The holidays are notorious for crowded, difficult travel, as families reunite and celebrate with no shortage of stress. With the season on cue, Thanksgiving right around the corner, let’s take a look at some of the funniest road trips on film. Of course, comedy is always subjective, so expect omissions and surprises. But there are some enduring classics worth noting, since nothing spells comedy like cramping people together. Particularly for long periods of time, and with zany characters. Many of the films in this niche genre are generally on the wacky side, but at times, that can be a welcome thing.
10 Smoke Signals (1998)
This is a unique, self-aware, and entirely Native American production that can speak to anyone. It focuses on a young man confronting the troubled history with his father. And yet, this simple, familiar premise is bolstered by authenticity, and an unexpected embrace of comedy. The humor here works precisely because of the dramatic investment. And while many of its jokes utilize the general public’s familiarity with Native Americans, the smaller beats are the lifeblood of the film. The odd, naive personality of Thomas is crucially effective, and his unlikely friendship with the protagonist is very charming.
9 Paul (2011)
Sure, this strange outing for Nick Frost and Simon Pegg may not be as sophisticated or witty as Shaun of the Dead. But the protagonists’ natural chemistry is perpetually endearing, and the pop culture references are more sly than pandering. It’s a pseudo-parody of all things science-fiction. While much of the comedy is juvenile, it’s essentially a guilty pleasure of sorts. Paul himself is a surprisingly fun character, well-fueled by the infectious humor in Seth Rogen’s performance. While some may be frustrated by the religion-ribbing, it feels good-natured and harmlessly silly. The story boils down to one long chase, and the friendships are sincere enough to sell the outrageous comedy.
8 Tommy Boy (1995)
There isn’t room anywhere to give Chris Farley enough praise. The restraints of a list just feel like a fat guy in a little coat. He was a genius of physical comedy, but also nailed the dramatic moments. And his rambunctious personality was a perfect complement to David Spade’s signature, deadpan humor. The two have flawless chemistry, as the protagonist sets out on a sales trip to rescue his family’s factory.
Before Dan Aykroyd himself can buy it out, a simple yet clever ticking clock. This is a family comedy classic of the 90’s, with enough talent on screen to overcome its tropes.
7 Dumb And Dumber (1994)
While this Jim Carrey classic may not have dated so well, it too is driven by the cast. The protagonists are complete idiots, a conceit which could otherwise go very wrong. Stupidity for stupidity’s sake can be unbearable, and the redundancy could become tedious. Fortunately, the bizarre concepts are clever enough, and the titular duo are talented enough to carry the film. It moves quickly, with equally imaginative and quirky comedy, unapologetic in its tone. That sincerity will always speak to its target demographic, and particularly worked as a film of the 90’s.
6 Vacation (1983)
Harold Ramis—Egon himself—was also a brilliant creative. He deftly handles this classic John Hughes screenplay, which is very demanding with slick physical gags. Chevy Chase is the perfect lead for the iconic Griswold family. His protagonist is so determined to give his family a good time, it’s impossible not to root for them. Even when Chase himself becomes preoccupied with a flashy blonde, out on the road. The misadventures slyly escalate, which allows the audience to ease into the brazen humor. While the Griswolds’ Christmas may have elaborated and improved in some regards, this original remains addictive and iconic.
5 The Blues Brothers (1980)
This film is probably best remembered for its incredible soundtrack, and a glorious car chase. But especially in retrospect, it is absolutely astonishing that this film successfully expanded on an SNL sketch. Of course, the invaluable Belushi and Aykroyd were arguably more entertaining than many of the actual musical guests SNL has invited.
That dancing alone was something else. Anyhow, the film adaptation wields very smart comedy, even with its physical humor. The music is infectious, and the performances will endure any test of time. The ease with which the protagonists ground each gag is almost unparalleled.
4 Midnight Run (1988)
This is probably one of the more underrated, or at least forgotten gems of comedy. The plot itself isn’t especially original, mainly a simple twist on the buddy cop formula. The protagonist is a bounty hunter, stuck with an ex-Mafia accountant. It’s another two opposites that sound like the setup for a sitcom. But it’s actually a great showcase for Robert De Niro’s surprising comedic ability. Before he took to parodying himself altogether, this movie simply allowed him to riff on his signature tough guy persona. Sure, most of the film’s jokes rely on direct punchlines, akin to many 80’s comedies. But even the coarse language of the film is cleverly used for comedic effect.
3 Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)
With all of the press regarding Manson, it was truly a shock to discover the film was predominantly a road trip. The protagonists spend most of their time on the road, conversing as only Tarantino can provide. Despite a possibly mocking interpretation of Bruce Lee, the comedy actually sparks from beginning to end, and it is a fantasy, after all. Brad Pitt’s impossible stuntman is hilarious, as is his palpable friendship with DiCaprio’s has-been protagonist. It’s a divisive film, even among Tarantino’s fans, for its length, indulgence and style.
But as road trip movies go, it’s undeniably effective with its appealing, laid back spirit.
2 Zombieland (2009)
The Walking Dead will soon get its own movie series—based on the TV series, which is based on the comics. Before such an abundance of zombie-related entertainment, Zombieland parodied the genre while perfectly celebrating it. The gore and horror are legitimately effective, despite the consistent laughs. This movie simply works on all facets—as a zombie movie, a comedy, and a road trip about family. The cast has such copious chemistry, they got away with a fun sequel that basically revisited all the same beats. The neurotic protagonist is a surprisingly ideal survivor of the apocalypse, and his romance is unexpectedly sincere. In fact, the characters are all equally plausible, even when they’re larger than life.
1 Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
Steve Martin and John Candy both lean in to their signature roles. The latter is equally annoying and endearing, while Martin’s family man has a very sympathetic plight. This may be one of the most honest films about the holidays. The struggle home results in a heartwarming, hard-earned friendship, and the dramatic twist is deeply affecting, if not predictable. The comedy of errors doesn’t become tiresome because of sheer ingenuity and talent, a benchmark for everything on this list. But regarding comedy itself, there are few things more amusing than a hopelessly unlucky, endlessly patient protagonist with a noble goal. It makes the holidays seem just a tad less hectic for the rest of us, sincere even when it occasionally entertains a cartoonish tone.