Total Recall

Total Recall: Road Trip Movies

With Due Date hitting theaters, we run down some of the best in road trip cinema.

by | November 5, 2010 | Comments

Due Date

This weekend, Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis have a Due Date with a cross-country journey full of comedic screaming, vehicular damage, and at least one quote from a classic Ice Cube hit. It has all the makings of a classic wacky road trip comedy, in other words, which got us to thinking about some of the many other entries in the genre — and before we knew it, we had this week’s super-sized Total Recall, containing 19 of the wackiest, trippiest cinematic journeys of them all. It’s by no means definitive, but with so many to choose from, some were bound to be left out. So which are your favorites? Which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments!


The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The Journey: In a journey unlike any other road trip movie you’ve ever seen (or heck, any other movie, period), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert follows the efforts of a trio of drag queens (very memorably played by Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Terence Stamp) who take a tour bus (nicknamed “Priscilla”) across the Australian Outback.

The Roadblocks: The trio’s flamboyance is met with confusion (and in some cases, anger and/or violence) in some of the less densely populated pockets of the Outback, but their trip isn’t seriously derailed until Priscilla gives up the ghost in the middle of the desert. What happens next — and what’s revealed about the real reasons for the trip — have a major impact on the rest of the film.

Notes from the Road: “Both an unalloyed delight and a surprisingly human, moving film.” –Ken Hanke, Asheville Mountain Xpress


Around the World in 80 Days

The Journey: Dashing, oddly named 19th-century adventurer Phileas Fogg (David Niven) bets £20,000 that he can make the titular journey, then takes to the sky in a hot air balloon with his trusty manservant (Mario “Cantinflas” Moreno).

The Roadblocks: Aside from the usual stuff you’d expect to encounter when skipping around the globe in a hot air balloon — bullfights, Indian widows who look like Shirley MacLaine — Fogg is also being pursued by a Scotland Yard detective (Robert Newton) who suspects him of stealing from the Bank of England.

Notes from the Road: “An amusing trip around the world in a style befitting Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days lives up to its hype as a massive, glossy epic.” –Wesley Lovell, Oscar Guy


The Blues Brothers

The Journey: A mission from God, of course — and a pretty righteous one at that: Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) and his recently paroled brother, “Joliet” Jake (John Belushi) set out to reassemble one of the mightiest blues bands ever to get their mojo working, all in the name of raising $5,000 to save the orphanage where they were raised.

The Roadblocks: Unfortunately, the brothers embark on their journey with a suspended license, and they aren’t about to slow down for a little inconvenience like the police (or mall pedestrians). Meanwhile, one of Jake’s spurned girlfriends (a bazooka-toting Carrie Fisher) is hot on their tail, and has no intention of letting the Blues Brothers reunite — or, for that matter, letting Jake live. Confined to the highways and byways of Illinois, The Blues Brothers doesn’t cover as much ground as most road movies, but it’s a high-speed trip — and it culminates in one of the most righteous car crashes ever filmed.

Notes from the Road: “A damn fine mess of a movie.” –Richard Luck, Film4



The Journey: A Kazakh celebrity (Sacha Baron Cohen) travels to the United States to make a documentary for the folks back home; soon after arriving, he becomes captivated by the sight of Pamela Anderson and heads across the country to make her his wife. Sexytime! Highfives!

The Roadblocks: Borat is essentially his own roadblock — if he isn’t shocking and/or offending middle Americans with his witless comments about women and minorities, he’s picking an epic, distressingly naked fight with his best friend and producer (Ken Davitian). It will not surprise you to learn that things don’t go according to plan.

Notes from the Road: “Although I knew it was dishonest, cynical, and the ultimate in cheap-shot humor, I laughed more at Borat than at any other film this year. So I guess the joke is on me.” –Peter Keough, Boston Phoenix



The Cannonball Run

The Journey: Starring just about every movie star on the planet in 1981, Cannonball Run used the real-life Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash as the inspiration for a celebrity-stuffed extravaganza about an illegal cross-country car race whose entrants include a pair of buxom beauties (Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau), a computer-lovin’ Mitsubishi duo (Jackie Chan and Michael Hui), fake priests (Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.), an addle-brained heir who thinks he’s Roger Moore (Roger Moore) — and, of course, a couple of ambulance-driving pals played by Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise.

