It was easy for me to think of 10 road movies I loved, not so easy trying to rank them in terms of the best. That said I think most would agree with the list below and perhaps you might even stumble upon one you haven’t seen yet and if so make sure you check it out.
Walter Salles’ biopic remains the definitive Road movie in no small part due to its iconic lead character. It brilliantly captures the sense of adventure, the thrill of the journey that forms a key element for any such film. I’m sure most reading this will have seen this film or at least heard of it, and if you haven’t…do so immediately! The reason for its top spot here is due to what the film evokes from the viewer. The desire to recreate the journey undertaken by the young Che. Make no mistake somewhere in the world at this very moment, in an overcrowded hostel someone is talking about Motorcycle Diaries as being inspiration for their trek!
This cult classic is timeless. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t seen it or would admit to the fact for fear of social ridicule and rightly so. Rob Reiner’s masterpiece is an adaptation of a Stephen King short story The Body. Kings translations to cinema certainly has a strict hit and miss effect. It’s either fantastically brilliant or for lack of a better adjective completely poo. Obviously this film favours the former, bolstered by it’s quirky rock n roll soundtrack and phenomenal performances from its precocious cast. How River Phoenix and Corey Feldman didn’t receive an Oscar Nomination for their part boggles the mind. Sadly the only nomination the film gained was for Best Adapted screenplay. That said awards or not this film is revered by a generation and I’m sure countless generations to come.
Perhaps lesser known than the other iconic films on this list, and yet still heralded as one of the most entertaining road movies of all time. Peckinpah’s film is as much autobiographical as it is fictional, with lead character Bennie (Warren Oates) clearly based on the director himself and in fact he even don’s Peckinpah’s trademark sunglasses for most of the film. Expect typical Peckinpah style here, beautiful shots of the Mexican landscape, a plot full with many interesting, and comical character parts. Witty dialogue punctuated by visceral violence, this film will have you on the edge of your seat and laughing your head off
Terence Malick’s debut feature that he wrote during his second year at film school still ranks as one of the all time classic road movies. Filmed in the summer of ’72 but set in the 50’s, Badlands tells the story of a young girl named Holly (Sissy Spacek) stuck in a dead end town before meeting wild card Kit (Martin Sheen) who with his charm takes her away from her artist father (Warren Oates) and brings her across the country as he reveals himself to be a serial killing sociopath. The story mostly focus’s on the relationship between Kit and Holly and the impact their killing spree has on the media of the time. Very much a Natural Born Killers before Tarantino.
Sam Mendes movie is set in the Great Depression and follows the life of a mob enforcer and his son as they seek revenge on the murder of their family by the devious mobsters son (Daniel Craig). What is it about road movies that seem to be brimming with fantastic character parts? This film like so many others in the genre provides a plethora of unique characters and when you add a bunch A-list heavyweights to the cast you’re in for a treat of performances. Some of Jude Law’s best work is here and the scene between mobster father Paul Newman and Daniel Craig should not be missed. Newman is excellent throughout and the relationship between mob enforcer Tom Hanks and his son is superbly played. This would make the list on performances alone but the story is solid and will keep you gripped.
Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern’s trippy road movie is perhaps more famous for its stellar soundtrack. Expect to hear The Band, Jimi Hendrix and many more, it is said that the films music licensing cost more than the films budget! Still though your in for a treat with this movie, I mean just how often will you get these wild men in the same movie riding motorcycles? Also famous for being Jack Nicholson’s breakthrough role as drunk lawyer George Hanson, Easy Rider still gets nods from genre lovers and music fans alike.
Long after the success of Alien and Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s career was in stagnation. It was this 1991 road film that renewed his great reputation it was also an international box office success. Thelma & Louise sees housewife Geena Davis and single waitress Susan Sarandon go off on the run together heading for the mythical road trip movie paradise of Mexico. Again this film has some great character parts, look out for Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and a fresh faced Brad Pitt before he became the mega star of today.
Tarantino’s first screenplay directed by Tony Scott still ranks highly in the road movie genre. There are some fantastic characters in here played by a A-list cast including, Gary Oldman as a pimp, Brad Pitt makes a cameo appearance. Scenes to look out for include the epic fight scene between James Gandolfini and Patricia Arquette, and the much-told Sicilian Scene between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken.
Andrey Zvyagintsev debut film tells the story of two Russian boys living with their mother when one day their mysterious father returns after a 12-year absence and appears to want to pick up from where he left off. This is met with a mixture of excitement and apprehension from the two boys. In an effort to bond with his sons the father takes them for a fishing holiday in a remote island on a lake. This journey becomes a real test of manhood for the boys with tragic consequences. This film is beautiful in its simplicity and yet incredibly powerful thanks to a brilliant ensemble of actors. The visuals of the remote Russian landscape are stunning. This is a lesser known film but well worth the watch.
What can I possibly say about Withnail & I that we don’t already know? Notable for being the only British road movie on this list and some might argue whether it actually is a road movie. For me the journey that these two struggling actors take played brilliantly by Richard E. Grant, and Paul McGann is so awesome and hilarious it simply must be a road movie. This is Bruce Robinsons debut film; written and directed by him it is almost autobiographical in its depictions of his time as a struggling actor before he made the transition to writing. Funded in no small part by George Harrison who really loved the script. Withnail & I is funny, witty, and original and deserves its rightful place as a cult classic.