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15 Certified Fresh Road Trip Movies

For the 25th anniversary of Thelma & Louise, we look at some of the best-reviewed road trips put on film.

by | May 24, 2016 | Comments

Twenty-five years ago today, Thelma and Louise jumped behind the wheel in search of a little freedom — and although the trip didn’t turn out quite the way they’d planned, their movie has enjoyed a far smoother journey, becoming one of the best-reviewed (and most popular) road trip movies of the last quarter-century. In celebration of Thelma and Louise‘s latest milestone, we’ve compiled a list of audience-tested and critic-approved road trip movies that’ll keep you going for hours.


The Blues Brothers (1980) 85%

blues brothers copy
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: “Constantly hilarious, with a comic supporting cast to die for.” — Jeffrey M. Anderson, San Francisco Examiner

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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) 91%

borat-rodeo copy
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

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Easy Rider (1969) 89%

easy rider
The Journey: Flush with the proceeds after selling a bunch of cocaine to their connection (Phil Spector), freewheeling Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) head east from Los Angeles on their motorcycles, hoping to make it to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras.

The Roadblocks: It’s the establishment, man. Okay, so they might be biking across the country with drug money stuffed in a tube, but Wyatt and Billy aren’t bad guys. Problem is, their scruffy appearance and relaxed attitude toward local customs have a way of attracting untoward attention from The Man.

Notes from the Road: “This is a glorious widescreen vision of a hot and bothered America, at once beautiful and lost.” — Ian Nathan, Empire

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Grandma (2015) 92%

Grandma Lily Tomlin copy
The Journey: A teenager (Julia Garner) and her grandmother (Lily Tomlin) hit the road together, the former seeking money to pay for an abortion and the latter grieving the recent death of her longterm partner.

The Roadblocks: They’re both broke and the girl needs $850, for starters — and then there’s the complicated tangle of personal relationships that forces its way into their path at seemingly every turn, initiating a series of uncomfortable reckonings along the way.

Notes from the Road:Grandma is a small film, but one with huge things to say about the meaning of family and the value of living on one’s own terms.” — Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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It Happened One Night (1934) 98%

it happened one night copy
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

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Little Miss Sunshine (2006) 91%

little miss sunshine copy
The Journey: They’re as hilariously dysfunctional as any family in an American indie film, but 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 together.

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, Hollywood.com

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Midnight Run (1988) 96%

midnight run copy
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

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The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) 84%

motorcycle diaries
The Journey: Feckless young Ernesto Guevara (Gael García Bernal) and his skirt-chasing buddy Alberto (Rodrigo de la Serna) set out across South America by motorcycle, seeking to experience the open road (and, in Alberto’s case, its women) before starting work at a leper colony in Peru.

The Roadblocks: As pretty much everyone who watched it already knew, Ernesto grew up to be the revolutionary Che Guevara — and The Motorcycle Diaries dramatizes his political awakening on the trip, sparked by firsthand experience with systemic corruption and a poverty-stricken populace.

Notes from the Road: “You get so caught up in the beauty of the images, and lost in the weathered faces found along the way, you quite forget that you’re traveling with Che Guevara — which is, of course, exactly what the original experience would be.” — Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times

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The Muppet Movie (1979) 88%

the muppet movie copy
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: Unfortunately, Kermit also 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

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National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) 93%

national lampoon vacation copy
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

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Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) 89%

UNSPECIFIED - APRIL 02: Full shot of Pee-Wee Herman as Himself riding bicycle, swinging from vine. (Photo by Peter Sorel/Warner Bros./Getty Images)
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: “It’s a true original — a comedy maverick that looks and feels like no other movie I know.” — David Steritt, Christian Science Monitor

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Rain Man (1988) 90%

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The Journey: A mildly sleazy huckster (Tom Cruise) is shocked to discover, after his father’s death, that he has an older brother (Dustin Hoffman) who inherited almost everything — and who’s autistic. Seeing an opportunity, he heads back to L.A. with his long-lost sibling in an attempt to gain custody.

The Roadblocks: Cruise’s efforts to get back to Los Angeles by plane are thwarted by his brother’s phobia, forcing the two to travel by car (and make regular stops for viewings of The People’s Court). Naturally, the slow journey in close quarters brings the two closer together — and brings up long-buried family secrets.

Notes from the Road: “A fascinating, often very moving, frequently funny film.” — Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel

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Sideways (2004) 96%

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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: “From its first minutes, maybe even from the credits, you know you are seeing something very special.” –Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press

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Thelma & Louise (1991) 84%

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The Journey: Looking for a little break from their workaday existences, best pals Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) get in Louise’s ’66 convertible T-bird and hit the open road for what’s supposed to be a simple two-day vacation.

The Roadblocks: Men, mostly. After Louise fatally intervenes in an attempted rape on Thelma, the duo turn fugitive — and their journey is further complicated when a run-in with a hunky young thief (Brad Pitt) leaves them caught for cash and stuck in an increasingly desperate spot.

Notes from the Road: “Their adventures, while tinged with the fatalism that attends any crime spree, have the thrilling, life-affirming energy for which the best road movies are remembered.” — Janet Maslin, New York Times

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Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) 92%

Y Tu Mam· TambiÈn (2001 Mexico) Directed by Alfonso CuarÛn Shown from left: GarcÌa Bernal (as Julio Zapata), Maribel Verd˙ (as Luisa CortÈs)
The Journey: A pair of friends (Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) share a coming-of-age adventure in late 1990s Mexico with a cousin’s estranged wife (Maribel Verdú) after their girlfriends leave town.

The Roadblocks: To begin with, the idyllic secluded beach they’ve promised their female companion doesn’t exist — which actually isn’t as big a problem as the hornet’s nest of secrets and repressed desires that’s knocked over after they all start fooling around. It’s the end of an era for Mexican politics, and for our protagonist’s relationships.

Notes from the Road: “Easily one of the sexiest and funniest films about class struggle ever made.” –Manohla Dargis, L.A. Weekly

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  • Rooby Doo

    Nice list. Lots of great, great movies.

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