The Roadblocks: Given that the entire cast is trying to prevent everyone else from reaching the finish line first (or at all), Cannonball Run is basically 95 minutes of roadblocks, from impish pranks (Davis slashes the ambulance’s tires; Reynolds reports the priests as serial flashers) to all-out war with a biker gang (led by Peter Fonda, natch). But don’t worry — most of the cast had enough fun to return for 1984’s Cannonball Run II.

Notes from the Road: “Somehow it’s all totally watchable.” –Oz,


Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

The Journey: There are these two dudes, you see, and their names are Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn). And they get hungry, and they decide they’d like to satisfy that hunger with some burgers. From White Castle.

The Roadblocks: What should have been a 10-minute trip becomes an epic odyssey in which our heroes battle the cops, a flaky dealer, a raccoon, car problems, and a high-as-a-kite Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris) — all in time to (spoiler alert!) satisfy their White Castle craving and set up a sequel.

Notes from the Road: “A deserving, albeit minor classic, if only for being so bold as to describe Katie Holmes’ breasts as being ‘the exact opposite’ of the Holocaust.” –Rob Humanick, Projection Booth


It Happened One Night

The Journey: If you’ve ever watched a romantic comedy where the main characters start off hating each other, only to slowly realize that they’re falling in love, you’ve seen the far-reaching effects of the hugely influential It Happened One Night, in which Frank Capra brings his lightest touch to the story of an impetuous heiress (Claudette Colbert) whose botched wedding sends her on the road with a down-on-his-luck reporter (Clark Gable).

The Roadblocks: Screenwriter Robert Riskin pulled out all the stops for Colbert and Gable’s journey, including a series of screwball misunderstandings, the most famous hitchhiking scene in movie history, and an added dash of last-minute wedding excitement in the final act. If its ingredients all seem overly familiar now, it’s because they worked so brilliantly here.

Notes from the Road:It Happened One Night is a true classic in every sense of the word, one that withstands the test of time and indeed defies it completely.” –Scott Nash, Three Movie Buffs


Little Miss Sunshine

The Journey: They’re as hilariously dysfunctional as any family in an American indie film, but the say this much for the Hoovers of Albuquerque: When young Olive (Abigail Breslin) finds out she’s a late qualifier for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in Los Angeles, parents Sheryl (Toni Collette) and Richard (Greg Kinnear) pack the whole gang in their aging VW Microbus and head west.

The Roadblocks: The Hoovers are on a tight 48-hour timetable, for starters; making matters more difficult is their lack of funds, as well as the gloomy presence of Sheryl’s brother (Steve Carell), who recently tried to commit suicide, and Richard’s father (Alan Arkin), whose heroin habit just got him kicked out of a retirement home. And then there’s the matter of that ancient yellow Microbus…

Notes from the Road: “This inspirational, hilariously sad dysfunctional-family-road-trip dramedy offers absolutely everything — except pretension.” –Brian Marder,


Lost in America

The Journey: Plenty of the movies on this list settle for wacky (and/or ribald), but Albert Brooks’ Lost in America has more on its mind: the bumpy journey of a successful married couple (played by Brooks and Julie Hagerty) who decide to imitate Easy Rider by dropping out and hitting the open road.

The Roadblocks: Quick tip for itinerant travelers: it’s probably best to avoid casinos — and if you must gamble, try not to bet everything you have, especially if you’re playing roulette. Broke and homeless, our heroes end up settling down in a small Arizona town, where he gets work as a crossing guard and she joins the paper-hatted crew at the local Wienerschnitzel — at which point their old, tied down lifestyle starts to look pretty attractive again.

Notes from the Road: “If Mr. Brooks isn’t often laugh-out-loud funny, that’s largely because so much of what he has to say is true.” –Janet Maslin, New York Times


Midnight Run

The Journey: They were far from the first mismatched couple to find adventure on the road, but bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) and Mafia-crossing accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) are among the most entertaining to watch. Promised $100,000 and given a strict deadline to get there, Walsh has to get Mardukas from New York to Los Angeles so he can be returned to police custody — but the mobster Mardukas swindled (Dennis Farina) has other ideas.

The Roadblocks: Once Mardukas loudly feigns fear of flying and gets them kicked off their flight to L.A., he and Walsh are forced to embark on a hellish cross-country journey that finds them dodging interference from the mob, a competing bounty hunter (John Ashton), and their own loathing for one another. A sequel is reportedly in the works; here’s hoping the decades in between haven’t softened their mutual disdain/begrudging respect.

