For business travelers, so much can go so wrong when getting a rental car.
So, for road warriors who aren't renting a car this Thanksgiving week and have time to squeeze in a movie or two, we've compiled a list of 10 movies (and one must-see TV show) with memorable scenes involving rental cars, agencies and/or clerks. The list was informally compiled based on opinions solicited from frequent travelers, film experts and film buffs. Movie information comes from the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), and many of the scenes can be found on YouTube.
'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'
This cult classic shows road warriors struggling to get home for Turkey Day against a long list of obstacles. One unforgettable scene is Steve Martin's tirade at an airport rental car counter after the clerk had sent him to a distant parking spot that contained no car. Dean Athanassiades of Atlanta says he watches it every year around this time to remind him "why I don't travel during Thanksgiving week."
'National Lampoon's European Vacation'
In the second film in National Lampoon's Vacation series, the Griswold family accidentally wins a game show's grand prize: a European vacation. Chevy Chase's character, Clark Griswold, can't adapt to the English style of driving, so he gets trapped in a roundabout in London and also backs into Stonehenge.
'Meet the Parents'
Nurse Gaylord "Greg" Focker visits his girlfriend's parents before proposing and finds she has a menacing father, Jack Byrnes, played by Robert De Niro. Byrnes questions everything about Focker, including the color of his rental car choice (green). Sequel Meet the Fockers contains another rental car gag.
'Good Neighbor Sam'
Jack Lemon plays Sam Bissel, a 1960s suburban family man who's dissatisfied with his low-level job at an advertising firm until he lands his first big account, and things get complicated. A running gag involves the spoofing of a Hertz car rental commercial. Joseph Varsalona of Bellport, N.Y., a former frequent Hertz customer and a founder of the Bellport Film Society, says he can still sing the ad jingle.
'A Good Year'
Russell Crowe plays Max Skinner, a London investment banker who inherits a run-down vineyard in Provence. When he arrives in France, he finds a tiny rental car — a Smart car — with a navigation system that speaks French.
After chronic bachelor Don Johnston, played by Bill Murray, gets dumped by his latest girlfriend, he receives an anonymous letter telling him he has a son. He rents a series of boring cars such as a Ford Taurus while crisscrossing the country to find his son. The cars symbolize his sad life, says Devin Orgeron, an associate film professor at North Carolina State University.
'Days of Thunder'
Hot-shot Cole Trickle, played by Tom Cruise, aims to win on the auto-racing circuit. Cruise and Michael Rooker's character, Rowdy Burns, rent cars. When asked if they'd like insurance, the pair nod their heads yes and then they smash them up. "It's what we road warriors always yearn to do," says Rich Szulewski of Germantown, Tenn.
Movie-loving mobster Chili Palmer, played by John Travolta, goes to Tinseltown to collect a debt from a movie producer. A running joke involves Palmer ordering a Cadillac rental but instead getting an Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan and being told that it's the "Cadillac of minivans." A rental car also gets laughs in Be Cool, the Get Shorty sequel.
'Tomorrow Never Dies'
In a car chase scene in a parking garage, James Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan, uses a remote control to send his missile-equipped BMW 750iL soaring off a parking deck's roof and into an Avis rental car agency window many floors below. "We've rented in Europe dozens of times," says traveler David Frisbie of Del Mar, Calif. "Our returns have been a bit smoother but much less interesting."
'Jackass: The Movie'
The first movie, spun off from the MTV television series, shows people doing extreme, dangerous stunts and pranks. In one stunt called Rent-A-Car Crash-Up Derby, Johnny Knoxville rents a car and gets it equipped for a demolition derby. The rented Ford Contour gets smashed to bits.
It's not from the big screen, but readers mentioned this scene the most after the one in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. In the "The Alternate Side," Jerry reserves a car, but when he and Elaine go to pick it up, he's told no car is left. Jerry then launches into a tirade admired by many a business traveler.
Rental car industry consultant Neil Abrams says the scene resonates so broadly that he often mentions it in his industry speeches. Frequent traveler Bill Zito of Milwaukee says it's happened to him.
"But I was never able to handle it like Seinfeld did," he says.