The road trip movie is a versatile creature. The setup is usually that you put a group of people into a car/bus/truck/van/etc. and they have to get from point A to point B while having adventures along the way. The format lends itself to all manner of genres.
One of the best horror movies of all time is a road trip movie (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and so is one of the funniest comedies (National Lampoon’s Vacation). Both movies are hugely different but both feature a group in a car trying to travel somewhere and being hindered along the way. In one case it is by a faulty car and a dead aunt, while in the other it is by a family of psychotic murderers. Meanwhile overseas, the two most famous Australian road trip movies couldn’t be any more different (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Wolf Creek), and in England road trips end in blood (Sightseers and 28 Days Later) or bickering (The Trip and Clockwise).
For a writer a road trip movie is a dream. It is the perfect set up for a horror movie. You have your characters traveling somewhere, far away from home and then you strand them away from familiar help and surrounded by horrors (The Hills Have Eyes, Duel, Jeepers Creepers, The Hitcher). You avoid having to think of a creative way to trap them because the road trip plot does that for you. For other genres it is a perfect way to give your plot momentum. You already have the characters going from A to B so the heavy lifting comes from the stops on the road. The road trip allows the writer to put vignettes within their bigger story as their characters stop somewhere, have a little story with a beginning middle and end, before they hit the road again. It’s like writing an anthology show in which each week your characters have a new and exciting adventure.
The best example of the above in recent years (or perhaps any year) is Magic Mike XXL. The dancers want to get to Myrtle Beach. Along the way they stop for various reasons and have little adventures, usually based around dancing, before they finally reach their destination, ready to use the lessons they have learned on their trip. Any one of the small vignettes would work as an entertaining short film within the bigger picture and that’s what makes Magic Mike XXL the wonderful movie that is it. The Cheetos and water scene in itself could function as a fantastic comedy sketch or a music video, and it is just one of many.
So what has cinema taught us about road trips? Mostly it is that they are full of mishaps, murderous or otherwise. Sometimes this mishaps help to shape the characters and other times they are simply road blocks to a goal. Cinema taught us that the people we road trip with are as important as the goal itself as there’s nothing worse than being stuck with an Aunt Edna or that asshole in the wheelchair from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And finally, Cinema taught us that for a road trip the journey is as important as the destination and the rockier the journey, the more fun the story will be, so hit the road and be sure to stop when you can. Who knows what kind of weirdness is waiting for you.
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures