There are a lot of movies that give interesting glimpses of cities, but never go beyond the main plot and protagonists. So, here is a list of travel films that will inspire one to Globe-trot. These films are chosen from around the world because Traveling is never limited to exploring your city, state or country.
Research Note: As I delved deeper into research, I watched not just English and Hindi films but movies from around the world. Few films on the list may need to be watched with subtitles; But if you understand the language of travel, backpacking and road expeditions, this will thrill more than hinder.
The list is in no particular order. But the patriotic in me has placed Indian films first 🙂
Three male best friends are out on a bachelor trip in Spain.
What it offers: This one is stuffed with adventure sports, culture, music, poetry, superlative performances and some exotic locales in Spain. The film left its viewers hungry for a sequel since its release.
A Stockholm syndrome plot with great rustic North India locales.
What it offers: The film captures the feelings of journey seekers, Bang on! My personal favorite scenes include:
i) The protagonist sitting on a rock watching the beauty of a flowing stream having a mixed emotional outburst laughing and then crying uncontrollably.
ii) When the protagonist says a line that goes this way, “Jahan se tum mujhe laye ho, main wahan wapas nahi jaana chahti. Jahan bhi le ja rahe ho, waha pahuchna nahi chahti. Par yeh raasta, yeh bahut achha hai. Main chahti hoon ki yeh rasta kabhi khatam na ho”
“I don’t want to go back to where you brought me from. I don’t want to reach where we are heading now. But I like this journey and I don’t want this journey to end.”
A girl sets out alone on her honeymoon trip after being dumped by her fiancee a day before their marriage.
What it offers: The protagonist travels to Paris and Amsterdam and the journey turns out to be a rewarding experience where she makes new friends, meets people of diverse cultures, shares a room in a travel hostel and more importantly, re-discovers herself. A charming performance from actress Kangana Ranaut. This one is truly entertaining and I recommend every girl to watch it (and the guys too!).
Three backpackers head towards a secret beach in Thailand for a wild experience.
What it offers: Panned by critics, this one is still worth a watch for showcasing and making popular the exotic Maya Bay (Ko Phi Phi Ley) in Thailand. The film has a cult following and will be liked by backpackers who get an adrenaline rush from experimenting with unknown unheard locations.
Set against the backdrop of Barcelona in Spain is a rom-com love story; NO! love triangle, quadrangle or may be pentagon; leave it to you to decide.
What it offers: A concoction of complex human relationships, desire and love painted on the canvas of Spain. Woody Allen shot the film keeping the essence of the city in its routinely purest form.
Two strangers get chatty on a train, sense a connection and spend the night together in Vienna before they go their separate ways. In its sequel, they co-incidentally meet nine years later in Paris and spend the rest of the day together.
What it offers: The leads simply stroll around the streets in Vienna and Paris speaking about their lives, experiences and perspectives on love. The cities almost act like a mute spectator to their conversations. Besides, most people have at some point in time thought of interacting with a stranger who knew less of them. Admit it !
I saw Before Midnight, the third and final installment of the trilogy. I think it’s an amazing film set against the backdrop of laid back Greece, where the couple are holidaying. But, although the previous two installments were also character driven, Before Midnight in particular has a lesser travel quotient.
7) Lost In Translation
Two American strangers have a chance meeting in a hotel bar in Tokyo, befriend each other and explore the capital among a swarm of Japanese locals.
What it offers: A subtle relationship between Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson and the culture shock both Americans (especially Murray) struggle to cope with.
Four parallel unrelated stories take place in this ancient city.
What it offers: Woody Allen shoots the film with a tourist’s eye. It’s funny, sweet and beautifully shot with live-in locations, Italian ruins, Architecture, roadside cafes and garnished with local dialect, saucy dialogues and charming performances. It’s almost like an overdose of Rome but one you would not mind.
Three brothers of American origin are visiting India in the hope of attaining spirituality and undergoing a life changing experience.
What it offers: A good watch for those looking to visit India. The situations cause hilarity because the 3 men have noble intentions to follow Indian norms but it still does not take away where they come from and their lifestyle differences.
10) Motorcycle Diaries
The biopic traces the memoirs of Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado’s journey through Latin America in 1952 in the midst of extreme poverty, injustice and discrimination against lepers.
What it offers: Che and Alberto travel across Argentina, Chile, Atacama Desert, Machu Pichu, Amazon River Basin, Caracas and Colombia first on their motorcycle and then via mediums like bus, hitch-hike and rafts. It is claimed, the experiences on this journey left a drastic impact on Guevara’s life which led him to become this dynamic leader and eventually an iconic figure.
Based on a book of the same name, an American woman moves to an unknown city to help recover from her divorce and re-discover herself.
What it offers: Set in Tuscany – Italy, the soul of this beautiful country is well captured from Italian food to by-lanes and streets, Italian style homes and the countryside.
Two friends go on a shoestring budget world tour with their recently deceased friend’s ashes to sprinkle across the world.
What it offers: It takes a while to get over the film’s documentary feel. Most actors are inexperienced localites and by the end credits you figure out how the makers shot this on-the-go film. It’s definitely low budget but it’s also raw, real, funny and full of experiences; precisely a backpacker description, isn’t it?
