Tags: Hollywood | classic | road movies | shaped | genre

Classic Road Movies: 5 Movies That Shaped the Genre

By    |   Thursday, 11 Feb 2016 07:59 PM

Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back until you’ve learned about yourself from the people you meet. That’s the premise of the road movie, and here are five classic examples that helped shape the genre into what it is today:

1. Hope and Crosby's "Road to" movies (1940-1962)

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s seven “Road to” movies — Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio, Bali and Hong Kong — featured slapstick comedy in parody of the day’s adventure movies.

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The duo, according to PBS's “American Masters,” set the bar for future buddy movies in which two male leads “are sometimes adversaries, but stick together.”

2. "Easy Rider" (1969)

Captain America and Billy went looking for America and it wasn’t there. With its theme of a freedom-celebrating America uncomfortable with anyone actually living free, this turned the motorcycle movie — up until then cheap exploitation movies about gang-banger bikers terrorizing virtuous citizens — into serious cinema, wrote Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert when "Easy Rider" debuted.

3. "Duel" (1971)

Traditionally the road movie is about meeting people along the way. Yet the principal antagonist here isn’t even human; it’s a truck whose driver you never really see. The journey here is Dennis Weaver’s character David Mann’s evolution from arrogance to humility in matching wits with the demon rig, "building excitement from the most minimal ingredients and the simplest of situations," according to Janet Maslin in The New York Times. Or, as the British Film Institute put it, "this clash between Mann and machine."

4. "The Muppet Movie" (1979)

Kermit the Frog and friends hit the road for Hollywood, fame, and fortune, with a frog-leg salesman in hot pursuit. The Library of Congress, in preserving it as a culturally significant movie, called it “a well-crafted combination of musical comedy and fantasy adventure.”

Using puppets for a full-length movie is credited by Robert Sickels in “100 Entertainers Who Changed America” with leading to the use of motion-capture technology — “full-body digital puppetry — in connection with digital graphics to create fantastic characters.

5. "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987)

This time it’s about two different guys trying to get home, and learning about themselves along the way. Roger Ebert liked it in 1987, and revisited it in 2000.

“The buried story engine of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" is not slowly growing friendship or odd-couple hostility (devices a lesser film might have employed), but empathy. It is about understanding how the other guy feels. ... Strange, how much poignancy creeps into this comedy, and only becomes stronger while we're laughing,” Ebert said.

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Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back until you’ve learned about yourself from the people you meet. That’s the premise of the road movie, and here are five classic examples that helped shape the genre into what it is today.
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