Genre Study – Conventions of Road Movies

As I have been researching, I have discovered that many of the conventions and themes of the early road movie are similar to those of the western. Both genres contain panoramic shots of open, empty landscapes, men travelling across these landscapes, women left at home while men choose to abandon the domesticated life in pursuit of the wilderness/ freedom. The road movie could be interpreted as the modern western, or at least as a definite descendant of the quintessential American genre. As you can see below, the cover designs for these films from both genres is decidedly similar:

Cover of The Searchers (1956)

Cover of Thelma & Louise (1991)

(The road movie was)developed in the era of cars and roads when the western landscape of prairies and horses was fading away. Once America is fully civilised, tamed, and modernised, the road itself becomes the new frontier: it is ‘on the road’ that freedom can be found.” (Online Resources for Media and Society, 4th edition, chapter 15)

The genre deals with themes of breaking from tradition and normality, embracing change, escapism – from the constraints of society or otherwise, and most obviously: freedom. One important, conventional technique to the road movie is the use of mobile cameras; shots of the vehicle as it moves along the road, as well as shots from the point of view of the driver, making the viewer feel part of the journey being undertaken. These techniques enhance the idea of mobility, and both are clear in this clip from Easy Rider. This is also a good example of a ‘dynamic montage sequence’ (, which are used to convey the passing of time and therefore length of the journey, as well as the thrill of driving.

The Online Resources for Media and Society (4th edition, chapter 15) describes the movement within road movies as a car chase which extends to a whole film; making it constantly exciting, but always alluding to the “American representations of space: the way to deal with or solve problems is to move.”

Cars or motorbikes are the most common form of transport within a road movie, and as well as the aforementioned conventional landscape shot, empty roads, border-crossings, motels and gas-stations frequently appear. Also typical are shots of wing-mirrors and side windows, as well as shots from a camera placed somewhere on the vehicle, so that features of it are prominent at close range to the viewer.

Mark Williams (1982, pg. 6) writes: “Broadly speaking, there are two types of road movie; those that simply pander to car chauvinism, and those that exploit a nation’s belief in the freedom that lies across a state line or two, with a car being the means to that end.”

Printed References

Williams, M. (1982), Road Movies: The Complete Guide to Cinema on Wheels, Proteus (Publishing) Limited.

Online References

Film Reference, Iconography, Style and Themes, (Online). Available from:> (Accessed 21st March 2010).

Film Reference, International Road Movies, (Online). Available from:> (Accessed 21st March 2010).

Online Resources for Media and Society, 4th edition, chapter 15: Genres, Codes and Conventions. Available at:> (Accessed 21st March 2010)


Easy Rider (1969), Dennis Hopper, USA, Columbia Pictures Corporation.

Searchers, The (1956), John Ford, USA, Warner Bros. Pictures.

Thelma & Louise (1991), Ridley Scott, USA, MGM.


8 Responses to “Genre Study – Conventions of Road Movies”

  1. Chris Lowthorpe Says:

    This is looking quite good Jessica. Some more images might be nice though, to illustrate you points; after all we a dealing with a visual medium. However there is evidence of academic research – although there could be more – and a good stab at identifying conventions. Might be worth thinking about the episodic nature of a road movie – how it works, is it always present, what does it enable? For example, in Easy Rider it might enable the contrasts between liberal (countercultural) America and conservative (Redneck) America to be more sharply drawn. Whatever it is a narrative device. References are looking good but you don’t need initials in the brackets, just surnames. And just call them references not bibliography. Otherwise pretty good.

  2. chrislowthorpe Says:

    What there is is good Jess, but you need to get with it to have it completed by next week. Make sure the standard doesn’t slip in doing so.

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