We all have those days. The ones that make us want to drive a hundred miles and not look back for all the time that we can wrangle. If only the impulse to escape always aligned itself with our schedules so that every turn to the open road could be done without complications. As it is, sometimes the only way to get away is to turn to a good road film and live vicariously through its eccentric characters. So for all of you needing a good escape – or for those just wanting to celebrate the wonderful variety of road movies out there – here is a list intended to get your adventure started.
“Thelma & Louise” (Ridley Scott, 1991)
As important for the road movie sub-genre as it was for the feminist cause, “Thelma & Louise” remains one of the most riveting films ever as a seemingly innocent girls’ road trip quickly escalates into assault, armed robbery, and a cross-state police chase that is as suspenseful as it is funny. In fact, the film treads this line expertly, balancing the dry wit of its brilliant screenwriting with quiet moments of contemplation and friendship between its two leading ladies. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon deliver their finest performances, while Harvey Keital is equally sharp as the lead policeman and Brad Pitt’s screen debut is a timeless example of his onscreen allure and charm. This is the quintessential road movie that harnesses both the freedom and impossibility of escape.
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (Terry Gilliam, 1998)
Perhaps the mother of all road trip and ‘escape’ movies, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is the kind of film that simultaneously captures a specific era and yet remains accessible and eternally relevant. The film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s eponymous novel translates his drug-induced stupors and vivid hallucinations into memorable scenes marked by the pitch-perfect casting of Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro. Their wanderings through Las Vegas casinos preserve the city’s sleazy atmosphere while still showcasing its inevitable appeal and the seemingly endless promise of success tucked away inside its greasy slot machines.
“It Happened One Night” (Frank Capra, 1934)
A timeless classic, “It Happened One Night” has typical and timeless 1930’s romantic comedy charm, and is the best representation of the genre before cheesy supporting characters, predictable storylines, and boring protagonist interactions became the norm. As a road movie it is even more delightful, as Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable’s twisted journey takes bizarre and unexpected turns and their undeniable chemistry is shrouded in a love-hate relationship. Cleverly playing around the censorship conventions of the Hays Code, the film is especially notable for its iconic hitch-hiking scene which establishes, once and for all, the best way to flag a car down when you’re broke and desperate.
The Sweetest Thing (Roger Kumble, 2002)
A lesser known but equally cult-worthy film, “The Sweetest Thing” traces a barely thought-out road trip plan between best friends Christina (Cameron Diaz) and Courtney (Christina Applegate) as they chase a long-gone and failed one night stand that supposedly had soul-mate potential. This is a girly road trip film that throws stereotypes on their heads and speaks to a new generation; from bathroom-stall poetry to the infamous tabletop rendition of ‘you’re too big to fit in here’, these girls make “Sex and the City” look like child’s play. Never underestimate the potential of ridiculous storylines and self-aware humor to create a road trip movie that promises to shock and genuinely entertain in equal measure, while still exploring the obsession with coupling and premature marriage that has become so culturally intrinsic.