“A lot of my films start off with road maps instead of scripts. Sometimes it feels like flying blind without instruments,” says iconic German director Wim Wenders. “You fly all night, and in the morning you arrive somewhere. That is: you have to try to make a landing somewhere so the film can end.” And as one of the most beloved and acclaimed masters of cinema, the majority of his early films fell into the grand and expansive category of the Road Movie. Whether it’s a drama about the fruitless search for the intangible American dream, the journey to sacrifice yourself and reunite the ones you love, or the act of running away from that which you’ve committed on the other side, throughout cinematic history, the road movie has served a vast array of narrative genres—spanning from violent pop-art thrillers to tranquil languid dramas.
As a place where the chaos of the world is forced to tame itself and adhere to the graceful restrictions of a parallel world, the road allows one’s mind to detach from the constant anxieties outside the blacktop. Wenders would describe it as a place of discovery, with travel as a “circular form” where there’s always “something of a waltz at the end of the road.” And throughout cinema, some of the most cherished works of art and some of the most influential films of the last hundred years have taken the form of the classic road picture. So as we wind into summer, the greatest time for long and winding endless trips across new borders and exploring into the abyss of the soul, let’s take a look back on some of the greatest road movies to ever make their way onto the screen. From Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider to Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour, here’s looking into the vast stretch beyond.
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