Sideways, which also stars Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen, lands itself in the number six spot on this list due its thorough incorporation of both drama and humor, and it’s deft hand in using both to great effect.
5. Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Oh, come on. You knew we weren’t going to get through a road trip list without talking about this gem, right? 1994’s Dumb and Dumber, starring Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey as two dim-witted men on a trek across the country to return a briefcase filled with money (they don’t know it’s filled with money, mind you…), remains one of the funnier films we’ve ever seen, and the time between its production and the present has only succeeded in making the film funnier, if that’s at all possible. Upon re-watching it for the purposes of this article, we couldn’t believe just how hilarious this film was…it’s even better than your nostalgia-addled brain would leave you to believe. Whether it’s Carrey’s slapstick antics of Daniel’s consistent disbelief in his friend’s stupidity (while failing to acknowledge his own), Dumb and Dumber hits all the right notes as these two foolish amigos traipse around the country in a van dressed as a dog. It doesn’t get any better, folks.
4. Thelma & Louise (1991)
While many of the films on this list follow two mismatched men on road trips, it’s one of the very best films on here that follows two women as they engage in kinetic and destructive behaviour. That film, 1991’s Thelma & Louise, was directed by the prolific Ridley Scott and stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as Louise and Thelma, respectively, two women who set out on an adventure to break the monotony and routine of their everyday lives. A film praised by critics and audiences as feminist, Thelma & Louise sees the title characters engaging in all manner of bad behavior, but doing so in an empowered and enjoyable fashion. Nominated for six Academy Awards (it won one, for Best Original Screenplay), Thelma & Louise earns a spot on our road trip list for fully embracing its on-the-go sensibilities and putting power in the hands of the finer sex. You go, girls.
3. Mad Max (1979)
The Mad Max franchise is fresh in everyone’s mind, given that this past year saw the release of a new chapter in the post-apocalyptic franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road. While that film was both spectacular and a huge success (and would’ve been a noteworthy addition to this list in its own right), we’re going to talk about its predecessor and the film that started the franchise, 1979’s Mad Max. Starring Mel Gibson as Max Rockatanksy, a police officer who goes on a brutal rampage in a post-apocalyptic Australia after his wife and son are killed by a vicious biker gang. A wildly influential film that had massive repercussions for the whole of the science fiction and post-apocalyptic genres, Mad Max is a high octane viewing experience that combines action and spectacle to ensure for a riveting ride.
2. Easy Rider (1969)
We’ve written before about the awesomeness that is Easy Rider, the 1969 counterculture phenomena that starred Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson. We wrote specifically about how mind-meltingly awesome the soundtrack for the film was, but it also holds the distinction of being one of the definitive road trip movies ever produced. Following two young fellas with nothing but a pair of motorcycles and a whole lot of intoxicants, Easy Rider set the tone for the cultural zeitgeist of the next 10 years with its effortless cool and its rebel attitude.
1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
We’re back on John Hughes again, but as in most John Hughes-related cases, that isn’t a bad thing, but rather a great thing. Written and directed by the late filmmaker, Planes, Trains and Automobiles stars Steve Martin and John Candy as Neal Page and Del Griffith, respectively, two extremely different men who undertake a journey from New York to Chicago, so as to get home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. One of the funniest movies we can call to memory, Planes, Trains and Automobiles sees both Martin and Candy doing some of their finest comedic work, and the chemistry (or rather, lack thereof…) between the two is absolutely dynamite for the entirety of the film. A sharp departure for Hughes, who at this time was known for teen films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, Planes, Trains and Automobiles was a critical and commercial smash and kick-started a new era in the filmmaker’s career.