Special Report

35 Must-See Road Trip Movies

For nearly as long as there have been cars and movies, there have been road trip movies. Capturing humankind’s itch for adventure and indomitable search for self, the genre of road movies has endured through the ages of cinema, many of them qualifying as among the best car movies of all time.

The road trip can be thought of as a cultural rite of passage, and road movies at their best can mark cultural shifts in the real world, as the characters’ movements through physical space mirror not only the development of their own internal landscapes but a broader societal maturation through the current zeitgeist.

To compile a list of 35 essential road trip movies, 24/7 Tempo considered lists, reviews, and plot summaries from sites including IMDb, Rotten TomatoesMovieWeb, Condé Nast Traveler, IndieWire, Yardbarker, Screen Crush, and Film School Rejects. We included only films that are built around road trips (mostly by car, with several exceptions) or that feature road trips as a major plot point even if they aren’t the sole focus. IMDb user ratings and number of votes are current as of June 24, 2022. Films are unranked and listed in chronological order.

From early classics like the screwball comedy “It Happened One Night (1934)” to New Hollywood films like the groundbreaking indie counterculture drama “Easy Rider (1969)” to modern masterpieces like Alexander Payne’s black and white “Nebraska (2013),” road movies have exhibited a pervasive human desire to experience the freedom of the unknown, whether that manifests as running from one’s past or rushing headlong into a hopeful – but possibly doomed – future. (In plotting their itineraries, road-trippers should be aware of the states that have the most reckless drivers.)

Click here to see 35 essential road trip movies

The list includes films by some of the most renowned directors in history including Frank Capra, Ingmar Bergman, and Steven Spielberg. Tim Burton, Jim Jarmusch, and even David Lynch have movies on the list, while Alexander Payne directed three of the 35 essential road trip movies.

Comedies, including multiple quirky family vacation films, are well represented, as are dramas, ranging from quiet contemplations of a life lived, to coming-of-age journeys that forged identities or ended friendships. Numerous iconic crime films made the cut, wherein running from the law is a common theme.

It Happened One Night (1934)
> Directed by: Frank Capra
> Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10 (102,754 votes)

This screwball comedy follows the adventures of a runaway heiress who has just eloped with an aviator – who is only after her family’s fortune – and an out-of-work news reporter who is after a great story. Their cross-country trip gets the reporter his story, but what he truly wants is her.

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Six of a Kind (1934)
> Directed by: Leo McCarey
> Starring: Charles Ruggles, Mary Boland, W.C. Fields, George Burns
> IMDb user rating: 6.7/10 (662 votes)

After deciding to go on a second honeymoon to Hollywood, Flora and J. Pinkham Whinney invite an oddball couple along to share expenses on the long car ride west. What none of them know is that they’re carrying stolen money embezzled by Whinney’s conniving colleague.

Wild Strawberries (1957)
> Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
> Starring: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10 (106, 179 votes)

A bittersweet depiction of self-discovery and regret, this Swedish film follows a retired doctor on a 375-mile drive from Stockholm to Lund who picks up a series of hitchhikers that cause him to reflect on his loneliness and disappointments through dreams and recollections of the past.

Il sorpasso (The Easy Life) (1962)
> Directed by: Dino Risi
> Starring: Vittorio Gassman, Catherine Spaak, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Claudio Gora
> IMDb user rating: 8.2/10 (10,940 votes)

When a brash convertible driver (Bruno) convinces a shy law student (Roberto) to go out for a drink, the two end up bonding on a spontaneous multi-day trip along the Italian coast; but Bruno’s impulsive nature may just be Roberto’s undoing.

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Two for the Road (1967)
> Directed by: Stanley Donen
> Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney, Eleanor Bron, William Daniels
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (13,463 votes)

While traveling through France by car, a married couple reflects on their 12 years together, as passion and jest have variously morphed into infidelity and a banality that they struggle to repair.

Weekend (1967)
> Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard
> Starring: Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Jean-Pierre Léaud
> IMDb user rating: 7.0/10 (14,391 votes)

This surreal black comedy follows a conniving bourgeois couple – who are prepared to resort to murder to get what they want – as they travel through the French countryside on their way to claim their inheritance. Class struggles, historical figures, and car accidents punctuate their ill-fated trip.

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Easy Rider (1969)
> Directed by: Dennis Hopper
> Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Phil Spector
> IMDb user rating: 7.3/10 (109,062 votes)

This indie counterculture film follows two men with drug money to spare on a cross-country motorcycle trip, as they intersect with hippies on a commune, small town folk who don’t appreciate outsiders, and an alcoholic lawyer who decides to join them for the ride to Mardi Gras.

