Journey With Cinema: The 12 Best Travel Films Ever Made

Photo of Sonia Redmond Zhao
5 October 2016

Want to ride a camel across the Arabian Peninsula, drive Route 66 across the USA, explore a European city or experience the serenity of Antarctica? Until you do, film has you covered. One of the best things about film is we can indulge in sights, sounds and stories from every corner of our planet. There is a myriad of travel inspiration waiting to be explored, and here are 12 of the best.

Easy Rider (1968)

Elvis was making a comeback, Woodstock proved legendary and a successful moon landing meant cinema had a lot to work with, culturally. Easy Rider was made during this vibrant era and its focus and style is deeply rooted within the rising Hippy culture of the USA. Filmed in Utah, Louisiana and a number of other US states, two friends navigate down roads as endless as the skies above them. Throughout dusty deserts and tiny towns, they pass by dazzling terrain on motorcycles, and even manage to pick up a youthful Jack Nicholson along the line.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

This is the tale of a transsexual and two drag queens that decide to hit the road across the Northern Territory of Australia. Traveling in their newly acquired silver school bus lovingly named ‘Priscilla’, they zip by the red and gold dusty backdrop of the Outback, stopping off in small towns along the way towards their final destination, Alice Springs. The brightly adorned protagonists contrast artfully to the rocky and rust colored scenery of the desert, and the sights are an added bonus to a wonderfully original and enjoyable story. Certainly one of Australia’s cinematic gems, in every aspect.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

This list would be nothing without the inclusion of this timeless classic. Based on the life of T. E. Lawrence, Peter O’Toole plays the British Lieutenant who journeys to Arabia. Ignoring his orders to act as a liaison between both nations during World War I, he treks the golden and rolling sands of the desert to take matters into his own hands. As this complex and tormented hero journeys by camel, the location-based cinematography of Morocco, Jordan and Spain will render anyone speechless. This might just be the greatest and most beloved of all epic journeys in cinematic history.

Nebraska (2013)

One of the more recently-made films on this list is about a road trip through rural US. Upon receiving a letter expressing a (fake) multi-million dollar win, the elderly Woody Grant makes his way by foot from Montana to Nebraska. As his son joins him and reluctantly offers to act as their chauffeur, they travel 750 miles though small towns and country fields towards their destination. Obstacles and distractions attempt to deter them along the way, but these key moments, both amusing and affecting, flow seamlessly to create one of the most humorous and heart-warming stories on this list.

In Bruges (2008)

Everyone makes mistakes in their job now and then, but not quite like Ray does in this dark comedy. The action takes place in the striking town of Bruges in Belgium, where two Irish hit men await orders for their next job. Crushed by guilt from a previous job gone wrong and unimpressed with his surroundings, we follow Ray and his partner, Ken, as they float around the medieval winding streets of one of Europe’s greatest treasures. Bruges, considered ‘The Venice of the North’, is truly the perfect backdrop for this dark and mesmerizing story.

Encounters at the End of the World (2008)

Werner Herzog is a most accomplished filmmaker, having made internationally renowned films such as: Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), Heart of Glass (1976), and Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night (1979). Nowhere on earth is off limits for his prolific work, even Antarctica, where this award-winning documentary takes place. It is an investigative piece based on scientists that live and work amongst the eerily beautiful icy landscape, as they study the space-like terrain and the ocean below. This wilderness is both celestial and merciless, but Herzog showcases this seemingly vacant land as an iridescent spectacle of luminosity.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Most people cannot argue against the fact that a Wes Anderson film is a feast for the senses. The sumptuous colors, costumes and settings alone make them worth the time. Shot on location in Udaipur and Jodhpur, three brothers journey by train across the lush landscapes of India. Inspired by India’s Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, they flit alongside the striking scenery of the Rajasthani desert and make a number of rousing sojourns too. Tensions and truths collide within the claustrophobic confines of their cabin, but this fact unknowingly makes their trip all the more worthwhile.

Paris, Texas (1984)

After losing his wife and son years ago, a grief-stricken and weathered Travis wanders the blazing desert. Soon he reunites with his brother and later, his son, who is under his guardianship. After a slow and gentle attempt to win back his young son’s affection, they soon take to the road in order to track down the wife and mother they once lost. Filmed throughout Texas, California and New Mexico, this is a multifaceted and engrossing tale, where nothing is what it seems. The magnificent Americana cinematography, beautiful storytelling and superb acting will cling to the heart and mind.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, known as the Marxist revolutionary from Argentina, remains a symbol for revolutionary change. This film aids in understanding where his beliefs stemmed from. Based on his bestselling book of the same title, the movie follows him to 1952, when he and Alberto Granado undergo a 9-month trip within South America. The bewitching and ethereal qualities of Latin America are highlighted in such places such as Machu Picchu in Peru and the Atacama Desert in Chile. After witnessing extreme poverty and political injustice throughout, Ernesto returns to Buenos Aires a changed man.

Withnail & I (1987)

This British comedic masterpiece has a colossal cult following and there is no resisting watching this film time and time again. Two out-of-work, alcoholic actors leave their ram-shackled apartment in London and travel to the English countryside for a relaxed getaway. Insanity and hilarity unfold as their vacation becomes nightmarish; a bull, the weather and an eccentric Uncle seem to be forces working against them. Filmed in the Lake District of Cumbria in England, it is clear to see just how peaceful and quaint the English countryside can be, even if it does rain constantly.

Everything is Illuminated (2005) – Dir. Liev Schreiber

Adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, this story takes place in Ukraine. Filmed in Odessa, Ukraine and Prague, Czech Republic, an American Jewish man travels to his Grandfather’s homeland, in search for the woman who saved him during World War II. The exuberant Alex, his cantankerous Grandfather and dog, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., accompany him throughout his travels to aid him on his search. What starts out as a comedic journey into the unknown, slowly delves towards an ending of deep refection and discovery. Besides the historical heartache and humorous one-liners, it truly is a striking and poignant watch.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)- Dir. John Hughes

Steve Martin and John Candy are two of the most celebrated comedic actors in film. Before this collaboration, they each had a string of popular films under their belts including, The Jerk (1979) and Spaceballs (1987). In this classic, after their flight gets cancelled from to Chicago, an uptight businessman must resort to traveling home for thanksgiving with an annoying, but loveable salesman. These polar opposites must endure their time together on the road and the chemistry between such legends is undeniable. Weather, breakdowns and fire stand in their way of a tranquil journey. And yes, that is Kevin Bacon.

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