Pack the Bags, It’s Time for a Road Trip (The Road Trip in Movies)

The open road awaits for travelers

Pack your bags, gas up the car. It’s time to head out on the open road for adventure and fun. It’s time for the road trip.

Winter seemed to have skipped over most of the United States this year. The first day of spring has come and gone and summer isn’t too far off. Pretty soon family and friends will be packing up their cars, trucks, and vans to head out on the open road. It’s time for a road trip! But first, let’s take a look at some the best road trip movies ever made.  

On the Road

Sal and Dean make plans for the road trip

On the Road is about the travels of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty,the people they meet along the way, and the self-discovery that occurred during their time on the road. The novel defined a generation and gave birth to the hippy, peace movement of the 60’s.

Walter Salles captured the feel and spirit of the book. The cast, including Sam Riley as Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty, gave one of the best performances of 2012. The movie may not start another “Make Love Not War” movement, but it deserves people’s attention. If you like the book, watch the movie. You’ll be glad you did.

Dancing with frineds


National Lampoon’s Vacation/Vacation

Griswolds waving goodbye ready to get on the road

There’s no time honored rite of passage more sacred than the family road trip. Oh, yes, the family road trip. It’s chaotic, it’s stressful, and it can end family bliss in a heartbeat. Now go on a road trip with the Griswolds. Compared to the Griswolds your family road trips were a walk in the park.

The sacred entrance to Walley World

National Lampoon’s Vacation is basically one accident after another, caused by Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), until the Griswold family arrives at closed Walley World. It was funny when it premiered in 1983 and it has held up for more than thirty years. National Lampoon’s Vacation spawned four more sequels, including one of the best Christmas movies ever made.

The Griswold Family portrait

Whatever you do don’t call Vacation a remake or a reboot of National Lampoon’s Vacation. If anything Vaction is another sequel in the Vacation franchise. Ed Helms’s Rusty Griswold  (Helms is the sixth actor to play Rusty Griswold) makes the singularly bad decision to take his family on a road trip to Wally World. Just like his father before him, Rusty manages to get his family into one mess after another.

Vacation may not be as funny as it’s predecessor, but the whole messed up family trip dynamic is present. Plus, it’s Chris Hemsworth funniest role to date.

The Griswolds on the open road

The Hitcher

Poor Jim. He was only taking a road trip from Chicago to California when he picked up John Ryder (The metaphor should not be lost anyone). “My mom told me never to do this,” Jim said. And mom was right. 

Halsey picks up Ryder while on a road trip

Rutger Hauer was brilliant as a replicant in Bladerunner. In The Hitcher, he’s absolutely menacing as a hitchhiker hellbent on terrorizing Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell). Why has he decided to make Jim the object of his obsession? Perhaps, John wants to die or he’s trying to make a man out of Jim. Maybe it’s because John is crazy and Jim is the only the person to escape him. Either way, Jim’s road trip quickly becomes a road trip to hell.

The Hitcher should be shown in every driver’s education class on the dangers of picking up hitchhikers.

Ryder and Halsey at adiner

Easy Rider

Fonda and Hopper on the road

After selling some drugs, Wyatt, aka Captain America (No, not Chris Evans), and his friend Billy set out on a cross country road trip. Along the way they meet fellow hippies, hookers, and folks that don’t particularly like hippies.

Easy Rider is a product of the 60’s. There are more close up shots of the sun, boxes, and nonsense than there are actually scenes with actors. Talking scenes are broken up with long scenes of Wyatt and Billy riding down streets, highways, and back roads accompanied by a greatest hits of the 60’s soundtrack.

Fonda, Nicholson, and Hopper being bailed out of jail Watch Easy Rider for the historically value and for one of Jack Nicholson’s earliest roles.  

Into the Wild

Chris McCandless walking away from Bus 142

In real life, Chris McCandless packed up his things, didn’t say goodbye to his family, and set out on a one way road trip. What he was looking for on the road is up for debate. Author Jon Krakauer leaves it up to the reader to decide. Director Sean Penn would have viewers believe McCandless was in search for something he was missing at home and escape soceity.

We may never know exactly what happened at the end of McCandless’s life, but Into the Wild is a beautiful movie covering his journey from Georgia to Alaska. It’s become a cliche to say a movie will stick with you after the credits have ended. In the case of Into the Wild it’s the truth.

