Top 10 Road Trip Movies: Head Out On the Highway

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Bad Grandpa is set to storm into theaters tomorrow, and the story of Johnny Knoxville’s titular character, Irvin Zisman, hitting the road with his eight-year-old grandson Billy had us inspired.

There is something uniquely awesome about the road trip movie when it is done right. It can be funny, heartwarming, dramatic, tense and terrific. What better way to get to know a group of characters than to put them in a cramped space driving the highways to get to see their faults, triumphs and travails?

Movie Fanatic looks back at this subgenre of movies, and in honor of Bad Grandpa, we present our Top 10 Road Trip Movies. 

10. Zombieland
Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson hit the road in Zombieland, in what is not only the most original of road trip movies, but also zombie movies. Their world has been taken over by the undead, and it’s their job, as they see it, to do their best to wipe those bastards off the face of the earth. It will clearly land on our Top 10 Zombie Movies list someday, but for now… it starts off our Top 10 Road Trip Movies!

Zombieland Woody Harrelson

9. Borat
Sacha Baron Cohen became an international sensation with his alter ego in Borat. The foreign reporter landed in America and hit the road in hopes of learning about the real United States. Along the way, he pursued Pamela Anderson (Pam-ella!!), severely pissed off a rodeo crowd and soaked up about as much of Americana as one can and in the best way possible… by hitting the highway.

8. The Sure Thing
John Cusack went cross country in search of The Sure Thing, and by the end realized it was sitting right next to him in the car. In one of the teen comedies that made Cusack a star, The Sure Thing was the one where he showed the most heart. It is the perfect example of how to explore a character’s true self in the context of a road movie. He has ups and downs, and along the way not only learns what he wants out of life, but learns an appreciation of himself.

7. Vacation
The Griswolds may have had a slew of movies, but none were better than the first that saw Chevy Chase pile his clan into the family truckster and head cross country from their Chicago area home to their mecca… Wally World! Their Vacation may not have turned out as they planned, but for the audience, we would not have wanted it to go any other way.

6. Thelma and Louise
Thelma and Louise took the “chick flick” and turned it violently on its head, while also fusing new life into the road trip movie. Rarely, if ever, was there a female-centric road film that not only was greatly entertaining due to its uber-talented lead actors (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon), but also scored because of the attention it brought to the issue of domestic violence in America.

Thelma and Louise Susan Sarandon Geena Davi

Sarandon and Davis’ Thelma and Louise hit the road in an effort to free themselves from the squalor in which they were living, and along the way found each other and the power of friendship. We live together and die together has never been so profound.

5. Easy Rider
As Jack Nicholson said in one of those famous Easy Rider quotes, he “has a helmet.” And thus, he was ready to hit the road with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Hopper also directed the road trip movie that could easily serve as a time capsule moment for the '60s on film.

It was the counterculture-meets-Hollywood road trip movie that spoke to our ever-changing cultural landscape, the importance of friendship (as any good road trip movie should do) and how our prejudices could be the thing that brings us down into the depths of hell. Its lessons are massive, and its power is still as strong to this day.

4. Plains, Trains and Automobiles
Steve Martin and John Candy made an impeccable team in Plains, Trains and Automobiles who came together by chance when their flight failed to take off on the eve of the holiday season.

The two try to find their way home and, along the way, teach us a few lessons about how we may seem completely different on the outside, but on the inside, we as human beings share a lot more in common than we like to admit. Each of us has that need to be needed and nothing provides that more than our family does. Life lessons learned… another classic staple of a great road trip movie.

3. Little Miss Sunshine
Abigail Breslin has been accepted to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, and although many in her family are not too thrilled about it, they all pile into a VW bus and put the pedal to the metal so she can achieve her dream of earning the title of Little Miss Sunshine.

Little Miss Sunshine Cast

Little Miss Sunshine has a dream cast of an ensemble, led by Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Toni Collette and Alan Arkin in the role that would earn him an Academy Award.

Little Miss Sunshine is the perfect road trip movie in that it furthers our point about the power of putting a group of diverse characters, especially a dysfunctional family, in a tight space and letting the audience see what happens. In this case, it is pure brilliance.

2. Rain Man
The Barry Levinson-directed Rain Man may have earned Dustin Hoffman an Academy Award and Tom Cruise some serious dramatic credibility, but it doesn’t get to the elevated plane it sits on without it being one of the best road trip movies of all time and employing all of the factors that make a great film of that ilk.

Cruise leaves his Los Angeles home to head to Cincinnati to attend his father’s funeral. He learns when the will is read that the fortune is left to a brother (Hoffman), who is living in an assisted living facility because he is an autistic savant. In order to help his finances, which are solely in need of aid, he takes his brother out of the establishment. But when “Rain Man” refuses to get on an airplane, they hit the road.

They start out as two strangers, and by the end of the film, both are brothers in every sense of the word. The film is pure power.

1. Dumb and Dumber
The Farrelly brothers’ Dumb and Dumber may seem like an odd choice to top our Top 10 Road Trip movies. But, a comedy is in fact the best choice. Humor is the key to getting through any road trip, and who better to dish the comedy than the brothers Farrelly, stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels?

Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber

And the fact that they are so dumb -- in the most innocently hilarious of ways -- does not hurt the film either. Dumb and Dumber has also struck a chord that few movies have. What else could explain the extreme demand for Dumb and Dumber 2, decades after Lloyd and Harry?

It is the perfect road trip movie as it contains all the necessary elements that make a great one: Friends traveling long hours, comic interludes that drive the plot, conflict and resolution and then a solid conclusion that should feature our protagonists… you guessed it, back on the road!

Honorable mentions: Road Trip, The Muppet Movie, The Cannonball Run and Sideways

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