9 of the Best Road Trip Movies From the Last 9 Years
I read somewhere that odd-numbered lists are more likely to attract people's attention than their even-numbered counterparts. And if you look back at other listicles I've produced for this blog, you'll see that I've almost always adhered to that line of thinking — the most recent example being "7 Places I've Been That I Couldn't Have Imagined Traveling to a Decade Ago".
Well, friends, we're here to stick to our odd-numbered guns once again, and this time it's lucky number nine.
I've written many times about road trips and road tripping — such as that time we were run off the road in Tennessee and those five U.S. cross-country trips I said you oughta take while you're still young, for example — but I've never gotten into road trip films before. So today we will make that jump.
What makes for a good road trip film, you ask? Well, in my opinion, you're almost exclusively looking at comedies and coming-of-age stories when you consider these kinds of films. They're full of Clark Griswolds strapping old dead ladies to the roofs of station wagons; of dimwitted Tommy Callahans trying their darndest to sell break pads across the Midwest; of buddies riding across South America on their motorcycles, discovering injustice in the world — and that's what makes them great.
With those thoughts in mind, here are nine of the best road trip movies that have come out since 2009 (in no particular order):
1. We're the Millers (2013)
This off-color road trip comedy centered around smuggling drugs across an international border is a laugh fest from start to finish and just so happens to be one of the first few movies I thought of when the idea to make this list popped into my head. Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, and Will Poulter (Kenny!) make for a hilarious set of core cast members. Throw in Nick Offerman (a.k.a. Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec) and Kathryn Hahn (think Derek's wife from Step Brothers) and it's truly a party.
Maybe We're the Millers doesn't have the most intricate or well-thought out plot. Maybe it isn't a piece of cinematic art. But as one Rotten Tomatoes reviewer so succinctly put it: "A great movie it isn't, but it's one hell of a funny excursion."
2. Due Date (2010)
Pair Zach Galifianakis with almost any other actor in a buddy comedy type of situation and it's bound to work out for the better. But pair him with Robert Downey Jr. playing a man with little patience? In my opinion, that mismatch of personalities is gold. And that's precisely what viewers are treated to with Due Date, a film that sees Galifianakis and Downey Jr. forced to travel across the country together after both are put on the no-fly list.
There are insane car wrecks, pit stops at the Grand Canyon, and, as with We're the Millers, some shenanigans involving an international border crossing in this movie, which, again, is by no means perfect. But I still haven't seen a movie with Galifianakis that I didn't like.
3. Vacation (2015)
I include this film only because we briefly get to see Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold one more time — oh, and because the famed station wagon returns to the silver screen, as well. Overall, though, Vacation cannot compare to the original quartet of films released between 1983 and 1997 (my personal favorite actually being Vegas Vacation, believe it or not), but it does have its moments.
Ed Helms does a funny enough portrayal of an all-grown-up Rusty Griswold, for one, and there are laughs to be had when things don't quite go as he plans, much like his father's shenanigans in the older films. But if we're really being honest with ourselves, I already mentioned this movie is only sitting here riding on the coattails of its predecessors. If I ranked the five movies, this one would be dead last.
4. Django Unchained (2012)
This is perhaps the only film on this list that you wouldn't normally think of as a road trip movie, but it doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to realize that it totally fits within the genre (which can almost be as fluid as you'd like it to be, really). Sure, there are no cars (it takes place in 1859) and there aren't always roads, but Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz are on a journey here and there is much that transpires along the way to keep the audience interested.
From shootouts in small Old West towns to Waltz's ever-witty bounty hunter of a character and Foxx's cool customer kind of attitude as Django, a slave in search of his wife, Django Unchained is a 165-minute tale that earns every second. Not to mention that it introduced me to Jim Croce's "I Got a Name" as Foxx and Waltz set out from town into the countryside on horseback.
5. Zombieland (2009)
As the title might suggest, this is a movie full of zombies. But perhaps lost in all that is the aspect that makes it a viable choice for this list: the fact that Woody Harrelson's character is on a mission to find the last Twinkie on the planet. Maybe the road trip isn't as central as Harrelson's love of killing zombies or Jesse Eisenberg's attempts to woo Emma Stone or the sister-like relationship between Stone's character and that of Abigail Breslin — but it's still there.
A surprise appearance from Bill Murray as himself makes for its own kind of fun. Plus, you've got to give the movie some travel-infused props for naming its main characters after U.S. cities: Columbus (Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Harrelson), Wichita (Stone), and Little Rock (Breslin).
6. The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
I watched The Fundamentals of Caring on a whim one night last summer and was pleasantly surprised to find myself immersed in a movie whose main characters are a boy in a wheelchair with myriad health issues and a man trying to come to terms with reality and feel okay with himself once more by taking his first job as a home healthcare technician.
Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts end up making for a rather entertaining pair of verbal combatants throughout this movie as they set off on a road trip to see "the world's lamest roadside attractions," which includes Rufus, The World's Biggest Bovine, and the World's Deepest Pit — the trip's ultimate destination and an aptly-named site that has a little something to do with aspects of both of the main characters' lives.
7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Ben Stiller directs and stars in this recent adaptation of a 1939 James Thurber story of the same name that sees its protagonist off to faraway lands in search of an elusive photographer. In my eyes, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of those movies that has the potential to inspire you to quit thinking about doing something and to instead get up, go out, and do it.
Walter Mitty is a man who leads a rather mundane life as a negative asset manager in the photography department at the fictional Life magazine. It takes a push, but he eventually sets out on a life-changing journey. I don't think there is any point where you actually see Stiller's character driving a vehicle, but he does hitch a ride in a helicopter, jump aboard a ship battling severe weather in the North Atlantic, and scale the Himalayan Mountains as part of his travels.
8. Nebraska (2013)
It's time for a little bit of honesty hour: this is the only movie on this list that I haven't actually seen. I include it here because it looks pretty damn fantastic and I know I'll get around to watching it at some point — hopefully very soon. Nebraska centers around Woody Grant, a Montana man played by Bruce Dern who's convinced he's won a million dollar magazine sweepstakes, and his son, David Grant, played by Will Forte, who grudgingly agrees to drive him to Nebraska to claim his winnings.
But because I haven't personally seen it, allow me to share with you what a couple of critics had to say. Dave Calhoun, a writer for Time Out, called it, "An intimate road movie about one family that also lingers on the landscapes and fabric of an old-time, dying vision of the American Midwest," and Colin Covert, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, said, "'Nebraska' is a wonderful comedy shot in black-and-white and told in shades of gray."
9. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Okay, I lied. This movie obviously came out prior to 2009, but due to the lack of other worthy candidates and the utter greatness that is Little Miss Sunshine, I couldn't stop myself from placing it here at the tail end of the list.
With a cast including Alan Arkin as the coke-snorting grandpa, Steve Carrell as the recently-released suicidal uncle, Greg Kinnear as the dad determined to do whatever it takes, and Abigail Breslin as Olive, the little girl with dreams of being crowned beauty pageant queen, directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris absolutely killed it with this hilarious road trip movie that sees a rather dysfunctional family from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Redondo Beach, California, in a perpetually-malfunctioning VW bus.
Maybe you can tell from what I've written but this list was actually more difficult to compile than I had originally imagined. A lot of the best road trip movies out there — Tommy Boy (1995), Thelma & Louise (1991), and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), for instance — have been out there for a while. Maybe it goes back to that old saying: they just don't make them like they used to anymore.