vulture lists

19 Great Movies About Terrible Vacations

Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Netflix, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Studios

Disappointed that you’re not able to get away anytime soon? Just remember that vacations aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be. Imagine one right now: A trip, in your fantasies, probably involves you floating in a pool, reading a novel, and logging off for a full week. In reality, though, it’s all traffic jams, airport security, and screaming kids — and don’t forget the stress of figuring out finances and planning. It’s just not worth it.

And as the following films show, those aren’t the only risks. To help you feel more at ease when it seems like everyone is heading out of town without you, we’ve put together a list of movies that showcase the absolute worst-case scenarios for trips of all kinds: accidents, deaths, dinosaurs, and torture abound.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Maybe nothing can put you off planes, road trips, islands, or beaches. But if nothing else, you can at least be dissuaded from taking any invitations to isolated cabins in rural areas. In The Evil Dead, a group of students go on vacation in a cabin that is absolutely teeming with demonic energy. It is infested from the get-go. If you took the creepies and ghoulies out of this cabin, it would simply fall apart and there would be nothing but a pile of wood, and actually, that would be better.

When two dumbass members of the group find a Sumerian version of the Book of the Dead in the cellar alongside an archaeologist’s tape recorder, they do the smart thing and play the tape, thus resurrecting a demon entity. Everything goes to shit, obviously, and from there it’s a lot of murder and demon activity and possession. It’s just relentlessly chaotic and traumatic in a way vacations probably shouldn’t be, so to spare yourself the trouble, just don’t go anywhere.

Available to rent on Amazon

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

It is (probably) a fact at this point that no one entity has made more cash off the back of badly executed vacations than the National Lampoon series. Vacations: European ones, Vegas ones, Christmas ones, summer ones, it’s hard to keep track of just how many bad trips Chevy Chase can go on before he calls it quits. In the first of the Vacation installments, Clark Griswold (Chase) wants to spend more time with his wife and kids (always the first mistake) and suggests a trip to a theme park in California. If you thought you might be safer on the ground, you’d be wrong: Griswold insists on driving across the entire country. They crash, they get stuck, a family member dies (classic). It’s a whole mess, and it’s just not worth it.

Available to stream on Max

Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

If your boss invites you on vacation, do not go. There are no free rides, no good bosses, and no positive way for this to end. In Weekend at Bernie’s, which has perhaps been referenced more times than it has been watched, two colleagues (Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman) discover insurance fraud at their company. When they inform their CEO, he offers them a trip to his beach house for Labor Day, but is actually planning to have them killed. Instead — surprise! — Bernie is murdered by the hitman.

When guests rock up for a yearly party, they don’t realize that Bernie is dead. Sensing an opportunity to get some use out of the fancy house, Larry and Richard pretend Bernie is still alive, keeping his sunglasses on and entering into escalating ridiculous scenarios to keep up the pretense. Do you really have the energy for all that?

Available to buy on Prime Video

Thelma & Louise (1991)

The first true female road movie, Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise quickly makes clear the reasons why women don’t tend to go on trips alone. Best friends Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) decide to get away from their boring lives with a weekend getaway in the mountains. After a stranger assaults Thelma, good friend Louise does him in, but things escalate to a point where they have to decide whether to give themselves up or run forever.

Of course, you can’t run forever, and eventually they drive off a cliff. Thelma & Louise offered a nuanced conversation on assault long before we were having them regularly, and there are arguments to be made that dying was better than losing their freedom. Still, though, that’s not a decision you’ll have to make if you just stay put and avoid the crime spree in the first place.

Available to stream on Prime Video

Jurassic Park (1993)

You’re dying for a getaway, even if it’s work-related, huh? How does a nice, dinosaur-infested vacation on Maui sound? Jurassic Park isn’t necessarily a vacation for anyone, but it is a good fable for the dangers of taking up just any old rich dude on his offers of free board on his island: Chances are he wants you to be a witness to some moral quandaries.

In Jurassic Park, that moral quandary is over whether human beings have the right to play god: can, and should, humans bring back long-extinct animals from the dead? If they do, what happens next? In the case of Jurassic Park, the answer is a lot of carnage, fear, and rain. Plus the worse you behave, the worse the punishment you endure at the hands of nature. The moral is: Don’t bring back dinosaurs from the dead, and don’t go on any vacations before considering every outcome.

Available to stream on Peacock

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

In the black comedy Little Miss Sunshine, starring Greg Kinnear, Steve Carrell, and Toni Collette, the Hoover family is flat broke and fighting constantly. When daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) gets offered the chance to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, the entire family reluctantly agrees to go, including the color-blind wannabe pilot son (Paul Dano), the recently suicidal uncle (Steve Carrell), and the grandfather (Alan Arkin) who has been training her himself. The trip is a disaster: screaming, drugs, car failure. The death of a relative leads to the theft of a corpse. Olive loses her competition, rendering the journey pointless. You could argue that the wholesome unity the family finds through their distress makes the vacation a success. But is it really worth the drama?

