There have been examples from the early days of travel trailers such as the comedy Long Long Trailer in the early 1950s with Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball about a couple who take a trailer on their honeymoon. There’s also the mobile meth-making motorhome that was a large part of the Breaking Bad TV series.
Located at the company’s headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio, the new Airstream Heritage Center showcases the history of perhaps the most famous travel trailers in the world. The word iconic gets thrown around a lot these days but these silver bullet trailers deserve the title. They still evoke the optimism of the space race although now of course are filled with all modern conveniences.
Airstream and NASA have a long tradition of partnership including the construction of the quarantine chamber used by returning Apollo missions and the RV that took astronauts to the launch pad right up to the era of the Space Shuttle. And it is also synonymous with the way Hollywood told these stories. The Airstream used by Tom Hanks when he was shooting the movie Apollo 13 sold at auction several years ago for $235,200.
From families clustered around TV sets in 1969 to silver screen blockbusters, to highways and side roads across the country, Airstream RVs and trailers are instantly recognizable to everyone. And this got me thinking: what other RVs have achieved lasting fame? Or maybe infamy?
Watching Robin Williams roll through Colorado in a RV and young couples embarking on their first cross-country RV road trip is kind of the same as being there, right? Okay, maybe it’s not the same, but it’s definitely the next best option.
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These RVing movies feature what those of us in the RV community loves most about this lifestyle—beautiful scenery, wide-open spaces, family and above all, a good sense of humor. Check out some of my favorite RV movies below.
Spaceballs — 1986 Winnebago Chieftain 33
One of the few parodies that stand the test of time, Spaceballs perfectly skewers the Millennium Falcon with this slightly decrepit winged Winnebago. No, it will not go to plaid but it will make the jump to hyperspace thanks to secret onboard jets allowing Lone Starr and Barf to outrun the evil Dark Helmet.
The joke here is to double down on the rough around edges feel of the Falcon. The Eagle 5 (complete with vanity plate) is a shabby ol’ bird, fine for a man-dog named Barf but not up to the standards of the prissy Princess Vespa. Still, it’ll jam any radar. Literally!
Breaking Bad — 1986 Fleetwood Bounder
If the Eagle 5 skirted galactic law then the Fleetwood from Breaking Bad was definitely up to no good. A rolling laboratory for cooking up illegal methamphetamines, the “Krystal Ship” became something of a recurring character on the show.
Despite being destroyed in a crusher in season six (another RV was destroyed), the Fleetwood survived filming. There was even a charity contest in 2018 that offered fans a chance to cook in the RV with Aaron Paul—not meth, just breakfast.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — 1972 Ford Condor II
RVs don’t seem to get the glamorous roles in movies and television. This particular crusty-looking machine was a reflection of just how rude and crude the Griswolds’ Cousin Eddie was. Case in point: his most famous line isn’t even printable here.
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Yet even Eddie becomes a lasting part of the Christmas spirit. The motorhome is too. It’s parked at Castle Noel in Ohio, an entire museum dedicated to Christmas movies.
Independence Day — 1967 Winnebago Brave
It’s time to redeem the RV a little. When aliens invade the earth, a herd of RVs flees into the desert rescuing Will Smith along the way and ending up at Area 51.
A classic Winnebago with a suitably apt name leads the way. It’s a bit of redemption for Cousin Eddie too, in a way. Actor Randy Quaid takes on another RV-driving role here but this time he’s a disgraced fighter pilot who gets his revenge.
Stripes — 1976 GMC Motorhome
Beloved comedian John Candy makes another motorhome-related appearance here (he played Barf) with the EM-50 Urban Assault vehicle. With more gadgets than a Bond car—periscope, missiles, bulletproof armor—the EM-50 easily saves the day.
Stripped of the movie magic, the EM-50 was actually a GMC Motorhome from the 1970s. These were pretty advanced for their day being front-wheel-drive and having a low floor. After filming, Candy reportedly kept one of the motorhomes and used it for touring around.
