Dusty Texan sunsets. White hot wheels. Parched, soulful yearnings. Road movies and America go together like Bonnie and Clyde, like Thelma and Louise… like, say, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. “One of the reasons America is so big on road movies is because it facilitates that,” says Pegg. “It’s a big country. You can’t do it in England – here you can get from one end of the country to the other in a day.” Which is exactly why he and Frost set their very own road movie, Paul, in the wilds of America – the kind of sprawling, untameable landscape where two blokes trundling along in an RV can result in all sorts of mishaps. Like, for example, meeting a strange little foul-mouthed alien.
Now that they’re experts on the matter of movies that take to the tarmac, Total Film asked Pegg and Frost to join us on a journey through the land of opportunity. Just what is it that drives road movies? “Incidents, peril, friendship,” muses Frost. “And also vista, geographical location. I think in every good road movie there’s that montage where the laughter and the talking stops, and you hear some Bluegrass and you see the Deep South…”
1. Sideways (2004) – Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County, Californoa (130 miles)
Wine snob schlubb (Paul Giamatti) and TV actor fool (Thomas Hayden Church) putter up the coast to sup their way round the winery region for a two-hander stag do. DUIs and rages against Merlot inevitable.
Nick: Fantastic! Lots of nice geographical fodder to gaze at. I love the way a road trip seems to suspend everything that happens in your proper life back home. It’s all put on hold while you’re on the road.
Simon: I love that it’s about the need to discover and for something else in life. It’s a great metaphor for the trials and tribulations of life. It’s about what’s around the next bend; the bumps in the road, the corners, that kind of stuff.
2. Thelma & Louise (1991) – Arkansas to the Grand Canyon, Arizona (1685 miles)
A ditzy housewife (Geena Davis) and a hardbitten waitress (Susan Sarandon) roadtrip from Arkansas to Oklahoma, shoot a guy and go on the lam. They’re heading for Mexico (avoiding Texas) but end it all in Arizona’s greatest tourist attraction.
Simon: “It’s a journey of self-discovery and physical journey, and it has this terminal end as well, which is brilliant. They can literally go no further in every way, geographically and in terms of themselves as people.”
3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) – Albuquerque, New Mexico to Redondo Beach, California (812 miles)
When Olive (Abigail Breslin) qualifies for a kiddie beauty pageant her whole fucked-up family climb into a VW camper can for a sweaty, sweary voyage of discovery. Everyone just pretend to be normal…
Simon: When we pitched Paul we said it was like Little Miss Sunshine but with Gollum instead of Alan Arkin. Everyone in that van goes on a sort of a journey and it’s a cracking soundtrack too.
Nick: Steve Carrell has a great beard in that.
4. Easy Rider (1969) – Los Angeles, California to New Orleans, Louisiana (2206 miles)
Two bikers (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) flog drugs to fund their Route 66 journey to Mardi Gras in ‘Nawlins’. On the trip (in every way) they run into bigots, hippies and Jack Nicholson. Far out.
Simon: That’s a road movie that goes to nowhere but doom. It’s kind of heartbreaking. The campfire scene in Paul is a tribute to the campfire scene in Easy Rider.
Nick: We filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico where Easy Rider was shot. It’s on at the cinema in Prospect, where Paul disguises himself as a cowboy. And the street that we are walking down is where Jack Nicholson and Henry Fonda meet for the first time.
5. Two Lane Black Top (1971) – Needles to East Tennessee (1517 miles)
A pair of unnamed petrolheads race their ’55 Chevy coast to coast against a souped-up GTO. After burning rubber through California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas the film burns out during a bone-jangling drag race near Memphis.
Nick: I saw that when I was 18, it’s in my DVD collection.
Simon: We went on a lot of two lane blacktops on our road trip. They’re amazing rides because the one in Nevada goes in a straight line to the horizon, so it disappears out of sight, it looks like it goes into a hair-width point in the sky.
6. Vanishing Point (1971) – Denver, Colorado to San Francisco, California (1277 miles)
A delivery driver (Barry Newman) is assigned to drive a new Dodge Challenger from Denver to ’Frisco and bets he can do it in record time. Pill popping, cop baiting and wheel spinning through Colorado and Utah, he delivers the car straight into a police roadblock in California. (Inspired the car-fawning in Death Proof.)
Simon: In Vanishing Point it’s a road movie where something’s got to be done but I see road movies as being it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination.
7. Trains, Planes and Automobiles (1987) – Wichita, Kansas to Chicago, Illinois (714 miles)
Uptight guy (Steve Martin) and annoying fool (John Candy) take a plane (diverted from Chicago to Wichita due to weather), train (to Missouri), truck (to Jefferson City), bus (to St Louis), rental car (to Illinois) and milk float (Chicago) to get home for Thanksgiving. Those aren’t pillows…
Simon: It’s heart-warming and even though the end is sugary sweet you buy it, you allow it. You can earn that kind of sentimentality.
8. Dumb And Dumber (1994) – Providence, Rhode Island to Aspen, Colorado (3539 miles)
Simple chauffeur Lloyd (Jim Carrey) convinces his equally dim friend Harry (Jeff Daniels) to drive a dog van across country to return a lost suitcase to the object of his affection. They accidentally go to Nebraska and complete last leg is completed on tiny scooter with frozen snot.
Nick: That film is so soundtracked! That film has got so much music in it.
Simon: It’s almost like a mix tape. There are so many great moments in that film. The snowball fight. And “You just go man”, and then they get frozen. What’s great about that is they actually go back halfway across America ! It’s great, I love that film.
9. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) – Parchman Farm Penitentiary, Tennessee to Arkabutla Lake, Tennessee (102 miles)
Three Depression-era convicts (George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson) escape the chain gang at a Memphis clink and begin a wandering journey via radio fame to find a $1.2million stash in a valley about to flooded by water for a new power station. Get into some darn tight spots…
Nick: I love the Coen Brothers, they’re perfectly suited to doing an American road movie. Their take is old America as well, so it’s pre-vehicle.
10. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) – Chicago, Illinois to Walley World, California (2037 miles)
Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) insists on driving his family across seven states to ‘America’s favourite fun park’ so he can spend some quality time with them. Thanks for the memories of desert breakdowns, dead grandmas and SWAT team stand-offs, Dad…
Nick: Love a bit of Chevy Chase.
Simon: The Griswalds are a kind of bizarrely American family in a structural sense. And to have the whole family on the road together… funny.
Via Total Film