What movie should I watch? The criteria for my ‘Best Travel Movies’ list includes:
- Wide-angle, sweeping shots of intriguing destinations,
- Backstories that deliver glimpses of local culture and, of course,
- Riveting plots that take the characters (and me) to the ends of the earth.
See if you agree with my picks for favorite travel movies below:
Favorite Travel Movies: Romancing the Stone
When I think of my favorite travel movies, the first one that comes to mind is Romancing the Stone. Faint-hearted romance novelist Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) leaves the comfy confines of her NYC apartment and her cat Romeo, after her sis calls in an SOS from Cartagena, Columbia. The diminutive writer who sobs at her own romantic conjuring is out of Kleenex, and toilet paper (sound familiar?) overpacks her blue Samsonite suitcase (this is the 1980s) and naively heads south.
Traveler in trouble and on foot
Over her head in trouble and on foot in the jungle, paths cross with fortune hunter Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) and the mystery, romance and hilarity begin. Jack teaches her how to pack light by throwing her Samsonite over a cliff and uses his machete to hack off the heels of her Italian pumps, all the while keeping the bad guys at bay with a pump-action shotgun. Adventure travel seems to enliven Joan, and soon she is swinging across chasms on jungle vines and riding mudslides down steep mountain slopes. She’s become “UNSTOPPABLE Joan.”
Wide-angle shots of Columbia-like mountains were actually filmed in Barraca Grande, Mexico. The Spanish Colonial castillo scene complete with menacing alligators—or are the animal actors crocodiles?—was filmed at San Juan de Ulua fortress in Veracruz, Mexico. Makes me want to visit Veracruz!
Danny DeVito is hilarious—perhaps at his best—in this romantic comedy full of travel adventure. Fans of Kanab, Utah, and Zion National Park will enjoy the opening scenes. Even if you saw this best travel movie years ago, it’s time to screen this one again.
IMDb Rating: 6.9 STARS | BUY DVD NOW: Romancing the Stone (1984) is one of my favorite travel movies on Amazon Prime, too.
Travel Movies on Netflix: Lawrence of Arabia
I watched this best travel movie on Netflix before I journeyed to Jordan in 2016. Screenwriters based the epic historical drama on the life of T. E. Lawrence. The British diplomat and army officer is known for his role in the Arab Revolt during World War I. The gallant guy propelled the Ottomans with an army of Bedouin tribesmen in Greater Syria, the area later divided into Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine/Israel. (As an aside, troops from both sides battled the Spanish flu as they fought each other in October 1918.)
The vast desert of Wadi Rum is one of the stars of this film
The 1962 British film stars Peter O’Toole in the title role, Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal and the vast sweeping deserts of Wadi Rum in Jordan. Other filming locations include Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, Glamis, California, USA near Yuma, AZ and Seville, Spain.
While I rode a jeep towards our quiet campsite in the harsh Wadi Rum, I was so happy that I’d researched the life of T. E. Lawrence and watched the movie. It helped me connect the dots to the landscape and the people I experienced in Jordan. The film, by the way, is based on the book Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence, which is available on Amazon. BUY IT NOW.
Just in case you think that this 3h 48min movie would be too much of a yawn for you, know that US Library of Congress National Film officials deemed Lawrence of Arabia “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” They selected the film for preservation in their registry in 1991.
As one of the long-time favorite travel movies, American Film Institute placed it 7th on their “100 Years…100 Movies” list of the greatest films in 2007. If you haven’t seen it, get it tonight—it’s one of the highest-rated travel movies on Netflix.
IMDb rating: 8.3 STARS | BUY THE DVD on Amazon.
What movie should I watch? The African Queen
Maybe I like this film involving missionaries to Africa because of my own life-changing short-term mission trip to Tanzania. (I guess I should write about that experience in an upcoming blog post.) Director John Huston shot much of The African Queen on location in Uganda (that borders Tanzania) and the Congo in Africa.
Humphrey Bogart wins his only Oscar for his portrayal of soused riverboat captain
Or maybe I’m putting it on my favorite travel movies list because two of my fave actors star in this 1951 adventure film. Humphrey Bogart won his only Oscar for his portrayal of soused riverboat captain Charlie Allnutt. And he won it big time: the Academy Award for Best Actor. Katharine Hepburn portrays Rose Sayer; the snobbish teetotaler turned (spoiler alert) machete-wielding heroine. The two are caught in the crossfires of WWI (again?) After German imperial troops burn the mission and beat her brother, the goody-two-shoes vows to sink a substantial German warship, the Louisa. The brother, Reverend Sayer, dies of fever–could it be the Spanish flu?
This best travel movie is adapted from a novel by C. S. Forester, also entitled The African Queen. Maybe I’ll buy the book on Amazon to learn if the fever from which Reverend Sayer dies is the Spanish flu. (Remember it was sweeping the world during WWI.) Or perhaps it was another fever-producing disease like malaria. I took Malaria pills both times that I served in Africa.
US Library of Congress National Film officials also selected The African Queen for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
IMDb Rating: 7.7 STARS | BUY THE DVD NOW on Amazon
Because of the wide shots of jungle rivers and the other reasons previously mentioned, The African Queen is one of my favorite travel movies on Amazon Prime. (Not one of the travel movies on Netflix.)
