Ranked: 30 Best Road Movies of the Past 30 Years

  • Publish Date: November 3, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 27 user comments

Ten more great road movies from 1980-2010

While we don't have Metascores available for many older films, that doesn't mean that there aren't classics among these movies. Below are ten additional must-see examples of the road movie genre, listed in alphabetical order.

The Blues Brothers (1980) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: Two brothers drive throughout Illinois to get their band back together so they can hold a concert to raise $5,000 to pay off the taxes owed by their childhood home, a Roman Catholic orphanage.

They are on a mission from God, and even though the mission never takes them out of Illinois, the Blues Brothers are on the road enough for us to include it on our list. Driving around in an old but unstoppable police car, Jake and Elwood track down their former band members, thwart the Illinois Nazis, destroy a shopping mall, swindle the Good Ol' Boys, and promote their show, but it's the final race from the Palace Hotel Ballroom (106 miles north of Chicago) to Chicago City Hall that puts this film on the list.

The Cannonball Run (1981) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: A variety of wacky characters take part in a cross-country road race from Connecticut to Southern California.

Based on an actual race and with a cast that includes Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jackie Chan (to name a few), The Cannonball Run is a road movie concerned with little else than driving fast and having a few laughs. While that wasn't enough to satisfy most critics, The Cannonball Run pleased the public and became the sixth highest-grossing film of 1981. We cannot fail to mention director Hal Needham, who gave us another classic road movie, 1977's Smokey and the Bandit.

Fandango (1985) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: In 1971, five college buddies from the University of Texas take one last road trip south of the border.

As in many road movies, the five college friends in Fandango are trying to escape the circumstances of their life -- in this case marriage and the Vietnam War -- but what makes Kevin Reynolds' debut feature memorable is his ability to highlight both the humor and heart of male friendship. He is aided by strong performances from Kevin Costner and Judd Nelson in their first major roles. Reynolds would team up with Costner again in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld, but don't hold that against Fandango.

Lost in America (1985) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: A husband and wife decide to quit their jobs, buy an RV and set off from Los Angeles to explore America.

If there’s one thing you need while you’re out on the road trying to find yourself, it’s money, at least if you’re used to having it, and David and Linda Howard are. So when Linda loses all their money playing roulette, what is an ex-ad-man supposed to do? Well, if Albert Brooks is writing, directing and starring in the film, he tries to convince the casino owner to give the money back, of course. How do you think that works out?

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: A family packs into the Wagon Queen Family Truckster to travel from Chicago to Walley World, America's Favorite Family Fun Park.

National Lampoon's Vacation and the Griswolds have become synonymous with family vacations from hell. Whether the problem is taking the wrong freeway exit, falling asleep at the wheel, being forced to pick up an annoying aunt, killing the annoying aunt's dog, jumping a station wagon 50 yards in the middle of Monument Valley, or forcing a security guard to take you on amusement park rides at gunpoint, Vacation has them all, plus Christie Brinkley in a red Ferrari.

Paris, Texas (1984) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: A man, missing for four years and with no knowledge of who he is, pieces his life back together on the roads between Texas and Los Angeles with the aid of his brother and estranged son.

1984 was a good year for road movies at the Cannes Film Festival. The same year that Jim Jarmusch won for Stranger Than Paradise, Wim Wenders won the Palm d'Or for Paris, Texas, which stars Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell. That both films won is only a coincidence, but it's fitting considering Wenders gave Jarmusch film stock so he could shoot the short that would later become Stranger Than Paradise.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: An ad exec and a shower curtain ring salesman try to get from New York to Chicago by Thanksgiving without killing each other.

Much like the Griswolds in National Lampoon's Vacation, which John Hughes also wrote, Steve Martin's Neal Page and John Candy's Del Griffith experience one problem after another while traveling. If it can go wrong, it does go wrong for Neal and Del, but as their troubles increase, their animosity decreases, leading to a heartfelt ending perfect for this holiday road comedy classic.

Starman (1984) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: A woman and an alien who resembles her dead husband set off on a trip from Wisconsin to Arizona.