Walking in the camp

Road Trip

Walking away from an exploding car

What better reason do you need for jumping in a car and heading out on the open road than to intercept a sex tape you accidentally mailed your girlfriend, especially when the girl on the tape isn’t your girlfriend? That’s the premise behind 2000’s Road Trip.

Except the road trip should have never happened. Josh (Breckin Meyer, Franklin and Bash) made an innocent videotape for his girlfriend in Austin, sealed it up (There’s even a close up of Josh putting stamps on the envelope) and then asked his friend Rubin to drop it in the mail. Later that night, Josh hooks up with Beth who videotapes the two of them having sex. Somehow, through the magic of Hollywood, the sex tape found its way into the envelope that had already been mailed and was on its way to Austin, TX.

Opening scene to Josh and Beth's sex tape

Admittedly, Road Trip was riding the pop-culture coattails of American Pie. Trip even starred Seann William Scott who was basically reprising his role from Pie. It’s juvenile humor (Showing off a large size pair of girl’s panties, Scott being “milked” by a nurse), but Trip is also a fun movie  (DJ Qualls drunk dancing on stage, Andy Dick’s hotel clerk). It’s a turn off your brain and enjoy the ride sort of movie.

Unfortunately, we were bombarded with Tom Green who was still living his fifteen minutes of fame. Maybe there’s a hidden director’s cut minus all the unnecessary Green scenes.

Riding in a bus to Austin, TX

The Motorcycle Diaries

Che driving on a motorcycle

Not all road trip movies have to be based in the United States. Walter Salles’s semi-biographical story of Che Guevara as a young man covers his road trip from Buenos Aires across South America. Salles movie paints young Guevara as a man transformed by the road trip and by the end of the movie it’s quite apparent where Guevara’s future lies.

Whether you view Guevara has a hero, a revolutionary, or a murderer, you will be moved by the movie and by the end of The Motorcycle Diaries you will feel like you were on the motorcycle next to Guevara for the entire trip.

Che playing soccer

Dirty Grandpa

De Niro and Ephron drive through Florida

Robert De Niro has starred in some of the greatest movies in cinematic history (The Godfather II, Heat, Goodfellas). Dirty Grandpa, however, is not one of those movies.

It’s basically the college road trip movie, but the college kid providing the gross humor, crude jokes, and the life changing lesson has been replaced with a grandfather. The humor is the basic gross out tricks we’ve seen in countless American Pie knock offs and Seth Rogen movies. Except, this gross out humor is provided by De Niro. It’s not any funnier than those other movies, but who wouldn’t want to see De Niro simulating masturbation?

De Niro smoking out with Plaza

The real winner in Dirty Grandpa is Aubrey Plaza (Legion) who takes sexy, nasty to a whole new level.


four for the road

Bookstores have shelves upon shelves dedicated to the true crime genre. From murder for hire to disgruntled spouses there’s a true crime book dedicated to the subject. You’ll probably find more books on serial killers than any other subject. Where do these true crime authors get their ideas?

If you’re Brian Kessler (David Duchovny, X-FIles) and Carrie Laughlin (Michelle Forbes, Battlestar Galactica) you pack your car and head out on the road with a plan to visit famous kill and dump sites. You also advertise a ride share to help cover the expenses of your road trip. Unfortunately, the wanna-be authors are on the road with a serial killer (Irony at its worst).

Brad Pitt planning something bad.

Kalifornia is a cautionary tale more important today in the day of Uber and Lyft than when it was originally released. It’s also Brad Pitt’s creepiest role


Thelma and Louise

Thelma and Louise on the road

Ridley Scott is known for science fiction movies like Bladerunner, Alien, and Prometheus. He’s done some epic, big budget movies like Gladiator and Exodus: Gods and Kings. However,  it’s the small character driven movies where Scott made his director bones and continues to shine as one of the best directors in modern cinema. Thelma and Louise is one such Scott movie that ranks up there as one of his best movies.

Thelma and Louise owes just as much, if not more, to Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as it does to Scott. Unfortunately, 1992 was the same year Silence of the Lamps cleaned up at the Oscars. However, Sarandon and Davis’s travels across the American Mid-West and a literal cliff hanger of ending drove Thelma and Louise to culture phenomenon status and sparked a renewed conversation of women’s rights.

Car driving over the cliff