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An Epic Roundup of the Best Road Movies

best road movies it happened one night

The best road movies are all about the journey. This category of film often features a road trip or quest, where characters travel — whether it be via car, truck, train or on foot — on a journey that almost always changes the course of their lives, for better or for worse. 

You can watch these adventures unfold with our picks for the best road movies. All movies on this list have an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 70% or higher, and many of these films are part of the Criterion Collection.

It Happened One Night” (1934)

This romantic comedy follows an entitled, runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert) and the reporter (Clark Gable) who tries to help her reunite with her new husband in exchange for an exclusive story. 

Stagecoach” (1939)

The epitome of a Western, “Stagecoach” tells the story of a group of characters onboard a stagecoach leaving from Arizona to a settlement in Lordsburg, N.M. This film was also John Wayne’s second movie. 

Sullivan’s Travels” (1941)

In this satire, a Hollywood director disguises himself and lives as a vagabond in order to gain a different perspective before filming his next movie. 

Wild Strawberries” (1957)

One of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s most important films, “Wild Strawberries” follows a professor on his way to accept an honor as he encounters interesting characters and reflects on his life. 

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963)

This adventure-comedy follows a group of strangers as they travel around California looking for a buried fortune. The film is known for its all-star cast and scavenger-hunt-like premise.  


Easy Rider” (1969)

A true road movie and absolute must-see, “Easy Rider” captured the 1960s counterculture movement. The film follows two bikers enjoying the freedom of the open road as they travel cross-country.

“Vanishing Point” (1971)

A Vietnam veteran turned driver for hire (Barry Newman) transports a car cross-country after making a bet he can deliver it in less than 15 hours. 

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Two Lane Black Blacktop” (1971) 

This film follows a mechanic and driver duo as they leave California in their 1955 Chevy. After picking up a hitchhiker, they find themselves in a cross-country race for pinks against a Pontiac GTO.

“Smokey and the Bandit” (1977)

Burt Reynolds stars as Bo “Bandit” Darville in this action-comedy about two bootleggers who try to smuggle a tractor-trailer filled with 400 cases of beer across state lines.

“The Blues Brothers” (1980)

In this musical comedy, two brothers (played by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) decide to reunite their band in order to raise money for the orphanage they grew up in.


National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983)

In this adventure comedy, a family’s road trip from Illinois to a theme park in California goes off the rails. “National Lampoon’s Vacation” was a box-office success and continues to live on as a beloved cult classic, inspiring multiple sequels. Not only is it one of the best road movies, it’s also one of the funniest.

“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985)

When Pee-wee Herman’s beloved bike is stolen, he travels far and wide to find it. One of director Tim Burton’s lighter, brighter movies, this flick is kid-friendly. 

Vagabond” (1985)

This French film tells somewhat of a story in reverse, opening on a wandering woman’s dead body before using flashbacks to explain what happened to her. 

Something Wild” (1986)

Opposites attract in this romantic comedy where a quirky, free-spirited woman (Melanie Griffith) hijacks an uptight banker’s life, taking him (Jeff Daniels) on a wild adventure.

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987)

After a business trip to NYC, a marketing executive (Steve Martin) wants nothing more than to make it back home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving. When he meets a traveling salesman (John Candy), the adventure becomes much more entertaining. 

Midnight Run” (1988)

In “Midnight Run,” a cross-country chase unfolds after a bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano) hires a bounty hunter (Robert De Niro) to bring an embezzler from NYC back to Los Angeles.

“Rain Man” (1988)

Two brothers (played by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman) reunite for a cross-country trip after their father passes away, disproportionally dividing his fortune between the two.


Thelma & Louise” (1991)

A true road film, “Thelma & Louise” follows two women (played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon) as they embark on a road trip that goes wrong. 

“True Romance” (1993)

When a comic-book store clerk (Christian Slater) and a lady of the night (Patricia Arquette) fall in love, the pair decides to run away together. 

“Dumb and Dumber” (1994) 

This comedy follows two dimwitted friends (played by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels) who find a suitcase full of money and travel to Colorado to try to return it. 

“Get on the Bus” (1996)

Director Spike Lee tells the story of a group of men on their way to participate in the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. During the bus-ride, these strangers connect through sharing life experiences. 

“Almost Famous” (2000)

In this coming-of-age story, a 15-year-old boy follows an up-and-coming band touring the U.S. in order to write a piece for Rolling Stone magazine.

“Sideways” (2004)

Two friends (played by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) take a trip to wine country for one last bachelors’ experience in this romantic comedy.

