I'm glad you recognize my considerable critical skills, Peter. I have very strong opinions about the Absolute Five Best Adventure Travel Movies Ever Made (and the One Most Lame and Pretentious). Enjoy.
The Endless Summer (1966)
Bruce Brown's classic documentary about globe-trotting surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August takes us from South Africa to Australia to Hawaii and points in-between. In the process, it made the concept of adventure travel around the world seems doable to average folks.
Trivia: Notice how they skipped South America?
North by Northwest (1959)
One of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest masterpieces, this movie starring Cary Grant as a Madison Avenue ad man who's mistaken for a spy, is basically one giant cross-country chase scene. Using crop dusting planes, trains, and automobiles, Grant's character frantically scurries from New York through the Midwest to Chicago, and finally to the Black Hills of South Dakota and onto the face of Mount Rushmore—while never suffering from a single wrinkle on his immaculate business suit.
Trivia: Google "North by Northwest trailer," and you'll find a video of Hitchcock, playing a travel agent, promoting the movie. "Have you planned your vacation yet?" he asks. "My suggestion is a quiet little tour, say, about 2,000 miles."
The River Wild (1994)
I know, "Out of Africa" earned the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1986, and Meryl Streep was nominated for Best Actress for her role in it. But that wasn't her greatest adventure travel film. That honor goes to The River Wild. Two words explain why this movie--about a family hijacked by a pair of wanted killers during a whitewater rafting trip on the Salmon River—is better: Kevin Bacon. Plus, great adventure travel flicks aren't steamy love stories, they're action-packed thrill rides. The river scenes, actually shot on the Kootenai River in Oregon, are amazing.
Best Kevin Bacon quote from the movie: "We never had nicknames where I came from. Certainly not "Whitewater." White trash, maybe."
The Beach (2000)
Just about every self-respecting backpacker traipsing through Southeast Asia on the fruits of their hard-earned trust funds has read—and practically memorized—Alex Garland's iconic novel, The Beach. While the movie version starring Leonardo DiCaprio isn't nearly as compelling, it still makes for awesome eye candy, from the scenes in Bangkok and the paradisiacal islands of Thailand to the gratuitous shots of the free-loving, barely dressed young stars. You practically want to hop on a plane tomorrow.
Best Leo DiCaprio quote in the movie: "Trust me, it's paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It's probably worth it."
National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985)
"Hey look kids, there's Big Ben, and Parliament." Enough said. This movie about the Griswold family's trip across the pond was predictable, trite, and filled with lame bathroom jokes, but in an absolute guilty pleasure kind of way.
Trivia: The script was penned by John Hughes, the late, legendary writer of The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Home Alone, Uncle Buck, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and Weird Science.
Bonus Award: Most Pretentious Adventure Travel Movie Ever Made
Before Sunrise (1995)
"Before Sunrise" was so contrived and stuck-up that even Ethan Hawke's goatee took itself too seriously. Basic plotline: Boy spends a night with a girl in Vienna, and absolutely fricking nothing happens.
Lamest deep thought from Hawkes's character: "Why is it, that a dog, sleeping in the sun, is so beautiful, you know, it is, it's beautiful, but a guy, standing at a bank machine, trying to take some money out, looks like a complete moron?"