Wanderlust on film: the 40 best travel movies of all time

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A well-told film has the power to transport you from your living room to another space and time altogether. All of a sudden, your couch is Michael Hynson’s surfboard as you search for the perfect wave across South Africa and Hawaii (Endless Summer), or your reading light overhead is a lamppost on the streets of Vienna, witnessing a serendipitous love story between two strangers whose souls met years ago (Before Sunrise). Read through the gallery below for 40 of our favourite films that will take you from Nairobi to Paris, no passport required.

Out of Africa (1985)
Based on the autobiographical novel by Isak Dinesen (the pseudonym of Danish author, Karen Blixen), Out of Africa is the tragic love story of Karen (played by Meryl Streep), a noble woman who falls in love with Denys (Robert Redford), a local big-game hunter, while en route to Nairobi.

2. True (2004)
A French short film in which protagonist, Thomas believes that his girlfriend, Francine (Natalie Portman) has broken up with him. The film is a dizzying flurry of images and intimate moments—such as the time they met and their first kiss—leaving Thomas to reflect on where it went wrong.  

3. Midnight in Paris (2011)
Part-fantasy, part-reality, Midnight In Paris sees Gil (Owen Wilson) touring Paris alone at midnight, only to be seemingly whisked back in time by a group of people dressed in 1920s attire. Here he meets and converses with iconic figures from this period such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, leaving Gil to reflect on his life in the present.

4. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
Featuring perhaps the most well-versed cast in Hollywood, Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith star as a group of pensioners who decide to move to a retirement hotel in exotic (and less expensive) India.

5. The Beach (2000)
Backpacking through South East Asia, Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio), is desperately seeking something more meaningful when a fellow traveller suggests he venture to a secret island. Only a handful of travellers know about the secret utopia with white sandy beaches and crystal clear water – but as it turns out, paradise isn’t permanent.

6. Up in the Air (2009)
The ultimate frequent-flyer movie; dry and cynical Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works for a human resources consultancy firm and lives out of a suitcase, flying around the USA to fire employees. Falling in love with a fellow frequent-flyer however, threatens to crack his hard exterior.

7. Away We Go (2009)
Looking for the perfect place to raise their soon-to-be-born baby, Verona (Maya Rudolph) and Burt (John Krasinski) travel across America. The journey sees the couple venture to Arizona, Wisconsin and Miami before finding their happily-ever-after town.

8. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Newly divorced Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) impulsively purchases a rural Tuscan villa while touring Italy. Mayes attempts to build a new life, meeting various love interests and personalities along the way. 

9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The first installment of the Indiana Jones franchise sees Jones (Harrison Ford) brave an ancient booby trapped temple in Peru before venturing to Nepal and Cairo to recover the Ark of the Covenant from the Nazis.

10. The Holiday  (2006)
A classic Nancy Meyers film featuring impeccably designed houses, The Holiday sees two women—troubled by past relationships with men—agree to exchange houses (in different continents) over the holiday season. Amanda (Cameron Diaz) leaves her LA lifestyle behind for the quaint town of Surrey in England and Iris (Kate Winslet) ventures to the City of Angels. Naturally, they both find love and happiness in their new worlds.

11. Coming to America (1988)
Escaping an arranged marriage in Africa, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy), flees to America to find a wife (and queen) who will love him despite his title. Disguising himself as a foreign student who works at a local fast-food shop, Prince Akeem meets and romances Lisa (Shari Headley).

12. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Over the course of a summer, 17-year-old best friends, Julio and Tenoch, set-off on a cross-country adventure with the company of a stunning older woman. The coming of age Mexican drama sees the pair find a connection with the world around them, while unknowingly finding a sense of discovery within themselves. 

13. Easy Rider (1969)
After completing a drug deal in Southern California, Wyatt and Billy decide to seek an alternate lifestyle, travelling across the country on Chopper motorcycles in search of a more meaningful life.

14. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), an employee at Life magazine works monotonously developing photos for the publication. When the magazine is occupied by new owners, Mitty is sent on the adventure of a lifetime on a mission to find the perfect photo for the final print issue.

15. Into The Wild (2007)
An adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name, Into The Wild, starring Emile Hirsch, is a coming-of-age film based on the real-life travels of Christopher McCandless (or “Alexander Supertramp” as he prefers to be called) through North America, and eventually into the wilderness of Alaska.   

16. A Good Year (2006)
Russell Crowe stars as Max Skinner, an unethical London banker who inherits his uncle’s vineyard in Provence. Arriving in Provence, Skinner meets the unknown illegitimate daughter of his uncle and realises that according to French law, she becomes the rightful heir to the property.

17. Romancing the Stone (1996)
Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a successful novelist from New York City, specialising in romantic adventures. Her fictional worlds become somewhat of a reality when her sister is kidnapped and Joan is sent to save her, meeting Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), an exotic bird smuggler, along the way.

18. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Set in Russia during the revolution, Doctor Zhivago dictates the life of a married Russian physician who falls in love with a political activist’s wife.

20. The English Patient (1996)

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An adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s novel of the same title, The English Patient is set in the Sahara desert during the second World War. Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes), a badly injured plane-crash victim is tended to by Hana (Juliette Binoche), a nurse on site. Both characters reflect on their lives during and before the war through a series of flashbacks.

21. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Starring Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the story of a girls’ summer vacation to Barcelona filled with food, art and sex.

22. Lost in Translation (2003)
Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) meet by chance in Tokyo, forming a meaningful bond and a much needed escape in the foreignness and bright lights of Tokyo.

23. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
A master in the art of forgery, Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) has ‘worked’ as a doctor, lawyer and co-pilot of a major airline, all before his 18th birthday. His skills allowed Abagnale to become the most successful bank robber in US history, making it FBI agent, Carl Hanratty’s (Tom Hanks) prime mission to capture him.

24. Amélie (2001)
Shot in over 80 Paris locations, Amélie captures the charm and mystery of modern-day Paris through the eyes of a fanciful young woman.

25. Before Sunrise (1995)
On July 16, 1994, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Céline (Julie Delpy) aboard a train in Europe. Jesse convinces Céline to disembark with him in Vienna, and the pair spend the entire night walking around the city, exchanging intimate details about their lives before hesitantly departing at sunrise.

26. The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his friend, Alberto Granado travel from Brazil to Peru by motorcycle while on semester break of medical school. The pair witness the economic disparity of South America where poor citizens are exploited by wealthy industrialists. The film is based on the real-life memoir of Ernesto Guevara who years later became internationally known as Marxist commander and revolutionary, Che Guevara.

27. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Aspiring beauty queen, Olive, learns she has qualified for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in California, which sees her hilariously dysfunctional family pile into a Volkswagen van and travel 800 miles across America to support her.

28. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Directed by Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the comical story of Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a devoted hotel concierge who goes above and beyond to provide service for his wealthy clientele, which include many elderly women. When one of these women (Madame D, played by Tilda Swinton) mysteriously dies, Gustave becomes a prime suspect in her murder.

28. Eat Pray Love (2010)
Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir, Eat Pray Love follows newly divorced Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts) on a quest of self-discovery as she travels to Italy, India and Bali.

30. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Having not spoken in over a year, estranged brothers Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), reunite for a trip to India in an attempt to bond with each other.

31. Almost Famous (2001)
15-year-old William, an aspiring music journalist, finds himself touring with up-and-coming band Stillwater on assignment for Rolling Stone magazine. The tour takes William, the band, and a parade of groupies including Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) throughout North America, exposing relationship tensions within the band. The coming-of-age film also includes a singalong of one of the greatest road-tripping songs of all time – Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’.

32. Wild (2014)
Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, the film follows Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) on a journey of self-discovery and healing, where she reflects on stories and memories of her childhood and past.

33. Endless Summer (1966)
Filmmaker and fellow competitive surfer Bruce Brown follows surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August around the world on a surfing adventure, leaving California in search of waves in Hawaii, South Africa and Australia. The film also features an instrumental soundtrack by The Sandals that plays over surfing footage.

34. Roman Holiday (1953)
A black-and-white classic, Roman Holiday sees European princess, Ann (Audrey Hepburn), take off for a day of adventures in Rome, trailed by American reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck).

35. Carol (2015)
Set in New York City in the early 1950s, Carol tells the story of a forbidden affair between Carol Aid (Cate Blanchett) and a young aspiring photographer, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara).

36. To Catch a Thief (1955)
John Robie (Cary Grant) is a retired cat burglar who is suspected for a series of robberies that have occurred in the French Riviera. Robie attempts to catch the imposter to prove his innocence, while also becoming romantically entangled with American socialite Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly).

37. Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Based on Agatha Christie’s crime-fiction novel, this is a 2017 remake of the 1974 film of the same title. A lavish trip through Europe aboard the Orient Express comes to a halt when Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is called aboard to solve a murder that has happened overnight.

38. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Drag queens Anthony (Hugo Weaving), Adam (Guy Pearce) and Bernadette (Terence Stamp) drive across Australia from Sydney to Alice Springs on board a bus named Priscilla, performing their show and encountering a host of colourful local characters along the way.

39. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
It’s summer 1983 and 17-year-old Elio Perlman is spending it with his family at their villa in Lombardy, Italy. Here, a romance begins to blossom between Perlman and an older man hired as his father’s assistant.

40. Two for the Road (1967)
Husband and wife Mark Wallace (Albert Finney) and Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) travel to France to meet with one of Mark’s clients. The pair reflect on their first decade of marriage together, both seemingly bored with the banality of married life.

Thelma and Louise (1991)
The ultimate girl power movie; Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis star as meek housewives whose humble fishing trip turns into a flight from the law when Louise (Sarandon) shoots and kills a man who tries to assault Thelma (Davis) at a bar.

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