Great American Road Trip: 8 Movies To Inspire Your Journey

Great American Road Trip: 8 Movies To Inspire Your Journey

Whether or not you’re planning on hitting the open road this summer, this selection of road trip movies should definitely make it over to your watch list. 

‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’

Directed by the late, great Harold Ramis, this classic road trip comedy may be the mother of them all. With a 93% Rotten Tomato rating, the Critics Consensus reads: “Blessed by a brilliantly befuddled star turn from Chevy Chase, National Lampoon’s Vacation is one of the more consistent — and thoroughly quotable — screwball comedies of the 1980s.” If you’ve never seen it, buckle up for a hilarious ride as the Griswold family drives from Illinois to an amusement park in California with plenty of outrageous misadventures along the way.

‘Rain Man’

In a totally different kind of road trip, Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman pair up as unforgettable brothers in Barry Levinson’s “Rain Man.” With four winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Hoffman, 1988’s highest grossing film follows the duo as they drive from Cincinnati to Los Angeles and get to know one another for the first time — one a selfish young hustler, the other an Autistic Savant. As they make their way to the West Coast, the lead actors alone will keep you riding right there alongside. Gene Siskel wrote, “The strength of the film is really that of Cruise’s performance,” while Roger Ebert added: “Hoffman proves again that he almost seems to thrive on impossible acting challenges.”

‘Thelma & Louise’

With a place in the National Film Registry — and an ending that screams, “Don’t try this at home!” — the New York Daily News calls Thelma and Louise, a rare thrill — a gleefully offbeat road movie in which two women, instead of the usual footloose fellas, exult in the heady freedom of America’s lonesome highways.”

Directed by Ridley Scott and winner of the Academy Award for Best Screenplay, the story centers on what was supposed to be a weekend girls trip gone totally haywire. Playing out against the beautiful red rocks of Utah (“a stunning setting for this exhilarating feminist version of the classic American road movie”), Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) live out their unexpected fates on the run, but together till the end. 


For those who enjoy the finer things in life (as well as those who don’t), Sideways offers “a decidedly mature road trip comedy full of excellent performances,” and odd couple dynamics from stars Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. With a 97% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the crowd-pleaser follows the pair on a pre-wedding, bachelor party-esque male bonding experience through wine country — wasted on the one-minded, wandering-eyed groom-to-be. “Charming, thoughtful, and often funny,” if nothing else, the Oscar-winning film will definitely make you want to check out southern California’s breathtaking Santa Barbara wine country. 

‘Into the Wild’

Written and directed by Sean Penn, and based on the book by Jon Krakauer, this inspiring true story follows Christopher McCandless who crisscrossed North America in the early 1990s to fulfill his dream of making it to the Alaskan wilderness. Played by Emile Hirsch, we watch as McCandless leaves his life and family behind to find a life that’s meant for him and him alone. As grueling and terrifying as it is wondrous and exhilarating, his adventure (which we’d only recommend to live vicariously through) is expertly brought to life by Penn and Hirsch, whose performance Ebert called, “hypnotic…great acting, and more than acting.”  

‘Broken Flowers’

Every journey has its own special purpose. Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers follows a ne’er do well, aging Don Juan (Bill Murray) as he crosses the country tracking down a series of ex-girlfriends to find out who is the mother of the 19-year-old son he just found out about. With Jeffrey Wright for a neighbor and Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton (a favorite of the director’s) making up his varied exes, the cast is reason enough to tune in — but the story will make you want to see this ride through. “Funny, bittersweet, its understatement yielding surprising depth charges,” Newsweek calls the film “a triumph of close observation and telling details.”


This black-and-white feature from the director of Sideways, Alexander Payne, centers on old-timer Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), who sets out to Nebraska to claim the million-dollar sweepstakes he believes he’s won. Accompanied by his son (Will Forte), who knows the whole thing’s a scam, and despite their family’s (June Squibb and Bob Odenkirk) protests, the two embark on the long drive — made longer by a fateful stop in Woody’s hometown. 

With sweeping cinematography of endless highways, midwest plains and small-town life, “what seems at first a minor, slight work ends up growing on you,” says Flavorwire. “Its characters become familiar as you settle into their rhythms and understand their flaws, and their running jokes become yours. It’s an endlessly funny picture, but there’s a melancholy at its center, never overcooked, but quietly simmering.”

“C’mon C’mon”

This beautiful film, the most recent effort from director Mike Mills, focuses on the relationship between a man named Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his young nephew when they’re brought together for an extended period of time by inevitable circumstances. Bounding around and across the country for his job with his nephew in tow, the radio journalist interviews all kinds of kids about their lives, hopes and fears while learning what it means to care for one on his own. 

The Guardian says “this is a movie about listening – really listening – to what other people have to say.” And according to Rotten Tomatoes, it makes for a “delicate and deeply moving story about the connections between adults and children, [and] the past and the future.”

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