More than just an excuse to get from point A to point B, a road trip — in real life or in fiction — has the potential to be a uniquely rewarding undertaking. It’s an experience that stresses the process, whether that process is a few hours with a destination in mind or weeks and months spent wandering. Road trip movies literalize the journey that characters are on, often serving as an allegory for the entire narrative that reminds us the destination is rarely as important as the experience of getting there.
Road trip movies encompass a wide range of genres, from slapstick comedies to prestige dramas and everything in between. Whether you’re after a slice of life representation of a road trip or a thrilling adventure, there’s a film for you. Without further ado, here are 25 road trip movies that capture the spirit of the journey and that will inspire you to hit the open road — or at least hit play on another film on the list.
Almost Famous (2000)
Destination: The concert tour stops for Stillwater, the band that 15-year old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) has finagled his way into profiling for Rolling Stone.
Journey: Self-discovery and the usual markings of a coming of age tale, with an added emphasis on the healing power of music, the destructive force of fame, and, as Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane articulates, the hope of finding a home, and the feelings of security and love that comes with it, no matter where you are.
Death Proof (2007)
Destination: For Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), Kim (Tracie Thoms), and Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the plan is to reunite with their friend Zoe Bell, playing herself.
Journey: What starts as test driving a 1970 Dodge Challenger then turns into trying to survive an attack from the homicidal Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) in this modern exploitation thriller that, as any Tarantino fan with taste will tell you, is one of his best.
Destination: Salesman David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is driving through the Mojave desert for work.
Journey: In Steven Spielberg’s directorial feature debut, his everyman(n) protagonist is a mild-mannered husband and father who must unleash his survival instincts when he is targeted seemingly at random by a maniacal truck driver who tries to kill him. Come for the thrills, stay for the lesson that from the very beginning Spielberg had an incredible eye for tension and suspense.
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Destination: Aspen, Colorado, so that Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) can return a suitcase of money they didn’t realize was left at an airport not on accident, but on purpose as ransom money.
Journey: The expected hijinks and humor that, as dumb and childish as it might be, is still funnier than it has any right to be.
Easy Rider (1969)
Destination: Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Journey: An exploration of a changing American landscape as bikers Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) make their way cross-country with money earned smuggling cocaine. This iconic counterculture film addresses social tension, the generational divide, and all things associated with the hippie lifestyle.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Destination: From New York to Chicago and back again.
Journey: For folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), life is more of a series of events that happen to him rather than events that he takes an active role in. Llewyn is grieving after the suicide of his musical partner and his travels to Chicago and back to New York are part of his search for meaning and a way out of his mundane cyclical existence.
It Happened One Night (1934)
Destination: New York City, where heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) plans to reunite with a fiance her father disapproves of.
Journey: Ellie is joined by recently fired reporter Peter Warne (Clarke Gable) who seeks to win his way back into his newspaper by getting the scoop on her story, but as one would expect from this pre-code romantic comedy, their business deal relationship quickly blossoms into something not quite platonic.
Joy Ride (2001)
Destination: College student Lewis (Paul Walker) is driving home for the summer break when he has to bail his brother, Fuller (Steve Zahn), out of jail in Utah, and then carry on to Colorado to pick up childhood friend and fellow student Venna (Leelee Sobieski).
Journey: In this horror movie from director John Dahl from a script by J.J. Abrams and Clay Tarver that is an homage to Spielberg’s Duel, Lewis and Fuller pull a prank on a truck driver over a CB radio in Lewis’ car. It turns out they messed with the wrong truck driver as their road trip home quickly turns into a quest for survival when their prank target repeatedly tries to kill them for revenge.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Destination: The Little Miss Sunshine child beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California.
Journey: While on the way to a beauty pageant that Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) hopes to compete in, the idiosyncratic Hoover family must learn to put aside their differences and support each other as they each deal with personal struggles on their road trip from New Mexico to California.
Destination: A refuge for mutants in North Dakota named Eden.
Journey: An aging Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) sees the end in sight as mutants have become a dying breed in the year 2029. When he meets a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen) who possesses similar powers, he feels compelled to protect her and this revitalizes Logan’s ability to care for those around him in a way that he hasn’t experienced in a long time.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Destination: “The green place,” a utopia amidst the desert wasteland that has taken over the rest of the world.
Journey: In this action-packed adventure, loner Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is captured by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and when he escapes his instinct is to leave and make his way through the desert on his own. He is convinced by Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to accompany her and help protect the women she helped escape from Immortan Joe as they journey through the barren landscape trying to survive and eventually find somewhere livable.
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Destination: A Fourth of July stripping convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) will join his former co-workers for one last hurrah after getting out of the stripping business several years ago.
Journey: Free from the overly serious constraints of the first film, this sequel revels in positive representations of masculinity, the beauty of friendships, and the joy that comes from simply caring for one another. Told through a series of vignettes, Magic Mike XXL embodies the road trip spirit of camaraderie, rolling with the punches, and the power of the right song playing on the radio at the right time.