The Blues Brothers — 1976 Fleetwood Southwind
Direct from Nashville, it’s the Good Ole Boys playing both kinds of the best music there are—Country and Western. They’re touring the country in a Fleetwood RV painted with desert cowboy scenes and fitted with bull horns.
Unfortunately, Jake and Elwood Blues get on the wrong side of the Ole Boys which resulted in a car chase. Most things in this movie result in car chases. In this case, Elwood’s messed with the accelerator pedal—“glue, strong stuff”—and the RV ends up going for a swim.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park — 1996 Fleetwood Southwind Storm
The original Jurassic Park was such a huge smash that we all couldn’t wait to travel back. This time, though, we’d need something a little tougher than a painted-up Ford Explorer.
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Enter the Southwind Storm done up as the Challenger trailer. A mobile lab equipped with anti-dinosaur defenses it was theoretically the safest way to study dinosaurs at a distance. Unfortunately, it ended up getting rolled into the ocean by two angry T. Rexes.
The Far Green Country — 2005 Bounder
This is a real life story—an overcoming adversity story. This is a story about a great adventure in the wild spaces—whether in national parks, within oneself, or in relationships with others. A young couple struggling to stay afloat set out on the road in a class A motorhome in search of the hope of healing. This real-life documentary tells of the comedy, the hardships, and the passion of living intentionally and adventurously in marriage and with children.
About Schmidt — 2001 Winnebago Adventurer
This 2002 Oscar-winning movie features Jack Nicholson as Warren Schmidt, a bitter and recently retired widower who travels to his estranged daughter’s wedding in a 35-foot 2001 Winnebago Adventurer. Along the way, Nicholson’s character narrates via long letters to Ndugu, a Tanzanian orphan that he’s sponsoring.
We’re the Millers — 2013 Coachman Encounter
This raunchy 2013 comedy features Jason Sudeikis’ character hiring a fake family to smuggle a massive amount of marijuana across the Mexican border. “Me, crossing the border alone? Huge red flag! But families, don’t get a second look so I need you to be my wife,” he says to Jennifer Aniston’s character, a stripper. The RV in the movie is played by a 2013 Coachmen Encounter.
RV — 2005 Forest River Georgetown 395 and 1948 Flexible Clipper
This Robin Williams-helmed film stars the late actor as Bob Munro who takes his family on a road trip that, of course, results in all manner of shenanigans and tomfoolery—including some of the specifically RV variety. The family’s rig is a 2005 35-foot Forest River Georgetown 359 but another RV—the vintage 1948 Flxible Clipper—kind of steals the show. The latter can be toured at the Jack Sisemore RV Museum in Amarillo, Texas.
Nomadland — 2001 converted Ford Econoline
As the title suggests, the RV in this film features prominently as Fern, played by Frances McDormand travels the western half of the U.S. in 2001 converted Ford Econoline she names Vanguard. The Chloé Zhao-directed film—nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture—explores themes of economic collapse, community, and survival, and features real-life nomads alongside McDormand’s performance.
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Supernova — 2004 Auto Trail Cheyenne 632
In this 2020 film, Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci play Sam and Tusker, partners of 20 years who travel the English Lake District visiting friends and family in a camper van as they try to come to terms with Tusker’s early-onset dementia diagnosis. The RV in this critically acclaimed movie is a 16-year-old Auto-Trail Cheyenne 632.
Meet the Fockers — 2016 Fleetwood Pace Arrow
Since the first movie, Meet the Parents (2000), the main character Ben Focker has been accepted by his fiancé’s parents and it is time for her parents to meet him. Sounds easy enough but the parents are polar opposites. The movie follows Ben and his fiancé, Pam, trying everything they can to try to make the parents get along and come to terms with being one big family. Their attempts lead to some hilarious scenarios like when Ben decides to take a trip with his fiancé’s parents to meet his parents in an RV.
It’s crazy isn’t it? Look at that RV it’s like a camper on steroids.
—Robin Williams (the dad) in the movie, RV