Plenty of us have experienced some form of the nightmare that is traveling home for the holidays. However, whether Christmas or Thanksgiving, the typical traveler’s goal is to simply get from point “A” to point “B”. Despite some possible unexpected hiccups on the way, most don’t experience life-changing events throughout the journey, nor turn into a completely different person by the end of it. Thanks to writer/director John Hughes, we now know that a trip isn’t about the journey, it’s about the people you get to know along the way…especially yourself!
When Planes, Trains and Automobiles was released in 1987, the template for “how to create actual and metaphorical journeys for main characters,” was basically handed to future filmmakers/writers. These movie creators jumped all over that special formula to give us many different iterations of the “hero’s journey.”
Every year, when we start getting closer to the winter months, most people are compiling a list of reasons why not to take that trip home. But thanks to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, plus the endless list of films that followed it, we have a very clear understanding of why it’s better to embrace the journey, rather than avoid it. Luckily, there’s no reason to start a search for these films because we have whittled the options down right here on this list. So, buckle up, try not to light your car on fire, trek across a runway, or realize your hand is not in between two pillows, and check out these 15 other movies that are just like Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
15. Due Date
Coming off the heels of the uber-successful movie The Hangover, director Todd Phillips shows the audience exactly what happens when you mix a determined soon-to-be dad, played by Robert Downey Jr., and a reckless lunatic, Zach Galifianakis. Trying to get home before his child is born, Downey Jr.‘s character is kicked off a plane along with an aspiring actor who can’t wait to get to Los Angeles to begin his career. Much like with Planes, Trains and Automobiles, everything that could go wrong pretty much does. The comedy takes us on the familiar journey of opposites coming together to reach the same goal, all while learning that it’s better to support each other, instead of pushing them aside to get there.
14. Midnight Run
It’s not hard to picture Robert De Niro as a bounty hunter, however, Charles Grodin working for the mafia? Seems unlikely. But once you get into the plot of 1998’s Midnight Run, the dynamic between these two characters is not only believable but hilarious. De Niro‘s character, Jack, has been sent to find Johnathan, Grodin, who’s on the run for being an organized crime family’s accountant. While Jack is only focused on bringing in his target for the $100,000 reward, Jonathan is more focused on peeling his captor’s emotional shield away, layer by layer. Like the majority of films on this list, both characters learn plenty of things about themselves simply by opening up to each other.
13. Uncle Buck
Hughes continued to perfect the “hero’s journey” formula with Uncle Buck. The difference here, from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, is that the characters need no actual travel, whatsoever. Irritated about their parents not being around enough combined with a recent move to a new state, the children of the Russell family find themselves being babysat by their vulgar and off-putting Uncle Buck, played by the late John Candy. Using his own film-making road map, Hughes takes these kids on a hilarious journey, they feel pure disgust for their Uncle Buck in the beginning, before eventually accepting him as an important part of the family.
12. The Great Outdoors
In this 1988 Hughes comedy The Great Outdoors, we follow Chester Ripley, played by Candy again, and his family, as they visit a lake resort for some quality relaxing time. Of course, the trip takes an unexpected turn when Chester‘s sister-in-law (Annette Bening) and her loudmouth investment broker husband (Dan Aykroyd) show up with their kids to enjoy the vacation with them. With comedic mishaps and plenty of slapstick, we see the unorthodox journey of family coming together.
Based on the book by William Steig, Shrek, voiced by Mike Myers, takes the titular character’s internal journey through an animated land of fantasy when he is forced out of his home swamp in order to complete a quest to get it back. Flanked by an unlikely talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) Shrek must overcome countless obstacles to discover where true beauty and happiness come from…(spoiler) from the inside!
10. Tommy Boy
Using Saturday Night Live success as a catapult, Chris Farley and David Spade took their talents to the movies with this 90s staple comedy, Tommy Boy. With this movie, audiences follow Tommy Callahan Jr. (Farley), who has been thrust into the world of a traveling salesman after his father suddenly passes away. Accompanied by his father’s right-hand man, Richard (Spade), Tommy learns how to become a responsible adult while Richard learns the definition of tolerance.
