Unknown fascinating landscapes, intense relationships, discovery of the self… There’s nothing like a good road trip to learn about the world and your own mind. Rebecca Gallon brings you her Top 10 road movies of all time.
Not all of us have the opportunity to take time off to travel but most of us can afford to take two hours to watch films. So, why not travel from home?
Here are my top 10 road trip films.
10. Queen & Slim (Dir. Melina Matsoukas, 2019)
This stylish film is a powerful directioral debut by Melina Matsoukas. On their way home from an awkward Tinder date, Queen (Jodie Turner Smith) a confident attorney and Slim (the brilliant Daniel Kaluuya), a simple guy looking for love, end up in a complicated situation with a racist police officer: Slim accidentally kills the officer. A beautiful and fascinating trip ensues as Queen and Slim try and hide from the police and inadvertently become a symbol for black resistance. This film is an extremely refreshing take on the road trip genre. It plays with all the codes we know while subtly revealing how complicated racism is in America. Every single character they meet along the way is complex not because of colour but simply because of their backgrounds and personalities. Queen & Slim is one of my favourite films of 2020.
9. Easy Rider (Dir. Dennis Hopper, 1969)
It is impossible to talk about road trip films without mentioning this staple of the “New Hollywood” era and key film of the hippie movement. Sex, drugs (Hopper and Peter Fonda were high during most of the production) and rock’n’roll is a perfect expression to describe Easy Rider. It follows two motorcyclists (Hopper and Fonda) who, after gaining money from selling cocaine, attempt to go to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras Festival. Like many films of the genre that followed, this film presents two protagonists that are neither heroes nor villains, their sole aim is to see the world and enjoy themselves. Famous for playing with storytelling codes with its strange editing and long psychedelic sequence, Easy Rider might not be for everyone but the influence it has had on cinema, the american youth and history make it an essential watch for road trip fans.
8. Duel (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1971)
This survival thriller is quite different from your average road trip film, the main reason being that the protagonist, a business commuter called David Mann, is not going somewhere but avoiding someone; the malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer. Shot in only 11 days, this is a masterclass in filmmaking. It has one character, barely any dialogue, a simple plot and yet it is totally captivating. Shot by a 23-year-old Spielberg, the young filmmaker’s talent is blindingly obvious and foreshadows the sensational career to come.
7. O brother, Where Art Thou? (Dir. Joel Coen, 2000)
Set in Mississippi in the 1930s, this modern retelling of Homer’s Odyssey follows three escaped convicts in search of hidden treasure. During their journey, they will intersect with a political campaign, meet modern sirens, become radio stars by accident and stumble upon a Ku Klux Klan meeting. The cinematography, music (mainly bluegrass), and dialogue combine to create a delightful and unique adventure film. Among the Coen’s best.
6. Little Miss Sunshine (Dir. Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, 2006)
An indie classic, Little Miss Sunshine follows 7 year old Olive (Abigail Breslin) and her family as they take a cross-country trip in their VW bus to go to a beauty pageant. Through humour and fascinating characters (played beautifully by the impressive cast), this film reflects the danger of the American dream. Her dad (Greg Kinnear) is a motivational speaker convinced the world is made of two kinds of people: winners and losers. He believes everyone can be successful through hard work and, if they are not successful, it’s because they are not working hard enough. Through their crazy adventures the family will discover that financial success might not be the only route to happiness.
5. Y tu Mama Tambien (Dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)
When bored teenagers Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia) go on a trip with 40 year old Luisa (Maribel Verdu), they have no idea what they are getting themselves into. The natural acting and honest portrayal of sex and youth is perfectly directed by Alfonso Cuaron and superbly shot by Emmanuel Lubezki. Sex seems to be the omnipresent theme as Luisa educates the boys in her unique way by lecturing and teasing them. It is, in fact, not sex but death that is hovering everywhere; Death through the rural Mexico we see through the windows of the car, and the stories Luisa tells the boys. This is a film you will see in a completely new light once it ends, and a movie that stays with you long after you’ve seen it.
4. American Honey (Dir. Andrea Arnold, 2016)
A personal favourite, American Honey puts a modern 21st century spin on the road trip film. Star (Sasha Lane), an adolescent girl from a troubled home, runs away with a travelling sales crew that drives across the American midwest selling subscriptions door-to-door. What at first seems like a fun and liberating adventure will progressively become as unfulfilling as her previous life. Andrea Arnold’s film creates a realistic (most of the cast were found by the director in parking lots, construction sites and streets), shocking, and sad portrait of America that Star is accustomed to. It’s not California or New York we discover through this road trip but the very poor neighborhoods of Oklahoma and South Dakota, the oil fields of the south or the fancy neighborhoods of Kansas, where the characters will never belong. It’s not country music (aside from the song American Honey by Lady Antebellum) or independent rock we’ll be listening to on this trip, but the violent and sexy rap and electro songs that accompany the characters as they drink and smoke along the road.
3. It Happened One Night (Dir. Frank Capra, 1934)
It Happened One Night is one of the only three films (to date) that has won the “Big Five” Oscars: Best picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay (the other two are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975, and The Silence of the Lambs, 1991). Frank Capra’s hilarious screwball comedy follows a spoiled heiress (Colette Colbert) running away from her family and a reporter (Clark Gable) in need of a story, pretending to be a quarrellsome married couple to avoid being found. We follow them from motel to motel as they progressively develop feelings for each other. This film, ladies and gentleman, is the origin of most cliches we see in romantic comedies today.
2. Thelma and Louise (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1991)
You knew it was coming. The classic Thelma and Louise, directed by Ridley Scott. The movie stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as friends who set off on a road trip and become outlaws after Sarandon’s character shoots a would-be-rapist. This is a must-see film. For Sarandon and Davis’s performances (they were both nominated for the Best Actress Oscar), for the witty dialogue, for a very young Brad Pitt (whose character was almost played by George Clooney!), for the stunning landscape cinematography and, of course, for that iconic ending.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir. George Miller, 2015)
Mad Max Fury Road is the ultimate road trip film. Director Edgar Wright considers it, “the best action film of all time” and I have to agree. This action-packed post-apocalyptic car chase follows Furiosa (Charlize Theron): a rebel searching to escape a tyrannical ruler with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshipper (Nicholas Hoult) and a drifter named Max (Tom Hardy). The world created by 70 year old George Miller is breathtaking. The costumes, the cinematography and the stunts combined create a fascinating world it’s difficult to tear your eyes from. 90% of the stunts were real because George Miller wanted the action scenes to adhere to the laws of physics and have visceral power – he wanted to make the audience feel the danger. The world created is not the only strength of of the film, though. The story is surprisingly simple and yet the pace and acting are so well measured that it sends its audience on a thrill rollercoaster that lasts for the entire movie. And the cherry on the top: the plot has feminist undertones and a pro-environmental message.
There are many more films I would have liked to add to this list such as Rain Man (1988), Children of Men (2006), Almost Famous (2000), and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). If you would like to see a list of my all favourite road trip films here is a list I made. Enjoy!