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Using Trails

10 Movies with Great Walking Moments

By: Amy Kapp
November 24, 2015

Stand by Me (1986) | Copyright by Columbia Pictures and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.
Stand by Me (1986) | Copyright by Columbia Pictures and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.

Last year, in honor of the great tradition of turkey day movie watching in America, we posted 10 Great Biking Moments in Movies. With Thanksgiving upon us again, and with the U.S. Surgeon General’s recent Call to Action on Walking, we figured it was the perfect time to follow up with: 10 Movies with Great Walking Moments.

What better activity brings us all together as families—and as communities—in the great sagas and adventures that make up our lives, than walking? (Note: List is in order of release date. Caution: some spoilers)  

1. “Wizard Of Oz” (1942) – Surrender Dorothy

This 1942 cinematic masterpiece (from a children’s book by Frank Oz) truly shows the value of multimodal transportation (it also made our biking movie list). It focuses on four unlikely friends who follow the most famous pedestrian pathway in cinema history—the Yellow Brick Road—to find, and here’s where we get deep, missing pieces of themselves. Other modes of transport you’ll see: bikes, houses, brooms, flying monkeys, air balloons and a horse of a different color.

And guess what! Richmond, California, just received a $6.2 million grant to build the first leg of “The Yellow Brick Road (YBR)” in the underserved Iron Triangle neighborhood. Conceived by local youth, the YBR is a network of “brightly stenciled” yellow bike/ped routes that connects a variety of community destinations. Congratulations!

2. “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) – Stayin’ Alive

Anyone who remembers the 1970s can’t forget John Travolta’s iconic strut to the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” during the intro of this 1977 disco classic. Incidentally, the soundtrack was one of the best selling of all time; check out the official “Stayin’ Alive” video to see the Bee Gees totally rocking their own pedestrian awesomeness (for a more modern twist, check out Richard Ashcroft’s “Bittersweet Symphony”).

3. “The Dark Crystal” (1982) – What was sundered and undone shall be whole—the two made one.

The Dark Crystal (1982) |Copyright by Universal Studios and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.
The Dark Crystal (1982) |Copyright by Universal Studios and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.

When Jen, the last known Gelfling on the planet Thra, is sent by the Mystics to unite a broken crystal—thereby saving Thra from eternal rule of the evil Skeksis—the result is a days-long foot-fueled adventure across a series of diverse landscapes—sometimes barren, sometimes beautiful. Along the way, he makes some unexpected friends, has an equestrian-like experience on a landstrider (think mystical horse-being with whiskers and stilts for legs) and is almost captured by some menacing crustacean-beasts before he gets one chance to fulfill his destiny.

4. “Stand by Me” (1986) – Train!

In this coming-of-age Stephen King story, we watch four 12-year-old boys from Castle Rock, Oregon—Gordie, Chris, Vern and Teddy—take the journey of a lifetime as they search for a dead body on Labor Day weekend in 1959. Traversing by foot along the local train tracks and through the countryside, the boys discuss and think about their adolescence, their friendship and their own existence. The movie culminates in a showdown with local bullies, and some self-discoveries, too.

This movie deserves a special shout-out for its famous bridge scene—which was filmed on a trestle of the recently opened 80-mile (in progress) Great Shasta Rail Trail in California.

5. “Seven Years in Tibet” (1997) – What’s the charge? Failure to summit?

This film based on Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer’s memoir has some great climbing and hiking moments. It depicts the arrest of Harrer and his companions by British officers in 1939 as they attempt to summit Nanga Parbat in British India (now Pakistan), and their subsequent escape. Harrer and his colleague Peter Aufschnaiter make a bold move, deciding to try to enter (by foot) the Tibetan capital city of Lhasa, home of the Dalai Llama. The difficult conditions they endure in the process are enough to keep one’s attention, but the movie is also just plain beautiful, offering a glimpse of a part of the world rarely seen by westerners.

And if you’re into rail-trails and climbing, you might want to check out the Manitou Incline, a 1-mile route that climbs 2,000 feet in elevation up Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs, Colorado. (Note: This trail is physically challenging!)

6. “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy (2001-2003) – You shall not pass!

Copyright by New Line Cinema and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.
Copyright by New Line Cinema and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.

So technically, the three movies in this trilogy are one big ginormous years-long trek (of Mount Everest-like proportions) through writer J.R.R. Tolkein’s fictional Middle Earth, and there are endless heart-tugging moments (like when hobbit Samwise Gamgee takes one step farther from home than he’s ever been). But a great takeaway of the movie: Frodo’s incredible friends, who would sooner walk to the gates of h-e-double-hockey-sticks with him, almost literally, than abandon him.

7. “The Way” (2010) – You don’t choose a life … you live one.

This Martin Sheen flick follows an American doctor who heads to France to recover the body of his son who died while hiking the famous 500-mile El Camino de Santiago trail in Europe. To honor his son’s memory and desire to finish the journey, he decides to finish the route himself—with profound results!

RELATED: 10 Great Biking Moments in Movies

8. “The Way Back” (2010) – Kindness. That can kill you here.

Despite controversy over whether the inspiration for this movie, “The Long Walk”—a Polish officer’s 1956 account of escaping a Soviet gulag in Siberia and walking 4,000 miles to India—really happened, the movie itself pays homage to the spirit of that story. The diverse group of escapees in this film tackle all the elements and terrible hardships—from extreme cold to extreme heat—as well as hunger, dehydration and physical dangers, with comradery and compassion along the way to keep them going.

9. “Redwood Highway” (2013) – It took Marie 45 years to walk 80 miles.

Estranged from her family (her son puts her in a retirement community against her will) and generally unhappy, Marie decides to take an 80-mile trip to the Oregon coast to attend her granddaughter’s wedding, and revisit the “ocean of her past.” What she discovers is that you’re never too old to discover new things about yourself—and about life!

10. “Wild” (2014) – Not till we are completely lost or turned around … do we begin to find ourselves. (Henry David Thoreau)

Some pathways to self-discovery and healing are longer than others. In the case of Cheryl Strayed (a real individual who, after suffering a personal tragedy and with no hiking experience, left her Minneapolis, Minnesota, home in the mid-1990s to tackle the Pacific Crest Trail)—it took the form of a 1,100-mile journey, which tested her physical endurance and her self-will while introducing her to some amazing people and experiences, and ultimately, incredibly redemption.

Honorable Mention

Though perhaps a little too off color to throw into our top 10 list, we still wanted to shout out Mel Brookes’ “Spaceballs” (1987)—a comedic spoof of “Star Wars.” Fans will surely remember the part where Princess Vespa—along with characters Lone Star, Dot and Barf—drags her “industrial-strength hairdryer” across the hot desert on foot!

Do you like this list?  Did we miss a few?  Let us know!

Amy Kapp | Photo courtesy Amy Kapp
Amy Kapp

Amy Kapp serves as Editorial Director and Editor-in-Chief of Rails to Trails magazine. Kapp frequently writes about the impact of, and vast historical and cultural connections made by, America's rail-trails, parks and public lands.

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