Available to stream on Max

Snakes on a Plane (2006)

While I have seen Snakes on a Plane — maybe even twice — I did have to look up the plot to write this, so convinced was I that it did not have one. Essentially, a man is being escorted on a plane from Hawaii to LAX to testify against a gang boss. The gang boss, not thrilled, arranges for a crate of venomous snakes to be placed in the cargo hold and for the passengers’ leis to be sprayed with a pheromone that will ignite the snakes’ bloodlust.

That is a lot of effort to go to to kill one man, and cynical minds might think that it’s almost as if the entire plot was written based off the one-line premise of “snakes … on a plane.” Putting aside that, and the impossibility of getting a load of snakes onto a plane post-9/11, it still poses some risks. You could go all the way to Hawaii for a paradise-island vacation, think you’re safe on the trip back home, only to be brutally murdered by a malevolent snake before you reach LAX. Snakes on a Plane didn’t do to air travel what Jaws did to beaches, but if airport chaos isn’t enough to keep you off an airplane, maybe this will do it.

Available to stream on Tubi

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Going on a blissful retreat to Hawaii, paradise on Earth, never seems to end the way anyone is expecting. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) runs there in a tornado of self-pity and flagellation after a humiliating breakup with his girlfriend, the titular Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). While on his trip, Peter runs into Sarah and her new rock-star boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), which really only makes things worse. From there, the vacation is a series of mishaps, downs, and sad realizations. Imagine spending upwards of hundreds of dollars on a holiday, only to run into your ex and a new boyfriend with an inexplicably grating accent? You’re safer staying home — and if your ex is showing up there, you’ve got bigger problems.

Available to stream on Prime Video

The Hangover (2009)

While bros quoting Zach Galifianakis basically ruined The Hangover in 2009, it is still pretty enjoyable in and of itself, even if you find yourself preempting most of the lines. As we all know by now, the film follows three friends on a bachelor party in the aftermath of a big night out as they work backwards to figure out what happened. The conclusion — that they were accidentally roofied — is less hilarious in 2020 than if you were a teenage boy in 2009. However, it’s still a lesson in the myriad ways that an innocent vacation can go wrong. Even if you’re as careful as can be, like Alan, you can still end up getting lost, taking the wrong drugs, getting obliterated, getting attacked by a tiger … the possibilities are endless.

Available to stream on Netflix

Spring Breakers (2012)

Things are tight, financially, for most people who aren’t grubby billionaires right now. That makes it harder for anyone to get away on vacation, but what you probably shouldn’t do is emulate the behavior of any character in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. After a bunch of college students fail to make it to spring break (my heart bleeds), they opt to rob a local restaurant instead of like, washing cars. Once they make it to Florida, things only get worse. It’s a real after-school special for the consequences of drugs, crime and threesomes — it’s a slippery slope, starting with just wanting to get on vacation and ending in murder, jail, and chaos. Just! Stay! Home!

Available to stream on Max

Sightseers (2012)

Possibly because it’s British, Sightseers is criminally underrated. A dark comedy directed by Ben Wheatley, Sightseers will put you off even a short trip. It follows a couple, Tina and Chris, on a countryside caravan vacation (very normal in the U.K., exactly as boring as it sounds). After Chris kills a man with his car over a littering disagreement, he gets a taste for blood and murders basically anyone he’s annoyed by or jealous of along the way. If that wasn’t enough, Tina gets carried away doing some murders, too, which leads to some more fighting between them and an eventual suicide pact gone awry. It’s very bleak, very violent, and while it’s funny to watch, it’s more than enough to dissuade you from getting in a caravan and going to the middle of nowhere. You don’t really know your partner until you’re trapped alone in a small space together, and Sightseers is a quarantine step too far.

Available to stream on Tubi

Midsommar (2019)

No matter how bored you are, no matter how desperate for some kind of getaway from your life, if anyone offers you the opportunity to go to a remote Swedish village, just say no. In fact, remote villages of any kind are usually a no-no — they’ve always got some kind of weird rituals that they’ll expect you to partake in. In Ari Aster’s Midsommar, a traumatized student is invited to attend a midsummer celebration with her friends at another friend’s commune. The group members take mushrooms (another no-no, especially if you’re already traumatized) and start to witness some pretty horrific things taking place for real. There’s no point upsetting you with the details, but it’s nasty, and it makes a strong case against European jaunts anytime soon.