Notes from the Road: “When it comes to odd-couple action comedies, this is pretty much the epitome of how to do it.” –Luke Y. Thompson, New Times


The Muppet Movie

The Journey: After being discovered by an agent (Dom DeLuise) while singing “The Rainbow Connection” in his Florida swamp, Kermit the Frog decides to head for Hollywood — and along the way, he meets all the old-school Muppets we know and love.

The Roadblocks: En route to his destination, Kermit attracts the attention of Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) and his mealy-mouthed sidekick Max (Austin Pendleton), whose frog legs restaurant franchise needs a new spokesman — and who doesn’t take kindly to being spurned by a banjo-playing frog.

Notes from the Road: “Still one of many great reasons to be a movie buff.” –Rory L. Aronsky, Film Threat


National Lampoon’s Vacation

The Journey: Just like in real life, any time a fictional character announces “we’re going to spend some time as a family” to his or her wife and kids, you know trouble lurks just around the corner, and National Lampoon’s Vacation is a perfect example. Desperate to take an old-fashioned family vacation, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) plans a trip from Chicago to L.A., where they can enjoy Walley World, a.k.a. “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park.”

The Roadblocks: Things go wrong early and often, from the eight-headlighted lemon Clark buys from an unscrupulous car salesman (Eugene Levy) to an ill-advised pit stop at the depressing Kansas homestead of Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his off-putting clan. It doesn’t help that beneath Clark’s family values exterior lurks the heart of a drooling lech; his panting pursuit of an unnamed beauty (Christie Brinkley) causes almost as many problems as his refusal to ask for directions.

Notes from the Road: “Constantly hilarious, with a comic supporting cast to die for.” –Jeffrey M. Anderson, San Francisco Examiner


Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

The Journey: After refusing to sell his beloved bike to his neighbor Francis (Mark Holton), Pee-Wee (Paul Reubens) discovers that it’s been mysteriously stolen — and sets off on a long, perilous journey after receiving a tip that it’s being held in the basement of the Alamo.

The Roadblocks: Well, for starters, the Alamo doesn’t have a basement. And then there’s the biker gang, and the fire at a pet store, and the former child star in possession of the bicycle…what doesn’t stand between poor Pee-Wee and his bike?

Notes from the Road: “Delirious, cartoonish, wildly inventive.” –Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress


Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The Journey: It’s almost Thanksgiving, and everyone is trying to get home to their families — including Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy), who cross paths when their New York-to-Chicago flight is diverted to Wichita. Neal’s tightly wound personality immediately clashes with Del’s good-natured boisterousness, but they decide to make the best of a bad situation by teaming up to get to Chicago together.

The Roadblocks: That diverted flight is only the beginning of what becomes a three-day nightmare for Neal, who quickly discovers that Del’s annoying personality is the least of his problems: they’re robbed their first night on the road, their rental car is destroyed, and there’s a rather revolting misunderstanding involving pillows that aren’t actually pillows. Did you think traveling was fun before the TSA started making you take off your shoes to get through airport security? Think again. And if you think John Hughes was only interested in impeccably soundtracked teen angst, you’ve never seen this surprisingly tender tour de force.

Notes from the Road: “It is, of course, always a pleasure to watch Martin’s steam-gauge face register his rising internal pressures and to witness his exquisitely expressed blowoffs. But Candy offers even more insinuating delights.” –Richard Schickel, TIME Magazine


Road to Rio

The Journey: Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made a number of Road to… movies — seven, to be exact — but the fifth entry in the series, 1947’s Road to Rio, is as good as the franchise got. This time around, the duo plays Hot Lips Barton and Scat Sweeney, a pair of peripatetic musicians who need to get away from the cops (long story) and stow away on a ship bound for Rio (surprise!).

The Roadblocks: On board the ship, Scat and Hot Lips find themselves drawn to the bewitching Lucia Maria de Andrade — and embroiled in a scheme involving Lucia’s hypnotist guardian (Gale Sondergaard), who doesn’t appreciate their unwitting interference in her fiendish secret plot to gain control of Lucia (as well as a mysterious set of papers). Madcap laughs, some fine songs, and repeated breaks in the fourth wall — what else do you want in a wacky road trip movie?

