There is something distinctly all-American about the classic travel trailer or Recreational Vehicle (RV). Since Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s 1953 comedy, to the tricked-out ex-CIA command centers and special effects of more modern films, RV’s in movies have come a long way. Here is a countdown of my top 12 favorites, including a few bonus runner ups that just have that one RV scene that sticks in our mind long after the credits roll.
12 – The Long, Long Trailer (1953)
In this classic starring then real-life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (from I Love Lucy fame) a honeymooning couple takes a 40-foot trailer for a vacation over hill and dale. This film is full of the sight gags and slapstick humor that made their television show a crowd favorite. In one memorable scene the rocks that Lucy has been collecting over the course of the trip start to weigh down the vehicle because instead of collecting pebbles from each stop, she’s been collecting mini boulders.
This film is not to be missed and pokes fun at everything from moving around in the trailer while driving (the swings anyone?) to the challenges of backing up such a monstrosity. If you are a fan of the old TV show then you’re going to love the movie.
11 – Race With The Devil (1975)
This 1975 grindhouse drive-in cult classic stars Peter Fonda (Roger), Warren Oates (Frank), as motorbike dealers and Loretta Swit (Alice) and Lara Parker (Kelly) as their wives. What is supposed to be a fun and relaxing vacation turns into a suspense-filled chase after the four old friends accidentally witness a satanic sacrificial murder near their secluded campsite en route from San Antonio, Texas to Aspen, Colorado?
In this thriller-action film, local law-enforcement is dubious and the four friends don’t know who to trust. Facing escalating harassment and threats, and what appears to be an ever-growing network of cult spies, the friends take their RV on the open road. They are pursued by satanic cultists through intense car chases and into one of the greatest twist endings and terrifying climaxes in drive-in movie history.
10 – Paul (2011)
This film from the director of Super Bad reunites stars Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) from Shaun of the Dead as British sci-fi geeks picking up a rented RV and making an epic journey through America’s UFO heartland after attending a comic-con in San Diego.
The film is stuffed with alien movie clichés. Along the way they pick up Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a snarky, wise-cracking alien, who , after escaping a compound where he was held as a prisoner for the last 60 years, continues with them on an insane road trip in an attempt to return Paul home. Chased by federal agents and the father of an accidental kidnap victim, the misfit nerds hatch a crazy plan to help Paul return to his spaceship.
9 – Lost in America (1985)
In this film, the dry, masochistic, black humor of Albert Brooks shines through. David Howard (Brooks) gets snubbed at his Los Angeles advertising day job and convinces his yuppie wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) to also quit her job, buy a Winnebago and head out on the highway. The Howards decide to sell their house, liquidate their assets, and drop out of society, “like in Easy Rider“, and travel the country in a recreational vehicle.
They leave L.A. with a nest egg of a hundred thousand dollars but Linda loses all their savings playing roulette at the Desert Inn Casino in Las Vegas leading to an unforgettable scene in which Albert Brooks’ character David tries to convince the Casino manager (Garry Marshall) to give them their money back. Interestingly, the Desert Inn featured in quite a few films over the years including the original 1960’s Oceans 11. David and Linda ultimately decide that the broke RV-park life is not for them and head off to New York where Brooks begs for his old job back.
8 – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Another American classic starring with Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), daughter Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and son Rusty (Johnny Galecki). This is the most successful of the three 1980’s National Lampoon’s franchise films. Determined to give his family an amazing traditional Christmas, slapstick mishaps occur before things go wildly awry. Clark’s brother-in-law Eddie (Randy Quaid) shows up with his wife in a decrepit home on wheels to live on Chevy’s property unannounced and clean out his black tank by the curb – much to the neighbor’s disgust.
7 – From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
From Dusk Till Dawn is an American black comedy horror crime film directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino. It’s probably most famous for Salma Hayek’s striptease scene, but it also prominently features a kick-ass Winnebago that Jacob Fuller (Harvey Keitel) and his wife Kate (Juliette Lewis) are forced use to smuggle wanted rapist/thief/murderers Seth (George Clooney) and his paranoid, loose-cannon brother, Richard (Quentin Tarantino) into Mexico at gunpoint. That’s just the beginning of their horror adventures as they all hole up at a strip bar that’s hiding more than a few secrets.
6 – The Blues Brothers (1980)
After his release from prison after serving three years for armed robbery, Jake (John Belushi) reunites with his brother, Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) who are together known as the “Blues Brothers.” Jake sets about saving the orphanage the brothers grew up in from closing, by attempting to raise $5,000 to pay the owed back taxes. Convinced they can earn the money by getting their act back together the brothers face daunting odds to deliver the money on time.
