Two-Lane Kings: The 15 Best Movies on the Road

“A lot of my films start off with road maps instead of scripts. Sometimes it feels like flying blind without instruments,” says iconic German director Wim Wenders. “You fly all night, and in the morning you arrive somewhere. That is: you have to try to make a landing somewhere so the film can end.” And as one of the most beloved and acclaimed masters of cinema, the majority of his early films fell into the grand and expansive category of the Road Movie. Whether it’s a drama about the fruitless search for the intangible American dream, the journey to sacrifice yourself and reunite the ones you love, or the act of running away from that which you’ve committed on the other side, throughout cinematic history, the road movie has served a vast array of narrative genres—spanning from violent pop-art thrillers to tranquil languid dramas.

As a place where the chaos of the world is forced to tame itself and adhere to the graceful restrictions of a parallel world, the road allows one’s mind to detach from the constant anxieties outside the blacktop. Wenders would describe it as a place of discovery, with travel as a “circular form” where there’s always “something of a waltz at the end of the road.” And throughout cinema, some of the most cherished works of art and some of the most influential films of the last hundred years have taken the form of the classic road picture. So as we wind into summer, the greatest time for long and winding endless trips across new borders and exploring into the abyss of the soul, let’s take a look back on some of the greatest  road movies to ever make their way onto the screen. From Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider to Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour, here’s looking into the vast stretch beyond.

EASY RIDER, Dennis Hopper

After Easy Rider’s cross-country journey—with its radical, New Wave–style editing, outsider-rock soundtrack, revelatory performance by a young Jack Nicholson, and explosive ending—the American road trip would never be the same.


But no summary can do justice to the existential punch of Two-Lane Blacktop. With its gorgeous widescreen compositions and sophisticated look at American male obsession, this stripped-down narrative from maverick director Monte Hellman is one of the artistic high points of 1970s cinema, and possibly the greatest road movie ever made.


Visually dazzling and groundbreaking, My Own Private Idaho is a deeply moving look at unrequited love and life at society’s margins.


With its delicate humor and dramatic nonchalance, Jim Jarmusch’s one-of-a-kind minimalist masterpiece, Stranger Than Paradise, forever transformed the landscape of American independent cinema.

DETOUR, Edgar J. Ulmer

Detour is an example of material finding the appropriate form. Two bottom-feeders from the swamps of pulp swim through the murk of low-budget noir and are caught gasping in Ulmer’s net. They deserve one another. At the end, Al is still complaining: “Fate, for some mysterious force, can put the finger on you or me, for no good reason at all.” Oh, it has a reason.


Wim Wenders’s 1974 black-and-white road movie that marked the first installment of his Road Movie Trilogy and mirrors similar themes as his 1984 masterpiece Paris, Texas. The film tells the story of a German journalist traveling in the United States who becomes responsible for a nine-year-old girl as they travel through back through Europe to her grandmother. Filled with existential yearning and melancholic beauty this is a truly beautiful watch.    

PIERROT LE FOU, Jean Luc-Godard

This is no normal road trip: genius auteur Jean-Luc Godard’s tenth feature in six years is a stylish mash-up of consumerist satire, politics, and comic-book aesthetics, as well as a violent, zigzag tale of, as Godard called them, “the last romantic couple.” With blissful color imagery by cinematographer Raoul Coutard and Belmondo and Karina at their most animated, Pierrot le fou is one of the high points of the French New Wave, and was Godard’s last frolic before he moved ever further into radical cinema.


Director Terry Gilliam and an all-star cast headlined by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro show no mercy in bringing Hunter S. Thompson’s excoriating dissection of the American way of life to the screen, creating a film both hilarious and savage.    

PARIS, TEXAS, Wim Wenders

What makes Paris, Texas and all of Wim’s work so special is that it is filled with so much yearning and so much restlessness; people aching so badly to find what it is they’re looking for. They’re all so hungry for love and connection and something to make them feel alive. Some of them find it in others and then some of them realize even if they did—would it even make them feel better? Or are they destined to eternally feel that hole inside? 

BADLANDS, Terrence Malick

The film introduced many of the elements that would earn Malick his passionate following: the enigmatic approach to narrative and character, the unusual use of voice-over, the juxtaposition of human violence with natural beauty, the poetic investigation of American dreams and nightmares. This debut has spawned countless imitations, but none have equaled its strange sublimity.


