On the road again

Nothing can stall a good road picture, except maybe $5 for a gallon of gas. With that in mind, we look at 10 movies featuring pivotal travel sequences and imagine what might have happened if crude prices were sky-high then too.


-- Martin Miller



“Little Miss Sunshine”

The Story: Family delivers its youngest to beauty pageant.

The Journey: Albuquerque to Redondo Beach

The Transport: A 1973 Volkswagen T2 Microbus


The Crisis: The Volkswagen is a real gas guzzler, but the plucky bunch refuses to lose and rides the rails instead.

The Outcome: The family is seated next to a social services worker who orders the grandpa into rehab, the suicidal uncle institutionalized and young Olive put into foster care and given singing and dancing lessons. “Thelma & Louise”

The Story: Two women on the lam after shooting a would-be rapist.

The Journey: Oklahoma to Grand Canyon


The Transport: A 1966 Thunderbird convertible

The Crisis: Louise floors it near the canyon’s rim so they can die on their own terms. But really it’s on the gas tank’s terms -- they run out of petrol before their final destination.

The Outcome: They elude the police dragnet and hijack a gas tanker, but instead of blowing it up this time, they sell its contents on the black market and use its proceeds to buy a quiet little place in Rosarito Beach, where they ride ethanol-powered motor scooters. “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”

The Story: Ad exec desperately tries to get home for Thanksgiving.


The Journey: Wichita, Kan., to Chicago

The Transport: Mostly a 1986 Dodge 600 ES Turbo

The Crisis: To conserve fuel, uptight Neal dumps tubby Del out of the car.

The Outcome: Neal feels immediate guilt, retrieves his newfound friend, and together they experiment with cheap, alternative -- and madcap -- means of transportation. They call their adventure “Pogo Sticks, Snowshoes & Stilts.” “Smokey and the Bandit”


The Story: Hillbilly takes $80,000 bet to deliver 400 cases of Coors beer within 28 hours, then finds love -- and an obese sheriff -- along the way.

The Journey: Georgia to Texas and back

The Transport: A 1977 Pontiac Trans Am

The Crisis: “Breaker, breaker, good buddy! This is the Bandit, and I’m outta gas!”


The Outcome: Stranded, Bandit, Frog, Snowman and his dog, Fred, lap up 200 cases within 28 hours. Lose bet, but get elected to Congress. “The Grapes of Wrath”

The Story: Okies flee Dust Bowl for a better life.

The Journey: Oklahoma to California

The Transport: A customized 1920s Hudson Super Six


The Crisis: The dirt-poor Joads can only afford a single tank of gas, which barely gets them to the next town, much less the Golden State.

The Outcome: Unable to leave, the family is entombed by dust. Later, Tom becomes the state’s leading squatter, and Ma Joad opens a successful dried-fruit stand, which later becomes a franchise in local malls.

“The Straight Story”

The Story: Ailing elderly man rides a lawn mower a great distance to patch up his relationship with his brother.


The Journey: Laurens, Iowa, to Mount Zion, Wis.

The Transport: A John Deere lawn tractor

The Crisis: Bullheaded do-it-yourselfer discovers how to convert cow pies into fuel.

The Outcome: Brothers briefly reconcile, but then go back to hating each other in a dispute over royalties. “Lost in America”


The Story: L.A. couple drops out to live free and “touch Indians.”

The Journey: Los Angeles to Las Vegas

The Transport: An RV

The Crisis: Fuel costs are an obvious threat to their nest egg, which protects the couple “like a God” and precludes the purchase of an RV.


The Outcome: They buy motorcycles. Much cheaper, but David can’t shift manual gears and doesn’t get past the end of his street. Linda, meanwhile, makes it to northern Maine on her hog and later joins the Micmac tribe. “Raiders of the Lost Ark”

The Story: Archaeologist/professor races to find Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.

The Journey: U.S. to Nepal

The Transport: Mostly a Pan Am China Clipper


The Crisis. Neither university nor government will pay for international air travel. Indy takes boat instead.

The Outcome: He arrives weeks later at Marion Ravenwood’s bar. Cackling Nazi acquires headpiece for the staff of Ra, unearths the ark and Hitler takes over the world. No sequels are planned. “Animal House”

The Story: Frat boys avoid adulthood through drinking, fornication and generally running away from responsibility at every turn.

The Journey: Faber College to Emily Dickinson College


The Transport: A 1964 Lincoln Continental

The Crisis: Filling up the gas-guzzler means no money for the tab at the Dexter Lake Club.

The Outcome: Otis Day and the Knights beat Otter and the gang senseless. “Rain Man”

The Story: After their father dies, brother learns about the brother he never knew existed.


The Journey: Cincinnati through Las Vegas and then on to Los Angeles

The Transport: A 1949 Buick Roadmaster

The Crisis: Raymond (a.k.a. Rain Man) calculates the car’s poor gas mileage and further lectures Charlie Babbitt about his irrevocable and massively harmful carbon footprint.

The Outcome: Before reaching the state border, Charlie returns Rain Man to “the home.”