Ill-advised car journeys on film – ranked!

Dominic Cummings’ drive to Barnard Castle is unlikely to cut it as a road movie, but here are some nightmarish trips that did make it into the cinema

13. Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

The internet tells us that Sonic the Hedgehog can run at 362mph. In the film Sonic the Hedgehog, the eponymous hero has to travel from Montana to San Francisco, a distance of 1,200 miles. By rights, the film should be a maximum of three and a half hours in length. But no. Thanks to a tranquilliser-based misunderstanding in which he is mistaken for a racoon, Sonic the Hedgehog is temporarily immobilised and has to be driven the distance in a Toyota pickup truck. During this time, drunk hoodlums attempt to beat him to death and the truck is blown up by exploding drones. Sometimes it’s safer on foot.

12. Death Proof (2007)

Kurt Russell plays a stuntman who likes to murder groups of young women by driving at them full speed in his reinforced car. Three young women drive home from a bar, too busy dancing to a middle-aged man’s idea of what music young women like to notice that a car is barrelling towards them with its headlights off. They all die in horrible ways. A leg flies off. A skull is graphically crushed by a wheel. It is thoroughly unpleasant, and a stark warning that you should never give the come-on to psychopathic stuntmen you meet in pubs.

11. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Admittedly, cars only make up a portion of this film – but they are arguably the most entertaining parts. First, John Candy drives the wrong way down a freeway, then he accidentally sets the car on fire, and, finally, the vehicle is impounded and the pair must travel the rest of the distance in a refrigerated truck. It’s no trip to Barnard Castle, but it’s still pretty bad.

Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Steve Martin and John Candy go for their own take on the convertible in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Photograph: Paramount/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

10. The Italian Job (1969)

In which Michael Caine’s band of ragtag robbers pull off one of the most audacious high-speed getaways in all of cinema history, only to underestimate the turning capabilities of a heavy coach and bugger it up on the Nivolet Pass. The finale – in which the coach teeters on the edge of the mountainside road, loot just out of reach – is an important lesson. After an ill-advised and illegal car trip that risks provoking the anger of a nation, should you choose survival or greed? It is becoming evidently clear that you cannot have both.

9. Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Stephen King’s only directorial credit – largely because, in his own words, “I was coked out of my mind all through its production, and I really didn’t know what I was doing” – is a horror movie about inanimate objects that come to life, maybe because of aliens or something. We meet a newlywed couple – one of whom is played by Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson – as they embark on a honeymoon road trip. However, they are soon set upon by a bunch of unmanned lorries that only stop when Pat Hingle, from Splendor in the Grass, blows them up with a rocket launcher. Did I mention that cocaine was a factor in the production of this film?

8. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Now, the entire Fast & Furious oeuvre is filled with poor automotive decisions – examples include the time when they were all flipped into the air by a surfacing submarine; the time they raced a military drone through a tunnel; and the time they drove out of the middle of a skyscraper, flew through the air and went into the middle of another skyscraper. But nothing beats the trip on the runway at the end of the sixth instalment. The crew has to chase a speeding plane before it takes off, and there is a fistfight and everything explodes. The scene lasts for 10 minutes; science has determined that the runway was 20 miles long.

Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast & Furious 6
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel show wilful disregard for the Highway Code in Fast & Furious 6 Photograph: Universal/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

7. The Blues Brothers (1980)

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi play two blood brothers who embark on a mission from God to save the orphanage in which they were raised. The police are in hot pursuit, there are Nazis on their trail and a mysterious woman keeps trying to murder them. As Elwood (Aykroyd) memorably says in the film: “There’s 266 miles to Durham, we’ve got a full tank of gas, a four-year-old in the back, the country’s under lockdown and I can’t bloody see anything.” No, wait, that’s not right.

6. Locke (2013)

All Tom Hardy wants to do is drive from Birmingham to London. However, this trip of a lifetime is put in jeopardy by a number of phonecalls from friends and associates. Some wonder why he has abandoned the largest concrete pour ever to be seen in all of Europe. Others wonder why he has abandoned his entire family. It’s a wonderful, self-contained film that remains a career highlight for both Hardy and writer/director Steven Knight, but the reason for the trip is slightly underwhelming. Perhaps if Hardy had just wanted to go and look at some bluebells in a wood with his family, it would have had a bit more dramatic heft.

5. Monolith (2016)

Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock plays a pop star who is given a sentient car as a gift. But during an off-road trip through the middle of nowhere, the car suddenly goes wrong. By “goes wrong”, I mean that she locks herself out for so long that she is eventually attacked by coyotes. That’s right, this is an entire film about all the things that happen when a woman loses her car keys. An entire film. Imagine. 

The Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation
Just a regular family car trip: the Griswolds get ready for the off in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock

4. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

An almost perfect road trip comedy, National Lampoon’s Vacation manages to fold no end of horrors in to its plot. During a cross-country holiday, the Griswold family crash, get ripped off, are vandalised, murder a dog, drive a human corpse around strapped to their roof and hold an entire amusement park as their armed hostages. And still, after all this, Clark Griswold refused to resign from his job as the prime minister’s special adviser.

3. Vanishing Point (1971)

A cult classic and a favourite of Steven Spielberg, the film sees an enigmatic car delivery driver named Kowalski embark on a Benzedrine-fuelled race to drive a Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco. The police chase him. He runs another driver off the road, fights off some armed hitchhikers, and then fatally injures himself by driving into a bulldozer at top speed. The reason for any of this is never made clear. Perhaps he wanted to visit his parents’ house before the press found out.

2. Thelma & Louise (1991)

This might be the definitive road trip film, where mishap after mishap is piled up until all is lost. There is an attempted rape. A murder. Theft. Kidnapping. Wilful destruction. And, in the end, suicide. All in all, it’s arguably one of the most catastrophic road trips to ever happen – until, that is, about six weeks ago. As such, it isn’t very interesting or timely at all and Dominic Cummings definitely shouldn’t watch it.

Dennis Weaver is terrorised by the truck in Duel
Is there something wrong with your eyesight? Dennis Weaver is terrorised by the truck in Duel. Photograph: Allstar/Universal Television

1. Duel (1971)

Steven Spielberg’s feature debut is essentially a prototypical Jaws; a harried driver just wants to peacefully travel from A to B, but his efforts are thwarted by a truck intent on terrorising him. The scariest thing about Duel is that we never know the truck driver’s motives, let alone actually see him. Is this a personal vendetta, planned long in advance? Did he choose this car at random? Could this be the first time he has ever attempted this, or is he a habitual antagonist? Might it be that he just wanted to check his eyesight on a road trip and didn’t even see the car? We may never know.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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