Article by Dan Heyman, photos courtesy of Columbia, eOne, Fox, MGM, and WB.
[Update: If you're practising social distancing and miss going out on road trips, we've resurfaced this list of our favourite road trip movies to help keep you entertained.]
Spring is here, meaning we’re almost right in the thick of road trip season. To help get you in the spirit (or maybe caution you on what not to do…), we compiled a list of some of the best road trip movies. These films feature revolutionary movements, off-the-wall adventures, and at least one Bill Murray appearance.
Dumb and Dumber
Yes, there’s a fair share of gross-out humour here, not to mention two leads that display less logic than the dumbest ape species, but this nevertheless remains a hilarious romp through the American heartland. Watch as Harry and Lloyd start out driving a dog-eared (both literally and figuratively) Ford Econoline van, then a moped, then a Lamborghini Diablo bought on “credit.” Oh, and how can one forget one of the more interesting cameos, with ex-NHLer Cam Neely appearing as tough-guy trucker (and Lloyd’s nemesis) Sea Bass.
Choppers, the American Dream, and the open road, all set against the background of the hippie counterculture movement – providing a glorious juxtaposition with the uber-right-wing south – and its eventual fall. What more can you ask for?
Little Miss Sunshine
Of course, Abigail Breslin as child supermodel Olive Hoover is a cute as a button; but for car geeks, the fact that her and her family cruise from coast to coast and pageant to pageant in a VW Type II – otherwise known as a VW “Bus” – is the real kicker. Indeed, the yellow bus is probably what shines brightest on the movie poster, and many of the issues the family encounter along the way were based on writer Michael Arndt’s childhood experiences with – you guessed it – a VW Bus.
Thelma & Louise
If Bullitt immortalized the Mustang, then surely, Thelma & Louise had to be responsible for imprinting the its precursor, the Thunderbird, on moviegoers and car people alike. That’s the car stuff. On the movie front, few scenes have been spoofed or honoured as much as the final scene from this movie – spoiler alert – as the ladies, clasped hands held high and pursued by a platoon of police cruisers, plunge into the Grand Canyon.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Yes, Chevy Chase is funny. Yes, anything with Eugene Levy – even in the most minor of appearances – is usually gold. And it’s Levy’s oh-so-stereotypical Ed the Car Salesman character that introduces one of the most famous movie cars of all time: a Ford Country Squire modified by custom car guru George Barris, otherwise known as the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. Finished in pea green with fake wood panelling, of course.
This one is pretty much a shoo-in; it stars a bunch of Beach Boys, a custom Chevrolet One-Fifty, a Pontiac GTO and any number of other hot rods and (barely) road-legal dragsters. I mean, come on! It’s two guys literally racing across the U.S. and challenging the locals for a living. It’s also a fantastic look at the Mother Road, US Route 66, that carved its way across the U.S. in the ’30s and into the minds of many enthusiasts since.
Like the VW Bus in Little Miss Sunshine, the car featured in this classic is also popular among car nerds, and that’s the Saab 900 Cabrio Turbo owned by English teacher Miles Raymond, played to hilarious, neurotic perfection by Paul Giamatti. When you think about it, it really is the perfect car to cruise the California wine region. A winner for Saab lovers, Giamatti lovers, and Merlot haters alike.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
After all that Neo-bashing, healing of Middle Earth residents, and blowing up the London Parliament, it’s easy to forget that one of Hugo Weaving’s biggest early roles was playing an Australian drag queen. In a comedy. In a comedy whose title doesn’t reflect any of the human characters in the movie, but a big Hino tour bus that started out painted typical silver and ends up a bright pink after venturing deep into the Australian Outback – and that was done in an effort to cover up the homophobic slurs written all over the bodywork, a nod to the film’s waving two fingers to homophobia.
The Motorcycle Diaries
Regardless of whether you lean towards or away from the communist ideal that Che Guevara fought so hard for, there’s no denying the spectacular scenery and sense of adventure the film portrays. The ground they cover across the South American continent would be a challenge for even the most battle-tested members of the Fellowship of the Ring. Even further, more than a journey through South America, it represents Che’s journey to the forefront of his movement.
We started this list with a comedy, so let’s end it with one too, shall we? In this ingenious take on the zombie genre, Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee and Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus make quite the shotgun-toting, garden-hoe-waving pair as they cut a swathe through the living dead from Austin, Texas, to Columbus, Ohio. Their chosen steed is not too shabby, either: a bulletproof Cadillac Escalade equipped with a bulldozer plow, perfect for clearing the road of zombie brains and guts. Not to mention the film features one of the most unexpected cameos you’ll likely ever see.