When watching a movie, we go on a journey. Granted, it might just be a metaphorical one and only last an hour or two, but it's nevertheless a real and emotional experience. Now, it is perhaps for that reason why I've come to view road movies as something of an ideal film genre. Simply put, what better way to invite the viewer on that metaphorical journey than by putting the film's characters through an actual one? So, whether they aim to make us think or simply entertain, let's celebrate the simple brilliance of the road movie subgenre by taking a look at eight excellent cinematic road trips.
8. EuroTrip (2004)
Starting point of the trip: Ohio, USA.
Planned destination: Berlin, Germany.
Mode of transport: A plane, a London double-decker full of angry football hooligans, a train with a creepy Italian guy, back of a truck driven by a criminal who hasn't slept in three days and keeps himself awake on schnapps and benzedrine — you name it.
Your travel companions: Four likable high-school graduates: Scotty (Scott Mechlowicz), Cooper (Jacob Pitts) and "the worst twins ever" Jenny (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Jamie (Travis Wester).
Purpose of the trip: To help Scotty meet a German girl named Mieke (who he had mistaken to be his male pen pal "Mike" for years), to experience culture of the Old World, see the sights, explore the history, have some "crazy European sex," etc.
Why is it a trip worth taking? On most levels, there's really nothing in particular that would elevate EuroTrip above your average raunchy teen comedy. It just has this vibe of everyone involved knowing exactly what kind of a movie they were making and simply having a blast with it. So, while by no means masterpiece, its brisk pace and likable leads, along with with some inspired jokes make it an extremely easy to enjoy flick. Just kick back, take a tour through a hilariously over-the-top version of Europe, and maybe even get inspired to go on a spontaneous trip of your own.
7. Interstate 60: Episodes Of The Road (2002)
Starting point of the trip: St. Louis, Missouri
Planned destination: A non-existent place named Danver (not Denver), which is located just west down the road that doesn't exist (Interstate 60).
Your travel companions: Mostly just an aimless guy in his early 20s named Neal (James Marsden), who is in search for answers. However, do expect to run into some rather interesting additional companions during the trip.
Mode of transportation: A red BMW convertible.
Purpose of the trip: To deliver an unknown package to that non-existent place on that non-existent road (and find some answers while you're at it).
Why is it a trip worth taking? As this journey is best experienced while being as oblivious and unsure about it as the main character, I'm not going to say too much. Just know that it is written and directed by one of the brains behind Back to the Future films, Bob Gale. So, expect that same silly yet thoughtful vibe. Also, while we're on the subject of Back to the Future, don't be surprised if you run into some very familiar faces during the trip.
6. Tracks (2013)
Starting point of the trip: Alice Springs, Australia.
Planned destination: A hike through 2,700 kilometers (1,700 miles) of Australian deserts to the Indian Ocean.
Your travel companions: A real-life traveler named Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), her dog and four camels. Also, you're occasionally joined by a journalist documenting the entire thing (Adam Driver).
Mode of transportation: Walking, lots and lots of walking.
Purpose of the trip: The trip itself.
Why is it a trip worth taking? From a narrative point of view, Tracks really only has a single ambition: to tell a true story in as accurate and respectful way as possible. However, what makes it stand out as a cinematic road trip is that through excellent directing, breathtaking cinematography and Wasikowska's ability to carry the entire thing, what should have been a rather dull desert hike becomes a memorable and compelling experience.
5. Sideways (2004)
Starting point of the trip: San Diego, California
Planned destination: Santa Barbara County, California
Your travel companions: Two middle-aged best friends. A past-his-prime film star Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) and Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti), a depressed teacher and unsuccessful writer.
Mode of transportation: A red Saab convertible (I don't know what's up with road-movies and red convertibles).
Purpose of the trip: Taking a week-long road trip to Santa Barbara wine country to celebrate Jack's upcoming wedding and taste some wines. In other words, something of a cultured bachelor party for two 40-somethings.
Why is it a trip worth taking? What makes Sideways unique is that it's essentially an anti-road trip movie. You see, it has the most basic of premises imaginable for a road movie and starts out exactly like one. That is, until the story goes, well, sideways, and becomes a heartfelt character study of these two guys and their friendship. What we have here is a case of using the classic road comedy formula as a stepping stone onto something far more interesting and emotional.
4. Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007)
Starting point of the trip: London, England
Planned desitnation: Cannes, France.
Your travel companions: Last name Bean, first name unknown (Rowan Atkinson). Also, an aspiring French actress named Sabine (Emma de Caunes) and a Russian teenager Stepan (Maxim Baldry).
