A collection of films to inspire your bus life adventures

 because every bus has a story.

Classic bus life movies

More and more retired buses are getting new life through custom conversions, but this growing scene is part of a long legacy. Bus life is more than a trend, it's a culture.

From documentaries and historical dramas to fantasies and dystopian adventures, bus culture has shaped how we navigate the world. So, if you find yourself in one place dreaming about life on the road or if you have a couple of hours to spare after a drive in your home on wheels, here are 15 bus films to binge-watch this summer.

Let’s ride!

Captain Fantastic

Year Released: 2016 Length: 1h 58m Director: Matt Ross Genre: Drama Where you can find it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, iTunes

After losing his wife, survivalist Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) is left to raise their six kids on his own. Set in Washington State, the family eventually leaves the forest to venture into suburbia in their 1993 Blue Bird bus conversion named Steve. The bus from the movie was on sale for just $6,000 in 2017, set props and all - a great buy if we weren’t a few years too late!

 

 

Magic Trip

Year Released: 2011 Length: 1h 30m Director: Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood Genre: Documentary Where to watch it: Tubi, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, iTunes

This documentary follows “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” author Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters on a drug-fuelled trip across the country in their converted school bus. It is a classic tale of bus culture shaping the counter-culture of the 1960s. The film uses Kesey’s footage from his unfinished film and features cameos by The Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsberg, and “On the Road” author, Jack Kerouac.

 

 

Into the Wild

Year Released: 2007 Length: 2h 28m Director: Sean Penn Genre: Adventure/Drama Where to watch it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Starz, SlingTV, iTunes

Based on the book by Jon Krakauer, this true story chronicles the life of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) after he set out on the road in North America during the early 1990s. As told through letters McCandless’s journal and letters he wrote to his sister during his travels, McCandless eventually makes his way to an abandoned bus in Alaska territory. The iconic bus does not make an appearance until the end of the film, but Into the Wild embodies the spirit of life on the road that often accompanies bus life.

Where’s the bus now? The actual bus McCandless stayed in was removed from outside of Denali National Park, Alaska, in June 2020 for safekeeping after it proved to be a dangerous destination for inspired travelers.

 

 

Smoke Signals

Year Released: 1998 Length: 1h 29m Director: Chris Eyre Genre: Indie film Where to watch it: Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, iTunes

This award-winning Canadian-American production centers on two neighbors, Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) and Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams), from the Coeur D’Alene Indian Reservation who travel from Idaho to Arizona to retrieve the ashes of Victor’s father. The bus ride from the reservation serves as a backdrop for the pair to explore their identities as indigenous men. According to the film’s screenplay writer, Smoke Signals remains, “the only film directed, written, and co-produced by Natives to receive major national and international distribution.” 

 

 

Almost Famous

Year Released: 2000 Length: 2h 42m Director: Cameron Crowe Genre: Drama Where to watch it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV, iTunes

Next stop, 1973. The film is based on screenwriter and director Cameron Crowe’s real-life experience as a young journalist for Rolling Stone on the road with famous ‘70s bands. But it also sheds light on a unique brand of bus life: the band tour. Almost Famous is an insider look at life between shows on the road filled with roadies, groupies, and band drama. In one famous scene on the bus, the film’s main character William says he has to go home to which “band-aid” Penny Lane replies, “You are home.”

 

A League of their Own

Year Released: 1992 Length: 2h 8m Director: Penny Marshall Genre: Sport/Comedy Where to watch it: Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV

The film starring Geena Davis and Tom Hanks covers the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s premiere season in 1943 and follows the Rockford Peaches on a bus tour to games throughout the region. Several scenes take place on the bus and it shows how, despite having barely enough room for themselves and their belongings, they manage to make the space their own by hanging photographs, kicking back, and even stashing booze.

 

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Year Released: 1981 Length: 1h 36m Director: George Miller Genre: Action/Adventure Where to watch it: iTunes, MaxGo, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, VUDU
“Greetings from the Humungus!”
Looking like a bus conversion with a partial roof raise, the steel-clad dystopian adventure rig plays a small yet memorable role as the bus used for a gate of a compound in post-apocalyptic Australia. The film, the second installment of the Mad Max movies, follows former highway patrolman Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) through the desert in his V8 Pursuit Special as he avenges the murder of his family by a biker gang.

