There is something uniquely American about the idea of hitting the open road and driving endlessly through changing landscapes, either toward the promise of something better or as an escape from real or imagined oppression. While running the gamut from liberating to terrifying, American road trip films share a common thread: through the act of driving, there is the opportunity for discovery. Characters often find something new about themselves, others, or some greater principle or purpose.
CoPilot researched the history of road trip cinema and chose 10 of the best, most iconic films in which people drive across the U.S. To qualify, the film had to have over a 7.0 on IMDb, at least 75,000 votes, and largely be framed through an American road trip. Metascore is provided for critical context.
Some road films reveal that running away is futile or even cowardly, while others crystalize the fact that we cannot outrun the consequences of our actions even if we drive forever. At the same time, the genre reminds us that there is great potential in removing ourselves from the monotony or comfort of everyday life—that the act of leaving can be a powerful assertion of agency.
The history and diversity of American road trip films span decades and generations and encompass countless genres. From the lawlessness and violence of “Natural Born Killers” to the horror of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and even the bittersweet optimism of “Little Miss Sunshine,” road trip films reflect the politics and sense of national identity of their time and place.