Spanish road movie about 2 teenage boys who lure a married woman to make a road trip with them to a beach called “Heavens mouth” in Mexico which in actuality does not exist.
What it offers: The road trip is against the backdrop of rural Mexico in the midst of political and economic tension in 1999 with the fall of the 71 year old institutional revolutionary party. The movie may not fit the bill totally, but nevertheless worked for me. Y Tu Mama Tambien has been a point of controversy for its unabashed portrayal of sex and nudity. But look beyond sex, nudity and drugs and Y Tu Mama Tambien is a powerful story about human relationships, some kept secrets and a whole lot of undercurrent emotions all of which takes place while on their road journey.
Be forewarned: The film had extremely strong doses of sexual nudity and usage of drugs.
An American docu-film about life and people on the South Pole.
What it offers: The film is vague but that’s because it does not concentrate on giving any message. Instead it focuses on people living, working and/or researching on the South Pole. There is a fair share of amusing facts to know; but more so the film is layered with dry humour. It has amazing camerawork, breathtaking underwater shots, vast blankets of ice, ice bergs, volcanoes, penguins, seals and more. This is Pristineness at its best.
When a local strike stops transport in Quito (Ecuador), two women – a Spanish tourist and a local student decide to take their journey in their own hands.
What it offers: How the women go about undertaking the journey, the people they meet and perspectives they acquire make for a compelling watch. The film does not bother to glamorise the country in any way. Instead we see natural landscapes and situations you most likely come across in third world countries. The film is also special because we see many men take up such journeys but barely do films in this genre do justice to the fairer skin. Que tan lejos tries to fill that void.
16) Into The Wild
Inspired by the true story of Christopher Johnson McCandless and his adventures from 1990 to 1992.
What it offers: Wilderness in the outbacks of U.S.A. are brilliant. Good watch for backpackers. Go ahead! admire nature and take some time out; only realize nature can be harsh too.
Jeff Johnson’s journey retraces the 1968 expedition by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins from California to Patagonia in Chile.
What it offers: It starts off as an extreme adventure sport docu-film but surprises by gradually opening its layers to the theme of ecological conservation. A great watch if you are an outdoor person, a hiker or if nature and environmentalism is your thing.
Brook Silva Braga quits his stable job in the U.S. and travels as a backpacker for a year. He filmed and starred in the documentary that interviews random backpackers he meets around the world. The title comes from one of the lines in the film which goes this way – “When you are on a holiday, everyday feels like a Saturday.”
What it offers: Brilliant insight into the life and psyche of backpackers who live out of their bags. Alien environment, living in travel hostels, adapting, making new friends and having to say good bye every time are few of the experiences one views apart from probing life’s contrasting choice between materialistic and non-materialistic living. The film tempts you to travel alone and experience vagabond independence.
Director Tarsem Singh’s adventure fantasy revolves around an injured hospitalized stuntman and a Romanian child patient.
What it offers: Every scene in the film is like a painting with colourful hues. Extensive filming locations included Jantar Mantar, Chand Baori, Lake Palace, Umaid Bhavan, Jodhpur’s blue houses, Ladakh, Taj Mahal, Bali, Andaman Islands, Butterfly reef – Fiji, Turkey and Sumatra Island among other exotic locations.
20) Im Juli (In July)
What it offers: Very mushy, very predictable, very Bollywood yet the journey is entertaining (because I’m a sucker for Rom-Coms). Shot in South-eastern Europe, particularly Istanbul, Hamburg and Budapest. My favourite bit is when the leads are smoking a narcotic substance on a boat supposedly sailing in the Danube. The entire sequence leading them to imagine they are floating in the air is excellent. Another likeable portion is the still photography bits in Romania.
A French-Arabic road film about a father-son duo driving from France to Mecca.
What it offers: Not a rosy travel film but not a depressing tale either. Le Grand Voyage is more about internal journey than outwardly with limited scenic beauty although the duo drive pass Italy, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Serbia, Turkey and Jordan before entering Saudi Arabia. The scenes in Mecca are splendid and among the highlights. Also the scene where the father explains the reason for taking the road trip instead of air travel is excellent. A beautiful tribute to the muslim community and fascinating for non-muslims who will watch.
22) The Way
Martin Sheen arrives in France to collect his son’s remains who died in a storm while doing the 800 km Camino de Santiago pilgrimage on foot to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. As a tribute to his dead son, Sheen decides to do the pilgrimage himself.
What it offers: The characters hike, spend nights in dormitories, tackle rough weather and at times spend the night in the woods. Needless to say “The Way” has some excellent landscape cinematography. Camino de Santiago is also popular among hikers because of the thrill of walking days and weeks.
Watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Although there is no sign of travel for the first 30 minutes, the film raises its bar and packs in some thrilling locations in Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas.
These were my picks. Feel free to use the comment box below and let me know your favorite travel films! 🙂
(Note: I do not own any of the pictures displayed in this blog. They have been added for Pictorial representation sake. All text can get boring to read sometimes)