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Destination: Through the Pacific Northwest, to Idaho, and beyond in search of Mike’s (River Phoenix) mother.
Journey: In this reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” and “Henry V”, Mike is joined by best friend Scott (Keanu Reeves), a fellow homeless young man who gets by as a sex worker. As they try to track down Mike’s mom by visiting his other family members, the two men grow closer, but their relationship is complicated by Scott’s affluent family and their other relationships.
Paris, Texas (1984)
Destination: A reunion with the family that Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), an amnesiac who mysteriously wanders out of the desert, had forgotten.
Journey: Wim Wenders’ most acclaimed film addresses the modern family, masculinity, and the desire for connection and a shared sense of humanity in the face of loss and decay.
Destination: The titular stagecoach is carrying passengers from Arizona territory to Lordsburg, New Mexico in 1880.
Journey: Stagecoach follows nine strangers who begin the film on separate paths and become united during their shared experiences on the road. Despite having some heinous depictions of Native Americans, this western from director John Ford starring John Wayne in his breakout role is a masterclass in filmmaking.
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Destination: Whatever point John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrae), a director who seeks to represent the real world on screen, feels he has properly connected with middle America.
Journey: Going from a successful comedic filmmaker to a hobo with an aspiring actress (Veronica Lake) at his side, Sullivan believes the best thing he can do as a filmmaker is to capture the harsh reality that so many endure in order to make his masterpiece, but when he experiences trouble firsthand, he has to reconsider his aims.
The Cannonball Run (1981)
Destination: California, the location of the finish line for an anything goes, illegal, cross country race that begins in Connecticut.
Journey: The contestants in this race are determined to win by any means necessary in this action-comedy based on a real event that occurred several times in the 1970s, the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. The plot tends to fall by the wayside, but there’s plenty of fun to be had in watching a cast that includes Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Jackie Chan duke it out.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Destination: A trip through Mexico for Roy (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy) where they intend to go fishing.
Journey: Things are complicated with the two men pick up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a murderer and escaped convict. The fishing trip then turns into a journey of survival as the two men try to escape together.
Thelma & Louise (1991)
Destination: Mexico, to get away from the cops after Louise (Susan Sarandon) shoots a man who attempted to rape Thelma (Geena Davis).
Journey: This landmark feminist film explores the roles of women in society, female friendships, and self-reliance as the two women make their way through America while being chased by the police.
To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Destination: Los Angeles, so that Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes), Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze), and Chi-Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) can all attend a drag queen pageant.
Journey: Along the way, their car breaks down in a small town and while the drag queens do have to contend with homophobic and racist locals, they also begin to bond with many of the townsfolk, particularly Carol Ann (Stockard Channing), a housewife who befriends them.
True Romance (1993)
Destination: Los Angeles, where Clarence and Alabama Worley (Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette) flee to from Detroit after Clarence kills Alabama’s pimp.
Journey: Clarence and Alabama’s whirlwind romance and quick marriage would typically raise some red flags, but here it seems that these two were meant to find each other. Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay was famously darker than the final product from director Tony Scott, but this change works as the earnest commitment of their relationship balances the madness of the film. True Romance is certainly over the top, and it’s violent, but above all else, it’s so cool.
Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Destination: Through Mexico to a secluded beach on the coast.
Journey: Teenagers Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) are on a journey of self-discovery one summer when they are joined on a beach trip by Tenoch’s cousin’s wife Luisa (Maribel Verdú). As the three grow closer, they contend with jealousy and desire against a complex social and economic landscape in Mexico.
Destination: This reverse mystery begins with the death of a young woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) who had wandered the French countryside. The film then follows the story of how she ended up there.
Journey: Agnès Varda’s acclaimed drama is a rumination on modern existence and the misery of isolation. As one would expect from Varda’s humanistic approach to storytelling, it’s also a mindful consideration of those with no place to call home in the societies that surround them.
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Destination: To Lund from Stockholm so that an aging and irritable professor, Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström), can receive a doctorate from a university there.
Journey: Along the way, Isak reevaluates his life when a series of encounters with other people on the road trigger memories from his past. By interrogating his own life and his actions, Isak begins to open up to the world around him in an effort to find peace.
Destination: The Pacific Playland amusement park in Los Angeles, a place rumored to be free of zombies.
Journey: When the apocalypse hits and every day is a matter of life and death to the point that people have stopped referring to each other by name and instead go by the cities they’re from to prevent becoming attached to people, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) must learn that without human connection, he might survive, but he won’t really live.
If those 25 aren’t enough, here are 15 more that would have been on this list if it was longer: Badlands, Flirting with Disaster, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Bonnie and Clyde, Crossroads, Midnight Special, Harold & Kumar go to White Castle, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Into The Wild, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Interstate 60, The Blues Brothers, and Sideways.
Related Topics: Death Proof, George Miller, Inside Llewyn Davis, Logan, Mad Max Fury Road, magic mike xxl, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Update The Lists