Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

Travel through the TV screen: 21 of the best films to indulge your wanderlust

If you're feeling cooped up at home, these movies will transport you to new and exciting lands

'The Beach', left, 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', centre, and 'Midsommar' all feature dramatic backdrops, as well as gripping plots.
'The Beach', left, 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', centre, and 'Midsommar' all feature dramatic backdrops, as well as gripping plots.

The nooks and crannies of your home are likely to be the only things you've been exploring in detail in the past few weeks.

But even though we're urged to stay indoors amid the coronavirus pandemic, you can still see some of the farthest corners of the globe.

From photo galleries and documentaries to simply scrolling through Instagram, there are myriad ways to scratch that travel itch, even though flights are grounded across the world.

And if you fancy getting a dose of wanderlust from the silver screen, we're happy to help.

Whether it's taking a train across the Himalayan foothills, zipping through 1950s Rome or trekking through some of America's wildest greenery, we've rounded up some of the best travel films to watch.

It's worth noting that, while you could opt for any James Bond, Jason Bourne or Mission: Impossible movie and be transported to numerous glamorous cities across the world – including Dubai – we've focused on stand-alone films rather than series.

With no further ado, here are our picks.

1. 'Eat Pray Love' (2010)

A film that should be included on any round-up of the best travel flicks to watch. Based on Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of the same name, Julia Roberts plays a woman who decides to leave her life in the US behind to embark on a quest of self-discovery after her divorce. Gilbert's travels took in Italy, India and Bali, and while the film is given a heavy dose of Hollywood sweetening, the backdrops shine brightly enough on their own.

2. 'Roman Holiday' (1953)

For a vintage look at the capital of Italy, this romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck is a classic. In a role that earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress, Hepburn plays a princess who rebels against her strict schedule on a state visit to Rome, escaping the embassy.

Pretending to be a commoner, she soon strikes up a friendship with a reporter who's cracked her ruse, but shows her around town in a bid to secure an interview. Hepburn may be the top-billed star, but the city's sights – including the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum – also enjoy their time in the spotlight.

3. 'The Darjeeling Limited' (2007)

This off-beat comedy is archetypal of director Wes Anderson's approach behind the camera, full of quirky quips, a distinctive colour palette and vibrant cinematography. And the setting of India certainly aids the last two trademarks, with its vivid hues and dramatic landscapes.

The plot focuses on three brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, who set out on a train journey across India after the death of their father. While the siblings' strained relationships and subsequent bonding take up most of the emotional plot, the temples of Rajasthan and the foothills of the Himalayas provide a breathtaking backdrop to the action.

4. 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople' (2016)

This New Zealand adventure is emblematic of director Taika Waititi's eccentric use of humour, as most of the world caught on to when he helmed 2017's Thor: Ragnarok. But the filmmaker is, arguably, at his greatest when crafting tales around his native country, such as this renowned caper set in New Zealand's bushland.

Sam Neill stars as a gruff farmer saddled with fostering a troubled boy, played to perfection by Julian Dennison. The two become the subjects of a manhunt after they are stranded in the Kiwi wilderness, resulting in a mad-hat escapade that's as tender as it is rib-tickling.

5. 'Into The Wild' (2007)

Also set in the great outdoors, though nowhere near as comical, is this drama, adapted from Jon Krakauer's book of the same name. Based on the story of Christopher McCandless, the film follows the hiker, played by Emile Hirsch, as he traipses across North America into the Alaskan wilderness.

On a mission of self-discovery and a bid to live without the trappings of modern life, McCandless uncovers some of America's most spectacular scenery, in a tale tinged with sorrow.

6. 'In Bruges' (2008)

It's not your typical travel film, per se, but this black comedy is entirely set in the Belgian city, which provides a chocolate-box-worthy backdrop to an otherwise dark tale.

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two hitmen exiled to Bruges after a job goes wrong and while Farrell's character isn't initially enamoured with the city's canals and cobbled streets, those who like quaint European haunts will find the landscape more favourable.

7. 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' (2014)

Another Wes Anderson must-see, this artistically shot, surprisingly dark comedy-drama isn't actually set in a real-life country. Rather, it takes place in Zubrowka, a fictional European land that, while make-believe, still looks like many real countries.

Predominantly filmed in Germany, the plot revolves around the concierge of a once-famous hotel that has lost its sheen and his lobby boy protege. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton and Saoirse Ronan, among other big names, The Grand Budapest Hotel is likely to leave you dreaming of a European mini break (with a lot less crime in your accommodation).

8. 'Thelma & Louise' (1991)

This quintessential road trip movie stars Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as two friends who embark on a cross-state adventure after committing a crime. It might make you want to rent a car and traverse the US of A when flight restrictions are lifted ... but under very different circumstances. Mixing both the gritty and the light-hearted, this tale of two strong-willed women truly deserved its Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

9. 'Lion' (2016)

This heart-rending drama charts the true story of Saroo Brierley, who was adopted by a couple in Australia after becoming accidentally separated from his family in India.

After mistakenly boarding a train that whisks him far across the country, a five-year-old Saroo, who doesn't speak Bengali, cannot return home because he is unable to tell officials where his home town is. Instead, he is adopted by a couple in Tasmania, where he lives until he decides to try to find his family in India. With filming split between the rugged landscape of the Australian island and the South Asian country, this is a tear-jerking film that you'll definitely need to stock up on tissues to watch.

10. 'Amelie' (2001)

This subtitled romantic comedy launched actress Audrey Tautou into the spotlight, thanks to her turn as an optimistic, imaginative waitress, who decides to improve the lives of those around her as she deals with her own issues of loneliness and isolation. It's a whimsical watch, only improved by the charming setting of Paris.

11. 'Wild' (2014)

Reese Witherspoon plays a woman who embarks on a 1,770-kilometre trek across the Pacific Crest Trail, on America’s West Coast, a role that earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

Based on Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir of the same name, Wild charts the highs and the lows of the gruelling endeavour, as Witherspoon's character reflects on her previously hedonistic lifestyle, troubled childhood and recent divorce. You might not want to undertake the taxing trek after watching this, but at the very least you'll appreciate the stunning vistas from the picturesque trail.

12. 'The Sound of Music' (1965)

If the cheery tunes in this Rodgers and Hammerstein favourite can't brighten a day spent indoors, then what can? Based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, this musical drama follows a postulant governess who is sent to the sprawling Salzburg home of an Austrian widower and his seven children.

Julie Andrews's Maria slowly wins over the affections of the children – and their reticent father – at a time when their homeland falls to German rule. The music is truly more upbeat than that description would have you believe.

13. 'Midsommar' (2019)

A tense, nail-biting thriller doesn't sound like the most likely film to inspire wanderlust and no tourist would want the experience Florence Pugh's character has on a summer holiday to Sweden. In the unsettling horror flick, midsummer celebrations take a turn for the morbid at a rural commune but, creepy rituals aside, you'll still be able to marvel at the unspoiled beauty of the Scandinavian setting.

14. 'Lost in Translation' (2003)

In Sofia Coppola's seminal drama, Bill Murray plays an actor who journeys to Tokyo to film an advertisement and befriends Scarlett Johansson's college graduate, who is staying in the same hotel. The pair, both unsettled in their relationships, forge a bond over a late-night drink, and end up exploring the best of the Japanese city. If this film doesn't make you want to visit an authentic karaoke joint after watching, we don't know what will.

15. 'The Beach' (2000)

This drama had such an effect on people's travel plans, a Thai bay made famous in the film had to close due to over-tourism.

Based on Alex Garland's novel of the same name, this Danny Boyle-directed adventure follows Richard, an American traveller in Bangkok who learns of a pristine, secret island in the Gulf of Thailand. Richard, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and two backpacking pals make the dangerous journey to the hidden paradise, where it turns out things are not as idyllic as they seem.

The plot may take a dark twist, but the backdrop, the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi Le, is nothing but blissful.

16. 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962)

This desert epic tells the story of T E Lawrence, the British army officer who joined the Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire. The film is based on Lawrence's writings about his experiences in the Middle East during the First World War and deals with issues of identity, morality and camaraderie.

It took home seven Oscars in 1963, including Best Picture, and is still cited by many modern filmmakers as an inspiration in terms of cinematography, plot and pacing. Its scenery is an ode to the desert landscapes of the region and was filmed in Jordan, Morocco and Spain.

17. 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' (2008)

Jason Segel stars as the lead in his own screenplay, which follows a man left devastated when his partner breaks up with him after five years. He ventures to Hawaii to get away from it all, only to be faced with sharing a hotel with his ex and her new partner. It's a laugh-a-minute comedy that not only showcases the acting chops of Russell Brand, but also the beauty of the Hawaiian archipelago.

18. 'Crazy Rich Asians' (2018)

This hit romance resonated with audiences because of its all-Asian ensemble cast and treatment of issues faced by many American-born Chinese. It was predominantly set in Singapore, a cosmopolitan city that hadn't formed the backdrop of many Hollywood blockbusters in the past. And the hubbub of the island country is captured in this tale of a woman who travels to meet her boyfriend's family, only to discover they are among the country's richest – and are not the friendliest to outsiders.

19. 'The English Patient' (1996)

This drama, set amid the Second World War, isn't the most lighthearted of films to watch, but it is worth viewing for its critically acclaimed performances, as well as its evocative shots of Tuscany.

As a nurse tends to an injured Englishman, played by Ralph Fiennes, the patient recounts his past to his carer, which includes an epic love affair that starts during an exploration of the Sahara. The film was partly shot in Tunisia, which provides sweeping vistas that will leave you planning a visit to the North African nation.

20. 'Mamma Mia!' (2008)

A dubious film, but an undeniably beautiful location. This musical comedy, based on the stage musical of the same name that borrows tunes from the back catalogue of Swedish band Abba, is set on the Greek island of Skopelos. Its dreamy coastline and charming architecture provides welcome relief from listening to Colin Firth try to sing, in the tale of a woman attempting to discover her father's true identity before her wedding.

21. 'The Lord of the Rings' (2001-2003)

OK, we lied – we said we wouldn't include series, but the scenery in this trilogy makes it impossible not to highlight. JRR Tolkein's Middle-earth comes to life in New Zealand in this fantasy adventure, which follows Frodo the hobbit on his quest to destroy the One Ring and its evil master, Sauron.

From snowy clifftops to turquoise pools and lush woodland to volcanic mountains, New Zealand provides every backdrop needed for this epic adventure.

Updated: April 29, 2020 05:54 PM

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