Ranked: The 25 Best Road Trip Movies Ever Made
The 25 Best Road Trip Movies Ever Made contains some minor spoilers for many of the entries. Proceed at your own risk, but if you haven’t seen these by now, what have you been doing?
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There are certain rules to a great road trip film that always need to be followed. You need a set of deep pockets to fill a bench with an all-star cast. It would help if you had a compelling setup to go along with an interesting McGuffin at the end of your Google Maps destination. Also, never forget that the journey will always need to be more interesting than the pot at the rainbow’s end.
In honor of the road trip comedy Stuber, please take a minute or two to read my list of the 25 best road trip movies ever made (in no particular order) while expanding the definition not just to include Planes, Trains, or Automobiles, but also tanks, boats, farm equipment, anything with non-motorized wheels, and even a sturdy pair of feet with a set of comfortable shoes.
The 25 Best Road Trip Movies Ever Made, courtesy of M.N. Miller
Taking Chance (2009)
A no-frills look at the true story of a US marine who escorts the body of a 19-year old soldier back to his home in Wyoming. It’s a beautifully restrained performance by Bacon. His scene in the airport security demanding to be searched in private quarters was depicted with great dignity. It still burns me Bacon lost out to Brendan Gleason at the 61st Emmy Awards for this performance.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
The comedy starring, at the time, a real-life couple of Burt Reynolds and Sally Field. Along with icon Jackie Gleeson, Smokey and the Bandit are bootleggers who have to haul hundreds of cases of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta. The great Alfred Hitchcock called this one of his favorite films, which is good enough for me.
Children of Men (2006)
One of the most visceral experiences of the past 20 years. Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, is the ultimate road trip of unmistakable brilliance. Part road trip, part sci-fi, part action thriller, the P.D. James adaptation was dismissed by moviegoers and even some critics that got lost in the holiday in 2006. In his best role still today, Clive Owen plays a former activist in the not-so-distant future. What happens to a 20-year run of human infertility has left a society collapsed. England now, though, runs strict oppression against all refugees with its strict immigration laws (sound familiar?). Owen helps a pregnant refugee find the Human Project, escaping the hand of the militant rights group the Fishes, which will use the new baby for their own political gain.
Midnight Run (1988)
Director Martin Brest’s first breakout hit starring Robert De Niro and, for me, one of the great comic actors of pitch-perfect delivery, Charles Grodin, in a road trip film from NYC to LA. Roger Ebert said Run, “…rare for a thriller to end with a scene of genuinely moving intimacy, but this one does, and it earns it.” He is a genuine trademark of his later work in Scent of a Woman but strangely absent in Meet Joe Black.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
One line and scene perfectly sums up this road trip classic from the ’80s teen angst filmmaker John Hughes and perfectly sums up the road trip comedy. When Steve Martin rolls down his window to hear a couple of screams from their moving car, “You’re going the wrong way, ” John Candy’s perfect retort is, “How do they know where we’re going?” as they continue down against the traffic on the wrong side of the highway. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles remain a comedy classic with a huge heart that I’m still fearing will be remade into a movie for Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon.
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
The most quotable of all the Farrelly Brothers comedies. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniel play Lloyd and Harry, who started their journey by selling a bird to a blind kid with its head taped on its lifeless body. Hence, they had some seed money on their road trip in Providence, RI, to chase down the love of Lloyd’s life, Mary, in Aspen, Co. With such quotes as, “Hey, you wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world? EEEEEEEHHHHHHHHH!”, “Yeah, he must work out.”, “What was all that one in a million talk?” “Yeah, we called it bullshit.”, and “We landed on the moon” make this an unforgettable road trip.
Saving Private Ryan (1996)
Steven Speilberg’s masterpiece of giving equal treatment to honoring its subject while questioning its mission was a staggering achievement in film history. Never before has a director made the landing at Normandy so intense, so powerful, so shocking; it’s a masterclass in filmmaking watching the road trip of a lifetime by walking across Nazi-infested Germany to save one man.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
The Harold Ramis road comedy film was based on a short story by John Hughes in the National Lampoon. Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, John Candy, and Christie Brinkley about a road trip from Chicago to the Walley World in Southern California. While Christmas Vacation still ranks at the top of my favorites of the Vacation filmography, Vacation started a gag-filled film where the main character was the butt of the joke that was influential for decades to come.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Little Miss Sunshine was a true gem that can be funny, poignant, heartwarming, and even sad. It starts with a family on their way to a beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, CA, from their house in Albuquerque, NM. The movie could have been bad, with self-involved characters and whose own self-worth is always set in their work or studies. First-time writer Michael Arndt wrote little Miss Sunshine’s screenplay (who wrote Toy Story 3 ––which should have ended there), elevating the characters into something heartfelt and genuine. The scene with Alan Arkin’s Grandfather Edwin telling his only granddaughter Olive (a seriously adorable 7-year-old Abigail Breslin) that she’s beautiful single-handedly won him the Best Supporting Actor award of Eddie Murphy at the 79th Academy Awards.
Tommy Boy (1995)
The late Chris Farley was a bowling ball in a china shop if there ever was one. His collaboration with David Spade was a successful one, starring in Saturday Night Live together, that ended with a less successful comedy, Black Sheep. Tommy Boy became a fraternity film mainstay for the younger members of Generation-Y and early Millennial males across the United States. They quoted the film endlessly of the shenanigans as Tommy Callahan travels across the country to save the family business. His mission? Trying to stop Zalinsky Auto Parts (a wonderfully over the top Dan Akroyd). I was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma, and I imagine I can still do a mean Fat Guy in a Little Coat impression (that I was forced to do in my fraternity pledge days) if given the opportunity.