Ah, the road trip. A small group of people are forced to cohabit a confined space as they journey through strange locales and encounter eccentric people, all in an effort to achieve some goal before time runs out. Is there any scenario better suited for the silver screen? Much-loved classics like Easy Rider, The Grapes of Wrath and The Wizard of Oz are among the hundreds of movies where the central plot revolves around a group of people who must get from point A to point B. Most real-life road trips are more soul-crushingly boring than their cinematic counterparts, but audiences are still drawn to the mystique of the movie road trip.
In theaters tomorrow, Magic Trip is one of a small number of road trip documentaries. Directed by Alex Gibney (Oscar-winner for Taxi to the Dark Side) and Alison Ellwood, the movie chronicles the 1964 cross-country road trip taken by counter-culture icons Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady, along with a group of friends called The Merry Pranksters (their journey would later become the basis for Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test). The movie uses archival footage, audio recordings and photographs to bring this fun, raucous, life-changing (not to mention LSD-fueled) road trip to life. In honor of all of the road trip movies that are more fun than going on an actual road trip, MovieMaker presents four of the World’s Best Road Trip Movies.
The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
?directed by Jerry Rees
Okay, so parts of this movie, about a quintet of household appliances who embark on an epic quest to find the owner (creepily referred to as “Master”) who abandoned them, are more or less completely terrifying. Lampy (a dopey desk lamp) uses himself as a lightning rod at one point, and in the film’s climactic scene the group’s idealistic, naïve leader (the titular toaster) hurls himself into the gears of a trash compactor to save the life of his Master, who has been tossed onto the compactor’s conveyor belt and faces a painful, bloody death. But the movie’s most traumatic scene comes when the appliances find themselves trapped in the back room of a store filled with a motley crew of mentally unhinged appliances, including a ceiling lamp that looks and sounds like Peter Lorre. The partially-dismembered TVs, tape players (hey, it was the ’80s) and fans serenade the terrified heroes with lyrics like “It’s too late/We’ve got to operate/Just try to relax/It’s the house of wax!” But The Brave Little Toaster is, above all else, a cute, fun, adorable kid’s movie… right?
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
directed by Stephan Elliott
In this Oscar-winning (for Best Costume Design) indie comedy, two drag queens called Mitzi and Felicia (Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce) and a transsexual named Bernadette (Terrence Stamp) are hired to perform their cabaret act in a hotel located in the middle of the Australian desert. They buy a beat-up RV (christened Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), which they fill with a tanning bed, ABBA cassette tapes (hey, it was the ’90s) and trunks upon trunks of elaborate costumes and set pieces (including a dress made out of flip flops and gigantic high-heeled shoes). Priscilla‘s plot hits all the notes that you’d expect in a road trip movie: The trio gets lost, has car troubles, encounters some unfriendly locals and receives assistance from a gruff yet friendly mechanic. Forced proximity leads to near-incessant bickering and even a few soul-baring conversations, though you probably won’t find lines like “Is it true when you were born the doctor turned around and slapped your mother?” in other Oscar-winning road trip movies like The Grapes of Wrath and Bonnie and Clyde.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
The Coen brothers’ quirky comedy uses as its source material the grandfather of all road trip stories: Homer’s The Odyssey (the poet received a writing credit on
the film despite the fact that it’s a very loose adaptation and the Coen brothers had never actually read the original text). In this retooling of the epic Greek poem, Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is a smooth-talking convict who escapes from a chain gang so that he can get back to his wife Penny (Holly Hunter) before she remarries. As Ulysses and his two companions bumble through the Depression-era South, they manage to befriend an infamous bank robber, record a hit single, engineer a prison escape, get swindled by a one-eyed Bible salesman, infiltrate and put a stop to a KKK lynch mob, become unlikely political spokesmen, convince Penny not to marry her weaselly, opportunistic suitor and outsmart the Devil himself… all in less than two weeks. And to think most people just visit some national monuments and eat a whole lot of fast food on their road trips.
directed by Ruben Fleischer
In this post-apocalyptic road trip comedy, a shy college student, a gun-toting badass and a pair of street-smart sisters have to travel through an America overrun by zombies in order to get to an amusement park they believe to be one of the few places untouched by the zombie apocalypse. Zombieland is gory, thrilling and even (surprisingly) emotionally tender at times, but above all else, it’s fun. Tallahassee’s (Woody Harrelson) obsession with Twinkies (“Where are you, you spongy, yellow, delicious bastards?”) and the scene where Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) kills Bill Murray (who was really only pretending to be a zombie when he got shot) make Zombieland one of the most entertaining movies of 2009.