Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Road Trip Movies

One of the great advantages that movies have over, for example, stage plays is the ability to go places. As a plot device, the road trip has fueled countless films from at least as far back as ‘It Happened One Night‘ to this very weekend’s remake of ‘Vacation’. Here are some of our other favorites.

Shannon Nutt

Although he’s best remembered for movies like ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, my favorite John Hughes movie (and, in fact, my all-time favorite comedy) will always be ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles‘ starring Steve Martin and the late, great John Candy. Martin plays ad executive Neal Page to Candy’s shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith as the two men find themselves on a cross-country trek to Chicago after their plane from New York gets diverted to Kansas during a snow storm. As you can guess from the title, the men use every form of transportation in an effort to get back home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. The comedy comes from the fact that Neal wants nothing to do with Del, whom he sees as an annoying blabbermouth with a knack for disaster. Of course, this being a Hughes movie, there’s a heartwarming ending, started when Neal discovers a truth that Del has been hiding from him throughout their voyage.

It’s a shame that ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ rarely gets a mention among the great comedy classics. It’s a wonderful little film, with two of our best comedic actors (one of them, sadly, who left us far too soon), and it’s both incredibly funny and incredibly moving throughout. It proved that John Hughes (who also left us far too soon) could write for adults just as strongly as he could write for teens and – for me, at least – it will always be the movie I think of first when anyone mentions either the names of Hughes or Candy.

Luke Hickman

Not having been around for the truly golden years of ‘Saturday Night Live’, the seasons of the show from the late 1980s and early-to-mid ’90s are the ones that hold a nostalgic place in my heart. Those were the years that my brothers and I would stay up late and indulge – although I’m certain that a large portion of the jokes went right over my head. Many of the cast members from that era were fantastic, including the Chris Farley/David Spade duo. Their first movie together, ‘Tommy Boy‘, is one of the rare movies starring ‘SNL’ folks that’s actually hilarious and worthwhile. Having watched it recently, I can vouch for it holding up quite well over time. As far as road trip movies go, let me assure you that it’s one of the best. You can get a hell of a good look at a T-Bone steak by sticking your head up a bull’s ass, but wouldn’t you rather take the butcher’s word for it?

Chris Chiarella (Sound & Vision)

My favorite road trip movie is Martin Brest’s unappreciated little 1988 gem ‘Midnight Run‘. Working from a witty script by George Gallo, Robert De Niro stars as a bounty hunter who has to drag Mob turncoat Charles Grodin from New York City to Los Angeles by various modes of transportation, lest his bail be forfeited. Their interplay is priceless, starting as clear enemies but eventually becoming buddies of a sort, with some emotional revelations and more than a couple of clever twists before L.A. Writing about it just now makes me wants to go back and watch this terrific action-comedy again.

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

I’d say my favorite road trip movie is ‘The Sure Thing‘. Walter “Gib” Gibson (John Cusack) hits the road on a cross-country tour with the promise of guaranteed sex with a hot coed (Nicollette Sheridan). Through a twist of fate, uptight classmate Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga) is also travelling west to visit her fiancé and ends up hitching a ride with the same folks as Gib. As you might guess, the odd couple end up getting along better than they would have expected during their time together, yet they still part ways at the end of the trip to meet with their respective flames. But can they still go through with it? Can Gib sleep with someone he doesn’t love, or really even know? Can Alison spend the rest of her life with a boring old fuddy-duddy who gets excited about the properties of flannel sheets and has an impressive collection of herbal teas? You’ll have to watch it to find out. Classic lines like, “Spontaneity has its time and its place” and “Who invented liquid soap and why?” came from this film.

I also really enjoyed ‘Fanboys‘. Who knew there was a movie that combined ‘Star Wars’ and Rush – two of my favorite things? ‘Fanboys’ is about a group of childhood friends (all ‘Star Wars’ fans) who have drifted out of touch. One is diagnosed with cancer and his buddies decide the best thing to do in order to cheer him up is take a road trip to Skywalker Ranch to sneak in and see the highly anticipated ‘Star Wars: Episode I’ before its theatrical release. As with most road trip movies, it’s more about the journey than the destination, but when they do finally reach their goal, the hijinks that ensue are suitably hilarious. It’s a must-see for ‘Star Wars’ fans or really anyone who likes offbeat movies.

