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.

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, Monte Hellman

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.

MY OWN PRIVTE IDAHO, Gus van Sant

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

STRANGER THAN PARADISE, Jim Jarmusch

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.

ALICE IN THE CITIES, Wim Wenders

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.

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Terry Gilliam

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.

NATURAL BORN KILLERS, Oliver Stone

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, Wes Anderson

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.

Examining the Alphabet of David Lynch

Let’s take a stroll through Michel Chion’s “Lynch-Kit”—which is featured in the 2nd edition of his book David Lynch. The “Kit” is an alphabetical list (originally in French), but what’s more, it’s an “attempt to reconstitute an impossible whole…inspired by Lynch’s themes, but is neither an inventory or an index, nor even a repertory.” Chion asserts that “a certain number of scenes and major signifiers were simply chosen from the filmmaker’s work and connected to one another.” With multiple visual, emotional, psychological, and physical terms for each letter of the alphabet, Chion’s collection is a vast array in great detail. Some allusions are more abstract and take a moment to thoroughly process, while others are direct and literal—yet all equally relevant. And as it’s an interesting “Kit” to devour, I wanted to share his connections, along with visual moments from Lynch’s works that illuminate Chion’s writing. In David Lynch, he theorizes just how each theme corresponds to Lynch’s films but for now, let’s just watch our way through his alphabet. Enjoy.

A for Alphabet

B for Body

C for Chair

C for Curtain

C for Curtain

D for Dream

 

D for Dream

D for Dog

E for Erasure

F for Fence

F for Floating

F for Floating

For for Forever

G for Group

H for Hut

I for Insect

K for Kit

L for Log

N for Night

O for Open Mouth

P for Power

R for Reaction

S for Smoke

S for Stage

S for Stage

T for Texture

V for Void

 W for Word

From Lynch to Tarantino, All of Your Favorite Films are Playing in NYC This Weekend

Toss your beloved DVD collection to the side and head to the theater, because all of your favorite movies are playing this weekend. And no, I doubt I’m being hyperbolic when I say that there is surely a personal classic for everyone screening around the city, and what better way to view your most cherished piece of cinema than in the format it deserves? Whether you’re one for PT Anderson’s evocative ensemble dramas, Terrence Malick’s magic hour murders, David Lynch’s haunting and heartbreaking surrealism, or Quentin Tarantino’s black-humored violence there are plenty of undoubtable masterpieces of film to enjoy, alongside some of the most-acclaimed new movies of the year. I’ve rounded up the best of what’s playing throughout New York City this weekend—so peruse the list, see what you’re in the mood for, go get yourselves some Twizzlers, and head down to the cinema. Enjoy.

Film Forum

Badlands
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Post Tenebras Lux
Voyace to Italy
 
 

Museum of the Moving Image

The Rolling Stones in Gimme Shelter
The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night
The Who in Quadrophenia
 
 

BAM

Wild at Heart
L’Eclisse
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
The Mother and the Whore
 
 

Nitehawk

Boogie Nights
Hit So Hard
Deceptive Practice
Serial Mom
 
 

IFC Center

Pulp Fiction
Something in the air
Robin Hood: Men in Tights
The Shining
Room 237
The Source Family
Upstream Color
Java Heat
2001: A Space Odyssey
 
 

Film Linc

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s
To the Wonder
Girls in the Band
 
 

Angelika Film Center

What Maisie Knew
Stories We Tell
No
Trance
Midnight’s Children
 
 

Landmark Sunshine

Sightseers
The Iceman
Love is all You Need
In the House
Alien

The Stunning Covers of Midnight Maurader’s Criterion Collection Series

More than just possessing the best in international, avant-garde, rare, and classic cinema, the Criterion Collection provides us with an artifact. We get to enjoy a beautiful mastering of a film, bonus materials and critical analysis of the work, with the actual casing of the film a treasure in itself. The covers for Criterion films are a unique art, visually stunning, small-scale works of graphic design intended to entice and highlight the visual and thematic aspects of the film. And designer Midnight Marauder has used his own creative muscle to give us another look at Criterions films from his unique perspective—covers that could have been and those that may never be.

With a sharp vision that encapsulates the essence of the films, Midnight Marauder has a deep love for cinema, and calls his imagined Criterion Collection covers an "artistic exercise" that allows him to work through different aesthetics and have fun in the process. When I asked Midnight Marauder to describe what fuels his work, he replied, "I get my kicks from truly great filmmakers and their enduring legacy on us all—directors who curse at a studio head to get their final cut." We’ve put together some of our favorites from his series. Click through and enjoy.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

"Hands down one of my favorite films of all time. It’s so beautiful, so pure and so poetic."

The Conversation

"It’s as much a Walter Murch film as a Coppola film. The music is divine! 

Fight Club

"I was blown away the second I saw the trailer. What shocked me the most was not the blood and the fights; it was the idea of mental disorder and how you can reinvent yourself in the chaos of it all."

Wild at Heart

"I love the energy of the film, the music is magical, and Dafoe is grotesque."

Revolutionary Road

"Decaprio’s finest hour."

All the President’s Men

"I love journalism and the power of the press. They can bring down the most powerful of crooks."

Mean Streets

"The first student film from a big studio. I think it’s even more powerful today then when it first was projected in New York."

Planet Terror

"A pretty bold move from Robert Rodrigez and Quentin Tarantino. They took a massive gamble on the entire Grindhouse film. Planet Terror is a fun ride for all of us who grew up on cheap VHS Horror Films."

Network

"Sidney Lumet gave us a satirical look into television programming. The first five minutes of the film leave you speechless."

Rosemary’s Baby

"Roman Polanski at his most devilish, and he paid the ultimate price for making it."

Annie Hall

"The ultimate romantic experimental comedy. When I hear Diane Keaton singing at the end…I cry."

No Country for Old Men

"The Coens gave us a modern Western masterpiece. Those brothers can do no wrong."

Jackie Brown

"It’s Quentin Tarantino’s most complete film to date: an adaption of Elmore Leonard’s famed Rum Punch. The characters are whole and seem to sing Tarantino’s dialogue."

Drive

"It’s a modern-day Jean-Pierre Melville picture, with Gosling reminiscent of Alain Delon’s Samurai."

The Exorcist

"Friedkin in my opinion is the most misunderstood director of the ’70s."

Dressed to Kill

"Pure Brian De Palma. I wonder if he’s over his obsession with Hitchcock?"

The Long Goodbye

"I am convinced that the Coen brothers watched this while writing The Big Lebowski."