🔥 Hot Off The Press! Get Our NEW JC Whitney Magazine + Catalog

Search JC Whitney

The Horrors of Camping Vans in Movies

About JC Whitney Editorial Team

Meet the JC Whitney Editorial Team, your go-to experts for automotive insights, from in-depth car culture articles to the latest in vehicle tech.

More from JC Whitney Editorial Team

Camper vans and RVs hold a lot of appeal in movies and TV. That’s partly because a house on wheels allows for all kinds of plot and visual scenarios that aren’t possible in locations that are either just a car or just a house, and it’s partly because the RV is a kind of cultural icon in America, one that is apt for portrayals on the big screen. But as often as RVs show up in films (especially b-horror pictures of the 70s and 80s), something terrible happens to them. These vehicles are always getting broken into by a crazed murderer, crashed, blown up, or breaking down. As a thought experiment, we’re asking ourselves: how could things have gone differently? If the characters in these situations had driven something different, would it have worked out better? Join us as we unpack some famous RV catastrophes to find out.

The Toy Box

“The Toybox” (2018) is a horror film starring Denise Richards and Mischa Barton. It follows a family on a road trip who encounter supernatural events after they become stranded in the desert with their haunted RV. As they struggle to survive, they uncover the dark history of the vehicle and the malevolent spirits that reside within it.

What Went Wrong:

In short, the RV is haunted. The whole place became infested with ghosts and evil spirits after some horrific atrocities took place inside the vehicle. It probably should have been destroyed after all that, but instead it was refurbished, sold to an unsuspecting family, and it attacked them. Oops!

How to Fix It:

This film is an argument against buying used. If that family had just bought a fancy new RV, they never would have run into these problems in the first place. Failing that, they should have at least gotten a CarFax report or, in a pinch, maybe burned some sage or sprinkled holy water before setting off for their trip. 

2012

The film “2012” is a disaster movie that revolves around the prediction that the world will end in the year “2012,” as predicted by the Mayan calendar. It follows the struggles of a diverse group of people, including a struggling writer (John Cusack) and his family, as they attempt to survive a series of catastrophic natural disasters that threaten to destroy the planet. The film is a thrilling ride through apocalyptic events, showcasing humanity’s resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. In one famous scene, Cusack is forced to drive the RV belonging to an eccentric hermit played by Woody Harrelson through Yellowstone National Park as the volcano that constitutes the park begins a massive eruption.

What Went Wrong:

In the RV scene, flying debris smashes into the back of the RV leaving a gaping hole that probably would’ve also smashed the rear axle and left the thing undriveable. Somehow, the RV manages to carry on and even clears a pretty impressive jump over some imploding terrain. Honestly everything went as well as could be expected in this case, but the odds of it working out that way were very slim.

How to Fix It:

A quicker, more agile vehicle probably would have gotten Cusack and his daughter down to the airstrip faster and with fewer close shaves. Something like the Fiat Doblo, for example, has a smaller profile (less area for molten rock to hit), and set a speed record of 141.3 MPH. Plenty of speed to reach the airstrip in time for a comfortable takeoff. Of course an import would not have suited Woody Harrelson’s character in the film, but this 1977 custom-built GMC Motorhome which holds the land speed record for a Class A motorhome might have worked. Its top speed, 122 MPH and change, would still have been plenty fast for the scenario, but falling debris may still have caused some issues.

The Cabin in the Woods

“The Cabin in the Woods” is a horror-comedy film that subverts traditional horror movie tropes. It follows a group of five friends who go to a remote cabin for a vacation, only to discover that they are part of a controlled experiment orchestrated by a mysterious organization. As they encounter various horror clichés, they begin to uncover the truth behind their situation, leading to a series of unexpected twists and a deeper commentary on the genre itself.

