Top 10 Road Trip Comedy Films

The delights of the road trip movie are illustrated in these ten films that capture the sense of adventure, personal discovery and companionship that make the genre so entertaining.

Road trip films are always fun to watch because of the genre’s sense of adventure. It is an inherent part of characters going on a journey together. The road trip film has a lot in common with stories about self-discovery and the buddy movie, where characters, often just two people, learn about themselves and the nuances of friendship through a physical and metaphorical journey together.

Of course, the road trip comedy takes the basis of the genre as a blueprint for stringing together as many funny moments as possible. But in a story when adventure is the key component, there is always scope for the comedy writer to concoct many hilarious moments of high-stakes mishap and peril along the way.

Perhaps the linear nature of the narrative is a reason why the road trip film us is loved by audiences across the world. There’s a definite beginning, middle and end, exampled by the journey’s start and its conclusion, which is in turn made up of the characters personal growth and the relationship that develops with the friends that they make.

What are your favourite road trip films?

10. Road To Utopia (Walker, 1946)

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Bob Hope and Bing Crosby teamed up for seven Road to… movies between 1940 and 1962, developing one of the most beloved comedy partnerships of American cinema. While the jury is out on which film is the best, many agree Road To Utopia is the funniest, as the madcap pair play two vaudeville performers who end up in Alaska disguised as killers. Gaining possession of a treasure map, Hope and Crosby have to fend of the attentions of its owner and the local gangster in many hilarious ways. The gags keep flying as do the songs in this 1940s classic. As displayed in the other films Hope and Crosby starred in together, their on-screen comedic chemistry is second to none.

9. Harry and Tonto (Mazursky, 1973)

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Paul Mazursky’s warm, though-provoking film follows an aging father who travels across America visiting his three children with his pet cat Tonto. The story charts his episodic journey from his Upper West Side apartment in New York to the warm, sunny climbs of Los Angeles. Art Carney, playing the main character Harry Coombes, won the 1974 Academy Award for his performance. The film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

8. Something Wild (Demme, 1986)

something wild, film, comedy movies,

Something Wild is a wonderful film that encapsulates love and romance, innocence and lost youth, happiness and a sense of adventure. It throws them all together in the guise of a road movie and invites the audience to enjoy the ride, from hilarious comedy to poetic, heartwarming drama. The principle cast are all superb, Demme is at his hip and upbeat best, and the soundtrack scorches with some uplifting tunes from the period.

7. Sullivan’s Travels (Sturges, 1941)

sullivan's travels, best road trip,

This literal and metaphorical journey is one of misadventure and self-discovery for fictional Hollywood director John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) who decides he is sick of making shallow but commercial films, preferring to make a social conscience picture he calls O Brother, Where Aart Thou? It’s an amusing film that moves along at a quick pace towards the inevitable but well-constructed happy ending. Veronica Lake is the leading lady, an actress as beautiful as the most well-known Hollywood starlets of her generation but who sadly never achieved the same success as the Hepburn’s and Bergman’s.

6. Midnight Run (Brest, 1988)

midnight run, film, robert de niro, road trip comedy,

What makes the best buddy films work so well is the chemistry between the buddies. In Martin Brest’s Midnight Run you couldn’t wish for a better love-hate tug of war between Robert De Niro’s bounty hunter and Charles Grodin’s crook. De Niro has five days to bring Grodin back to Los Angeles after he skipped bail. However, he doesn’t prepare for the FBI tracking his tail and rival bounty hunter John Ashton wanting the bounty money for himself. The film is all kinds of fun and features some excellent performances from its principle cast members.

5. National Lampoon’s Vacation (Ramis, 1983)

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This delightful cross-country romp across America features the Griswold family led by loveable but accident prone Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase). The film was written by John Hughes and directed by Ghostbuster Harold Ramis. Wanting to spend more time with his family, Clark decides they will drive from Chicago to Los Angeles instead of flying. The trip, however, doesn’t quite go to plan. It begins with Clark getting conned out of his new car, having to take the ill-fated Wagon Queen Family Truckster (designed in bad taste by George Barris specifically for the film). Along the way they endure many mishaps, eventually arriving at Wally World after an arduous journey to find it is closed. So Clark kidnaps the security guard (played by John Candy) and forces the man to take him and his family on all the rides.

4. It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934)

it happened one night, best road trip,

Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star in one of the first road movies. Frank Capra directs this screwball comedy about a rich socialite who tries to escape the grasps of her father, falling for suave reporter Clark Gable. It Happened One Night was the first film to win all major Academy Awards – Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay.

3. Paper Moon (Bogdanovich, 1973)

paper moon, film, road trip movies,

Paper Moon is one of several examples why Peter Bogdanovich could have been one of the great American directors had his creativity not waned some time in the mid 1970s. The film tells the story of con man Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) and Addie Loggins (Tatum O’Neal), the orphaned daughter of a prostitute. The pair travel across the Kansas dust bowl, their relationship growing amongst the brilliant monochromatic photography of Laszlo Kovacs. This poignant film is also very funny, painting an honest, authentic tale of these two disparate people against the backdrop of depression era USA. Tatum O’Neal became the youngest person to win an Academy Award.

