Top Ten Road Movies

easy5Road Movies usually have a road, but more importantly, they’re all-about cruising, driving, or chasing.  I’m not sure when this kind of movie first started, but I think the most important has to be Easy Rider, Bonnie & Clyde or Rain Man.  These are the best examples because they involve a duo (or a few more as in Easy Rider), but the characters really mean something.  It’s not really about the driving, although the atmosphere helps replace more shallow aspects of character development, like in Vanishing Point or Mad Max 2.  It’s about the characters.  So that’s why Road Movies can be difficult to pull off.  Would these make your list?

road210.  Smokey and the Bandit (1977) – In this Burt Reynolds vehicle (no pun intended), there’s a lot of driving and jokes and action.  The pacing is good.  I think the only downside to this movie is the sheer goofiness and comedy straight out of the 70s.  I think that’s why it’s not remembered in the same breath as other movies on this list, despite having bigger stars and better action.

9.  The Hitcher (1986)–  The original Hitcher movie is classic and it’s the only C. Thomas Howell movie I like.  It’s Duel, but with people, not cars.  It’s also unpleasant doesn’t have any character development.  It’s not about characters interacting and growing, like in other movies on this list, because it’s just about the wham bam evil man killing and liking it.  So it’s got a hard edge and a rebellious nature.

8.  Easy Rider (1969) – This Peter Fonda movie typifies the genre.  The bikers in this movie ride from Mexico to Los Angeles and the movie focuses on their antics.  It also symbolizes unrest and a general discontent common in aging hipsters.  

7.  Duel (1971) – This is really a one-sided movie if you think  about it.  There’s not much to it beyond running from an evil truck, but it’s so classic that other movies have copied it because Duel is a study in tension and drama.  Modern movies like Wrong Turn and Joy Ride copied some elements, but both of them never go the whole way.  Jeepers Creepers (2001) even had a Duel moment, as the monster chases the kids with his car, but there’s never any car versus car because they’d rather move onto other things like an impatient teen on prom night.

6.  Thelma & Louise (1991) – I hate this chick flick, but it deserves to be here.  It’s a rebellious road movie like Easy Rider, but even more aggressive and in-your-face than annoyed bikers.  The ending confirms it’s only a showcase for a rebellious nature, but I don’t think anyone really acts like the two annoying female leads.  It’s unique, so there is that.

5.  The Hangover (2009) – Unlike other comedy travel movies, this one is actually funny.  It doesn’t rely on the actors telling jokes or witty dialogue though.  In fact, the dialogue is kinda pedestrian.  It’s funny mainly because of the situations.  The actors really play up their circumstances and that’s why it feels way over-the-top, but it’s not because of anything else but the situation. 

4.  National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) – Unlike The Hangover, there is more than just situational comedy in this movie.  National Lampoon’s has great dialogue and witty jokes, kinda like Fletch, another Chevy Chase movie.  Chevy Chase is the star of this one, but it’s directed by Harold Ramis, who knows how to make a film.

3.  Rain Man (1988) – So The Hangover has situational comedy, and National Lampoon’s goes a little further, but Rain Man takes the genre to a whole other level, as character drama becomes the centerpiece.  It’s also a little cheesy and self-indulgent, in the same way Forest Gump is overindulgent and dumb.  You could probably replace this movie with Forest Gump and you’d have the same thing with the main character acting like a brilliant prodigy, but he’s disabled.  Rain Man is less obvious about this kind of stereotype and I think Dustin Hoffman’s performance is better.

2.  Bonnie & Clyde (1967) – I’ll always remember the ending to this movie, because it’s as brazen and cold as Bonnie and Clyde themselves.  Some people have criticized this movie for glorifying violence and crime, but I guess you could say the same about The Godfather, and I don’t think anybody thinks that movie is bad.  Bonnie & Clyde has a few more weaknesses (obviously), but I think Warren Beatty does a great job.  I think it opened the floodgates for other “criminals on the run” movies, which makes it a worth remembering.

  1.  Mad Max  – Take your pick on this one, because any of the Mad Max films easily top any road movie list.  I think the first is a good example of a character developing while on the road, but the newest Mad Max movie has more chase elements like in Duel. Either way, the Mad Max franchise makes you want to stay away from crazy people wearing leather.


Honorable mentions:

The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

Vanishing Point (1971)

Midnight Run (1988)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)