20 escapist films to watch for inspiration during self-isolation

Harry Fletcher
·7-min read

Travelling is proving more difficult than ever at the moment, with most of us unable to leave the house, never mind the country.

It’s easy to feel cooped up during self isolation, and it’s a relief to escape the confines of our living rooms for a while by jumping on the sofa and sticking on a good film.

When they’re at their best, movies fly us to faraway lands, fill us with adventurous spirit and make the world seem a little bit more accessible – for a little while, at least.

Here are 20 favourites to lift you from your living room and out into the open.

A Bigger Splash

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A rockstar (Tilda Swinton), her ex lover (Ralph Fiennes) and her new partner (Matthias Schoenaerts) converge on a breathtaking villa on the Italian island of Pantelleria. As you might think, things get a little awkward, and the twisty narrative means it’s not the relaxing watch you might expect from most holiday movies. The setting alone, taking place around the villa’s pool – Hockney blue, of course – and the idyllic, isolated hills of Pantelleria, makes this one to seek out, especially if you’re craving a getaway.

The Beach

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You can almost feel the heat of the Thai sun and the scorching white sand beneath your toes in this 00s cult favourite, which sees a young Leonardo DiCaprio discover more than he bargained for after going backpacking in Asia. The first shot of the beach the film is named for is enough to get you lost in fantasies of far flung escape.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

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This 1981 classic is as much a travelogue piece as it is a swashbuckling adventure, with Indie visiting Peru, Chicago, Washington, Nepal, Egypt and an island in the Aegean Sea. It’s not just the locations viewers can get lost in, but the period too, with Harrison’s Ford going up against German forces in the mid 30s and discovering the wonders of the ancient world hidden away in the far-flung corners of south America and Asia.

Amelie

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Take a whimsical look at Montparnasse with this quirky indie hit. Audrey Tautou stars as a wide-eyed waitress intent on improving the lives of people around her as much as she can. It’s too twee for some, and while Paris has long been a star on screen, rarely has it been so straightforwardly charming.

Wild

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Step into the unknown with Reese Witherspoon, who plays a recent divorcee leaving home to hike more than 1000 miles in the beautiful but unforgiving wilderness of the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon and Laura Dern give strong performances and there’s a sparky script from Nick Hornby.

Lost in Translation

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The bewildering streets of Tokyo and the tranquil gardens of Kyoto are beautifully captured in this understated, elegant and quietly affecting modern classic. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson star as unlikely companions in a confusing and alluring part of the world.

Thelma & Louise

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One of the ultimate road trip movies, Thelma & Louise follows screen heroines Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as they flee the scene of a murder down to Mexican. The scorched hinterland and dusty border towns they roll through, as well as the locals they encounter (including a young, mostly topless Brad Pitt) are just as fascinating as the lead characters themselves. It’s empowering, absorbing and one of the best buddy movies ever made.

Out of Africa

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This romantic drama is an epic love story set against the sweeping plains of Kenya, with Meryl Streep at the very top of her game. Her burgeoning relationship with Robert Redford is tenderly portrayed against the backdrop of early 20th century colonialism, and the film is worth seeing for the stunning landscapes and beautiful savanna sunsets alone.

The Darjeeling Limited ​

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This isn’t Wes Anderson’s best film by any stretch, but it is a great way to enjoy a trip across India without leaving your sofa. It follows brothers Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman on a sprawling rail journey into the heart of spiritual India following the death of their father – their company can get a bit claustrophobic at times, but as a piece of travelogue cinema, it’s fantastic.

God’s Own Country

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Proof that films don’t always have to look to exotic locations to offer an escape. Beautiful rural Yorkshire is the setting for this moving and affecting drama, which follows a disillusioned young farmer whose life is changed by the arrival of a new farmhand from Romania.

The Talented Mr Ripley

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Just like Matt Damon’s cunning Tom Ripley, watching this whipsmart drama allows the viewer to rub shoulders with the jetsetters, heiresses and playboys of 50s New York and Naples, with a web of lies spun against a series of beautiful backdrops. The film saunters along the southern Italian coast, but the sun-soaked (fictional) town of Mongibello, where most of the action takes place, is one of the most enticing locations we’ve ever seen on film. It was shot mostly in Positano, but travels to Rome and Venice too.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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With a cast as charismatic as Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz at the film’s disposal, you can’t go far wrong. Sure, the love triangle at the heart of the film is a little preposterous, but Barcelona always looks beguiling on the big screen.

Sideways

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A love letter to California wine country, pinot noir-obsessed teacher and aspiring novelist Paul Giamatti and his best friend head out on a shambolic road trip to Santa Barbara County. It’s a film which does the rare thing of making the subject of wine work on the big screen without seeming alienating or elitist – perfect if you’re relaxing with a glass or two after a hard week working from home.

Into the Wild

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An ode to giving up all your earthly possessions and heading off with a head full of dreams. No, not the John Lennon song self-obsessed celebrities were warbling along to recently, it’s Into the Wild – an adventure following a young man who drops everything to take the dangerous journey across the US into the Alaskan wilderness.

Y tu Mamá También

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A steamy love triangle is at the heart of this sprawling movie from Alfonso Cuaron, with two teenagers and an older woman heading out on a search for a fictional beach – the Boca del Cielo – on a spontaneous journey through the dusty parts of Mexico. Cuaron went on to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity and Roma after this gem.

Mamma Mia!

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Cheesier than a deep-pan margherita and just as moreish, this ode to the songs of ABBA is set on the Greek island of Kalokairi – a spectacular backdrop to some wonderfully ropey performances of classics like Dancing Queen, I Have a Dream and Money, Money, Money. There’s all the flamboyance you’d expect from a jukebox musical and Meryl Streep is a delight, as ever.

Little Miss Sunshine

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Pack into the VW camper van with the Hoovers for this off-beat gem, as they take the road from New Mexico to California to enrol daughter Olive in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Bittersweet at times and caustically funny, it watching feels like being inside the car, with all the squabbling and claustrophobia a family trip often entails. It’s a cult favourite which is well worth a watch.

Roman Holiday

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This masterpiece from director William Wyler sees Audrey Hepburn’s princess discover the endlessly charming Italian capital with the help of Gregory Peck’s dapper reporter. With Italy’s streets in lockdown at the moment, this is a chance to see the city at it’s very best.

Dr No

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The first Bond movie takes place in sun-baked Jamaica, with Sean Connery’s inexorably suave 007 setting the blueprint for every instalment to follow. Come for the action and espionage, but stay for the incredible cinematography and stunning beaches, with the film showing off the Island’s natural beauty – even if most of it is set inside an evil genius’s secret lair.

The Motorcycle Diaries

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The early years of Che Guevara are recounted in this hedonistic road movie, which follows the journey undertaken by Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado across South America in 1952, cutting from rambling rural vistas to chaotic cityscapes. Walter Salles went on to helm the 2012 version of Kerouac’s On the Road, and the two are obvious companion pieces.