Notes from the Road:Road to Rio is a pleasant and breezy treat from an era that loved celebrities much more than they hated them.” –Paul Brenner,


Road Trip

The Journey: High school sweethearts Josh (Breckin Meyer) and Tiffany (Rachel Blanchard) vowed not to let the 1,800 miles between their colleges wreck their relationship — but all it took was a few missed phone calls and the advances of an amorous co-ed (Amy Smart) to turn Josh from a devoted boyfriend into a nervous wreck who’s racing from New York to Austin in a frantic effort to intercept a mistakenly mailed sex tape.

The Roadblocks: It’s kind of hard to cover that kind of distance without a car; unfortunately, Josh and his friends don’t sufficiently consider this before they decide to take a flying leap with their ride, destroying it and sending their trip on a series of slapstick-laden detours involving French toast, humorous senior citizens, and Andy Dick. (Meanwhile, Tom Green is busy playing a character named Barry Manilow, who spends most of Road Trip babysitting a snake named Mitch. It’s that kind of movie.)

Notes from the Road:Road Trip is a one-way trip to immature comic bliss.” –Phil Villareal, Arizona Daily Star



The Journey: Seeking a respite from his bleak existence — and a way to reconnect with his longtime friend — divorced middle-school English teacher Miles (Paul Giamatti) plans a weeklong excursion through the Santa Barbara wine country with soon-to-be-married Jack (Thomas Haden Church). Miles means for them to play golf and indulge in their shared love of wine, but as in all road trip movies, things don’t exactly turn out the way they’re supposed to.

The Roadblocks: Sideways is full of messy detours and unfortunate events, including a broken nose for Jack, a car crash, and a howling early-morning pursuit by a naked giant (memorably played by Lost‘s M.C. Gainey) — but they can all be traced back to one thing: Jack’s fear of commitment and unquenchable thirst for sexual conquest.

Notes from the Road: “This is more fun than most art films and should be a legitimate Oscar contender.” –Vince Koehler, Entertainment Spectrum


Smokey and the Bandit

The Journey: In 1977, shipping Coors beer east of the Mississippi was considered bootlegging. Crazy, right? Big Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick) thought so, which is why he hired the infamous trucker/scofflaw Bo “Bandit” Darville (Burt Reynolds) to take 400 cases from Texas to Georgia for a truck rodeo.

The Roadblocks: To earn his $80,000 bounty, Bandit had to get all that beer to its destination in 28 hours — and when he picked up a little extra cargo in the form of a runaway bride (Sally Field), he unwittingly attracted the attention of tenacious Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason). Hilarity, high-speed chases, and $126 million in ticket sales ensued.

Notes from the Road: “A raucous blast with plenty of great lines. Gleason is an absolute riot.” –Chuck O’Leary,


The Sure Thing

The Journey: What’s a lonely, sexually frustrated college freshman (John Cusack) to do over Christmas break? Why, sit in a stranger’s back seat all the way from New England to California so he can hook up with the “sure thing” (Nicollette Sheridan) his buddy (Anthony Edwards) has promised him!

The Roadblocks: Things get off to a bumpy start when Walter (Cusack) discovers that his ridesharing partner is Allison (Daphne Zuniga), the girl he pretended to need tutoring from so he could ask her out; even worse, the drivers (played by Tim Robbins and Lisa Jane Persky) are annoyingly cheerful chatterboxes. But their good mood has its limit — as Walter and Allison discover after their constant sniping at each other gets them kicked out of the car, and they’re forced to hitchhike the rest of the way.

Notes from the Road: “One of the great teen comedies of the 80s.” –Clint Morris, Moviehole


Tommy Boy

The Journey: Pampered but well-meaning doofus Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley), blindsided by the death of his father (Brian Dennehy), teams up with his dad’s assistant (David Spade) in a desperate bid to sell half a million brake pads and save the family business before it can be sold by Tommy’s scheming stepmother (Bo Derek).

The Roadblocks: Initially, the duo’s problems mostly stem from Tommy’s bottomless capacity for clueless oafishness, in terms of his lack of talent for sales as well as his tendency to wreak clumsy destruction — but their obstacles also include the nefarious plans of the senior Callahan’s widow, who has a secret deal with a competitor (Dan Aykroyd) as well as a hidden past with her smarmy “son” (Rob Lowe).

Notes from the Road:Tommy Boy is a good belly laugh of a movie.” –Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Due Date.

Finally, here’s the trailer for a forthcoming indie road movie with a killer soundtrack:

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