 

Expedition Happiness

Year Released: 2017 Length: 1h 35m Director: Selima Taibi Genre: Documentary Where to watch it: Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video (there is an English full-length version with subtitles for free on YouTube, but you didn't hear that from us). 

This film is probably the closest narrative to the way bus life is often portrayed in the media today. It features a young Millenial couple who buy and convert a school bus into a chic “loft on wheels” and travel through North America with their dog, Rudi. It stars German filmmaker Felix Starck and musician/director Selima Taibi whose music makes up the film’s soundtrack. It takes on more of a vlog-style than the other documentaries on this list and does a good job of blending the beautiful scenery with music, while also showcasing some of the hardships that can come with life on the road.

 

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Year Released: 1994 Length: 1h 44minutes Director: Stephan Elliot Genre: Drama/comedy Where to watch it: Vudu, rent on Google Play Movies or YouTube

This film takes viewers on a wild ride through the Australian outback when a transgender woman and two drag queens set out from Sydney to Alice Springs for a string of performances in a bedazzled bus conversion named Priscilla. This movie is an outrageous rhinestone in the rough with over-the-top dance numbers, lots of profanity, and some sticky situations. But at its heart, the movie is about acceptance. The ‘90s film is credited for helping to bring positive portrayals of the LGBTQ community to mainstream audiences. It also provides insight into what bus life in Australia's outback would be like.

 

Minimalism

Year Released: 2016 Length: 1h 19m Director: Matt D'Avella Genre: Documentary Where to watch it: Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes

Although this film does not feature a bus, many see it as a source of inspiration to downsize and live intentionally. It serves as an introduction to minimalism that leads some to bus life. The documentary follows Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus who tell the now-familiar story of ditching the corporate world for a more meaningful life with less. They take viewers on the road to promote their book and website and introduce others who share their understanding of minimalism.

 

Freedom Riders

Year Released: 2010 Length: 2h Director: Stanley Nelson Genre: Historical Documentary Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video, PBS.org, iTunes

What it was like when riding a bus meant risking your life. This historical documentary covers the story of the Freedom Riders, black and white activists who protested the segregation of American transportation and bus terminals after it was found to be unconstitutional. From May to December 1961 several freedom rides took place throughout the American South resulting in white mob violence, bus bombing, and calls for assistance from Federal Marshals to protect the non-violent protestors.

 

Forrest Gump

Year Released: 1994 Length: 2h 22m Director: Robert Zemeckis Genre: Dramatic Comedy Where to watch it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Starz, Sling TV, iTunes

You may remember a lot about this film like the running, the box of chocolates, and more running, but do you recall the steady stream of buses? It is the story of the latter part of American 20th-century history seen through the eyes of an unlikely cultural hero. The film begins at a bus stop and ends at one. Along the way, we are introduced to the Vietnam-era Army through one bus and left behind at an anti-war rally by another. If you look closely, Forrest Gump is a great example of how buses are both literal and figurative vehicles taking us through life itself.

 

 

Speed

Year Released: 1994 Length: 1h 56m Director: Jan de Bont Genre: Action/Adventure Where to watch it: Vudu, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes

We couldn’t resist putting this ‘90s movie starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock on the list. Anyone living bus life would marvel at the fact that the bus stays above 50 mph so so long. For many of us, our bus conversions would take half of the movie just to get up to that speed.

 

Life in the Bus Lane

Year Released: 2017 Length: 51m Director: Brock Butterfield Genre: Documentary Where to watch it: YouTube

The tale of Bus Life Adventure and The Bus Fair founder, Brock Butterfield, and how he overcame a near-fatal bout with ulcerative colitis to become a professional snowboarder, later converting and traveling the continent in a short bus turned tiny home on wheels. The film shows the reality of what it takes to build and maintain a school bus conversion.

 

De Griezelbus (Dutch)/ El Bus Del Terror

Year Released: 2005 Length: 1h 39m Director: Pieter Kuijpers Genre: Horror Where to watch it: complete version en Espanol available on YouTube

Based on the six-part children’s book series by Paul van Loon, this Dutch production captures the imagination similar to the Harry Potter series or Chronicles of Narnia, released at the same time, but it features De Greizelbus or "the horror bus." It is geared toward a younger audience but fun to see how bus life can take on a creepy and downright sinister tone.

 Thanks for reading and watching, what did you think of our list? Let us know if we need to add something. See you on the HWY!

 

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