Thelma and Louise (1991)

Favorite Needle Drops in Road Trip Movies

music and movies that help us find motion in stillness. 



When your seat at the theater transports you to that journey across the country and everything else stops. Hands tight on the steering wheel, hair flying out the window, or just loitering in a motel parking lot. Here are the scenes and tracks that take us there.


“Canción Mixteca” by Ry Cooder in Paris, Texas

One of my favorite scenes of Wim Wenders’s 1984 road movie Paris, Texas happens when the characters aren’t on the road at all. They’re sitting in a room, watching Super 8 home videos of a past road trip—travel of a different sort. Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) has just emerged from the desert after four years and reunited with his brother and young son, Hunter. His wife Jane—Hunter’s mother—is also nowhere to be found. But her angelic face lights up the projection before them, glowing with grainy warmth. While the characters watch the footage, a delicate rendition by Ry Cooder of the Mexican folk song “Canción Mixteca” plays. It’s a song about missing one’s homeland and it wonderfully encapsulates the bittersweet nostalgia that can come with travel.

Paris, Texas (1984)


“Tiny Dancer” by Elton John in Almost Famous

Because who can resolve tour bus road trip tension better than Elton John (For those of you who haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and google “Almost Famous Tiny Dancer” and thank me later… also watch the entire film!).

Almost Famous (2000)

“The Winner Is” by DeVotchKa and Michael Danna in Little Miss Sunshine

I rewatched this way-ahead-of-its-time movie a couple weeks back and nearly toppled over hearing this opening song for the first time in years. The song perfectly captures every shade of hope: the doubt, the excitement, the faith, the movement towards something even if you don’t know what it is yet.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

“A Blossom Fell” by Nat King Cole in Badlands

I first saw Badlands back in 2019 at Syndicated in Bushwick and I am so thankful I saw it on the big screen. The movie is based on the story of real-life sweetheart killers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate on the run from the police—their names changed for the film to Kit and Holly. As they make their way from the Midwest to the Badlands, this heartbreaker of a song comes on their stolen vehicle the day before they’re both caught. Bad boy Kit (Martin Sheen) takes Holly (Sissy Spacek) into his arms and dances with her, illuminated only by the car’s headlights and the moon. I didn’t realize I was crying until the scene ended and my face was wet.

Badlands (1973)


“Dreams,” The Cranberries

Whether it’s Mission: Impossible, or Boys on the Side, “Dreams” offers a cleansing rebirth in films that gives the characters permission to forget their pasts and the baggage that comes with them, if even for a moment. Picture this: The main characters just resolved whatever issues they’ve been working against the entire film. On screen, we see a car headed south. It’s golden hour, obviously. We’ve got a drone shot that’s panning out as the car drives into the slowly setting sun. “Dreams” is playing and our characters are on their way to their destinies, to bigger, better futures.

Boys On The Side (1995)