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 you to globe-trot. These films are chosen from around the world because traveling is never limited to exploring your city, state or country.
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 🙂
- 1 Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
- 2 Highway
- 3 Queen
- 4 The Beach
- 5 Vicky Cristina Barcelona
- 6 Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004)
- 7 Lost In Translation
- 8 To Rome With Love
- 9 The Darjeeling Limited
- 10 Motorcycle Diaries (Spanish)
- 11 Under The Tuscan Sun
- 12 Last Stop For Paul
- 13 Y Tu Mama Tambien (Spanish)
- 14 Encounters At The End Of The World
- 15 Que Tan Lejos (Spanish)
- 16 Into The Wild
- 17 180° South
- 18 A Map For Saturday
- 19 The Fall
- 20 Im Juli (German)
- 21 Le Grand Voyage (French-Arabic)
- 22 The Way
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara
Three male best friends are out on a bachelor trip in Spain.
ZNMD 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. My personal favourite scene is the poem in the climax and when Farhan jumps off the plane overcoming his fears, feeling a sense of calm floating in the air.
A Stockholm syndrome plot with great rural North India locales.
The film beautifully captures not only the external but internal journey of the protagonists. My favorite scenes include:
i) Alia sitting on a rock watching a flowing stream with a mixed emotional outburst – laughing and then crying uncontrollably.
ii) When Alia says, “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 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.
Kangana Ranaut 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. It’s a charming performance from Kangana and a truly entertaining film. I recommend every girl to watch it (and the guys too!).
Three backpackers head to a secret beach in Thailand for a wild experience.
Panned by critics, The Beach is still worth a watch for 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 of locations.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Set against the backdrop of Barcelona in Spain is a rom-com love story; NO! love triangle, quadrangle or may be pentagon – you decide.
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.
Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004)
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.
The leads simply stroll around the streets in Vienna and Paris speaking about their lives, experiences and perspectives on love. The cities 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 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.
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.
It’s a great portrayal of the subtle relationship between Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson and the culture shock both Americans (especially Murray) struggle to cope with.
To Rome With Love
Four parallel unrelated stories take place in this ancient city.
Woody Allen shoots the film with a tourist’s eye. It’s funny, sweet and beautifully shot with live-in locations, Italian ruins, 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.
The Darjeeling Limited
Three brothers of American origin are visiting India in the hope of attaining spirituality and undergoing a life changing experience.
A good watch for those looking to visit India. The situations cause hilarity because the three men have noble intentions to follow Indian norms but it still does not take away where they come from and their lifestyle differences.
Motorcycle Diaries (Spanish)
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.
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 thatthe 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.
Under The Tuscan Sun
Based on a book of the same name, an American woman moves to an unknown city to recover from her divorce and re-discover herself.
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.
Last Stop For Paul
Two friends go on a shoestring budget world tour with their recently deceased friend’s ashes to sprinkle across the world.
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 low budget but it’s also raw, real, funny and full of experiences; precisely what a backpacker does, isn’t it?
Y Tu Mama Tambien (Spanish)
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 does not exist.
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.
Encounters At The End Of The World
An American docu-film about life and people on the South Pole.
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 pristine-ness at its best.
Que Tan Lejos (Spanish)
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.
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.
Into The Wild
Inspired by the true story of Christopher Johnson McCandless and his adventures from 1990 to 1992.
Wilderness in the outbacks of U.S.A. are brilliant. Good watch for backpackers. Go ahead! admire nature and take some time out; only realise 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.
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.
A Map For Saturday
Brook Silva Braga quits his stable job in the U.S. and travels as a backpacker for a year. He filmed and starred in this documentary that interviews random backpackers he meets around the world. The title comes from one of the lines in the film – “When you are on a holiday, everyday feels like a Saturday.”
The film is a 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 hospitalised stuntman and a Romanian child patient.
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.
Im Juli (German)
A German Rom-Com.
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.
Le Grand Voyage (French-Arabic)
A French-Arabic road film about a father-son duo driving from France to Mecca.
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.
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.
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 for 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 in this blog post. They have been added for pictorial representation sake. All text can get boring to read sometimes)
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