The Last Run (1971)
> Directed by: Richard Fleischer
> Starring: George C. Scott, Tony Musante, Trish Van Devere, Colleen Dewhurst
> IMDb user rating: 6.4/10 (1,695 votes)

This film follows a former mob getaway driver who has retired to a peaceful Portuguese fishing village. When he agrees to take one last job transporting a fugitive and his girlfriend into France, he encounters double-crosses and lawmen at every turn.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
> Directed by: Monte Hellman
> Starring: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird, Dennis Wilson
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/10 (12,390 votes)

When two street-racers take their prized ’55 Chevy on an aimless racing trip through the Southwest, an attractive hitchhiker threatens their alliance while a bluffing GTO driver threatens to beat them to New York and win their car as his prize.

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Sugarland Express (1974)
> Directed by: Steven Spielberg
> Starring: Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson, Michael Sacks, William Atherton
> IMDb user rating: 6.7/10 (17,228 votes)

In the dramatization of true events, the state of Texas decides that Lou-Jean is an unfit mother and puts her child in a foster home. Lou-Jean responds by breaking her husband out of jail and together they go on the run to retrieve their boy – taking a highway patrolman hostage along the way.

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
> Directed by: Hal Needham
> Starring: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Mike Henry
> IMDb user rating: 6.9/10 (50,223 votes)

Snowman and Bandit are hired to illegally transport 400 cases of Coors from Texas to Georgia; but when Bandit unwittingly picks up a runaway bride, her would-be father-in-law – a Texas sheriff – chases the two bootleggers all the way to Atlanta, losing pieces of his cruiser along the way.

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National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
> Directed by: Harold Ramis
> Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid
> IMDb user rating: 7.3/10 (107,494 votes)

When the Griswolds, a suburban Midwestern family, attempt to take a road trip to a California amusement park, everything that can go wrong does go wrong, comically dashing the meticulous plans of the well-intentioned paterfamilias.

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
> Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
> Starring: John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson, Cecilia Stark
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (37,566 votes)

This absurdist comedy, shot in black and white, follows two deadbeat Brooklyn hustlers, Willie and Eddie, as a surprise visit from Willie’s teenage cousin shakes them out of their stupor and inspires them to get out of Cleveland and head to Florida.

National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)
> Directed by: Amy Heckerling
> Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Dana Hill, Jason Lively
> IMDb user rating: 6.1/10 (65,373 votes)

The Griswolds once again attempt a family vacation, this time after winning a trip to Europe on a game show. A series of comical disasters ensue as they race through England, France, Germany, and Italy, eager to cram in as many experiences as possible.

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Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
> Directed by: Tim Burton
> Starring: Paul Reubens, Elizabeth Daily, Mark Holton, Diane Salinger
> IMDb user rating: 7.0/10 (52,931 votes)

The eccentric man-child Pee-wee Herman loves his decked out new bike…and so does his nemesis, Francis. When Pee-wee’s bike is stolen, he sets off on a cross-country adventure to retrieve it, encountering numerous colorful characters along the way.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
> Directed by: John Hughes
> Starring: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (139,421 votes)

In this holiday travel comedy, an uptight marketing executive named Neal and a wacky, talkative salesman become unlikely companions as they try to make it to Chicago by various means in time for Neal to have Thanksgiving dinner with his family.

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Midnight Run (1988)
> Directed by: Martin Brest
> Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, Dennis Farina
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (85,370 votes)

In this action comedy, a bounty hunter is sent on what should be a simple mission to retrieve a fugitive mafia accountant – but the FBI, the mob, and a rival bounty hunter end up on their heels as the two men develop an unexpected bond.

Rain Man (1988)
> Directed by: Barry Levinson
> Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, Jack Murdock
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10 (506,022 votes)

When a greedy luxury car dealer (Charlie) learns that his estranged father has left his fortune to an autistic brother (Raymond) that he didn’t know he had, Charlie retrieves Raymond and sets off from Cincinnati to Los Angeles in a 1949 Buick Roadmaster in an attempt to also collect the inheritance.

Thelma & Louise (1991)
> Directed by: Ridley Scott
> Starring: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (151,843 votes)

When two best friends decide to break out of their monotonous lives of housewifing and waitressing, their trip to a peaceful fishing cabin takes a turn for the worst, and they end up on the run from the law.

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Dumb and Dumber (1994)
> Directed by: Peter Farrelly
> Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly, Teri Garr
> IMDb user rating: 7.3/10 (378,972 votes)

This outlandish buddy comedy follows two dolts as they set out by car from Rhode Island to Colorado to return a briefcase to an attractive woman, unaware that they are in over their heads and being hunted by criminals and the law.

The Straight Story (1999)
> Directed by: David Lynch
> Starring: Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Jane Galloway Heitz, Joseph A. Carpenter
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10 (89,689 votes)

A biographical drama, this is the story of Alvin Straight, an elderly Iowa man who rode his lawn mower on a 240-mile trek to visit his estranged brother in Wisconsin to make amends after his brother’s stroke.