Josh Zyber

I have a love/hate relationship with director David O. Russell – as in, I hate most of his recent movies but love his early ones. This puts me at odds with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which didn’t discover Russell until his ‘Rocky’ clone ‘The Fighter’ (which I despise, personally) and has continually rewarded him with undeserved Oscar nominations ever since.

But man, his early work still shines like a diamond. Just his second feature film, Russell’s ‘Flirting with Disaster‘ is a raucously entertaining road trip comedy in which neurotic recent father Ben Stiller travels across the country to find the birth parents who gave him up for adoption, hoping to learn something insightful about his roots that will allow him to be a decent parent. The movie has a fantastic cast, including Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda and Mary Tyler Moore. Richard Jenkins is especially hilarious as an uptight ATF agent whose perfectly-ordered life gets upended by his exposure to Stiller’s crazy clan. The movie is funny and smart and actually has some interesting things to say about personal identity and family relationships. Somehow, it didn’t catch on much with audiences at the time, but everybody I’ve ever shown it to has loved it.

Tell us about your favorite road trip movies in the Comments.

29 comments

  1. Road Trip
    Road Games
    Road To Perdition
    It looks like I was really lazy and just went to “road” in my collection, but I genuinely enjoy all three of these and they all belong to a different genre.

    • C.C.

      One thing that has always bugged me – when Planes Trains and Automobiles plays on cable there is extra footage. (One scene that sticks out is the first time they meet in the airport terminal).
      Did any of the DVDs or Blu-ray’s have the extra footage that they use on television and cable airings?

      • There’s one deleted scene (from the airplane trip) on the Blu-ray, but nothing else. I would love to see another release that has both the theatrical cut and the TV cut. There’s a hotel scene with pizza that isn’t in the theatrical cut either, although the theatrical cut you hear Steve Martin saying “you ordered out for pizza last night…”

  2. A lot of good movies have already been mentioned. I guess I would add Sullivan’s Travels which combined some great comedy with some real depth in its portrayal of the depression era United States.

  3. EM

    Having pored over my collection, I’m thinking either The Wizard of Oz or Death Race 2000. I’m not sure either really counts, but they could make for a swell double feature.

    • William Henley

      I was about to say I hate the Road Trip genera, but if The Wizard of Oz qualifies, I am adding The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Although in Lord of the Rings, they were supposed to stay OFF the road, so it may not qualify as a Road Trip.

  4. Bill

    The ultimate road trip movie took you around the planet by air, land, sea and rail. I refer of course to Michael Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days.

  5. C.C.

    Two of the funniest road trips were BOTTLE ROCKET and Albert Brook’s LOST IN AMERICA.
    WIZARD OF OZ? That is hilarious! It quite litererally IS a road trip!! Nice one!

  6. C.C.

    Also THELMA & LOUISE, KALIFORNIA, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, and Jim Jarmusch’s NIGHT ON EARTH and STRANGER THAN PARADISE.

  7. Scott Hunvald

    I haven’t seen this one in a long time but how about John Fords The Grapes of Wrath. A road trip to California through one of the worst periods in American history, the Great Depression.

    • Bill

      Good choice. It was clearly shot on location and on the road and gives you a wonderful travelogue like view of the Midwestern and Western US in the 30’s. As a non-American it gave me an idea when I saw this movie in my teens (1960’s) of what that part of the United States looks/looked like.

  8. Thank you, Chris C. for bringing up Midnight Run. Whenever I mention it to my friends they look at me like I’m crazy. I’d like to add the Steve Coogan-Rob Brydon Trip movies to the mix. Technically made for TV in the UK, the versions cut to feature-length are great. Also, Nintendo-sponsored The Wizard.

  9. Jakdonark

    As a straight up road movie, Planes Trains & Automobiles would be my favorite. Smokey and the Bandit is one of my all time favorite movies, but I never really thought of it as a road movie, but it would definitely classify. wizard of Oz as well.

    Pretty much every Farrelly brothers film is a road movie, and Dumb and Dumber is my favorite of that bunch.

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