Brent's Five Favorite Travel Movies
Some people say travel movies are lying when they emphasize the romance of travel. I say they're telling a kind of truth.
Movies make travel seem so damn romantic!
Movies literally show us the world — the most spectacular locations seen from the most interesting angle in the best possible light.
They also always turn the experience of travel into some exciting, life-changing adventure.
Some people say that these are lies — that the world isn’t always beautiful, and travel isn’t always life-changing.
But I say these people need to get out more!
Here are my personal favorite travel-related movies — and my reasons why I think they actually tell fundamental truths about travel.
The Indiana Jones Movies (1981, 1984, 1989, 2008, 2022)
Let’s get one thing out of the way right away: I think Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Doom (a) includes a whole bunch of racist tropes, and (b) is also just an objectively terrible movie. Almost nothing about it works, and I think Willie Scott is one of the most annoying characters to ever appear on screen. (I don’t blame Kate Capshaw, the actor; I put all the blame on the director Steven Spielberg and the husband-and-wife screenwriting team.)
Other elements in the rest of the Indiana Jones franchise haven’t aged particularly well either. Even the three other existing movies have a tendency to portray all foreign cultures as “the other” and “exotic” — and the movies’ perspective is always steadfastly that of the conventionally masculine white American male.
That said, I also think most of these movies absolutely embrace a love for travel, and they’re a genuine celebration of the natural and archaeological beauty of planet Earth.
Indiana Jones, the character, also preaches a fairly consistent gospel of Western humility and respect, trying hard to meet foreign cultures on their own terms.
Travel is an adventure. The minute you step foot outside your door, you find yourself at the start of a story. What follows will be a series of unexpected twists, some laughs, occasional danger and intrigue, some puzzles to solve, and — if you’re doing it right — a scene or two of passion and romance.
In other words, travel is an Indiana Jones movie!
For me, these films perfectly capture what travel is all about.
Except Michael and I somehow seem to run across even more insects and snakes.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
A lot of people hate this movie. They say the story is paper-thin, just a ridiculous plot device on which to hang various preexisting ABBA songs, which are themselves just froth and silliness.
These people have completely missed the point of Mamma Mia!
The froth and silliness is the point. ABBA songs are ear candy. The lyrics are angst-y, but they’re too vague to say anything real. They really only exist to rhyme and be clever turns of phrases.
They never take themselves too seriously.
This movie doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Which, ironically, is why I think it’s brilliant. The movie says, defiantly and unapologetically: sometimes it’s okay to be silly and just have fun.
And, of course, the movie captures the beauty of the Greek Islands — and, perhaps, sunny beaches everywhere.
Why do we humans like the beach so much anyway? I say it’s because it offers a bright, carefree respite from the travails of dark, dreary mortal existence. We are inexorably drawn to the very nexus of life: the primordial soup from which we crawled and the amniotic sac from which we burst.
You say I’m taking this movie way too seriously? Maybe so, but I still say this movie captures a truth as timeless and profound as the most serious Best Picture Oscar contender.
Eat, drink, be merry, and watch Meryl and company sing some catchy songs and charm your socks off. Because tomorrow you may die.
Fine. Don’t ascribe any great meaning to Mamma Mia! I’ll still take it any day over the latest pretentious arthouse slog.
P.S. Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again had its moments, but it was mostly just going through the motions. Seriously, how do you waste Cher? Although I did love that final scene with the ghost Meryl Streep. Up until then, she had been sorely missed.