At 16, I landed my first job as a movie theatre usher. I always liked movies, because like good books, the best ones always took me away to some far-off place. During my seven year stint at that movie theatre, I developed a love for movies and what I’d like to consider a pretty sharp eye for a good film. This is my personally curated list of 15 of the best travel movies from the past 20 years or so.
If watching these movies doesn’t instantly make you want to get up and go far away, please consult a physician. Some of the locations in these movies were added to my travel bucket list as soon as (or during) the movie finished. Movies are also an amazing pastime, especially if you’re stuck in an airport waiting on a delayed flight or bedridden because you had one too many drinks at the club last night.
Note: I have no affiliation whatsoever with any of these film companies and gain no compensation (aside from your happiness of course) in any way by suggesting them to you. Also, none of these movies are still in theatres (unless it’s a throwback night sort of deal). Here we go!
THE DARJEELING LIMITED (Trailer)
Truth be told, I saw this movie when it first played in theatres and thought nothing of it (I may even have fallen asleep). I realized how compelling it really is after watching it a second time out of boredom. It’s especially worth watching if you have strong relationships with your siblings or maybe even if you don’t. The story of 3 chronically depressed brothers who embark on a train trip across India a short time after their father’s passing. The movie shows some of the self-discovery and personal connections that seem inevitable (unless you’re actively resisting) when you travel. A light, sarcastic movie that not only made me laugh but also made me think. It stars Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody.
SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET (Trailer)
This movie chronicles the adventures of Heinrich Harrer (played by Brad Pitt), an Austrian climber, who sets off to climb Nanga Parbat in India, all while leaving a pregnant wife behind. Heinrich is a talented and proud climber. He just doesn’t play very well with others. When dangerous weather conditions threaten his life, he’s eventually forced to become more of a team player. When World War 2 begins, he and some of his climbing partners are taken as prisoners of war. A strange turn of events lands him in the Holy city of Lhasa. Lhasa is home to the Dalai Lama, whom Heinrich eventually befriends and develops a beautiful friendship with. I enjoyed this movie very much, mostly because it reminded me that even in the face of hardship, things tend to workout for the best if you’re willing to be flexible and let them happen.
EAT PRAY LOVE (Trailer)
By societal standards, Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) is an accomplished woman. When faced with the realization that there is a deep void in her life, she abruptly decides to step out of her comfort zone to find what’s missing. She soon finds herself trotting the globe in what ultimately becomes a quest for discovery of self. She goes to Italy and discovers the wonders of food and eating. Next she travels to India and gives into the strength and tranquility of prayer. In the end, and without warning, she learns about love, it’s power and it’s serenity when she winds up in Bali. I won’t sit here and lie to you, this movie is definitely romanticized. But sometimes it’s nice to see the world through rose-colored lenses.
VICKY, CRISTINA, BARCELONA (Trailer)
All you need to know about this movie is that it stars Javier Bardem (ladies), Penelope Cruz (fellas!) and Scarlett Johansson (…again, fellas!). Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona is an open-minded romantic tale about two friends and their seduction infused holiday in Barcelona, Spain. The trip is an adventure for both women, emotionally and sexually. Vicky is forced to re-evaluate what she once thought happiness was as Cristina follows her free flowing spirit. The movie showcases the beauty of Barcelona’s landscape, people and culture. It also made me jot Barcelona down on my list of places to see sooner than later. Oh and one last thing, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson, yes, yes, yes.
THE BEACH (Trailer)
Meet Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio). He has a passion for video games, all things pop culture and really enjoys old war films. Set on a remote island somewhere in the vicinity (I use this term loosely) of Thailand, this movie tells the story of how Richard makes his way to an isolated island utopia of seemingly like minded travellers. While on the island, he makes himself a few friends as well as a few foes. The movie is filled with great visual scenes and will help you see just how easy it can be to make friends while traveling.
THE LIFE OF PI (Trailer)
The Life of Pi is definitely a story of epic proportions. The story takes you from Pondicherry, India, to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to Montreal, Canada’s Old Port (my hometown). Pi, a young boy full of youthful vigour but lacking life experience is the centre of this visually jaw dropping movie. It’s a coming of age story of survival and an unlikely friendship. This movie was adapted from the novel of the same name and its author; Yann Martel is also a fellow Montrealer. If Pi can survive his adventures at sea, you can surely survive a backpacking trip.
THE TOURIST (Trailer)
This movie has action, a bit of humour and romance. The beautiful Angelina Jolie takes Johnny Depp on a ride around Venice, Italy as they try to avoid law enforcement officials and a few other less than lawful characters as well. Initially, all is going well. But just when you think the tourist may be the luckiest guy in the world, the plot twists, again and again. This movie is an easy watch, pretty funny and will make you crave the water and wonderful architecture of Venice. PS: Always be a traveler, never a tourist, the former is awesome, the latter is well, less awesome.
THE HANGOVER 2 (Trailer)
If you’ve seen The Hangover, you already have an idea of how crazy The Hangover 2 is. Stu, Doug, Phil and Alan (the Wolfpack) regroup for another alcohol-induced adventure, this time in Thailand (way up on my bucket list, and yours too). Stu’s brother-in-law to be, Teddy, is also along for the ride. A tranquil night on the beach quickly turns into a wild chain of events in and around a few tattoo shops and lady boy strip clubs in Bangkok. Young and relatively innocent Teddy winds up missing, Stu has a face tattoo that’s reminiscent of Mike Tyson and Alan is suddenly bald. Time is running out before the wedding, at which Teddy must absolutely be present. The theme of this movie is that you can have a lot of fun in a foreign place, especially when your friends are around. This movie is a flat out laugh riot. Oh, and there’s a monkey.
UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (Trailer)
This film is based on literary expert Frances Mayes, who at the onset of the story is finding it difficult to complete her most recent novel. Similar to Eat Pray Love, her seemingly tidy life soon ends up in shambles when her husband leaves her for his mistress. Frances had no clue. She reluctantly accepts an offer from a dear friend; a hand-me-down vacation/tour of splendid Tuscany. The divorce proceedings are overwhelming and some time away from it all is exactly what Frances needs. This is a charmingly shot film that shows just how much good a simple trip can do for a person going through the worst of hardships.
THE INTOUCHABLES (Trailer)
If I were to rank the films on this list from 1 to 15, 15 being my least favourite and 1 being my absolute favourite, The Intouchables, would without a doubt be top ranked. A young seemingly unrefined man (Driss) stumbles into a caretaker position when a wealthy aristocrat hires him. The two co-starring characters are total opposites. But they build a friendship and turn out to be exactly what they each needed in each other’s lives. This movie made me laugh from start to finish. There’s also a very strong emotional climax as well. I recommend this to any and everyone. There are also some very scenic views of the French countryside. If you speak/understand French well enough, see the original version in French, the humour is a little more witty.
THE BUCKET LIST (Trailer)
Starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, this movie takes you to France, Egypt and beyond. An unlikely friendship is forged between Edward Cole and Carter Chambers, who really only have one thing in common; they’re scheduled to die in the not so distant future. They meet in a hospital room, but their journey takes them all over the world. This movie showcases a lot of what travel is about to me, trying new things, having fun and making friends. Just don’t wait until you’re terminally ill to do it.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (Trailer)
Walter Mitty has quite possibly the most monotonous, boring life in the world. He also has a vivid imagination and a penchant for escapism. He creates entire fantasy worlds as a sort of release from his day to day routine, several times a day. Life Magazine, the company Walter works for, is on the verge of downsizing and Walter’s job is not safe. This movie really is the whole package, breathtaking visuals, great score, an original story (even if it’s a remake) and just the right amount of laughs. If you’re stuck in a boring 9-5 routine (like I was once upon a time) and really want to kick your life up a notch, this movie is all the motivation and inspiration you need.
THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (Trailer)
Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a bathroom attendant, is a cunning man of many faces. A chance encounter with the wealthy father of a classmate whom Tom doesn’t actually know, lands Mr. Ripley in Italy with $1000 of spending money (a decent amount of cash in the 1950s) to simply convince Mr. Greenleaf to go back home to his family. When he meets Dickie Greenleaf, his real talents kick in, impersonation and counterfeiting. He enjoys the good life for as long as Dickie and his fiancée Marge let him, but when he sees that his presence may no longer be wanted, he takes matters into his own hands. This movie will keep you glued to the screen for its cleverness and drama, but also for the lovely shots of the Italian landscape. It’s also a little (okay extremely) eerie.
LOST IN TRANSLATION (Trailer)
Bill Murray (Bob) and Scarlett Johansson (Charlotte) meet while visiting Tokyo for entirely different reasons. Bob is in Tokyo on business as an aging actor, Charlotte as a bored tag along wife, with her husband who is also there for work. Although they seem to be entirely different, they’re perfectly compatible travel buddies. Charlotte doesn’t really know what she wants out of life, and Bob knows exactly what he doesn’t want out of life. This film features a lot of very realistically awkward but still really funny moments. Many of which a lot of travellers experience whenever they visit a place as different as Tokyo, Japan. I like this movie because it feels very real, especially for someone who is currently living in a Chinese city with very few English speakers. I definitely relate. Personally, I didn’t find it very difficult to communicate when I was in Japan, but then again, this isn’t a new film. The Japanese sure do learn fast.
INTO THE WILD (Trailer)
I love this movie for too many reasons to list. But here are a few, you know, just in case you were wondering. Let’s start with this–it’s closely based on a true story. Next, not only does Christopher McCandless truly travel, he abandons his entire past life and becomes one with nature. This is by far the most extreme change of lifestyle I’ve seen recreated on the big screen. If nothing else, this movie is a very real dose of how travellers and their loved ones appear to one another. Scenes of sadness from the loved ones he left behind blend together with scenes of his new loved ones seamlessly. There’s also a realistic portrayal of the dangers travellers face once off the beaten path. If you watch one movie on this list, make it this one.
BONUS – LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (Trailer)
This movie is so popular that you probably don’t need me to give you the run down. But I’m feeling generous, so I’ll give you one anyway. First, Middle Earth and the Shire are in New Zealand. All of the beautiful scenery in this film is from New Zealand (aside from maybe a few special effects.) If that alone doesn’t convince you to visit New Zealand or at least book a trip to a country with some great greenery, find your passport and put it in the nearest recycling bin. There’s adventure, comedy, drama, warriors, elves, magic and just about everything else any movie could ever have. It’s one of the only films that closely rivals its paperback counterpart. The one “drawback” is that it’s about three hours long, which to some people, is actually a good thing!
WARNING: A good movie (or a great one) is no substitute for real travel. Living will always be better than just seeing. Use movies as a means of inspiration for you to go out and live. You can chronicle your journeys and turn them into your own movies! They make for much better memories!
BONUS BONUS: Check out two more great movie lists on;
- Conde Nast: The 50 Best Travel Films Of The Past 50 Years
- Business Insider: 30 Movies That Will Inspire You To Travel The World
I know I’ve definitely left out a lot of good travel movies that I either can’t remember or simply haven’t seen. What are your recommendations!? Comment below! Your suggestions may make the list once I revisit for a later post. You can also mention me on Twitter [at]DriftAway2015 or on Facebook at Drift Away – Travel Blog. Hope to hear from you!!
Until next time,