Available to stream on Showtime

Us (2019)

When you think of what could go wrong on vacation, your brain likely goes to some pretty pedestrian places: missed flights, lost luggage, expensive taxis, language barriers. Have you considered, as Jordan Peele’s 2019 horror Us asks you to, that there might be a doppelgänger waiting for you? In Us, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is understandably traumatized when she runs into a carbon copy of herself. Later, on vacation with husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their children, they are confronted by their doubles, learning that their sadistic counterparts are the “Tethered,” sharing a soul with their look-alikes while living in the shadows. The Tethered (actually genetic clones), are sick of being ignored and go on a wild rampage across the USA — and everything that happens in between is more than messed up. Again, it might seem unrealistic, but at least you know your scissor-wielding doppelgänger isn’t at home.

Palm Springs (2020)

Destination weddings often drain your bank account and throw you into the middle of nowhere with a bunch of relative strangers — what’s not to love? In Palm Springs, directed by Max Barbakow and co-produced by Andy Samberg, two strangers, Nyles and Sarah (Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti), meet at Sarah’s sister’s wedding, but it turns out Nyles has already met Sarah before — at this exact wedding. He’s stuck in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over again, a glitch that Sarah gets trapped in as well. It’s a sci-fi rom-com that plays up its desert setting, complete with a big drug trip and frequent floats in the pool. While it all ends well, I don’t know that many of us would have the means to learn quantum physics and break the time cycle. So why risk it?

Available to stream on Hulu

Bad Trip (2021)

Sure, any vacation that you actually plan is likely to have a higher success rate than a spontaneous road trip. In Eric André’s hidden-camera comedy Bad Trip, directed by Kitao Sakurai, best friends Chris (André) and Bud (Lil Rel Howery) take a road trip from Florida to New York City so Chris can confess his love to his high-school crush. It all starts out bad enough when they decide to steal Bud’s sister Trina’s (Tiffany Haddish) car, leading to a cross-country chase. What happens next is kind of a messed-up mutant love child of Nathan for You, Jackass, and Borat with pranks, stunts and every embarrassing fuckup you can imagine. Unsurprisingly, André consulted with Sacha Baron Cohen, Nathan Fielder, and Jeff Tremaine (whose company Gorilla Flicks produced the movie) to make it as uncomfortable as possible — something you can avoid by staying home.

Available to stream on Netflix

Old (2021)

The events of the past few years — pandemics, politics, Supreme Court rulings — are enough to make anyone feel beyond their years. You might be tempted, with all that going on in the world, to head off to a secluded beach and try to heal and recoup your health and happiness. What if, though — hear me out — the beach is actually rapidly aging people? And the resort is a front for a pharmaceutical-research team spiking guests’ drinks so they can perform lifelong medical trials in the space of a day? That, for some reason, is just what happens in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2021 thriller Old. It might sound ridiculous, and you might be willing to take that chance so you can have a little break during your messy divorce, but it’s probably not worth the risk.

Available to stream on Max

The Trip (2021)

With everything going on in the U.S. right now, Europe might seem like a safer bet. However, as Midsommar proves, it’s not actually that much safer on that continent — and the Norwegian movie The Trip seals the deal while taking into account the lessons learned from Sightseers and The Evil Dead. First: Do not go to a cabin in the woods. Second: Do not ever go on an isolated trip with the intention of fixing your marriage. Don’t. In Tommy Wirkola’s The Trip, a husband (Aksel Hennie) and wife (Noomi Rapace) secretly plan to murder each other during their getaway. However, things get even worse, and three fugitives take them captive. Just don’t go anywhere, and don’t trust anyone.

Available to stream on Netflix

Barbarian (2022)

When Airbnb first became a thing, there were plenty of people who struggled to get their heads around the idea of renting a room in some stranger’s house. There were so many terrible things that could go wrong, but Barbarian takes a nightmare scenario to a whole other level. In writer-director Zach Cregger’s indie horror, Tess (Georgina Campbell) is upset to find out that the Detroit rental home she’s staying in the night before a job interview has been double-booked by a man (Bill Skarsgård). While Skarsgård plays creepy well (see: It, John Wick: Chapter 4), he’s a red herring — there’s another, scarier villain to this story. Sure, Tess isn’t on vacation per se, but this movie might make you rethink booking that short-term rental. You never really know what’s missing from the listing — nor what dwells inside the basement.

Available to stream on Max

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

If you had a rich friend from your past who invited you to stay on some crazy Greek island, you’d go, right? Weird intricate puzzle aside, nobody turns down a free vacation, even in the middle of a raging pandemic. In Rian Johnson’s follow-up to Knives OutDaniel Craig reprises his role as detective Benoit Blanc, now tasked with solving a mystery for tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), but this whodunit is (of course) much more complex than it at first seems. Glass Onion is fun and silly and a shiny reminder as to why you should never, ever trust a rich person offering something gratis. It’s only ever going to go badly — especially if said free trip is on a remote private island.

Available to stream on Netflix
19 Great Movies About Terrible Vacations