Stone is not making a geek show, with closeups of blood and guts. Like all good satirists, he knows that too much realism will weaken his effect. He lets you know he’s making a comedy…Stylistically, the film is a cinematic bazaar, combining color and black and white, film and video, 35mm and Super 8, sitcom style and animated cartoons, fiction and newsreels. They’re throwing stuff at the screen by the gleeful handfuls.    

DOWN BY LAW, Jim Jarmusch

Described by Jarmusch as a “neo-Beat noir comedy,” Down by Law is part nightmare and part fairy tale, featuring sterling performances and crisp black-and-white cinematography by the esteemed Robby Müller.

TASTE OF CHERRY, Abbas Kiarostami

Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry is an emotionally complex meditation on life and death. Middle-aged Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi) drives through the hilly outskirts of Tehran—searching for someone to rescue or bury him. 


Bottle Rocket is a charming, hilarious, affectionate look at the folly of dreamers, shot against radiant southwestern backdrops, and the film that put Anderson and the Wilson brothers on the map.

WILD AT HEART, David Lynch

This is my road picture, except there isn’t a role for Bob Hope.

There’s a Criterion Collection Flash Sale Going On! Here’s What You Should Be Buying

The good folks over at The Criterion Collection have certainly been showing us a lot of love lately. After they so kindly made all of their films available on Hulu for free on Valentines weekend, now they have graced us with a Flash Sale. Cue: cinephiles everywhere stopping whatever they’re doing, desparatingly scouring their dwindling bank statements and proclaiming, "But I will literally die without that Rohmer box set!" 

So, from now until noon on the 27th, all in-stock Blu-rays and DVDs are 50% off, and all you have to do is enter their code and voilà! I certainly understand that remembering what you wanted in the first place—let alone making a decision—is hard enough, so I’ve compiled the best Collectors Sets available on the site that you otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to shell out the money for. From American New Wave classics to German melodramas and everything in between, here’s a helpful reminder of what you should be purchasing today.


America Lost and Found: The BBS Story 

  • Head, Bob Rafelson 
  • Easy Rider, Dennis Hooper
  • Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson
  • Drive, He Said, Jack Nicholson
  • A Safe Place, Henry Jaglom
  • The Last Picture Show, Peter Bogdonavich
  • The King of Marvin Gardens, Bob Rafelson

The BDR Trilogy, Rainer Werner Fassbinder

  • The Marriage of Maria Braun
  • Veronika Voss
  • Lola

By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two

  • By Brakhage An Anthology: Volume One
  • By Brakhage An Anthology: Volume Two

Eclipse Series 19: Chantal Ackerman in the Seventies

  • La Chambre
  • Hotel Monterey 
  • News From Home
  • Je Tu Il Elle
  • Les Rendez-Vous D’Anna

Eclipse Series 35: Maidstone and Other Films by Norman Mailer

  • Maidstone
  • Wild 90
  • Beyond the Law

Eclipse Series 9: The Delirious Fictions of William Klein

  • Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?
  • The Model Couple
  • Mr. Freedom

I Am Curious…Box Set, Vilgot Sjöman

  • I Am Curious—Yellow
  • I Am Curious—Blue

La Jetee/Sans Soleil, Chris Marker

  • La Jettee
  • Sans Soleil

John Cassavetes: Five Films

  • Shadows
  • Faces
  • A Woman Under the Influence
  • The Killing of  Chinese Bookie
  • Opening Night
  • A Constant Forge, Charles Kiselyak

Six Moral Tales, Eric Rohmer

  • The Bakery Girl of Monceau
  • My Night at Maud’s
  • Love in the Afternoon
  • Claire’s Knee
  • Suzanne’s Career
  • La Collectionneuse

Three Colors, Krzysztof Kieślowski

  • Three Colors: Blue
  • Three Colors: White
  • Three Colors: Red

Eclipse Series 18: Dušan Makavejev—Free Radical

  • Man is Not a Bird
  • Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator
  • Innocence Unprotected

10 Years of Rialto Pictures

  • Army of Shadows, Jean-Pierre Melville
  • Band of Outsiders, Jean-Luc Godard
  • Au hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson
  • Billy Liar, John Schlesinger
  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Luis Buñuel
  • Mafioso, Alberto Lattuada
  • Rififi, Jules Dassin
  • The Third Man, Carol Reed
  • Touchez Pas au Grisbi,  Jacques Becker

Wim Wenders’ Tales of Existential Romantic Yearning

*Note: Okay fine, I made this one up but still.

  • Paris, Texas
  • Wings of Desire
  • Alice in the Cities