“The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004)

When two friends decide to ride motorcycles from Brazil to Peru before returning to school, they learn more about the world than they would have ever expected. “The Motorcycle Diaries” was inspired by true events.


“Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) 

The Hoover family sets off in a VW bus, traveling cross-county so their youngest can fulfill her dream of competing in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. 

“Into the Wild” (2007) 

Based on a true story, “Into the Wild” follows a young man who decides to leave a life of privilege behind to explore the Alaskan wilderness. 

The Darjeeling Limited” (2007) 

Auteur Wes Anderson tells the story of three estranged brothers hoping to reconnect as they take an exploratory train-ride across India. 

“Wendy and Lucy” (2008)

In this indie film, a woman (Michelle Williams) and her dog wander across Alaska looking for ways to survive. 

“The Road” (2009)

Based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, “The Road” follows a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they traverse a barren, post-apocalyptic landscape. 

“Zombieland” (2009)

In the midst of a zombie apocalypse, a small group of survivors travels across the U.S. looking for Twinkies and a safe place to call home.

“Locke” (2013)

Tom Hardy stars in this drama about a man driving to London for the birth of a child conceived during a one-night stand. The entire movie is set within the confines of the vehicle.

What’s do you think is the best road movie? Tell us in the comments.

AAA members can save on fuboTV, a live streaming television service that offers everything from live sports to prestige TV shows and movies. 

If you’re a fan of cars on the big screen, don’t forget to check out our car movies list or read our post on famous movie cars. 


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37 Thoughts on “An Epic Roundup of the Best Road Movies

  1. The Log, Log Trailer is hilarious. Should be seen by every couple who are engaged to be married-you really get to know someone on a road trip!

  2. “The Twentieth Century” (1934) movie with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard about a producer trying to get an actress to star in his movie while traveling on the Twentieth Century Limited train between Chicago and New York City. “The Trip to Bountiful” (1985) with Geraldine Page and Rebecca DeMornay. There have also been other adaptations of this movie, including one with Cicely Tyson.

  3. Coupe de Ville a great road movie. Three brothers, who are not close are enlisted to drive an old Cadillac to their ailing father (Alan Arkin).

    Another that comes to mind, also with Alan Arkin and one of my personal favorites, Peter Falk is The In Laws.

  4. The Long Long Trailer, with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, was the first road trip movie that came to mind when I saw your article.

  5. It would be hilarious to have The Wizard of Oz and Road Warrior on the same Best of … list. But it would be fitting here, as they are two of my favorite movies of all time.

  6. A great selection but I’m a bit surprised that it didn’t include Road Warrior or Fury Road. Nevertheless, even though I had seen almost all of the movies on the list, there are some I’d like to watch again and many thanks for bringing them to our attention.

  7. An entertaining and intelligent list. Sullivan’s Travels is one of my favorites. Does The Wizard of Oz count. The Yellow Brick Road is certainly the most famous road ever created.

  8. Two for the road came to mind from the start. My wife and I watched before we got married. Today is her birthday.

  9. How about Fandango with Kevin Costner?? Another classic road trip movie! Does the original series Lonesome Dove qualify for the category? This may be the ultimate road trip!

    1. Hi, Mary. “Fandango” didn’t make the list because it’s average Rotten Tomatoes score was below 70%.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      1. With respect, I don’t know that a Rotten Tomatoes score means anything. I’ve never judged movies by it and consider it suspect at best. There are a lot of great movies that get poor scores on Rotten Tomatoes and other sites. Just as there are a lot of really bad movies that get good ratings for one reason or another.

  10. Midnight Run is one of our all-time favs for sure! More than once when something unplanned has occurred a few times my wife and I find ourselves using the old “So why does that Chicago police dept hate you Jack?” and of course a now and again “I’M MOSLEY!!!!” just cuz it made us crack up every time! Great flick any time.

  11. “Two for the Road” 1967 with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. I don’t know if it is the “Best Road Movie”, but it was the first one that came to mind for me.

      1. Two of the Road came to
        Mind immediately, but Nancy beat me to it. Even the background music is exceptional.

    1. RV! We still laugh no matter how many times we see it. Robin Williams, cameos in unexpected places from unexpected actors, life lessons along the way. Great movie.

  12. Midnight run is highly entertaining and I recommend it highly. By the way, Charles Grodin played the embezzler (a CPA). Joe Pantaliano played the bail bondsman. The entire cast was excellent.
    The movie Vanishing point is an excellent period piece about the counter culture early 1970s that presents a genuine feel for that time.

    1. Hi Joel! Thank you for the feedback, edit was made! Glad you enjoyed the article, please share! – MM

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