We’ve assembled 19 of the best travel movies of all time for your viewing pleasure. As you can imagine, these movies traverse a number of themes, not all purely travel. Nonetheless, every movie on this list hits themes key to the idea and the obsession of travel. Great for inspiration, nomads!
19. The Beach (2000)
The Beach is a classic for those born in the 1980s, who were in the 2000s just starting to reach out and travel. The movie follows an American backpacker, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is driven to escape normal life for South East Asia. He finds an idyllic island paradise in Thailand, which then forms the basis for the plot as, surprise surprise, not everything is as it seems. Great music (Moby’s Porcelain, for example), atmosphere and story (although it gets a little action/adventure orientated later on). A must-see, but has been accused of being plastic and formulaic versus the book.
18. Brokedown Palace (1999)
Brokedown Palace is about two American backpackers who fall for the evil plot of an Australian drug syndicate recruiter, and are used as mules on a flight to Hong Kong. Before departing Thailand, however, they are stopped by authorities and imprisoned. Sort of a travel horror movie for anybody who has traveled in South East Asia. Starring Claire Danes and Bill Pullman. Available on Amazon Prime and DVD/Blu-ray.
17. Eat Pray Love
How can we describe Eat Pray Love? This film has already had huge publicity, following the wild success of the book by Elizabeth Gilbert. Basically, a married woman realises one day that she is not living the life she wants, and plans a year-long trip to Italy (a place for the body), India (a place for the soul) and Indonesia (a place for the heart). The film, a 2.5 hour marathon, follows the trip and the protagonist’s inner journey of self-exploration and realisation. Eat Pray Love stars Julia Roberts and was produced by Brad Pitt. Some say it’s superficial but there is great scenery. Available on Amazon Prime and Blu-ray/DVD.
16. Eurotrip (2004)
One of our nomads actually watched this five times at the age of 18, so she is probably the world expert on the film. It’s a teen comedy about an American college student who travels to Europe in search of his German penpal, Mickey (actually a very attractive blonde girl). Five or so cities are visited on this quest, and a whole serious of awkward and embarrassing scenes ensue. Originally titled “Ugly Americans”, the film was shot in the US and the Czech Republic. Available on Amazon Prime and Blu-Ray/DVD.
15. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
“Who said in the heart of a small person, big dreams do not exist?” Walter, a corporate employee feeling trapped in the rat race, imagines a different life for himself. With an overseas work assignment landing in his lap, Walter finally gets out of the office to take in the better part of the world on a series of crazy missions. The film follows him and this shy, corporate employee turns into something of a superhero. Starring Ben Stiller and directed by Stiller as well (wow!). Interesting trivia: for the main role, they considered Scarlett Johansson but she never signed the contract. Available on Amazon Prime and Blu-ray/DVD.
14. Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
Starring Brad Pitt, this film is about “the deep, powerful presence of life” and is set between 1944 and 1951. The protagonist, Heinrich Harrer, a professional Austrian alpinist, disappears for 7 years while on a climbing trip and eventually finds himself living in a forbidden world in Tibet. Harrer meets the Dalai Lama and finds a spiritual dimension to his quest. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and also starring David Thewlis. While a bit sentimental in places, it is still a good one to watch for travel themes and was condemned by the Chinese Government for its portrayal of communist officers. Seven Years in Tibet is available on Amazon Prime and Blu-Ray/DVD.
13. The Way Back (2011)
The Way Back is part prison movie, part travel movie. Set in post World War II Europe, Janusz Wieszczek, a Polish POW, is sentenced by Soviet authorities to 20 years in an Stalinist Gulag. The movie chronicles his escape, with others, from Siberia through China and the Himalayas, a really epic trek. Well worth a watch, The Way Back stars Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, and Saoirse Ronan and is available on Amazon Prime and via DVD/Blue-ray.
12. Cairo Time (2009)
This is a “later in life” flick starring Patricia Clarkson, who unexpectedly falls in love with a local when in Egypt to visit her UN bureaucrat husband. Various themes in there. The film was directed by Ruba Nadda and is available on DVD.
11. Tracks (2013)
Tracks is set in Alice Springs, Australia in the 1970s. Robyn, a young woman disenchanted with urban life and rigid gender roles, plans to walk about 2,000 miles from Alice Springs to the coast in Western Australia with nothing but light supplies, a dog and some camels. A great film starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver. Tracks is available on Amazon Prime.
10. As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me (2001)
As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me is a German movie about the daring escape trek (around 14,000 kms!) by a Soviet prisoner from his Siberian prison. Heavy themes and hard going, the film is exceptional nonetheless and you’ll appreciate Bernard Bettermann’s performance as the long suffering protagonist. If you’re feeling uncomfortable after a fifth hostel with bedbugs, this flick will make you feel grateful for your circumstances, for sure. Available on Amazon Prime and Blu-Ray/DVD. There’s also a book.
9. The Way (2011)
The Way traces the journey of a grieving father as he completes the camino from the Pyrenees in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen, this is a profound and mature contribution to the travel film genre. Watch on Amazon Prime or get it on Blu-ray/DVD.
8. Into The Wild (2007)
Into The Wild is based on the true story of Christopher McCandless and follows his passionate attempt to throw off the shackles of middle class American life and live free in nature. Great soundtrack (Eddie Vedder), together with some heavy themes and beautiful scenery. Not to be missed. Starring Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt. Directed by Sean Penn. You can watch Into The Wild with Amazon Prime. There’s also the Blu-ray and DVD.
7. Cast Away (1997)
Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, is an unmissable flick if you’ve ever dreamed about living on a desert island. Considered a “survival drama”, the plot follows a FedEx employee whose aircraft crashes in the ocean and he must make the best of his lot on an uninhabited island. Similar to All Is Lost, Hanks gets most of the screen time – so if you’re not a fan, maybe this film isn’t for you. An interesting fact: they actually stopped filming for a year while Hanks, apparently a bit fat, lost 20kgs so he could look suitably bedraggled for the desperate island scenes. Still a classic and still worthy of this list, actually ranking quite well. Available on Amazon Prime and Blu-Ray/DVD.
6. Up in the Air (2009)
This movie was written with George Clooney in mind, and he doesn’t disappoint. Well query whether domestic US airline travel actually counts as travel, but we’ll let this one slide. This is a great treatment of travel versus relationships and the emotional freedom or denial, depending on your perspective, that frequent travel promotes. Available on Amazon Prime and Blu-ray/DVD.
5. Copenhagen (2014)
If you’re a fan of Denmark, and Copenhagen specifically, then you’re obliged to watch this movie just for the sake of visual pleasure. We think you’ll also discover that this independent US/Canadian film is a real gem, poignantly exploring “coming of age” and travel themes. The plot follows William, a disenchanted backpacker, as he traces his family roots back to Denmark. Along the way, he meets Effy, a local, and most of the story revolves around their interactions. The film stars Gethin Anthony and Frederikke Dalh Hansen, who put in spectacular performances, and is directed by Mark Raso. One critic said she “always loved movies that focus on the city of the story… When the city becomes one of the characters of the story, and when it is impossible to separate the meaning of the plot from its geography.” We agree. The film has also won several awards. Available on Amazon Prime.
4. All is Lost (2013)
This is a fantastic performance from Robert Redford, in a haunting film about isolation and solitude. After his yacht encounters difficulties, the aging protagonist is left to battle for survival in the middle of the ocean. Somewhat uniquely, Redford is the only starring character. A great bit of cinema. Available on Amazon Prime and DVD/Blu-ray.
3. Lost in Translation (2003)
Lost in Translation, which has become something of a classic, centres on the developing relationship between two Americans on business travel in Tokyo, who are lost in their own way. Bob (Bill Murray) is an actor shooting a whisky promotion. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) recently got married to a fashion photographer, who works all day on tour, and she is feeling lonely. What ensues between Bob and Charlotte is a poignant examination of place, identity and adulthood itself. The film is directed by Sofia Coppola. You can rent the Lost in Translation with Amazon Prime, and watch it instantly. It is also available on Blu-ray.
2. Casablanca (1942)
The classic itself! We need say no more. OK, well just a little. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. The plot focuses on the protagonist’s choice between his lover and helping the war effort. Amazing, iconic soundtrack. Well worth it, even if a little hard to get to for the modern nomad. It’s on Amazon Prime, of course, but there’s also a special edition DVD.
1. Before Sunrise (1995)
A romance, Before Sunrise, follows two young Americans who meet on a train and spontaneously agree spend a night exploring Vienna together. Heavily focused on the dialogue between the two characters, this is arguably a chick flick. Considered a classic by a whole subculture, the film has two sequels. Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Directed by Richard Linklater. You can get Before Sunrise on Amazon Prime or order the Blu-ray/DVD.
Not to ruin the plot line, but – if you’re a fan, you’ll also enjoy the two sequels. These are just as charming:
Before Sunset (2004)
Before Sunset takes up the plot nine years after Before Sunrise where Jesse and Céline meet each again in Paris at a book signing. They spend an afternoon together, with the film based heavily around their dialogue and interactions on the streets of Paris.
Before Midnight (2013)
Set in Greece, Before Midnight again takes up the plot with Jesse and Céline who are now in a relationship and have children.
Title image credit: josealbafotosjpg
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