Life is a highway, I wanna ride it all night long! I’m talking about road movies today! Any time a film takes place on the road, or travel in general, there is something that just appeals to me. I love seeing what adventures characters go on and what they experience. This might come from a place of me loving to go on road trips and travel, or I enjoy the story that usually accompanies road films. Like the lyrics by Tom Cochrane suggest, “life is a highway.” Road movies act as a metaphor for the arc a character goes through during the movie. There’s a beginning and an end, and lots of adventure in between. They learn, experience new things, and come away as different people. Maybe not every film follows that format, but they all have similarities. Here are my favorite movies that take place on the road:
Starting at the top, I’m going with one of my favorite movies of any genre, Almost Famous. This Cameron Crowe film follows William Miller on the road with a rising to fame rock band, trying to get an interview with them for Rolling Stone magazine. If you’ve been on a road trip before, you know music is important. A Cameron Crowe soundtrack is perfect for this kind of movie. No one could do it better. He also likes singing while driving. Remember the band singing Tiny Dancer, and then Tom Cruise singing in Jerry Maguire?
One of the quintessential road movies from 1969 is Easy Rider. In Jack Nicholson’s breakthrough role, a pair of hippies and a lawyer (Nicholson) set out on motorcycles for New Orleans. Another great soundtrack attached to this film, it was a generational hit that still holds up today. It is also a great tribute to that time, one that I wish I could have been alive for. Not that I would do drugs at all, but because it was the best time for music and movies, and was an iconic generation. Nicholson riding on the back of a motorcycle never gets old either.
The next film that is one that I would never guess is by Ridley Scott, but it is. Thelma & Louise. This is a great female led movie following Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as on the road criminals, driving a Thunderbird through the dessert. The cinematography and editing in this film looks great, like most of Scott’s films. A whole lot of fun and adventure, and also Harvey Keitel, make this film endlessly watchable and endearing, even though I don’t think I’d ever want to meet up with those two after they go to that bar. But hey, I’m a nice guy.
On the road, tracks, and in the air, Planes, Trains & Automobiles is the funniest movie on this list. Steve Martin and John Candy each give completely opposite and hilarious performances in a movie about a man trying to get home to his family for thanksgiving. Leaving the teen genre for a bit, John Hughes gives us a fun ride with great moments of heart and comedy. Of course, it’s not hard to make Candy and Martin funny. I’ve only seen this movie once, but it is one that I remember well and can’t wait to revisit those laughs.
Who knew Sean Penn was a good director? Not me until I saw Into The Wild. Even though its not “on the road” it still is about travel and one person’s journey. Based off the true story and book by Jon Krakauer, Christopher McCandless attempts a trek to Alaska to live in the wilderness after leaving his life behind. This movie looks incredible with its on site locations and cinematography. Another great soundtrack given by Eddie Vedder and fantastic performances, even by Kristen Stewart, make this a very powerful film that makes me almost want to do it myself. Let’s be honest though, that’s not happening. Honorable mention to last year’s Wild, which was similar in ways and very good on its own.
The last one of my favorite road movies is easily the most violent but also a lot of fun. Natural Born Killers. This is an visually striking, psychedelic, and wild movie. Oliver Stone went all out in this one. Mickey and Mallory Knox travel across the country killing cops, bikers, whoever, but always keeping one person alive to tell their tale. It is also a commentary on the media and how their coverage of the couple fuels their desire to kill and make themselves famous. Supporting cast like Robert Downey Jr and Tommy Lee Jones also add a layer of hilarity and overall craziness to this unique and absurd film.
Well, there’s my list. Though differing in many ways, all these movies are so much fun to watch and have the road in common. Think about if the Knox’s, Thelma and Louise, and Martin/Candy all ended up in one place together at the same time. That’s a crossover I’d like to see.