Sometimes you just want to get in the car and drive, y’know? Put that email on auto-reply, grab your trusty overnight bag, and hit the open road—leaving all of those work-day worries behind as you journey out into the great unknown. Everyone knows you here… but out there? You can be anyone. Glamorous barfly? Fearful road warrior? Jaded urbanite in love with a handsome-but-wealthy country bumpkin? SO MANY OPTIONS.
Unfortunately, the realities of a road trip are often far less romantic than any of the above, with scheduling logistics, a gas tank full of expenses and finding a cat sitter or two (or three). Or maybe, like me, you don’t even have a license, meaning that your road trip options are limited to Greyhound buses, the soles of your sneakers or the terrifying spectre of hitchhiking (I’ll never do it, sorry, I’ve watched way too many true crime specials).
Lucky for all of us, there’s good ol’ Netflix Canada to give us the experience of a road trip from the relative comfort (and safety!) of our own homes. Feeling sentimental? Depressed? Humorous? Terrified? Well, there’s something for you on our list of essential road trip films.
Synopsis: A group of gal pals bond over their shared pasts and separate futures on a birthday trip to Napa Valley.
Cast: Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey, Tina Fey.
Why it’s essential: Parks and Rec vet Amy Poehler has assembled a veritable who’s who of contemporary comedy with her directorial debut, and they don’t disappoint. Sticklers will say this isn’t a true road trip film, but the key ingredients are there—changing your surrounding, reassessing yourself and your closest relationships, and lots of drinking. Oh, and lots of laughs from the best in the biz.
The Fundamentals of Caring
Synopsis: A former writer (Rudd) begins a career as a caregiver, taking on an 18-year-old (Roberts) with muscular dystrophy. The two embark on a road trip together, and their time together changes both men (and their understanding of each other) forever.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez.
Why It’s Essential: Immortal sex demon Paul Rudd, but in his “endearing indie dramedy” mode as opposed to “sarcastic shrinking superhero.” This one will get you in the feels because of the exceptional performances from Rudd and Roberts… but also probably in the pants. Because, well, Paul Rudd. PAUL. RUDD.
Synopsis: Four teens go camping for spring break, but a horrible accident leaves one of them, um, physically compromised, and so they must race against time to save more than just the day.
Cast: Daniel Doheny, Geraldine Viswanathan, Sadie Calvano, Luke Spencer Roberts, Eduardo Franco.
Why It’s Essential: Raunchy teen comedies are a dime a dozen, but this one (produced by Ben Stiller) takes a lot of risks that pay off in penis-related puns alone. Somehow, the young cast sells what should be a one-joke premise by continually upping the ante along their journey, and the ending is one for the ages.
Synopsis: A man (Jason Sudeikis) takes a reluctant road trip with his estranged photo-journalist father (Ed Harris) to develop a roll of Kodachrome film before the last photo lab closes forever. Along the way both men must confront their feelings for each other.
Cast: Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Olsen, Bruce Greenwood.
Why it’s essential: Ed Harris delivers a doozy of a performance, and Jason Sudeikis offers up a rare dramatic turn that elevates this father-son drama beyond more traditional road trip fare. Plus, you can’t beat the symbolism of an undeveloped roll of film.
Synopsis: After a virus turns most of the world’s population into zombies, four survivors must abide by a list of rule in order to survive and journey to a safe haven.
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin.
Why it’s essential: It’s hard to believe this film is already 10 years old, but it came out at the height of zombie mania and well before Emma Stone became Hollywood’s Academy Award-winning “It” girl. Still, the flick’s combo of laughs and gore has helped it age better than most of its contemporaries, and a sequel (with the entire crew back for another round) is coming out later this year.
Synopsis: A woman and her best friend set off on a road trip to confront the man she believes stole her deceased son’s business idea.
Cast: Holly Hunter, Carrie Coon, Kim Coates.
Why it’s essential: There’s a lot to love here, including resonate performances by Hunter and Coon, the depiction of a mature friendship between two women, and a story about women made by a female director (Katherine Dieckmann). The revenge plot is a bit shaky, but as a showcase for two performers in their prime, you can’t get better than this.
Synopsis: An uptight lawyer (Zac Efron) is tricked into driving his foul-mouthed grandfather (Robert De Niro) across the country for a spring break vacation in Florida. Chaos ensues.
Cast: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, Zoey Deutch.
Why it’s essential: The cast elevates the material, and Zac Efron and Robert De Niro share a surprising amount of chemistry for two very different performers. The wonderful Aubrey Plaza isn’t given nearly enough to do, but like most recent-Efron flicks, the gratuitous pec/ab/bicep shots should make the time go by quickly. That Efron has really cornered the market on man candy, huh? Wowzers.
The Cabin in the Woods
Synopsis: A group of college friends take a trip out to a remote cabin in the woods, and confront a series of escalating horrors. But this isn’t your average scary movie, as what’s behind the ghouls and goblins is far more entertaining than the monsters themselves.
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams.
Why it’s essential: The film is a cult classic for a reason. Directed by Drew Goddard and co-written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer guru Joss Whedon, Cabin in the Woods has all of the self-aware tics and playful dialogue that has made Whedon’s other work so memorable. The road trip portion is short, but this cabin is more than a single physical place. Genuine scares, but also genuine laughs. And check out a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth!