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Movies have the power to inspire, to take us on a trip without requiring us to get off the couch.

A scene from “O Brother Where Art Thou?”

ONE TRAVELING GARDEN gnome. A star-crossed couple on a sinking ocean liner. Eleven crooks on a European heist. And Bond-James Bond.

These are just four of the travelers who didn’t make it onto our roundup of the twenty greatest travel films of all time. Not because we didn’t like Amelie, Titanic, Ocean’s 12 or the Bond movies, mind you, but because we just didn’t have the space.

Movies have the power to inspire, to take us on a trip without requiring us to get off the couch. And sometimes the most inspiring films aren’t really about travel at all.

Without further ado, here is BNT’s definitive list of the 20 greatest travel movies of all time.

The Inner Journey: Les Poupees russes and L’auberge Espagnole

These French films (both directed by Cedric Klapisch and both featuring the incandescent Audrey Tautou) follow the physical and mental travels of grad students (L’auberge) and, five years later,young professionals (Poupees).

It’s been argued that both films serve as apt allegories for the European Union-each main cast member is from a different country-and it was both hilarious and touching to see our heroes react to different situations as their cultures collided and coalesced.

The Holy Pilgrimage: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

It’s hard to choose between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade for best Indiana Jones film (let’s pretend Temple of Doom never happened), but both are doubtless travel films that will make anyone want to hop a plane.

We give the edge to Last Crusade for the spine-tingling final trip to the grail’s lair (and we believe we have chosen…wisely).

Before that final scene, we get to see the scorching deserts of Utah, the canals of Venice, the streets of Nazi-era Berlin, and mysterious Jordan.

The First Date: Before Sunrise

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in “Before Sunrise”

It’s not exactly hostel sex (and many say that its sequel, Before Sunset is much better), but travel is still an aphrodisiac between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in this 100 minute-long conversation through Vienna.

From train to city centre and back again, we see two people out of their element explore with a wide-eyed wonder that speaks to their wanderlust-and their ultimate lust for each other.

The Test of a Relationship: Two Days in Paris

For those of us who have traveled with significant others to results less than fairytale-like, the story is immediately familiar.

An un-romanticized (though no less tempting) backdrop of Paris fuels the wanderlust and while the end is not necessarily a ride off into the sunset, it’s easily the most realistic cinematic take on couples’ travel.

The Reason to Start Sniffing Glue: Airplane!

“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.”

“Oh, stewardess! I speak jive.”

This is either the movie that makes you never want to set foot on a plane again, or get to the nearest airport immediately.

A spoof on the then-popular airplane disaster movies, ex-Navy pilot Ted follows his stewardess ex onto a plane to win her back and-several dozen infamous quotes later-saves the plane from certain doom.

The Satire: Sullivan’s Travels

That Sullivan’s Travels was made so close to the end of the Great Depression speaks to the true Swiftian satire of writer/director Preston Sturges.

While Sullivan is good at his job of making light, comedic films, what he really wants to do is direct an expose of the social problems plaguing the United States (titled O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

What he eventually learns, after going from riches to rags in an attempt to understand the common man is that the country needs comedies to forget about its social problems.

The Odyssey: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Before they won the Oscar for No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers were nodding to Sullivan’s Travels with 2000′s O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Based on the Odyssey of Homer (which these two claim to not have read prior to making this movie) and A Dozen Tough Jobs by Howard Waldrop, O Brother follows George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturro through Depression-era Mississippi to break up Clooney’s ex-wife’s wedding.

Modern-day lotus eaters, sirens, Hades, and a Cyclops make cameos.

The Road Trip: Flirting With Disaster

If O Brother, Where Art Thou? was the story of Odysseus, then Flirting With Disaster is the story of Telemachus.

Ten years before the Hoovers trekked in a run-down VW to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette cross the United States with their incompetent adoption agent (Tea Leoni) and four-month old son to find Stiller’s birth parents.

The Social Commentary: Borat – Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to really teach you about your home country.

Borat was one of those characters who gave we Americans some much-needed edification. An ice-cream truck is a great way to cross the country (and, failing that, a busload of evangelists will do the trick).

A bear may kill your wife, but it’s still great protection against the Jews. Every mortgage brokers’ convention should be interrupted by two men in a naked brawl. And you can always find enlightenment in an RV full of frat boys (not).

The Great Cardio Workout: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Its final installment may have won the Oscar, but we can’t help but agree with the Clerks II assessment of the trilogy: a lot of walking, more walking, dropping a ring in a volcano, and walking back. Still, like Star Wars, this is a pretty epic trek that is all about the journey.

That the film revitalized New Zealand tourism doesn’t hurt, either.

The Totally Bogus Time Bend: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Alex Winter and a young Keanu Reeves.

Whoa! Not only do Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan travel as far back as the 400s BC, they hit up Austria, Germany, Greece, Mongolia, France, Antebellum D.C., and the Wild West.

But perhaps the real travel here is their band of historical figures-everyone from Beethoven to Freud to Genghis Khan to Joan of Arc-coming to terms with life in the late 80s at the San Dimas Mall.

And let’s not forget Napoleon having a field day on the slides at Waterloo Water Park. Most excellent.

The Family Vacation: The Darjeeling Limited

We can always count on Wes Anderson to make us feel better about our own family quirks and his most recent installment, 2007′s The Darjeeling Limited, is no exception.

With a soundtrack almost entirely dedicated to Merchant Ivory and Bollywood film scores and an ode to train travel not seen since Paul Theroux, this may also be one of his most visually appealing films.

The Road to Hell: In Bruges

“Maybe that’s what hell is,” Colin Farrell muses in one of his ubiquitous voice-overs in this recent cinematic gem: “an entire eternity spent in Bruges.”

As Farrell and his cohort (Brendan Gleeson) hide out in an unsuspecting Belgian town while recovering from a botched hit-job, we see various shades of hell.

There is the resounding guilt that Farrell goes through. There’s the life of a dwarf actor addicted to amphetamines and zingy one-liners. There’s the elephantine tourists.

And then there’s the silver lining thanks to Martin McDonagh’s wickedly dark comic talent-and gorgeous shots of Belgium’s answer to Venice.

The Business Trip: M*A*S*H

Attention, attention: this next film will be M*A*S*H. The film that launched a thousand (fine, 251) television episodes, puts the audience in the passenger’s seat (of a stolen Jeep, naturally) to the journey of three civilian doctors drafted into the Korean War.

Much more than a typical “war is hell” flick, M*A*S*H is a series of episodes depicting ordinary people dealing with the distance from home-and sanity-as best they can.

The Fish Out of Water: Lost in Translation

Bill Murray is the tallest man in the elevator. He has to crouch to use the shower head. His translator takes a good five-second monologue and siphons it down to one, brief “No.”

He meets a match in Scarlett Johanssen and we get a poetic, atmospherically-charged tour of Tokyo under the same steady directorial hand that would take us through Versailles a few years later. Though Versailles has nothing on robots, Japanese game show hosts, or Suntory whiskey.

The Survivors: Deliverance

We don’t know what’s more iconic: the “squeal like a pig” scene, the prominence of Burt Reynolds’s moustache, or the dueling banjos with which this film will-in a knee-jerk reaction-always be associated.

Perhaps it’s Deliverance in and of itself. Losing the Oscar to The Godfather, John Boorman’s masterpiece speaks to the concerns of diminishing wildlife, the dangers of the southern U.S. backwoods, and why four city slickers in a canoe makes for a good survival story.

The Avengers: Munich

In the wake of the massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Eric Bana and his compatriots are sent out to seek vengeance on the members of Black September.

As attack groups and counter-attack groups chase each other around the globe, a new, ironic diaspora from one of the most fought-over pieces of land rises from the metaphoric rubble.

The Imperialist: Lawrence of Arabia

When asked why he didn’t win the Oscar the year he was nominated for playing this multiple award-winning film’s title character, Peter O’Toole simply said “They gave it to somebody else.”

Yet even though he didn’t take home the statue, the history books will remember the extraordinarily complex figure of T.E. Lawrence, and his cinematic double of O’Toole.

From imperialist to hero, Lawrence has been called many things, and his benefit to both Northern Africa and Great Britain is still largely questioned, reminding us that even the most seemingly selfish of travelers possess their own complexities.

Something to think about the next time someone tries to steal your window seat.

The Chase: North By Northwest

It’s not a travel movie roundup until we see Cary Grant being chased down by a crop-dusting plane. One of the best fugitive/spy flicks from the master of suspense is also the best film to showcase Mount Rushmore (sorry, National Treasure 2).

Maybe it’s due to the part where Eva Marie Saint is dangling precariously from its edge, but more likely it’s the part where Cary Grant dryly says “I don’t like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.”

We thought Teddy was giving us the stink-eye, too.

The Mid-Life Crisis: 10

You know, it’s really unfair to pit Julie Andrews against Bo Derek. One’s Mary Poppins-slash-Maria von Trapp. The other is a corn rowed blonde who has a thing for hooking up to Ravel’s “Bolero” (something to think about putting onto your iPod before you reach the hostel).

Nevertheless, what better cure for Dudley Moore’s midlife crisis than to ditch the former and follow the latter on her honeymoon to Mexico?

Not only did this film show us how travel can be a great escape from the plagues of the real world, it showed us that Bo was an actress to watch, and that Dudley Moore’s career was nowhere near finished.

These are our picks, but any glue-sniffing pilot will agree that movie choices are deeply personal.

So tell us: what would you add to the list of movies that stoke our travel-lust?

Pop Culture


About The Author

Olivia Giovetti

Olivia Giovetti has lived in and explored the better part of Europe on a bohemian budget. Freelance travel writing seemed like the next obvious step and her publishers include EuroCheapo, Paper Magazine, and Classic FM. A former New Yorker, she now lives in Los Angeles.

  • Craig

    The Bourne movies (Bourne Identity, etc) always make me want to flit about between European capitals.

  • Mrs. Mecomber

    Treasure of the Sierra Madre
    Key Largo
    The Trip to Bountiful
    The Bourne Identity/Conspiracy

  • Dan

    The Bourne series, i think, is a really inspirational movie for anyone who plans to travel europe.

  • Turner

    Eurotrip, if only for one line:

    “…could I borrow your Frommer’s?”
    “Oh, here it is. Bratislava. Hmm. Capital of Slovakia. Oh, here’s a fun fact: You made out with your sister, man!”

  • N. Chrystine Olson

    Gallipoli -WWI epic by Peter Weir taking two Aussie soldiers through Australia and Egypt. The scenes in Turkey were actualy filmed on a beach in Southern Oz.

    French Kiss- Who wouldn’t want to tramp through France with Kevin Kline’s character.

    Roman Holiday- Obvious I know but what a classic.

    Wah Wah – Family drama with Gabriel Byrne set in Swaziland during their declared independence from Britain

  • bylinediva

    Definitely the Bourne trilogy…when I went to London recently I felt like I was in the movie!

    I’d have to say the second Oceans movie even though it wasn’t as good as the first or the last, the gallivanting around Europe was pretty cool.

    Under the Tuscan Sun…c’mon so obvious

    Summer Lovers 1982 film with Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah set in Santorini – your basic menage-a-trois-in-beautiful surroundings movie

    The Talented Mr. Ripley

    Roman Holiday

    Out of Africa

    The Constant Gardener

    The English Patient

  • Daniel Harbecke

    Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m a little sheepish to admit it, but when the plane takes off for someplace new I get the Raiders March in my head, picture the red line going across the map… I can’t be the only one who thinks about this.

    …doot d’ doot doo, doot d’ doo…

  • Michaela Lola

    As a major film buff, I have to say that your article made me want to head to the nearest video store (i.e. download films). Airplane! The Darjeeling Limited! Munich! As Bill and Ted would say, “Totally righteous dude!” (or was that ‘Wayne’s World’?).

    Another aspect of films that gets me itching to strap my travelin’ boots on are those that takes you through a city or a country, wherein the location plays a leading role. From the streets of Berlin and New York to the complex culture of China and the United States, I would like to add:

    1) Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt)
    2) The Edukators
    3) The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
    4) Berlin Alexanderplatz
    5) Good Bye Lenin!
    6) Funeral in Berlin
    7) Wings of Desire

    New York:
    1) Vanilla Sky
    2) Taxi Driver
    3) When Harry met Sally
    4) Goodfellas
    5) Ghostbusters
    6) Short Circuit
    7) Last Exit to Brooklyn
    8) Breakfast at Tiffany’s
    9) Big
    10) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    11) Raging Bull

    1) 400 Blows
    2) Children of Paradise
    3) Love me if you dare/Jeux d’enfants
    4) An American in Paris
    5) Paris, I love you/ Paris, je t’aime (no, not the disease infested socialite)
    6) La Femme Nikita
    7) Last Tango in Paris/Ultimo Tango a Parigi (Italian), Le Dernier Tango à Paris (French)
    8) Breathless
    9) Rendezvous/C’était un rendez-vous

    1) All About my Mother
    2) Barcelona

    1) In the Mood for Love
    2) Balzac and the Chinese Seamstress

    1) Days of Being Wild

    1) Apocalypse Now (Filmed in the Philippines)

    Across the U.S.A.
    1) Into the Wild
    2) Where the Buffalo Roam
    3) My Blueberry Nights
    4) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
    5) Little Miss Sunshine

    San Francisco, U.S.A.:
    1) Dirty Harry
    2) Zodiac
    3) The Birds
    4) 40 Days, 40 Nights
    5) Tales from the City
    6) The Joy Luck Club

    1) Old Boy

    1) Hideous Kinky

    ok…time to step away from the keyboard. Draft 1.

  • Kellea Croft

    The only reason I watch movies.. to see the places they are at.

    I agree with Gallipoli, have been planning a trip there since I seen it.

    French Kiss makes me realize what I missed in Paris.

    Under the Tuscon Sun is a fave, who wouldn’t want to buy a villa and live out dreams (wait I’m doing that in Australia)

    National Treasure makes me look at USA landmarks differently

    DaVinci Code… I want to follow that trail and see all those sights

    Raiders of the Lost Ark and Laura Croft movies make me want to see Egypt

    March of the Penguins.. who wouldn’t want to see those cutie pies

    This is fun… gonna go look at my movie collection again.

  • Olivia

    Turner–I was oh-so-tempted to put Eurotrip on the list. By far one of my favourite guilty pleasure movies. Mi scusi! Mi scusi!

    Michaela–Good Bye Lenin! and The Edukators are two of my desert island films. Maybe it’s Daniel Bruhl.

    And a funny story for the Bourne supporters (of which I also count myself): A friend of the family worked on the Bourne movies and DJed the wrap party for Bourne Supremacy. He took pride in the fact that throughout shooting, there wasn’t a single injury. Until the wrap party when people were moshing to his mixing.

  • Lola Akinmade

    Love sweeping epics and period pieces of all types. Even subpar ones still transport me there and wish I were on the road travelling.

    Cool list.

  • Not Another Tourist

    I would add:

    Traveling Back in Time: Goodbye Lenin! for a taste of old East Berlin before and after the Wall came down.

    And of course for The Perfect Charming Locale: Amelie. Besides beautiful movies, I think Yann Tiersen’s music transcends time and place and never ceases to make me feel homesick for the places I am experiencing for the first time.

  • LaVonne

    Some oldies but goodies:

    National Lampoon’s Vacation. This film has so much to teach such as there are advantages to growing up on a farm, that it rains in Phoenix at the most inconvenient times, and that you should never, ever tie a dog to a bumper. If you follow the sequels, you will wonder why Audrey and Rusty keep changing, but not be the least bit surprised that Cousin Vicki turns out the way she does. Don’t forget to notice the plight!

    Planes, Trains & Automobiles. For anyone who has worked in a customer service position and has been on the receiving end of an irate customer’s verbal abuse, Edie McClurg’s two-word response to Steve Martin’s f-word carpet bombing is wonderful vindication. Just temporarily suspend your disbelief and try not to think too hard about how anyone could be employed to sell nothing but shower curtain rings.

    La Gloire de mon père and Le Château de ma mère. As delightful and uplifting as the first film was, the second film is dark and occasionally disturbing. What begins as delightful getaways to a country house sadly become the setting for many unpleasant experiences. The films remind us that travel presents us with a variety of experiences, some wonderful, some bittersweet, some downright awful.

  • Michelle

    I especially loved Before Sunrise!

    Here are my picks!

  • Danielle Rush

    ["It’s hard to choose between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade for best Indiana Jones film (let’s pretend Temple of Doom never happened), but both are doubtless travel films that will make anyone want to hop a plan."]

    You might want to pretend that “TEMPLE OF DOOM” never happened.  I refuse to do so.  It’s my favorite Indiana Jones film.  And as much as I like “LAST CRUSADE”, it’s my least favorite film in the franchise.

  • Coffeetawk

    Under the Tuscan Sun, French Kiss, Shirley Valentine…do you sense a theme here?

  • Murissa Shalapata

    I have to say you are right on the money about Indian Jones!
    I loved The Darjeeling Limited and Lost in Translation.
    Another film, that’s relatively new, is Midnight in Paris. It is spectacular as a travel, art and literature enthusiast. As a fellow writer I think you’ll agree.
    Great list! Glad to see some familiar titles and some that are new. I am surprised Amelie isn;t in this mix, but nonetheless, it is a great list that I mostly agree with!

    The Wanderfull Traveler

  • Mark Shea

    I also included Before Sunrise in my list of Movies that make you wanna travel

  • R-lec

    Cool list, check out my latest blog post for a few of my favourites!

  • Jesi Di

    motorcycle diaries

  • Mario Arana

    Great article! I just want to mention a movie about travel that becomes about much more “Motorcycle Diaries” Brilliant depiction of how travel transforms us in so many ways.

  • Mariza Melia

    Nice post! My most favorite probably: A Map For Saturday. But there are some others that I do like also check it out here:

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