Film

Classic travel movies to watch right now

Inspiration for your coronavirus movie marathon.

March 17, 2020

Film

Classic travel movies to watch right now

Inspiration for your coronavirus movie marathon.

by Cora Harrison

Self-isolating and planning a coronavirus binge watch? As well as inspiring wanderlust,  films about travel are set in fabulous locations and can serve as much needed escapism.  From romantic comedies to road movies, here is a selection of classic films about travel to help you through the days and weeks ahead.  

Wild (2014)

Wild‘s heroine (played by Reese Witherspoon) is based on the real-life writer Cheryl Strayed, author of a best-selling memoir, also called Wild. The story is based on Cheryl’s adventures on one of America’s most difficult hiking routes, the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from the Mexican to the Canadian border. Grief-stricken, mourning a broken marriage and recovering from a drug addiction, Cheryl decides to attempt 1,100 miles of the hike – a journey which nearly breaks her.

Variety calls the movie “a ruggedly beautiful and emotionally resonant saga of perseverance and self-discovery.” It is also a celebration of the American wilderness; intimidating, untamed, but astonishingly beautiful too. The protagonist’s dramatic journey might even encourage you to set off into the wild yourself.

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Wild is a celebration of the untamed American wilderness. Wild, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2014.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Next, Rajasthan, India, where seven retirees are enjoying old age – with a twist. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a group of seniors decide it is the perfect time in their lives to discover India – a place where conveniently, their money will stretch a lot further.

The group begin their stay at a rather shabby retirement hotel in Jaipur. As you might imagine, there are plenty of comical mishaps, insights into aging, and life lessons learned along the way. India often steals the spotlight, with its kaleidoscopic colours and gorgeous scenery.

The Telegraph describes the film as “sweet-natured, good-hearted and decent.” It will leave you smiling, if not contemplating a trip to India immediately.  

The Beach (2000)

The opening scenes of The Beach will resonate with any backpacker who has found themselves in Bangkok as part of their South East Asia gap year. But viewers soon realize that protagonist Richard’s journey is nothing like the average backpacking trip to the Far East.

Played by Leonardo diCaprio, Richard is a young American who arrives desperate for adventure and an authentic travel experience. He meets Daffy, a seasoned traveller – and most definitely a madman – who inspires him to search for a mythical island. The island is a utopia, according to Daffy, who kills himself soon after, leaving Richard a map. While the plot becomes increasingly dark and disturbing, the incredible blue waters and white sands of the island will have you dreaming of your own mysterious paradise. 

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The white sand and crystal clear waters of the island in The Beach will have you dreaming of your own deserted paradise. The Beach, 20th Century Fox, 2000.

The Endless Summer (1966)

Documentary The Endless Summer was made by filmmaker and pro-surfer, Bruce Brown, who set off with two other surfers – the original ‘dudes’ – on an around-the-world surfing odyssey that took in Hawaii, Australia, South Africa, among other countries, on a hunt for the elusive perfect wave.

The film played a major part in popularizing surf culture, and is definitely one which will have you longing for lazy summer days lived out on a beach somewhere sunny. The movie is slightly dated now, but footage of some of the world’s best waves makes up for it. Even if you’ve never surfed in your life, it offers some fabulous escapism. In the words of the film, “On any day of the year, it’s summer somewhere in the world.” 

The Before Trilogy (1995 – 2013)

Director Richard Linklater is known for his realistic movies, many of which take place in a single day. Such is the case with The Before Trilogy which begins with Before Sunrise, where the protagonists, Jesse and Céline, first meet in Vienna and fall in love. The sequel, Before Sunset takes place in Paris where the two meet again nine years later. Before Midnight takes place nine years after that in Greece. By now, the two are a committed couple with kids, facing standard couple problems.

The locations also have starring roles in the movies. Vienna, Paris, and Messenia in Greece are all as captivating to watch on screen as the characters themselves – and will make you hanker after a romantic summer holiday in Europe. As CN Traveller writes, the three movies are, “a testament to travel’s power to realign your perception of your own life.”

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Richard Linklater’s The Before Trilogy will have you hankering after a summer in Europe. Before Sunrise, Castle Rock Entertainment / Columbia Pictures, 1995.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Also set in Europe, this Woody Allen feature stars Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Penélope Cruz, and Javier Bardem, and is just as gorgeous and beautiful as you might imagine with such a cast.

Best friends Vicky and Cristina arrive from America for a summer holiday in Barcelona. They meet beguiling artist, Juan Antonio, who invites them to his house for the weekend. When Antonio’s former lover, played by Cruz, arrives on the scene, things get predictably wild and fiery. Spain looks stunning on screen, as do the actors, with Cruz delivering a dazzling performance.

Watch this film if you’re looking for an excuse to book a ticket to a Mediterranean city in search of romance and adventure. 

Eat Pray Love (2010)

Critics often reduce Eat Pray Love to a simplistic story of a rich, entitled Manhattanite having a nice time on holiday. But given that it involves sojourns in Italy, India, and Indonesia, it’s one of the best films for stirring up some serious wanderlust.

Based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, the film stars Julia Roberts as a successful writer with what appears to be the dream life but who isn’t quite satisfied. She sets off on a quest to find herself and, on route, consumes delicious food in Rome, meditates in an ashram in India, and discovers love in Bali.

A light-hearted jaunt around the globe, it is full of easy-to-digest insights about love, life, and what we mean when we talk about happiness.

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With sojourns in Italy, India and Bali, Eat Pray Love can stir up some serious wanderlust. Eat Pray Love, Plan B Entertainment / Columbia Pictures, 2010.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

The Motorcycle Diaries tells the true story of two young friends who travel on motorbikes through South America. One of them is Ernesto Guevara, who later becomes iconic revolutionary Che Guevara. Beginning in Buenos Aires in Argentina where Guevara grew up and heading through Chile, across the Andes, and into the Peruvian Amazon, the film features spectacular footage of places that, in 1952, were rarely explored. 

The New York Times writes, “In an age of mass tourism, (The Motorcycle Diaries) unabashedly revives the venerable, romantic notion that travel can enlarge the soul, and even change the world.”

Thelma and Louise (1991)

Thelma and Louise is another movie featuring two best friends on a road trip.  But in this case, the protagonists are women – something rare in 1991, when the film first aired.

Played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, the heroines don’t behave much like ladies though, setting off on a holiday that quickly becomes a mad dash for Mexico, on the run from the police after they get into trouble at a bar. On the way, they rob a store, shoot up a truck, and lock a cop in the trunk of a car, all while racing through stunning desert landscapes.

You know it can’t end well, but you also can’t look away as the film careers toward one of the most dramatic and memorable endings in cinema. As CN Traveller writes, while “ultimately, Thelma and Louise don’t get their happy ending…the best coda is knowing their movie paved the way for countless other women to hit the road on their own.”

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Thelma and Louise make a mad dash for Mexico, driving through stunning desert landscapes along the way. Thelma and Louise, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), 1991.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

For dysfunctional family drama, it doesn’t get much better than Little Miss Sunshine, which also happens to be a great road trip movie. Meet the Hoover family: a teenage son who refuses to speak, a drug-addled grandpa, depressive uncle, weary mother, impossibly positive father, and, of course, Olive, an unconventional child pageant contestant. Not to mention a ramshackle VW campervan, which, inevitably breaks down. This all makes for thoroughly enjoyable watching as we accompany the family on their journey to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.

The script is tight, witty, and just a tad dark. There are moments of hilarity and moments of true poignancy. And while spectacular scenery doesn’t play such a major role in this movie, the story will remind you that setting off on a trip is, at its best, about an inner journey too. 


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