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Film Genres

This guide highlights library resources for some of the more popular film genres.

A short definition for the road film genre

A subgenre of the travel film, with a fictional narrative governed by movement, usually via car/road. The road movie tends to display a certain metaphysical or existential bent, via themes of rebellion, escape, discovery, and transformation, and is typified by an attenuated or picaresque narrative. The physical constraints of filming in a car tend to lead to a heavy reliance on side-by-side shots and the foregrounding of dialogue, and road movies also tend to favour montage sequences, travelling and aerial shots, and diegetic music, usually via car radio.

While the travel film is an international genre, the genesis of the road movie is strongly associated with US cinema, and with the increasingly widespread use of cars in the second half of the 20th century, as well as with the nation’s frontier ethos (see USA, film in the; western). Early examples of the road movie, including It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934), Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939), and Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941), are driven by narratives that show travellers overcoming their differences, a theme that recurs in the long-running Bing Crosby/Bob Hope/Dorothy Lamour Road to…series (1941–52), where the open highway is a site of pleasurable teamwork and cooperation. Darker variants, touching on existential themes, include You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang, 1937), The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940), and the film noir Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945).  ...

Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020). Road movie. In A Dictionary of Film Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 29 Mar. 2023

Course guide for FILM 42.23

Finding library resources for road films

You can use the subject headings below to start your research on road films.

Introductory reading(s)

Selected book title(s)

Finding scholarly articles and journal title(s)

You can find scholarly literature for film and television studies in a variety of journals. However, if you want to do targeted searching, you can use a subject specific database such as Film & Television Literature Index. You can also use the search box at the top of the page.

Selected film title(s)

Find more road films in the library's collections.