The Best Road Trip Movies You Probably Haven't Seen

We are in the heart of the heat of the summer and you are either crackin' brews at the beach, cursing your life in a suit and tie wondering how the hell you got stuck in a soul-crushing corporate gig or loading the car with gas and snacks. Road trip!

As we close in on the 4th of July, my vacation of choice is always the open road – that most unique of American experiences. (Sure, they travel in other countries, but in Europe they go by commie international rail and/or by following bearded men with staffs into dark forests.) Before you rummage through your old wallet looking for that AAA card, here are some great road trip movies you probably haven't seen.

The Straight Story(1999); David Lynch, director.

I can't even think about this movie without my eyes welling up. Remind me that it's a true story and I'll just start blubbering.

Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, a midwestern geriatric who is too old to drive but wants to visit his sick brother living 240 miles away. Against the warning of his community he hooks a trailer up to his lawn mower and sets off for adventure.

There are no chases or hijinks, just encounters with regular people and natural obstacles. He meets pregnant teenage runaways, fellow WWII vets haunted by nightmares, roasts wieners over an open fire and drinks "Miller Light."

This is a masterful piece of humanist filmmaking, and while it isn't the best "David Lynch film" it is David Lynch's best film.

La Strada(1954); Federico Fellini, director.

"La Strada" is Italian for "The Road," so clearly this one has a worthy claim on being an essential road movie.

Giulietta Masina (Federico Fellini's wife of fifty years) stars as a Chaplin-esque indentured street performer tagging along with a brutish strong man played by Anthony Quinn. While hardly a statement for Feminism (Quinn is a bit of a prick to her, yet she loves him all the same) La Strada is something of the ur-text of fanciful Italian romantic cinema.

Flawed but humane characters fill every scene as our duo make their way through small towns with their traveling circus. If you find yourself unable to fall in love with Gelsomina and Zampano, you really need to get to a doctor immediately to determine if you have a pulse.

Patti Rocks (1988); David Burton Morris, director.

Arriving just a few years before the 1990s indie cinema explosion, Patti Rocks was a controversial film for its time in that it was mostly two guys talking candidly, and crudely, about women. The film is predominantly set on the road as Billy drives to confess to a woman he's impregnated (Patti) that he is, indeed, married.

Nowadays it would probably push the gross-outs further and then take the edge off with some Apatow-esque nice-boy routine. That's not what you get with this film. It is a fascinating portrait of midwestern, blue collar guys who, looking at them now, seem to come from a completely different world. At the end they're faced with a Feminist punchline that had tongues wagging back in 1988.

There aren't too many clips available for this one, so sorry if what I've included isn't all that thrilling. Trust me when I say this is an interesting flick. I discovered one other clip, but thought it was a little too NSFW to embed.

Road to Morocco (1942); David Butler, director.

Oh my God, Hoffman's talking about Bob Hope. What is he, 300 years old?

Listen – the guy you might think you know from golf tournaments was, I swear, a comedy genius when he was cooking. 50% of Woody Allen's schtick was stolen directly from Bob Hope. (Another 25% was Groucho Marx.)

Road to Morocco is the third of seven Bing Crosby/Bob Hope "Road to. . ." movies and is without question the best. It has the most surreal plot, the best 4th-wall gags, good songs and an unrehearsed moment with a spitting camel that is Hollywood gold. You might roll your eyes at corny old movies, but give this one a shot – it isn't quite as square as you might think.

If you find yourself liking it, Road to Utopia and Road to Zanzibar and Road to Bali (in color!) are the others in the series that are really funny. Your mileage may vary on the others.

PS – yes, these are the movies that inspire the "Road To. . ." episodes of Family Guy. If they're good enough for MacFarlane, they're good enough for you.

Sullivan's Travels (1941); Preston Sturges, director.

While Frank Capra's It Happened One Night might be the gold standard of Hollywood screwball road pictures, I'll choose Preston Sturges any day.

It's no coincidence that the Coen Brothers gave this movie a tip o' the hat with their own road movie – "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is the name of the snooty art film about the downtrodden man Sturges' comedy director John Sullivan wants to make.

Before he can shoot, though, he decides to go out into the world of the great unwashed and that is where comedy ensues. There's a perfection to the way Sturges strings the story along – one adventure after the next, while you grow to love our lead and his new friend, Veronica Lake. Sturges' scripts are like masterpieces of classic architecture. One should never attempt to create something new without understanding the history of the form. Any screenwriter who isn't versed in Sturges is fooling themselves. If you haven't seen one of his movies, start here.

Alice in the Cities (1974); Wim Wenders, director.

Wim Wenders' production company is called Road Movies Filmproduktion and it is easy to see why. Many of his great films involve people in transit, both emotionally and physically. (No reason can be given for spelling Film Production like a crazy person, though!)

Alice in the Cities is a dead-pan, shaggy dog tale about an emotionally detached German reporter/photographer aimlessly wandering through the wastelands of American culture. He ends up saddled with a precocious little girl (Alice) and the two form a unique bond.

It is an atypical buddy movie, one less interested in big emotional beats than simply finding the humor in every day situations. It's like a really, really cool version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles except Steve Martin is a world-weary European and John Candy is a little girl. If that doesn't sell it, I don't know what will.

The Sheltering Sky (1990); Bernardo Bertolucci director.

Who says road movies have to stay in America?

One of the most gorgeous (and very, very heavy) films you are likely to see is this tale of 1950s bohemians hoping to rekindle their marriage by exploring North Africa. Things don't go well, but amidst all the philosophizing and moody states of mind are some terrific scenes of travel by all sorts of methods. Also, there's a very young, very sweaty Timothy Spall in this movie – so I trust that's enough to get you booking your passage.

The Living End (1992), Gregg Araki, director.

A revolutionary 1990s road indie, Gregg Araki's The Living End was the right movie at the right time. The AIDS epidemic was at its apogee and there was a tremendous amount of indignation toward the 8 years under Reagan and 4 years under Bush in which nothing was done to help awareness, let alone look for a cure.

To call this movie a gay Bonnie and Clyde seems fair, but what was more important was that is was one of the first underground gay films with almost no camp factor to reach a crossover audience. These were not swishy gays, these were dangerous gays – and mainstream audiences had no idea what the hell hit them.