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Top Ten ROAD TRIP MOVIES That You Absolutely Need To See or…See Again…Or Bitch About Because Your Favorite Isn’t Included On It

We are at that peculiar season, right before the heat of summer takes hold and makes the idea of traveling on a dusty black-top about as attractive as boiling your nether regions in hot oil, where every time you start up your car there’s just a little bit of rebelliousness that rises up from the depths of your soul and says “Buddy, let’s see where this tank of gas will take us”.

And sometimes that pull is a little too strong to be ignored.

For some of us the desire to hit the open road is one that we act upon as soon as we can wrangle a few days off of work, for others, we have to tamper down that West/East/North/Southward Ho mentality until the cash flow problem can be solved enough to warrant the gas prices. Either way, there’s nothing stopping us from enjoying a few hours of living vicariously through the cinematic versions of road trips that somehow become cathartic experiences that changes a person forever.


And after the break are my top ten choices.

(Note: My original list had about 50 movies on it and yes, films like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Vacation, Easy Rider, Cannonball Run, The Road Warrior, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Thelma and Louise and a myriad others graced that list (Hell, even Beavis and Butt-head Do America was on it) but the ones that I have ultimately chosen are those that perhaps got lost in the shuffle or are simply my favorites. Movie lists are subjective. Feel free to add your own in the comments).

10. Away We Go

A pregnant couple (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) hit the road in order to figure out where to raise their child and have a happy family while confronting the bullshit and baggage of their family and friends.

Written by the brilliant Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (2006), Zeitoun (2009), A Hologram for the King (2012)…I’m kind of a fan) and his wife Vendela Vida and directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Skyfall…again, a fan) this 2009 film is a cerebral fun-fest that makes the idea of sitting in the car with your spouse seem like a reasonable thing…and it doesn’t hurt that the supporting cast is one of the best: Jeff Daniels, Catherine O’Hara, Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Josh Hamilton, Melanie Lynskey, Chris Messina and Paul Schneider.

9. It Happened One Night

This 1934 Rom-Com Screwball comedy starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable (and directed by Frank Capra) pretty much set the precedent for all road trip movies involving a girl and guy and “True Fucking Love”. Colbert stars as a bitchy heiress who elopes with a guy her dad hates and takes to the open road to be with her man. Unfortunately she is recognized by an out-of-work reporter (Gable) who pretty much blackmails her with the now cliched “I won’t tell if you give me the exclusive story”. Of course we all know what happens then but who the hell cares.

As a side note: It Happened One Night was also the very first film to win Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay, a record that held until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest did it in 1975.

8. Something Wild

If you have ever asked yourself the question, “Was Melanie Griffith ever a good actress?” you only need to look at the 1986 quasi-road trip flick Something Wild to see that yes, she actually was (and then you can cry, because after this and Working Girl, it’s all disappointment city baby).

Griffith stars as Lulu, a crazy and wild chick who steals a car, basically kidnaps a conservative louse (Jeff Daniels, Arachnophobia, Newsroom), drives to her hometown, meets up with her lunatic husband (played by a deliciously young Ray Liotta, Goodfellas) and pretty much kicks ass.

Yep, it’s pretty damn great…and a shame.

7. Fandango

There are a lot of after-college road movies to choose from but the 1985 film Fandango is one of the more poignant.

The film stars Kevin Costner (Waterworld), Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club) and Sam Robards (Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle) as a group of frat guys graduating from the University of Texas in 1971 and, who upon this great achievement, are all facing the Draft for Vietnam. To counteract the juxtaposition of the horrors of war and the crazy fun of college, they decide to go on one last road trip to visit a notorious Roadhouse (not the one that Patrick Swayze worked at, sadly) and dig something up (and I’m not saying whether that is a person or a thing).

Shit happens and important stuff is learned and while that may seem cliched (which it is) the incredible performances of the cast make this movie worth watching again and again.

6. Two-Lane Blacktop

Here’s your WTF moment. In 1971 singer-songwriter James Taylor and The Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson were in a counter-culture road trip movie playing drifters who go from town to town drag racing locals in order to make money.

In another WTF moment, the movie was also the inspiration for the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (better known as THE ACTUAL CANNONBALL RUN) started by Brock Yates.

Oh wait, want another WHATTHEFUCKISHAPPENINGHERE moment? The film was selected by the United States National Film Registry for preservation in 2012 BECAUSE IT FRAKKING ROCKS HARDER THAN A JAMES TAYLOR TUNE!

Yeah, you’re going to want to see this movie.

5. True Romance/Badlands

Let’s Pretend They’re Watching Badlands Instead of A Sonny Chiba Triple-Feature

I’m putting the two of these movies together simply because they feel like a road trip crime movie double-feature that should be shown at a drive-in somewhere in middle America where girls get knocked-up in the back seat of a Chevette.