With Starman, John Carpenter moved away from the horror genre to give viewers a love story between a widower played by Karen Allen and an alien played by Jeff Bridges (in an Oscar-nominated performance). As they make their way to the Barringer Crater, they visit many of the conventional American road movie sites - a roadside diner, Monument Valley, Las Vegas - but it's Bridges' commitment to the alien's increasingly human behavior and Allen's change from suspicion to trust that makes the film a success.

Stranger Than Paradise (1984) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: A New York 'hipster' and his friend travel to Cleveland and pick up his Hungarian emigré cousin before they all make their way to Florida.

Comprised of a series of single-take vignettes followed by a fade to black then a fade in, Jim Jarmusch's influential 1984 Camera d'Or winner Stranger Than Paradise established the director as a singular voice in American independent film. Combining bleak black-and-white photography (courtesy of future indie filmmaker Tom DiCillo) with deadpan humor and an off-kilter rhythm, Jarmusch captured the future indie sensibility before it even existed.

The Sure Thing (1985) Add to Netflix Queue

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Itinerary: A college freshman travels from New England to Los Angeles over Christmas break in hopes of bedding a "sure thing."

In Rob Reiner's comedy, Walter 'Gib' Gibson (John Cusack) and Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga) are opposites. He's always running late; she has her day planned out in 15-minute increments. But this is a romantic comedy, after all, so these two have to come together in some way, right? Well, sure, and like many movies on our list, the road provides the way.

Detour: a few road movies to avoid

Not every road movie is a winner. Below are 10 trips not worth taking, if the critics are correct in their assessments. (By the looks of things, they are.)

Worst-Reviewed Road Movies on Metacritic (Since 1980)
  Film Year Metascore Users
1 Miss March 2009 7 4.2
2 All About Steve 2009 17 3.6
3 Serving Sara 2002 18 4.2
4 Are We There Yet? 2005 27 2.9
5 Crossroads 2002 27 4.7
6 Even Cowgirls Get the Blues 1994 27 n/a
7 Wild Hogs 2007 27 4.4
8 The Hitcher 2007 28 4.1
9 Johnson Family Vacation 2004 29 3.8
10 RV 2006 33 5.5

What do you think?

What are your favorite and least favorite road movies? Are you looking forward to Due Date? Let us know in the discussion section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (27)

  • 1 Sad Norwegian Bast  

    The Canadian “One Week” …. a little pearl of a roadmovie.

    Away we go.

    Really glad that some people have noticed the Norwegian movie named “Nord” (North)

    Sin Nombre is also worth a peak.

    Is Into the Wild a road-movie? Or is it purely on the road that really matters? Then The Straight Story is the best movie ever made …

  • Brett  

    What about Fandango, Easy Rider, Mad Max?

  • bill  

    Fellowship of the Ring was definitely a road movie, and received pretty high Metascores, I believe.

  • Glen  

    What people don't seem to realise is thatthese lists are based solely on metascores and movies have to be part of the database to be eligible.

  • Jeff Strate  

    The additional list of 10 can easily be expanded to include last year's "The Road," with Viggo Mortenson, 1975's "The Passenger," with Jack Nicholson, 1973's "Badlands," with Martin Sheen & Sissy Spacek, 1976's "Nickelodeon," with Tatum and Ryan O'Neil, 1940's "Grapes of Wrath," with Henry Fonda and 2005's "Grizzly Man" with 2007's "Into the Wild," with Emile Hirsch and probably least "The Rat Race," for its aburdly hilarious star-studdented, set pieces led a family visit to a roadside "Barbie Museum" (Jon Lovitz) and an uncredited Kathy Bates as the "Squirrel Lady."

    The road movie genre is rich and varied. For me they began with 1954's "La Strada," with Anthony Quinn and Giuletta Masina and 1953's "Genevive," with Kay Kendall and Kenneth More. With so many wonderful road movies, I could never quibble with ranking them.

  • howard  

    What about Easy Rider? And The Last Detail? Big omissions. I also have to say that Lord of the Rings is a classic road movie. A variety of unlikely characters band together with a common goal, hit the road, encounter obstacles, overcome adversity and win in the end. Right?

  • arjun  

    dumb and dumber ??

  • Chad S.  

    If you want to see a great performance in an unsung film, check out Robin Tunney in "Niagara, Niagara".

  • B  

    What about "Into the Wild?" I would consider that a quality Road Trip movie.

  • Arie  

    No "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"? Come on!

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