There’s nothing quite like an iconic movie scene, whether it made you laugh, cry, or rock back and forth on the edge of your seat. And amongst some of the most frequently used movie locations such as diners in a rom com or national monuments in action movies, roads are amongst some of the most memorable scenes in movies. But we didn’t simply want to pick examples of films set during a road trip where most conversations take place inside a car. We wanted to hone in on a few memorable examples in cinema where, even if for a moment, the road itself became a character in the film. Covering various different genres and types of movies, here are some of our favourite examples.
Our Town – Pixar’s Cars 
We’ll start this list off with a slight cheat. After all, in some ways, this could very much be called a glorified road trip film, provided that its protagonist takes a week-long stop as opposed to a ten minute bathroom break. But it would be remiss to talk about memorable road scenes than the one from this film that is quite literally, about the highway system.
Surely, there isn’t a dry eye in the house during the musical interlude Our Town during which James Taylor sings wistfully about the past and the audience gets to see Radiator Springs – a forgotten dustbowl town thanks to the effects of the US Interstate System on small town businesses – fade from prosperity to emptiness and loneliness. Of course, what makes this scene so heartbreaking is not just the gut wrenching music or the characters that you grow to love, but the knowledge that this experience has happened to so many people and businesses in real life.
In just one scene, the film is perfectly able to capture not just loss and heartache, but how something as seemingly insignificant as a road can become a pillar and lifeline for a community. How in some parts of the world, a road system can be the difference between isolation and unity. Route 66 is always a pleasure to see shown and represented in films and never was it done quite so thoughtfully as here.
Bending the Street – Inception 
Steering away from one kind of fantasy – that of animation and talking vehicles – and straight towards another kind of unreality; that of the dream world. Prior to its release, Inception was already shocking audiences across the globe with the now-famous shot from its trailer of a Parisian street being quite literally bent and folded in on itself.
This moment became such an integral part of the initial suspense for this film that it certainly warrants a spot on the list. In fact, this entire sequence – set on x as cars and shop windows explode around the two characters – became an expectation of things to come. Using the streets of Paris for such an iconic moment was a stroke of genius. What better place to create a dream world than in a city that already looks like it was dreamt up?
There are certainly plenty of times we wish we could bend the laws of space, time and physics in order to vanish traffic or speed up our commute to work, but unlike Don Cob, we don’t have the power of Inception to make that happen. Instead, we rely on our GPS.
I’ll Be Seeing You – The Notebook 
Perhaps a little unconventional choice next. After all, The Notebook is a romance film, not a motorhead’s dream flick. But it’s a specific scene involving a road that became so iconic for romance lovers everywhere and was one of the many scenes that helped propel this film to the popularity that it achieved.
Towards the beginning of the film, walking back from their first date, our romantic leads, Noah and Allie, take a stroll through the quiet streets of their town. In an act of recklessness, they decide to lay in the street watching the traffic signals change, before ending the moment in a sweet and romantic dance after an oncoming car scares the life out of them.
It may be a simple scene, but one that has visually stuck with fans ever since and is a pivotal emotional turning point in the film. And just like the first choice on our list, the soundtrack that accompanies this moment has become tied to this moment as though it was written just for this. Who knew that a set of traffic lights in the middle of the street could be the world’s best wingman?
88 Miles Per Hour – Back to the Future 
Possibly one of the best known movie cars in the world, it would be impossible to make a list like this without discussing the iconic climactic finale to Back to the Future. In fact, this movie has not one, but two memorable road scenes that are just as memorable as each other.
The first being Marty’s suspenseful attempt to start his DeLorean and get back to his own time period after blasting through the Hill Valley town square at 88mph. The second being the only scene on our list to end a movie. We are, of course, talking about the DeLorean taking off towards the screen, accompanied by one of the most famous lines in movie history; roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need… roads. Let’s hope no one heard them say that, or many of us may be put out of business!
Luckily – or perhaps unluckily, depending on your opinion of your morning commute – we very much do still need roads in the year 2020. And for a film dependent on a car as one of its main characters, it is surprising that Back to the Future is not full to the brim of iconic road moments. However, the two that we do have certainly made an impact on the audience. So much so, that when it came time to write the sequel, both scenes were revisited briefly from different perspectives.