The Blues Brothers have a souped-up decommissioned police car that can jump drawbridges; Bob and the Good Ol’ Boys have what they call a “Winnebago” – which is actually a 28’ 1977 Dodge Southwind – with their name emblazoned on the side. A chase between the two vehicles ensues when Jake, Ellwood, and co. steal Bob and the Boys’ gig.
5 – Meet the Fockers (2004)
In this sequel to Meet the Parents, A former CIA agent Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) uses a hidden command center in his tricked-out RV to secretly DNA test a hair samples taken from both his future son-in-law Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Ben Stiller) and Jorge the 15-year-old son of the Focker’s housekeeper, Isabel Villalobos (Alanna Ubach). Jack also injects Greg with truth serum.
The film additionally stars Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, and Teri Polo. Things are made worse between the two mismatched families when a chase between the Fockers’ dog, Moses, and the Byrnes’ cat, Jinx, culminates with Jinx flushing Moses down the RV’s toilet, forcing Bernie (Hoffman) to destroy it to save Moses.
4 – Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
In the film Borat, a character of Actor Sacha Baron Cohen, acting as Kazakh TV reporter known as ”Borat”, travels cross-country to make Pam Anderson his bride using unsuspecting people as his foils. At one point, while hitchhiking, he is picked up by a group of drunken South Carolina frat boy troglodytes in an RV. Then they all sit around watching sex tapes and making racist, sexist, and just generally wrong comments while driving down the highway.
The humiliated frat boys actually sued 20th Century Fox in 2006 over the use of their improvised filmed encounter claiming that they were tricked into being a part of the spoof documentary but the suit was eventually dismissed.
3 – RV (2006)
In this feel-good family film, Robin Williams stars as Bob Munro, an overworked executive who, on the premise of needing a break from it all, convinces his family to participate in a cross-country road trip in a shoddy RV to promote crucial family time and bonding. In reality, Bob has other career-oriented reasons for needing to take the cross country trip – he has to attend a merger meeting in the Rockies or lose his job that supports his family’s self-absorbed lifestyle.
Ultimately, though, after multiple run-ins and forced interactions with overly friendly full-time RV-ers , and a series of misadventures (including failed to part brakes and harrowing near-death encounters) everyone learns the true meaning of family. The feels….
2 – About Schmidt (2002)
Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is feeling useless in retirement after a lifetime of service as an actuary for Woodmen of the World Insurance Company and alone after his wife of 42 years suddenly passes from a blood clot in her brain just days after their purchase of a Winnebago Adventurer motorhome.
Schmidt decides to take a road trip from Nebraska to Colorado on his way to his daughter’s wedding.
Pajama-wearing, unshaven, and completely depressed, he decides to visit places from his past, including his college campus and fraternity at the University of Kansas and his hometown in Nebraska, at one point finding that his childhood home has been replaced by a tire shop.
1 – Spaceballs (1987)
Who can forget this Mel Brooks classic full of sight gags, stupid jokes, potty humor and parodies of the Star Wars franchise? The film includes an all-star cast including Bill Pullman, John Candy (as his half-man/half dog sidekick “Barf”) Mel Brooks (as both President Skroob and as the half-pint golden guru “Yogurt”) Rick Moranis as “Dark Helmet” and even Joan Rivers as an overly sarcastic chastity-bot sidekick and protectress of Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), the runaway princess of Druidia.
The wandering hapless heroes, Pullman and Candy, drive a retrofitted spaceship Winnebago, the Eagle V, with wings and other features you might expect from a rambling man’s space vehicle; awesome sound system, the ability to hit light speed (but, thankfully, not “ludicrous speed” and “plaid”) and infrared scanning capabilities that do come in handy when trying to navigate the inner ear of a spaceship.
Interestingly, the site gag where Dark Helmet repeatedly walks into the walls of his ship in Spaceballs is based on a blooper of a stormtrooper hitting his head as he enters a scene that was accidentally left in the final cut of the original Star Wars Film. The door frame head–bumping stormtrooper first appeared in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope in 1977.
This RV and travel trailer mini-scenes all deserve honorable mentions:
The 2012 volcano explosion scene, the Kill Bill trailer fight scene between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hanna, and the hilarious slow-motion Anchorman 2 RV crash scene involving hot oil, a bowling ball, a scorpion, and some of the best men in comedy.
If these movies don’t make you want to go out and buy a used travel trailer or RV to make your own terror-iffy memories through random hapless adventures, then you can always enjoy the travel life vicariously through these epic, hilarious, and memorable films.