It also doesn’t hurt that Hans Zimmer’s score for True Romance plays homage to Badlands via the composition Gassenhauer which is shared by both films (see, I didn’t just pull this pairing out of my ass).

So, if you wanna see true love bullet-riddled and dripping with blood on the highway while an awesome selection of actors make your nether parts shrivel-up with fan girl/boy-itis, then you should definitely block off half-a-day to watch these two incredibly great movies…by the way, Badlands writer/director Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) just so happened to write the script WHILE ON A ROAD TRIP so, you know, it kinda fits.

4. About Schmidt

About Schmidt is probably one of the most depressing road trip movies ever made. Period. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If driving for hours on end makes you do anything, it’s take stock of your sad, pathetic life, and in this 2002 movie starring Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men) as a retired man who hits the road to see a daughter who hates his guts after his long-suffering wife kicks the bucket, that’s precisely what happens…in minute glorious detail.

Writer/director Alexander Payne has somewhat cornered the market on cerebral road movies (Sideways and Nebraska) but for me, not one of them is as wonderful as About Schmidt.

Sure, you may need to pop a few Xanax and wash it down with a NyQuil cocktail after watching it, but there is literally nothing more breathtaking than seeing Jack Nicholson weeping over a hand drawn picture at the very end of the movie…even if you did just accidentally attempt suicide with the Xanax/NyQuil thing.

3. The Sure Thing

In the annals of “True Love” road movies nothing has ever been able to replace The Sure Thing as the quintessential teens-learning-about-love-while-on-the-road flick…NOTHING.

The story goes as follows: Walter “Gib” Gibson (John Cusack, Say Anything) goes to a Northeast college where nothing is happening for him sexually. Gib’s BFF, Lance (Anthony Edwards, Top Gun) goes to school on the West Coast where he has a “Sure Thing” (Nicollette Sheridan, Desperate Housewives) lined up for Gib if he can get out to California for Xmas break. A snooty classmate named Allison (Daphne Zuniga, Spaceballs) who hates Gib, also needs to go out to Cali for break to see her b-friend and so the pair end up in a ride-share partnership that ends poorly when their bickering gets them kicked out of the car.

I think you know what will transpire between Gib and Allison.

If you dipped It Happened One Night into a vat of teen hormones, The Sure Thing is what you would get, and while the concept of “Dude Getting Laid by a Hottie” might seem trite and National Lampoon-ish, the movie has a real heart and soul to it that rises it up out of the traditional slop and makes it on par with anything that John Hughes had a hand in (it was directed by Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally) so you know that the romance part is going to be unbelievable).

A pre-Lloyd Dobler Cusack, made many a chick’s heart patter after this film.

2. The Straight Story

If you were to have told me back in 1999 that I would continuously weep at a David Lynch film not involving midgets or weirdness, I would have thought you mad. But then came The Straight Story, a movie about an old man named Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth, Anne of Green Gables) who decides to visit his sick and estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton, EVERY DAMN MOVIE EVER MADE) and make amends before he dies. Alvin can’t get a driver’s license due to health issues, so, instead of buying a plane/bus/train ticket like a normal person, he hitches a trailer to his 30 year-old lawnmower and drives it 240-miles (at 5mph) to see Lyle…and yep, I wept like a baby during the whole fucking movie.

To say that this is an epic road movie would be an understatement in all sense of the word. First David Lynch directed it…the movie is rated G…and it was released for Disney…a combination that in and of itself is truly epic. Second, it’s based on a true story, and third, Richard Farnsworth was terminally ill with bone cancer but took on the role out of his admiration for the real Alvin Straight. All the pain you see on film with Farnsworth/Straight is real pain…so real that Farnsworth took his life a year after the movie was made because of it.

Like I said, this movie is epic…watch it.

1. Lost In America

Everyone harbors that secret wish to drop out of society, sell everything they own and live out on the road like nomads, beholden to no one. For David and Linda Howard (Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty), 1980s yuppies, they do just that…only reality doesn’t turn out so well. In fact, realty clocks in pretty early for the Howards considering they fuck it up the first night out on the road when their nest egg gets gambled down to nothing (thanks, LINDA!) at the Desert Inn Casino in Las Vegas.
With nothing to their name except a gas-suck Winnebago, the two end up dropping back into society doing the most degrading jobs possible in Arizona before realizing that they should swallow their pride and be the yuppies they were always meant be.

Lost in America is hands down one of the greatest satires of consumerism ever made and as a road trip flick, I stand by its number one position on the list.

Super funny and a true reminder that road trips are never as good in real life as they are in our heads.

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