35 Must-See Road Trip Movies

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

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.)

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.

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