Favorite Travel Movies: Amélie
Filmed in the “City of Lights,” Amélie takes you on a veritable tour of Paris with scenes filmed at places such as Grand escalier de Montmartre, Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. I watch this movie to study my French before I leave on trips to France, because, well, the film is in French with English subtitles. When I get really good, I turn the subtitles off. Confession: I don’t ever get all that good, but I keep trying. Je continue d’essayer.
Camera work delivers a sense of place
This film is not about a traveler, but rather a citizen of Paris. She’s adorable, she enunciates so I can understand most of her words, and she takes us on a magical tour of her favorite hangouts. The camera work delivers a sense of place, something us travel bloggers strive to do with words.
French actor Audrey Justine Tautou plays Amélie, a mischievous but anonymous helper to the interesting characters in her neighborhood. The 2001 movie is a worldwide smash hit with five Academy Award nominations. Premier called it “The Feel Good Movie of the Year.” When you watch it, you’ll understand why this is one of the best travel movies on Amazon Prime. Vous aussi vous comprendrez.
IMDb Rating: 8.3 STARS Amélie is one of the few travel movies on Netflix. | BUY the DVD on AMAZON NOW
Best Travel Movies: The Way
I have a love-hate relationship with this film. I love it because I believe it is a good portrayal of what it is like to walk the 500-mile Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago in northern Spain. I hate it because so many Americans also loved the film and then decided to walk the route themselves.
When I started walking Camino routes in Spain in 2005, less than 700 Americans registered at the pilgrim office at the end of their journey that year. Last year, in 2019, that number grew over ten times to 7,382. I blame the movie.
Once The Way, which is the Anglicized name for Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, came out in 2010, the proverbial cat was out of the bag. Even Martin Sheen said at the 2011 opening in London, “It’s not something Americans do. Few Americans would meditate for six weeks on a long walk. But frankly, they should try it.” Sheen stars in one of my favorite travel movies, The Way. His son Emilio Estevez directed, produced and wrote the film script for this inspirational comedy-drama.
“Our film is pro-people, pro-life; not anti-anything. It invites you to grab a backpack and jump on the screen with us,” continued Sheen as reported by the Independent Catholic News in February 2011.
Some critics say that the film is a Hollywood version of the Camino, but I find that most people who say this to me have never walked the Camino. I, too, was worried about Hollywoodization before I saw the film, but I found the depiction to be quite realistic.
Yes, people gather for evening meals around a large table, drink wine and debate. Yes, you meet some odd characters. Yes, after walking with them for days, you come to love their oddities.
For the most part, I believe Estevez captured the struggles, the comradery and the mysticism found on the Camino de Santiago. Check out one of my favorite travel movies on Amazon Prime, and you, too, will be hoisting a backpack and jumping onto the screen with the people you meet in this story.
IMDb Rating: 7.4 STARS | BUY DVD ON AMAZON – I did!
Best Travel Movies: Under the Tuscan Sun
This best travel movie is about a writer (bonus points for us travel bloggers) who buys a villa in Cortona in the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany, Italy. Parts of the movie were actually filmed there, under the Tuscan sun, of course. You may have heard of Cortona when several US universities recalled students from study abroad programs there due to the Coronavirus in 2020.
The 2003 romantic comedy-drama film stars Diane Lane, who received a Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance. The story is based on Frances Mayes’ 1996 memoir, also entitled Under the Tuscan Sun. I enjoyed reading the book when I was traveling to Italy. When I worked for corporate America, I took May holidays to Tuscany or Umbria … for five years in a row, for heaven’s sake! I loved the region so much, and I couldn’t stop returning to Italy. Finally, I decided there were other places in the world to see, so I resolved to travel elsewhere. Alas, it felt like a divorce, which is part of this film’s storyline.
IMDb Rating: 6.7 STARS – Under the Tuscan Sun is one of the few travel movies on Netflix. | BUY THE DVD HERE
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
This combo Comedy – Fantasy – Favorite Travel movie was filmed in Iceland, Greenland and the Time-Life Building in NYC.
When I asked ‘What movie should I watch?’ many readers told me this is one of their favorite travel movies. I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty last night as it is one of the travel movies on Amazon Prime. “Stop dreaming. Start living.” states the movie’s tagline. OK!
IMDb Rating: 7.3 STARS | Named Outstanding Location Feature Film by Location Managers Guild International Awards (2014.)
Life of Pi
Life of Pi is a movie that I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Probably since my adventure to India in 2014. I particularly am eager to experience the scenes filmed at the popular hill station of Munnar in Kerala, which I visited. The tea fields are something I’d never seen the likes of before…or since. So this favorite travel movie should bring back amazing feelings.
Suraj Sharma stars as Pi Patel, who gets stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. This adventure drama is also classified as a fantasy film, which is not normally my cup of tea. I’m sure to watch Life of Pi soon since it’s one of the many travel movies on Amazon Prime. The DVD and the book by Yann Martel upon which the movie is based are both available on Amazon.
IMDb Rating: 7.9 STARS, Winner of four Oscars | BUY DVD NOW on Amazon
As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the trips that she mentioned in this article. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, she will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the ever-increasing costs of keeping this travel blog active. Thanks for reading.
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