Mode of transportation: A train, a bike and, of course, that iconic Mini.
Purpose of the trip: Perhaps best summed up by this direct quote from the film:
Sabine: [after finding out Mr Bean is wanted by the whole of France] "Who are you? Where are you going?"
Mr. Bean: [takes out picture of Cannes and pokes it] "To the beach."
Why is it a trip worth taking: With Bean essentially being a silent-film character in a contemporary setting, putting him on a road trip — where he only comes into contact with people whose language he doesn't speak — is as brilliant as it is simple. Thing is, by creating such a fitting premise for the character, the rest just follows naturally and takes us on this effortlessly funny little trip complete with a likable cast and easy-going feel.
3. Kikujiro (1999)
Starting point of the trip: Tokyo, Japan
Planned destination: Toyohashi, Japan
Your travel companions: A small boy named Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) and slightly off-beat gambler Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano).
Mode of transportation: Whatever they can use, since they don't have any money (might be connected to Kikujiro's gambling problem).
Purpose of the trip: To find Masao's mother, who left him after he was born. As for Kikujiro, he is reluctantly put up to the task by his wife.
Why is it a trip worth taking? In many ways, Kikujiro is a tricky film to recommend. Granted, it can be funny at times, but chances are you're not going to be rolling on the floor with laughter. It's certainly emotional and thoughtful, but does tend to lack clear focus. However, as far as cinematic road trips go, it's just such a beautifully simple experience. From the excellent soundtrack to its two likable leads, here is a trip that is not going to excite you, but one you'll definitely remember with fondness.
2. Midnight Run (1988)
Starting point of the trip: New York
Planned destination: Los Angeles, California
Your travel companions: Bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) and accountant Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas (Charles Gordin), who has embezzled $15 million from a Chicago mob boss.
Mode of transportation: A plane, a train, and many car-related options that include: stealing, borrowing and hitchhiking (so, basically everything apart from actually buying or renting one).
Purpose of the trip: Walsh must bring Mardukas to LA within five days in exchange for $100,000, all the while dealing with various (and rather hostile) interested parties.
Why is it a trip worth taking? In a sense, Midnight Run is as by the numbers as buddy comedies get. However, it just does everything so well. The action is fun, pacing near perfect and casting sublime (with De Niro applying his usual method approach, having closely worked with real-life bounty hunters and police officers prior to filming). Add to that a great chemistry between the leads and you get a cinematic road trip that really has no clear weakness. Granted, you might feel that you've seen a film like that a million times, but chances are you've rarely seen it done better.
1. Little Miss Sunshine (2004)
Strating point of the trip: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Planned destination: Redondo Beach, California
Your travel companions:
- Sheryl (Toni Collette): An overworked mother of two
- Frank (Steve Carell): Sheryl's brother and a scholar, who is temporarily living with Sheryl's family after having attempted suicide (because his boyfriend left him for an academic rival).
- Richard (Greg Kinnear): Sheryl's husband, who is obsessed with the concept of winning and trying to build a career as a motivational speaker and life coach.
- Dwayne (Paul Dano): Sheryl's son from a previous marriage and a Nietzsche-reading teenager, who has taken a vow of silence until he can accomplish his dream of becoming a test pilot.
- Edwin (Alan Arkin): Richard's foulmouthed father, who has been recently evicted from a retirement home for snorting heroin.
- Olive (Abigail Breslin): The daughter of Richard and Sheryl and the youngest of the Hoover family, who is an aspiring beauty queen coached by Edwin.
Mode of transportation: A yellow Volkswagen "hippie van" that the family must push until it is moving at about 20 mph before it is put into gear, at which point they have to run up to the side door and jump in.
Purpose of the trip: To get Olive to the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant in two days.
Why is it a trip worth taking? I don't think it's a coincidence that one of most sharply written and best acted tragic-comedies ever is also a road movie. You see, the trip — in all of its genuine drama and hilarity — is essentially just a heartfelt exploration of this highly dysfunctional family. It is guaranteed to leave you with a warm feeling inside and a strengthened faith in humanity, as this truly original journey reaches its awesome conclusion.
To Sum Up
When thinking about these eight movies above, I feel a sense of fondness similar to some of my actual travel experiences. That, however, is the true magic of road movies. Not only do they inspire us to explore the world of cinema, but the world itself.
Speaking of great road movies, check out the teaser for another potentially excellent one in form of The Trip To Spain. A third part to the brilliant series of films, where we see actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon simply play themselves, visit local restaurants and provide some excellent dialogue while they're at it.
What are some of your favorite cinematic road trips? Share them in the comments below!