2. The Last Detail (Ashby, 1973)

last detail, film, best road trip films,

It’s a terrible shame that Hal Ashby didn’t make more movies. Perhaps his most well known movie – Shampoo – is remembered more because it starred Warren Beatty than the fact it was directed by Ashby. Yet, he made some terrific films during the 1970s and played his part in the American new wave movement occurring at the time. Films such as Coming Home and Being There were wonderful tales of human endurance, while Harold and Maude lit up an entire generation with its look at friendship, love, death, and the importance of being yourself. Ashby is a brilliant humanist – it is the greatest attribute of his work.

In The Last Detail, a pair of U.S. Navy sailors are tasked to escort a young sailor to a naval prison after he is convicted of a petty crime (stealing $40) and sentenced to eight years. The young man (played by Randy Quaid) is escorted by Badass Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Mule Mulhall (Otis Young) who feel the sentence is too harsh for such a naïve, fresh-faced boy and endeavour to open his eyes to life’s possibilities before they deposit him in the jail. It is a fabulously funny and moving tale of friendship, that contains a cynical taste towards authority but with a wonderful zest for life.

1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Hughes, 1987)

planes, trains and automobiles, best road trip movies,

John Hughes knows how to do great road trip movies. He wrote National Lampoon’s Vacation for Harold Ramis to direct and 4 years later decided to tackle the genre again. In Planes, Trains and Automobiles he returns, this time writing and directing, to the genre he loves. This lovable, touching and often hilarious film sees stuffy advertising executive Neal Page (Steve Martin) having to travel from New York to Chicago with brutish but well-meaning curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (John Candy).

As much John Candy’s best film as Steve Martin’s, Plane, Trains and Automobiles is one of the most widely loved movies of the 1980s. The film showed a marked diversion away from teen-centric drama for Hughes, and gave both Candy and Martin a mainstream pedestal for their singular brand of humour. It also showed a more reserved Martin, who was known for his existential humour and physical eccentrics.

It is wonderful to see these two 1980s comedy greats come together for what is an endlessly funny road movie. There’s wonderful chemistry between the two leads as the uptight reserve of Steve Martin is faced off against the happy-go-lucky care-free attitude of John Candy. It’s the perfect cocktail for a relationship to hilariously fall flat on its face only to be revived by the kind-nature and good-heartedness inherent in both men. As road trip comedies go, it doesn’t get any better than Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Written and compiled by Dan Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan O. Reply

    Great List! Although I disagree with The Last Detail being at number two, I don’t disagree with what you said about Ashby. he was terribly underrated and has made some great 70’s films.

  2. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    I’m stumped. I have seen exactly zero of these! 🙁

  3. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    I feel bad – I’ve seen only a handful of these. I guess I need to spend more time in the “classics” shelf of the DVD rental store….

    Just a question, but where would “Paulie” rank in amongst all these…?


  4. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    When I started this article. I thought to myself, I got this covered!! I have seen loads of Road Trip movies.

    Well I am stumped. I have only seen a couple of these. Great list and always good to see Planes and Trains in any list!!!

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Avatar
    Jeff Reply

    Dumb and Dumber?

  6. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    I still need to see ‘The Last Detail’ it is one of the very few films of Nicholson’s that I have not seen.

  7. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Dan O.: Cheers, Dan. So pleased to see another Hal Ashby fan!

    @Castor: What!? You haven’t seen Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Stick it on your “to-see” list! 🙂

    @Rodney: I saw some new ones (well, much older films but new to me) in order to put this together. But for an “all time” list I figured I better look at as many films as possible.

    @Custard: Hopefully, this list will inspire you to see some films you haven’t already had the pleasure of viewing.

    @Jeff: It didn’t quite make it to the list but check out my Top 10 Buddy Films since the 1980s list for some Dumb and Dumber love:

    @Fitz: If you’re a fan of Nicholson then I’m sure you’ll appreciate The Last Detail. It is really, really good. One of my all time faves.

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    Anna Reply

    Love Charles Grodin.. Wonder what he’s doing nowadays. Such an 80’s throwback.

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    ruth Reply

    Great list! Man, I really need to see It Happened One Night… my friends all have recommended that to me since I like Clark Gable as Rhett Butler so much. I had no idea it’s a roadtrip comedy, I thought it was a rom-com.

  10. Avatar
    Richard Reply

    Interesting list, Dan. Some surprising inclusions in here, and not a bunch of obvious choices. Nice. I love the inclusion of The Last Detail and your No.1 is perfect!

    I would have to put Transamerica and Grand Theft Parsons in my list, though.

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    Jaccstev Reply

    Great list! I’m agree with Planes, Trains and Automobiles in the first spot. It was the Hughes road trip film I’ve ever seen 😀

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    filmgurl Reply

    Wow, great list! There are many here I have yet to see. National Lampoon’s Vacation is one of my favorites, thanks for sharing!

  13. Avatar
    Ronan Reply

    Good choice for number one Dan. You big softy 🙂 I loved the National Lampoon’s movies when I was a kid. Whatever happened to Chevy Chase?

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