It’s not uncommon for road journeys to take unexpected twists and turns, whether it’s in the form of backseat arguments or roadside sights. If you’ve ever sat in a car with a group of people, you know how much fun it can be to travel in this way. Movies based on cars, buses, and motorcycles all have one thing in common: They all share a respect for self-discovery on the open road. Here are 28 of the greatest road-trip movies of all time, spanning from the 1930s to the present day.
In 2015, we first published this collection of images. New information has been added to it.
1. It Happened One Night (1934)
When it comes to road-trip flicks, It Happened One Night is among the best. Clark Cable and Claudette Colbert play a sardonic newspaper reporter and a spoilt socialite in the Frank Capra-directed picture, which features flirty banter and screwball antics on a cross-country road trip. While the film was the first to win the “Big 5” at the Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, best Actress, and best Screenplay), perhaps its most lasting legacy is the scene in which Colbert shows off her leg while hitchhiking, which would not be repeated until 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’S Nest.
2. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
The film’s slogan, “They’re young… they’re in love… and they kill people,” aptly sums up Bonnie and Clyde. One of the best road trip movies ever made, and an essential step forward for American filmmaking, is Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty’s starring role in Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic. Rarely have other films managed to achieve the same level of sultry sexual tension as this one did (that final showdown! ), even in mainstream Hollywood. —C.M.
3. Easy Rider (1969)
Jack Nicholson stars in one of his earliest roles in Easy Rider, a film that helped launch the New Hollywood style of filmmaking together with Bonnie and Clyde in the 1970s. On their way to New Orleans from the American Southwest, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper (who also directed) are two bikers who hunt for the “true America.” The film’s score is still one of the best ever, but the opening credits, which feature “Born to Be Wild,” may be the best part.
4. Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Easy Rider was Jack Nicholson’s breakout role, followed by Five Easy Pieces, in which he had his first starring role. Bobby Dupea (Nicholson) is an oil rig worker and a former piano prodigy who now lives in California with his waitress love, Rayette. It’s been a long time since Bobby and Rayette have seen each other, but the news of Bobby’s father’s deteriorating health has prompted them to travel to Washington state, where they encounter oddball hitchhikers, sleazy motels, and a poor diner waitress who receives one of the most famous verbal lashings of all time. An alone and lonely man who can’t accept his life as a blue-collar worker is depicted poignantly and subtly in the film. —C.M.
5. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
As depicted by Burt Reynolds in his mustachioed 1970s peak, there has never been a more appealing driver than Bo “Bandit” Darville. Two bootleggers, including Bandit, attempt to smuggle 400 cases of alcohol through the American South in Smokey and the Bandit. With Sally Field as a bride-to-be and a county sheriff on his tail, Bandit evades capture in his Pontiac Trans Am while wooing the bride-to-be. In today’s standards, it’s hardly the most politically correct film, but Burt Reynolds’s everlasting cool in this movie is totally timeless.
6. The Muppet Movie (1979)
Music, mayhem, and the Muppets make a great road trip movie. Original music, several Muppet companions, and a restaurant owner with a growing frog leg business are all part of Kermit the Frog’s journey to Hollywood in The Muppet Movie. Those who enjoy visual humor, puns, and celebrity cameos will find this flick to their liking. —C.M.
7. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
In the Griswold family’s entrance to the world, Clark Griswold was accident-prone father-inchief (Chevy Chase). The Griswolds’ road trip to Walley World, a fictional amusement park, takes them via Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, both of which are real-life national parks. You can’t go wrong with “Holiday Road” if you throw in Christie Brinkley’s memorable cameo and the song’s memorable lyrics. What’s the name of this guy?
8. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
As Paul Reubens’ Pee-Wee Herman, Tim Burton’s first film as a filmmaker gave the public its first glimpse of the joyous man-child. On his epic journey across America in search of his long-lost red bicycle, the title character of Big Adventure stops in at the Alamo and meets a colorful ensemble of people (including the aforementioned Large Marge). —C.M.
9. The Sure Thing (1985)
Is there a 1980s movie with John Cusack in it? Please, yes. While driving from New York to California, Cusack’s Walter Gibson is told by his friend that he’ll meet a gorgeous woman—whom his friend assures him is a “sure thing.” Ride share boards (do you remember those?), hitchhiking, and embarrassing situations in very tight quarters are all part of the road trip. It only goes to show that even in the constraints of a car, passion can blossom.
10. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
Planes, a Thanksgiving-themed comedy, makes the most of the hectic travel days running up to the holiday. Steve Martin makes a fool of himself as Neal Page, a Thanksgiving traveler from New York to Chicago who encounters a sequence of travel disasters. Del Griffith, a salesperson played by John Candy, is Page’s companion on the flight home when Page’s flight is canceled due to bad weather. It’s impossible to dispute the actors’ chemistry… Especially when they’re sharing a bed on the road.
11. Thelma & Louise (1991)
After 129 minutes of film, best friends Geena Davis (Thelma) and Susan Sarandon (Louise) had found a way to get away from their boring existence in Arkansas. After a tumultuous encounter at a roadhouse bar, the two set out for Mexico in a 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible, dodging police in the states of California, Colorado, and Utah while picking up a teenage Brad Pitt along the way. For its cultural, historical, and aesthetic value in 2016, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress. —Katherine LaGrave
12. Dumb and Dumber (1994)
It’s a comedy by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels about two buddies who give up their plans to operate a worm pet store in their hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, in favor of helping someone find their lost briefcase all the way across the country in Colorado. Finally, the naive duo arrives in Aspen, but not before driving about a third of the way across the country in the incorrect direction. Kidnapping, death by accident, highway tag games, and an unpleasant encounter with a traffic cop are just some of the shenanigans that ensue. —C.M.
13. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Two drag queens (Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp) and a trans lady (Hugo Weaving, who plays Priscilla) take a tour bus across Australia’s Outback. An austere terrain in Australia provided the ideal setting for our gang’s outlandish fashion sense and their deep discussions about life, love, and identity. In addition to being an entertaining film, Priscilla paved the way for other countries to discover Australian cinema with its positive portrayal of LGBT characters. In the words of Lilit Marcus,
14. Tommy Boy (1995)
Tommy Boy is the best example of Chris Farley and David Spade’s comedy partnership from the 1990s. When Farley’s father dies and his family’s auto-parts business is in jeopardy, he must step in to salvage it. He embarks on a cross-country road trip with Richard (Spade), his father’s prissy and unpleasant employee, in an effort to move half a million pads. Along the trip, they encountered a number of amusing roadblocks, including deer, chicken wings, Richard’s slowly deteriorating automobile, and the wonderfully evil Rob Lowe.
15. The Daytrippers (1996)
In spite of the little distance covered by the road trip, this picture is nevertheless a worthy addition to the list due to the presence of Hope Davis, Parker Posey, and Liev Schreiber. To find out whether her husband is having an affair, Davis gathers her family and embarks on a journey to confront him. It’s a terrific depiction of the complexity of family life, and it’s hysterical.
16. Smoke Signals (1998)
In Smoke Signals, based on a short tale by Sherman Alexie, the protagonists are best defined as “frenemies,” rather than “friends.” On a Native American reservation in Idaho, two young men, Thomas and Victor, set out to reclaim the remains of Victor’s father. They may speak, spar, and film Dances With Wolves for the thousandth time (that one’s especially for Thomas) on the long, lonely stretches of road as they try to figure out what it means to be Native American in America. Even if they don’t become friends in the end, they’ll have a deeper understanding of one another than most people could. —L.M.