9. The Odd Couple
Before they were just Grumpy Old Men, Jack Lemmon, as Felix Unger, and Walter Matthau, as Oscar Madison, we’re simply just roommates! Based on his hit play, writer Neil Simon was one of the first to give audiences the now-standard “opposites equal comedy” relationship with The Odd Couple. The movie follows a newly divorced Felix who moves in with his vulgar and completely opposite friend, Oscar. Here we witness how roomies can go from hating each other to completely needing each other.
If you take the foundation of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, then top it with the hilariously raunchy building blocks of the Peter and Bobby Farrelly, you get 1996’s Kingpin. The film follows Roy (Woody Harrelson) as a tragic former professional bowler who attempts to vicariously live through and train Ishmael (Randy Quaid) an Amish simpleton. Even though there are plenty of cringe-worthy scenes you may need to watch through your fingers (how does he pay his rent?), this one’s got plenty of moments to strike your heart.
7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Without question, Hughes’ most well-known and studied comedy, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, took teen comedies to a whole new level. Ferris (Matthew Broderick) takes his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and his girlfriend Sloan (Mia Sara) with him on the most epic ditching school experience in the history of time. Well, assuming art museums, fancy restaurants, and a Cubs game constitute your epic experience. Either way, if you’re living in a John Hughes world, you’re coming out a better person on the other side of it.
Taking the time in between Married With Children seasons, Ed Bundy himself, Ed O’Neill, plays blue-collared Dutch Dooley, who is the new boyfriend of a wealthy woman. Dutch promises his new squeeze to pick up her snobbish 12-year old son, Doyle, played by Ethan Embry, and bring him home for Thanksgiving in Chicago. It’s starting to seem like Hughes, the writer of this 1991 road trip comedy, really had a hard time getting home for turkey in his early life.
5. Road Trip
Writer/Director Todd Phillips got the “friends on the road” genre of the 2000s really going with this raunchy teen comedy that follows Josh (Breckin Meyer) as a college student who desperately needs to intercept an incriminating videotape before it reaches his girlfriend, who is attending another college. Laughs and lessons feed this headshaking comedy from start to finish.
If there’s anyone who could take the (already) perfect formula of a character going on a physical and metaphorical journey and somehow made it even more perfect, it’s Pixar. When it comes to the two main characters of Up, you can’t get any more opposite than an old curmudgeon and a naïve, happy-to-be-alive Boy Scout. Sounds like the perfect enhanced Pixar formula, the kind that leaves us all claiming, “I’m not crying, you’re crying!”
3. Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle
Sounds like a simple plan, doesn’t it? Two roommates, hungry, a little stoned, got the munchies and suddenly want nothing more than the tiny cube of deliciousness that is a White Castle Burger. Who knew that a journey with such a simple goal could turn into a life-threatening – yet hilarious – quest that suddenly becomes completely impossible. Yummy burgers isn’t only the reward Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) end up with, as these burn-outs discover their motivated inner-selves.
2. 48 Hours
In this 1982 action-comedy, police officer Jack (Nick Nolte) grants convicted felon, Reggie (Eddie Murphy) 48 hours of parole to help him track down a criminal (because nothing solves cases more than sticking together a perpetually pissed off cop with a smart mouth convict). But in this case, not only is it the perfect combo to get to the bottom of a criminal enterprise but also for an unlikely friendship. Not to mention, it was also perfect for Murphy to become something more than just a silly comedian, as he went on to be Axel Foley of the Beverly Hills Cop films.
1. National Lampoon’s Vacation
Without a doubt, all road-journey-comedies from the mind of Hughes can be traced back to this ground-breaking starting point. Here, Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) embarks on one of the most epic quests for family fun. Accompanied by his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and his two bratty kids, Hughes gives us every reason to fear the family station wagon and all that goes on within it. The audience experiences the journey of family hell right along with Griswold’s, only to find out that the rewards are closed for refurbishment.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles laid out the groundwork – the map, if you will – the requirement of every journey-based comedy that was made after it, proving that there is no such thing as simply heading home for the holidays in the movies. The John Huges classic shows us that our lives will be threatened, blood will be spilled, and probably all our money will be lost, but in the end, it was all worth it and you are a better person to have experienced it all. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a few seconds of a Kevin Bacon cameo to get you connected within one degree of him.