Top 10 Road Movies!

In celebration of the Blu-ray release of Due Date this week, OWF was challenged to come up with our top ten best road movies of all time! The road movie has been a staple within many film genres and has generally become synonymous with freedom, providing an avenue for violent, comical, romantic or dramatic release. Characters both discover and lose themselves on their celluloid trips. Friends and partners are gained and lost. Ultimately though, the road is an avenue for discovery. Many exceptional road movies have found their way on to the screen and into the forefront of audiences€™ consciences. This list could easily be twice as long, but read on to discover what I consider the ten funniest, scariest, strangest, romantic and most touching road films out there€and then go buy Due Date!

10. LOVE ON THE RUN (1936)

When American heiress Sally Parker (Joan Crawford) flees her planned wedding to a Prince, reporter Michael Anthony (Clark Gable) smells a prize-winning story. Worming his way into Sally€™s company, the two flee and steal an airplane to escape! Sally is unaware of Mike€™s lowbrow occupation and both are unaware that the plane they€™ve taken has a part in a spy plot€ Discovering secret plans in the plane, they are soon pursued by the spies, as well as by Mike's pal Barnabas Pells (Franchot Tone) who wants in on the sizzling news story! Fresh off the success of It Happened One Night (1934), which arguably was the first film to take the romantic comedy on the road, Clark Gable reunited with frequent partner Joan Crawford to repeat the success. Love on the Run (1936) is a madcap comedy that pits Gable against Crawford, as well as a spy ring and his reporter partner Tone. The narrative incorporates humorous sexual tension, a suspenseful cat and mouse element and a zany screwball attitude to romance. Whilst Gable and co-star Claudette Colbert are both excellent in It Happened One Night, the real life chemistry between off screen lovers Gable and Crawford illuminates the screen with sexual fireworks here. Love on the Run remains one of the best examples of taking romance on the road and provides laughs aplenty whilst also including an intriguing subplot.

09. EASY RIDER (1969)

Two carefree bikers (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) from Los Angeles set off on a cross-country trip to the New Orleans Mardi Gras. On the way they meet an array of unusual characters and discover an America they didn€™t know, in what has to be the ultimate biker movie! The cult status of Dennis Hopper€™s first directorial effort stands testament to its enduring power. One of the few road movies that fully captures the hippy movement of the 60s, it is equally a film about an odyssey to freedom and self-expression as it is a love letter to the American landscape. Where many road films suggest that the road is a euphemism for freedom, Easy Rider questions what freedom actually is and ultimately proposes that we are unable to escape the confines of the society that we wish to €“ even if we go out on the road. There is no freedom as Wyatt and Billy see it, instead the freedom they desire is in fact predominantly found in their drug induced trips and their liberated attitude towards sex, both of which were staples of the cultural shift in stance in the 1960s. Fonda and Hopper give stellar performances and channel an angst-ridden but rebellious vigour that perfectly reflects the period of the narrative setting. Jack Nicholson plays George Hanson, a lawyer the duo meet on their travels, and steals the show. More than just a road movie, Easy Rider is a deserved classic of this sub-genre of cinema.


Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a disillusioned man who tries to transcend the limits of a mundane everyday life by betting he can drive a Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in fifteen hours! With the police soon in pursuit, he attempts to beat the odds. Assisted by a blind radio DJ called Super Soul (Cleavon Little), who not only updates the driver on the whereabouts of the police, but also describes his progress on air, Kowalski soon turns into a cult hero and may just win the bet€ One of the greatest car chase movies out there, Vanishing Point is in fact a comment on American society as much as it is a road movie. The road here is a symbol of a dying American attitude: endless, open roads; limitless speeds; and taking crazy chances and living on the edge in a world of possibility. Asphyxiating health and safety laws and a stifling consumerist mentality has swallowed up such a reckless attitude to safety and responsibility, but this outlook on life is precisely what Kowalski rejects when he rediscovers the freedom of the open road. The host of supporting characters that Kowalski meets on his travels €“ lonely hippies, dodgy gay hitchhiking bandits, a bizarre Christian cult, to name but a few €“ reveal that the road is both a friendly and dangerous place, but ultimately a place for release. With a series of thrilling chase sequences that are both action packed and suspenseful, Vanishing Point is an exciting ride. The rather bleak and nihilistic ending may put certain viewers off, but essentially the film is an excellent example of the road movie in the 1970s €“ hence the cult status!

