Vacation Too Pricey? Try A Theater-Aisle Seat When only the rich could travel widely, movie audiences went to Rome, Belgium or a seaside resort without leaving their seats. Bob Mondello looks at how Hollywood's view of summer vacation has evolved.
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Vacation Too Pricey? Try A Theater-Aisle Seat

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Vacation Too Pricey? Try A Theater-Aisle Seat

Vacation Too Pricey? Try A Theater-Aisle Seat

Vacation Too Pricey? Try A Theater-Aisle Seat

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Alex (Josh Duhamel, right) and Pru (Melissa George) rethink their decision to travel to Brazil when the organ harvesters come knocking in Turistas. Stone Village Pictures hide caption

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Stone Village Pictures

In the days before air travel was common, movies could take audiences to places they'd never visit. So until the '50s, vacation movies were essentially travelogues, often with romance plots.

Cinerama made a bunch of them: Cinerama Holiday, South Seas Adventure, stuff like that. And I remember short features from when I was a kid that always ended, "And so we bid a fond farewell to our friends in Tiki-Tiki," or something like that.

Once most everyone could go most everywhere, though, Hollywood realized pretty quickly that movies needed to give audiences more. And most vacation movies these days are less about going on vacation than about things going wrong on vacation.

Excluding the Summer Camp Movie, which is a genre unto itself, most vacation movies fall into three (sometimes overlapping) categories: Vacation Trips, Holiday Romances, and Quiet Vacations Ruined. Some defining examples:

Vacation Trips

Chevy Chase in 'National Lampoon's Vacation'

'National Lampoon's Vacation'

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) — Chevy Chase (left) and the Griswold family take a mishap-ridden little trip to Wally World.

My Life in Ruins (2009's worst movie) — Tour guide Nia Vardalos finds romance while shepherding obnoxious tourists around Greek ruins.

Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007) — Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) wins a trip to Cannes, has many mishaps on the way, ends up winning film prize.

Turistas (2006) — Backpackers' vacation in Brazil turns sour when they're marooned in a spot where nefarious types are harvesting organs.

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969) — Europe sent us German measles and Dutch elm disease; we sent them American tourists. Now we're even. Travel group races through seven countries in 18 days.

Johnson Family Vacation (2004) — Cedric the Entertainer, Vanessa Williams, et al. head for a family reunion in Caruthersville, Mo. Hijinks ensue.

Holiday Romances

Dorothy McGuire and Maggie McNamara in 'Three Coins in the Fountain'

'Three Coins In The Fountain'

Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) — Three American secretaries dream of finding romance in Rome. Tossing coins in the Trevi Fountain (left) seems to help.

A Room With a View (1985) — Helena Bonham Carter, in Florence with chaperone Maggie Smith, meets handsome stranger Julian Sands.

Roman Holiday (1953) — Princess Anne (Audrey Hepburn) is on a heavily chaperoned tour of European capitals. After being administered a sedative, she sneaks away — then falls asleep on a park bench and is rescued by journalist Gregory Peck.

Same Time Next Year (1978) — Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn have a brief affair when they meet at a romantic inn while both are on vacations with their spouses. Every year for three decades thereafter, they meet in the same room to celebrate the anniversary.

Enchanted April (1992) — Italy has a civilizing influence on beleaguered Londoners, including Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Joan Plowright.

Summer of '42 (1971) — Teenage daydreamer Gary Grimes stays with relatives at the beach, develops crush on pretty young Army wife (Jennifer O'Neill).

Pauline at the Beach (1983) — Soon-to-divorce Pauline meets an old flame when she takes her 15-year-old niece on a vacation. Bonus note: Director Eric Rohmer uses the vacation device a lot in his movies (My Night At Maud's, Summer, etc.).

Quiet Vacations Ruined

Bill Murray in 'What About Bob'

'What About Bob'

What About Bob? (1991) — Shrink Richard Dreyfuss is horrified when patient Bill Murray (left) invites himself along on a family vacation and can't be gotten rid of.

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) — Jimmy Stewart wants a quiet holiday at the beach, but his wife (Maureen O'Hara) invites the extended family.

Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953) — Jacques Tati goes to a seaside resort; accidents and misunderstandings follow everywhere he goes.