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Top 10 Road Trip Movies

Chris Kaiser

Stuck at home? Us too. Here’s a list of the top 10 road trip movies to help break that cabin fever.

A Tale as Old as Time

From The Odyssey to Don Quixote to the Bildungsroman, the hero’s journey is one of the most classic and fundamental of all story forms. The modern American version, the road trip movie, speaks to a national mythos of boundless possibility, adventure, and individualism. And the road trip movie wouldn’t be possible without the automobile. Our list features not only the top 10 road trip movies but also some of the most unforgettable movie cars of all time.

Little Miss Sunshine

1978 Volkswagen Type 2 in "Little Miss Sunshine" - imcdb.org
1978 Volkswagen Type 2 in "Little Miss Sunshine" - imcdb.org

The Ride: 1978 Volkswagen Type 2 camper van

The Journey: An indie film gem, Oscar darling, and classic road trip movie, Little Miss Sunshine follows one family’s journey (in a great yellow VW bus) to fulfill their young daughter’s dream of appearing in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty pageant. Pathos and humor intermingle in this comedic drama featuring all-time great performances from Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Steven Carell, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, and Abigail Breslin. The movie manages to balance humor, darkness, and some feel-good notions of perseverance in a way that felt refreshingly genuine.

The Blues Brothers 

1974 Dodge Monaco in "Blues Brothers" - imcdb.org
1974 Dodge Monaco in "Blues Brothers" - imcdb.org

The Ride: 1974 Dodge Monaco

The Journey: On a truly noble quest (in fact, no less than a mission from God), brothers Jake and Elwood Blues set off on a journey to save the orphanage where they grew up. In the process of “getting the band back together” for a benefit concert, the Blues brothers make a lot of friend and even more enemies (including Neo-Nazis, a Country & Western band, a mysterious machine gun-toting woman, and a whole lot of law enforcement). The movie long held the title for the most cars wrecked in a feature film. Cameos included Carrie Fisher, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Ray Charles, just to name a few.

Easy Rider

Custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles in "Easy Rider" - imcdb.org
Custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles in "Easy Rider" - imcdb.org

The Ride: two custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles

The Journey: The duo of Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) travel through the American southwest from California to New Orleans in Easy Rider. But like most good road trip movies, Easy Rider is more about the journey than the destination. Along the way, the pair are jailed basically for being hippies, befriend a hard-drinking lawyer named George (Jack Nicolson is magnetic in his film debut), and have a bad trip in a New Orleans cemetery. Traveling west to east, the lack of real purpose in their journey beyond hippie hedonism, and the tragic ending all spoke to a formerly boundless and optimistic American West thoroughly transformed by the late 1960s.

Thelma & Louise

1966 Ford Thunderbird in "Thelma & Louise" - imcdb.org
1966 Ford Thunderbird in "Thelma & Louise" - imcdb.org

The Ride: 1966 Ford Thunderbird

The Journey: In Ridley Scott’s classic Thelma & Louise, a vacation from behind the wheel of a classic Thunderbird turns into a run from the law for the titular characters following an unfortunate incident outside a honky-tonk. A tale of friendship, romance (involving a young Brad Pitt), and female empowerment, Thelma & Louise concludes at the Grand Canyon with one of the most iconic automotive scenes in film history.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Tatra T815 War RIg in "Mad Max - Fury Road" - imcdb.org
Tatra T815 War RIg in "Mad Max - Fury Road" - imcdb.org

The Ride: Tatra T815 War Rig

The Journey: Though it’s Max (played by Tom Hardy) that gets title credit, it’s Charlize Theron’s Furiosa that is the film’s true protagonist. George Miller’s post-apocalyptic gasoline drenched opus follows Furiosa and Max as they flee Immortan Joe for the “the Green Place”. This road trip movie is a monument to world-building, death-defying stunt work, and Miller’s ability to sustain a chase scene (with brief interludes) for nearly the entire film.

Almost Famous

1962 Eagle Model 01 in "Almost Famous" - imcdb.org
1962 Eagle Model 01 in "Almost Famous" - imcdb.org

The Ride: 1962 Eagle Model 01 (Tour Bus)

The Journey: Almost Famous is based on Camron Crowe’s own experiences covering the Allman Brothers as a teenager for Rolling Stone. The film is a coming-of-age story that manages to be both charming and funny enough to (almost) entirely avoid the dead weight of cliché. When the band Stillwater, though barely on speaking terms, is brought together by singing along to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” might sound corny in the abstract but ends up being the film’s most indelible scene.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

1980 Ford LTD Country Squire in "National Lampoon's Vacation" - imcdb.org
1980 Ford LTD Country Squire in "National Lampoon's Vacation" - imcdb.org

The Ride: 1980 Ford LTD Country Squire (a.k.a. Wagon Queen Family Truckster)

The Journey: All Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase at his best) really wanted was to give his family a proper vacation. Their mishap-filled journey in their green Wagon Queen Family Truckster is the stuff of comedy film legend. Racing Christy Brinkley’s Ferrari 308 GTS, hanging with cousin Eddy (Randy Quaid’s unforgettable here), and the demise of Aunt Edna are just some of the misadventures the Griswolds encounter on their sojourn to the mecca of family fun, Walley World.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

1986 Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country convertible in "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" - imcdb.org
1986 Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country convertible in "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" - imcdb.org

The Ride: 1986 Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country Convertible

The Journey: Rarely has the odd couple comedy bit been done to greater or more hilarious effect than in the John Hughes’s classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Steven Martin and John Candy deliver career-high performances as a marketing executive and a salesman who strike an uneasy alliance to get Neal Page (Martin’s character) back home in time for Thanksgiving. Simple lessons of humility and compassion (Hughes hallmarks) ring true in this charming holiday classic.

Midnight Run

1973 Chevrolet Blazer in "Midnight Run" - imcdb.org
1973 Chevrolet Blazer in "Midnight Run" - imcdb.org

The Ride: Lots of stolen and borrowed cars

The Journey: In Midnight Run, Robert DeNiro plays a bail bondsman tasked with transporting a mob accountant (played by Charles Grodin) from New York to LA. DeNiro and Gordin display great odd-couple chemistry in this comedic action/thriller. Dodging cops and mobsters in a cross-country sprint ain’t easy, but director Martin Brest (of Beverly Hills Cop) makes it a romp.

Two for the Road

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The Ride: 1950 MG TD and 1966 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL

The Journey: Though the modern road trip movie tends to take place in the US (it’s where many movies are made after all), America doesn’t have a monopoly on great road trip movies. In the romantic comedy Two for the Road Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney play a married couple on a road trip through the south of France. The non-linear tale features flashback scenes of the couple’s rocky twelve-year marriage. The movie is actually a good deal more dramatic than the screwball trailer would make it seem. Audrey Hepburn narrowly missed out on an Oscar nomination for the film, edged out by her own Best Actress nomination for her performance in Wait Until Dark.

It was very hard to limit this list to the ten best, and we have no doubt that there are others that could have or should have made it. Here’s our list of recommended viewing for other classic must-see road trip movies.

  • Y Tu Mamá También
  • Dumb and Dumber
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Rain Man
  • Green Book
  • It Happened One Night
  • Nebraska
  • Down by Law
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  • Into the Wild
  • Smoky & the Bandit
  • Tommy Boy
  • The Cannonball Run
  • The Muppet Movie
  • The Straight Story
  • The Motorcycle Diaries
  • True Romance
  • The Rover

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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