07. MAD MAX (1979)

In a dystopian Australian future of crumbling order and excessively violent highways, a police pursuit driver (Mel Gibson) is drawn ever further down a path of psychotic vengeance, after a motorcycle gang holds him responsible for the death of their former leader€ The road in Mad Max is probably the most desolate and frightening in all such films, with vicious biker gangs trawling these highways raping and pillaging along the way. The road becomes a place of disturbing memories for Max, when he finds his wife and son dead in the middle of it. As the mentally unstable Max starts his high-speed pursuit of the perpetrators, the road becomes his tool for revenge and a series of wild chases, unsettling fights and memorably suspenseful scenes prevail. Garnering a cult following the film has to be one of the most iconic pieces of Australian cinema and thrust Mel Gibson into the limelight. In what is one of €“ if not the €“ greatest roles of his career, Gibson is haunting and effective in his role. With a raw energy that is unfortunately absent in a lot of film, Mad Max essentially characterises the roads of the future as a place of fear and terror that can only be redeemed by the power of vigilante violence. Plus, the film includes what is possibly one the coolest cars to travel down the cinematic road into infamy!

06. DETOUR (1945)

Al Roberts (Tom Neal) decides to join his girlfriend in California and starts to hitchhike westwards. When a sleazy driver who gives him a lift dies he decides to dispose of the body and assume the man's identity, fearing that he'll be accused of murder if he reports the death to the police. Al soon picks up Vera (Ann Savage) €“ another hitchhiker €“ who sees right through his lies and blackmails him into going along with her schemes, which sink him deeper and deeper into trouble€ The noir genre lends itself well to the road film, as the usual genre element of the protagonist slipping further into a life of crime is aided by the open road and the endless possibilities for menace that this offers. The road can only lead to one of two destinations in Detour €“ prison or death! Tom Neal gives a riveting, angst-ridden performance as Al, a man who makes a stupid decision and ends up paying for it dearly. The film was actually shot on only two sets despite the narrative spanning a number of locations. It€™s certainly obvious that Al is not really driving across desert etc, but somehow this adds a unique charm to the film and whilst the road movie is equally about impressive locations as it is performance, the studio setting works here as it allows the distinctive noir style (particularly lighting) to still be achieved. Taking film noir on the road proves to be an excellent decision and Detour remains one of the definitive examples of the genre.

05. DUEL (1971)

Whilst travelling across the desert for a business meeting, David Mann (Dennis Weaver) overtakes a slow-moving truck. The bizarrely offended truck driver soon menaces David on the empty highway and although he can never see the psychopath, he soon realizes that he€™s out to kill him! Steven Spielberg€™s television movie is an excellent merging of both the road movie and horror genres. For David Mann, the desert road he chooses to travel along is his avenue for terror as he finds himself undeservedly targeted by a maniac. Whereas the road often provides the location for violence, here it is also the source of it. Spielberg brilliantly generates suspense and fear by denying both Mann and the audience any glimpse of the trucker behind the wheel. It seems as if the truck itself is terrorising Mann, which is both a chilling and uncomfortable element of the narrative. Similarly employed by John Dahl in his inferior Road Kill (2001), here, the anonymity of the antagonist is one of the most powerful aspects of the film. Spielberg also highlights the loneliness and vulnerability of the solo motorist on such roads, as Duel pits Mann against the trucker on a deserted section of highway. All these elements transpire to create an exceptionally suspenseful piece of road cinema that hasn€™t been bettered in this particular subgenre.


Olive (Abigail Breslin) is a gawky little girl who dreams of winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Her family encourages her to follow her dreams, but are so dysfunctional that they seem unable to make it through a single day without some kind of catastrophe transpiring. When circumstances conspire to put the entire family on the road together, they set out with a goal of getting Olive to California in time for the contest! In Little Miss Sunshine the road offers a perfect location for the exploration of characterisation and relationships. With a sequence that allows each character to unfold on screen, the road is both an aid to repairing a family close to breaking point and a hindrance to the ultimate narrative goal of getting Olive to her beauty pageant. The ensemble cast give entrancing performances and the film is resplendent with humour, drama and touching moments. Abigail Breslin shines as Olive and her ungainly looks are eclipsed by her tenacious belief in her dreams and her family. Tackling deep issues such as death, rejection and failure, the film uses the road as an opportunity for enlightenment and the healing of persistent wounds. With a unique blend of subtle humour and poignant drama Little Miss Sunshine offers salvation to the Hoover family and firmly attests to the fact that you cannot choose your family and should therefore accept them for who they are. However, despite it€™s profound underlying message it never feels like it sermonises or takes itself too seriously. Proving that the road can have a redemptive effect, Little Miss Sunshine is an arresting inclusion within this canon of films.


Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) are outcasts, lovers, and serial killers. Travelling down Route 666 they commit mass-slaughters for no other reason than their own enjoyment. With their acts glorified by the media, the couple become legendary, having their story told by the one person they spare at each massacre... Natural Born Killers is essentially a critique of the mid-90s U.S. mentality and the ever-glorified nature of violence within the media. However, it also takes a theme first presented in Bonnie & Clyde decades earlier and expands on it. Following the truly twisted relationship between a husband and wife who embark on a cross-country killing spree, the film exploits the road as a place for violence and the perverse sense of freedom that comes with this. Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson are extremely effective in their roles, bringing a sense of reality to their character€™s psychotic acts. With an abundance of gory violence this isn€™t to everyone€™s taste, but its power in utilising this element of the road movie genre makes it an important film nonetheless. Director Oliver Stone generates an excellent sense of irony in his characterisation of Mickey and Mallory, playing on society€™s obsession with turning serial killers into pop icons. The status of such killers as Ed Gein and Charles Manson is ridiculed here, suggesting that the media has equated celebrity with contemptible acts and those who commit them. Here, the road almost uniquely acts as an avenue for pathos of the most scathing nature.

02. BONNIE & CLYDE (1967)

Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), a bored small-town girl and her small-time bank robber boyfriend Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) perform a string of increasingly violent robberies across the Mid-West at the height of the Great Depression. The newspaper headlines reporting on the crimes catch the attention of the public in this highly romanticised take on the renowned crime spree of these archetypal lovers on the run€ It€™s one of the most notorious crime films in the history of cinema and Bonnie & Clyde perfectly combines both romance and violence on the road. The film effectively manipulates the audience into sympathising with the protagonists, whilst also deploring their despicable behaviour. Both Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are at their best here, playing star-crossed lovers that are simultaneously vulgar and tender. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography (by Burnett Guffey), the image on screen unerringly mimics the narrative in a beautiful scene that sees Clyde chase Bonnie across a cornfield just as a cloud covers the sun, plunging the landscape into shade: a hint that the lovers€™ relationship is ultimately doomed. The tragic and vicious ending still packs a weighty punch and remains with the audience long after the end credits roll. Bonnie & Clyde live and die by the road that has been both their friend and their enemy throughout the narrative and the influence of Arthur Penn€™s opus can still be felt today. With many films in a similar vein displaying homage to this quintessential violent lovers on the run film, Bonnie & Clyde is exemplary road movie watching. 01. THELMA & LOUISE (1991) When miserable housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) decides she€™s had enough of her depressing suburban existence, her wisecracking waitress friend Louise (Susan Sarandon) suggests they take a break from their uninspiring lives. They embark on a cross-country trip that leads to a stop off at a dodgy roadside saloon, where a repulsive yokel comes to a less than tragic end at the hands of Louise. The women suddenly find that what was intended as a simple weekend getaway has become precisely that, as they are forced to flee across the American southwest with the police in hot pursuit€ In what has to be one of the greatest stories of friendship and its unfaltering strength, Thelma & Louise adds a unique element to the violent/crime fuelled road movie. Whilst Louise does commit murder, this is justifiable and more an act of self defence rather than performed through a desire to kill. The road remains an opportunity for freedom for both women, yet it also traps them, forcing them to flee from both the police and a suburbanised life. The women€™s slide into a life of crime is caused by the road here, rather than fuelled by it and there is a further tragic element to the narrative due to this. Both Davis and Sarandon give excellent performances and the conclusion is moving for even the stoniest of viewers. With impressive cinematography by Adrian Biddle, the American landscape is beautifully shot and an excellent euphemism for freedom when the women are on the open road. It also brilliantly symbolises the women€™s trapped fate when the mountains literally close in on them towards the end of the film. With a strong feminist message and powerful images of camaraderie, Thelma & Louise is a staple of both the road movie genre and 90s cinema in general. In an attempt to offer a selection of road movies from a variety of genres, a number of other notable films that definitely deserve a place on this list had to be left out (10 was simply not a big enough number!): Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), True Romance (1993), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), The Hitcher (1986), The Road to€ series (1940-1962), Badlands (1973), Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1966), The Getaway (1972) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953), to name but a few additional options that are all excellent in their own rights!!

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Stuart Cummins hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.