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Road Trip (2000)
> Directed by: Todd Phillips
> Starring: Breckin Meyer, Seann William Scott, Amy Smart, Paulo Costanzo
> IMDb user rating: 6.5/10 (168,415 votes)

When a college freshman videotapes his affair and the tape is accidentally sent to his long-distance girlfriend, he and some buddies set off on a disaster-filled 1,800-mile drive to retrieve the recording before it’s too late.

Last Orders (2001)
> Directed by: Fred Schepisi
> Starring: Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings
> IMDb user rating: 6.9/10 (6,148 votes)

When a jovial London butcher dies and requests that his ashes be spread into the sea, his pub mates make the journey with his son, all the while recalling their years together and the ups and downs they’ve shared.

Y tu mamá también(2001)
> Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
> Starring: Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Daniel Giménez
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (122,039 votes)

This coming-of-age film follows two restless best friends from different social classes as they embark on a road trip with an older woman who is dealing with secrets and heartbreak of her own. Along the way, the boys bounce between rivalry and intimacy as they attempt to navigate the world.

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About Schmidt (2002)
> Directed by: Alexander Payne
> Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/100 (128,317 votes)

Recently retired insurance actuary Warren Schmidt has no idea what to do with his newfound freedom. When his wife suddenly dies and leaves him with their new Winnebago, he decides to drive from Omaha to Denver to his daughter’s wedding and convince her not to marry her dolt of a fiancé.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
> Directed by: Walter Salles
> Starring: Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, Mía Maestro, Mercedes Morán
> IMDb user rating: 7.8/10 (100,829 votes)

A dramatization of the life of a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara, this film chronicles his motorcycle trip across South America, which revealed the world’s disparities in wealth and opportunity to a med student who would later become a revolutionary.

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Sideways (2004)
> Directed by: Alexander Payne
> Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (190,054 votes)

This charming comedy-drama follows a soon-to-be-married man and his best friend, a struggling writer and wine connoisseur, as they head to Southern California’s wine country for a week of pre-wedding fun.

Broken Flowers (2005)
> Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
> Starring: Bill Murray, Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone, Julie Delpy
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/100 (102,578 votes)

In this French-American co-production, Murray portrays a rich retiree, Don Johnston, who wants nothing more than to live in peace. However, after receiving a mysterious letter, Don ends up on a quest by plane and car to find out if he has a long-lost son.

Transamerica (2005)
> Directed by: Duncan Tucker
> Starring: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Fionnula Flanagan, Elizabeth Peña
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (41,303 votes)

When a transgender woman gets a call from an incarcerated young hustler who is looking for his long-lost father, she poses as a Christian social worker to bail the teen out of jail and take him to Los Angeles – all the while struggling to reveal to him the truth that she is actually the parent he’s been seeking.

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Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
> Directed by: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
> Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin
> IMDb user rating: 7.8/10 (472,345 votes)

This indie comedy follows a quirky family, including a Nietzsche-inspired teen who has taken a vow of silence, a gay uncle fresh from a suicide attempt, and a drug-addicted grandfather, who travel in their Volkswagen bus to get their youngest member, Olive, to a beauty pageant she’s been training for.

Away We Go (2009)
> Directed by: Sam Mendes
> Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Carmen Ejogo
> IMDb user rating: 7.0/10 (53,522 votes)

When a pregnant couple finds out that their unborn child’s only set of grandparents are moving to Belgium before the due date, the couple sets out to visit friends and family around America, see the country, and decide where they’d like to start their family.

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On the Road (2012)
> Directed by: Walter Salles
> Starring: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams
> IMDb user rating: 6.0/10 (41,708 votes)

An adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s groundbreaking novel of the same name, “On the Road” follows an aspiring writer and his charismatic new friend as they travel across the country numerous times along with various Beat Generation friends, searching for inspiration.

Nebraska (2013)
> Directed by: Alexander Payne
> Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (117,611 votes)

When a crotchety old alcoholic receives a sweepstakes notice telling him he’s won a million dollars, he convinces his reluctant son to drive him from Montana to Nebraska to retrieve it. On the way, they stop in his old home town and cause a ruckus.

We’re the Millers (2013)
> Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
> Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Jenniver Aniston, Emma Roberts, Ed Helms
> IMDb user rating: 7.0/100 (441,352 votes)

In this crime comedy, an ameteur pot dealer gets in over his head and must pick up a huge shipment in Mexico or else, so he hires a stripper and some local teens to pose as his fake family along for the ride in his RV and help him pull off the score.

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The Road Within (2014)
> Directed by: Gren Wells
> Starring: Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel, Zoë Kravitz, Robert Patrick
> IMDb user rating: 7.0/10 (15,270 votes)

This comedy-drama follows a young man with Tourette syndrome, his anorexic girlfriend, and his OCD roommate as they break out of the behavioral center they’re checked into and head to the ocean to scatter his mom’s ashes.

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