What Went Wrong:

In one noteworthy scene in “Cabin in the Woods,” two of the only surviving characters attempt to make a getaway using their RV. The film is a horror comedy that sought to combine as many horror tropes as possible, which explains why this group of co-eds thought it made sense to drive a gas-guzzling, slow-moving RV out to the cabin they were staying at in the first place. In a more serious movie, or in the real world this is what you might refer to as “a hat on a hat.” Unbeknownst to the protagonists, the monsters that have been chasing them snuck into the RV. One of them stabs the driver causing him to crash into a lake. Not a great situation.

How to Fix It:

A small car would have been more practical here, and might have prevented the bloodthirsty zombies from sneaking into the vehicle. In the film the characters are basically trapped at the cabin because of a force field walling them in, so it’s hard to say that a better vehicle would have aided in their escape, but at the very least it could have prevented one of them from dying (for a while longer, at least). Also something with decent 4×4 (maybe a Sprinter?) could possibly have gotten them to a good hiding place where they’d be able to regroup and form a new plan. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VREVuAssNY8&t=557s&pp=ygUfdGhlIGxvc3Qgd29ybGQganVyYXNzaWMgcGFyayBydg%3D%3D

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

“The Lost World: Jurassic Park” is the sequel to the original Jurassic Park film, set on a second island, Isla Sorna, where dinosaurs have been allowed to roam free. The story follows a team of researchers and adventurers, led by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeffrey Goldblum), as they embark on a mission to study the dinosaurs in their natural habitat. However, their expedition takes a dangerous turn when another group arrives with intentions of capturing the dinosaurs for a theme park in San Diego, leading to chaos and a struggle for survival.

What Went Wrong:

In the film, the research team uses a dual RV rig as their mobile home and base. It is theoretically designed to withstand the dangers of the dinosaur-infested island (as much as is possible), but its engineering doesn’t stop it from pretty easily being pushed off a cliff and destroyed, nearly killing everyone inside.

How to Fix It:

If you absolutely insist on driving an RV around an island crawling with dinosaurs, consider some kind of winch or augur system that can securely anchor the vehicle in place. Getting pushed and kicked around is going to be one of the obvious challenges when you’re trying to survive aggressive dinosaur attacks, and you would really think that the design team here would plan for such an outcome. On the other hand, designing around durability might be a fool’s errand when it comes to dinosaurs—maybe next time figuring out some dino-specific camouflage would help!

We’re the Millers

“We’re The Millers” is a comedy film starring Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Anniston, Emma Roberts, and Will Poulter. The film follows the story of a small-time pot dealer who creates a fake family, the Millers, as part of a plan to smuggle a large shipment of marijuana from Mexico into the U.S. The makeshift family embarks on a road trip in an RV, facing various comedic mishaps and challenges along the way as they try to complete their mission without getting caught.

What Went Wrong:

In this comedy of errors, everything that can go wrong does, and that includes the RV breaking down and eventually crashing. The ‘family’ manages to get across the US border with their RV full of contraband, but the extra weight causes a hose to break, rendering it undriveable. The family is soon bailed out by another group traveling in an RV of their own, one of whom happens to be a DEA agent. This risky encounter could have been avoided if they’d simply used a sturdier RV.

How to Fix It:

Before they got their operation underway, the Millers probably should have made sure their rig was built to carry a heavier-than-normal load, or else they should have taken some of the actual RV-infrastructure out (kitchen and bathroom appliances, bedroom furniture, etc.) in order to free up some extra weight. Instead, they learned a valuable lesson about never exceeding the load weight your vehicle is rated for!

Breaking Bad

If you missed it, “Breaking Bad” is a critically acclaimed TV series that follows the transformation of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine manufacturing drug lord. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Walter partners with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, to secure his family’s financial future. The series explores themes of morality, consequences, and the lengths one will go to for survival and power.

What Went Wrong:

It might be easier here to talk about what went right with this RV; it would take less time. The RV ends up stranded and full of toxic fumes (not to mention bodies) in the first episode. It only got there in the first place by being stolen. It got its door shot through, it broke down all the time, and its distinctive vintage look made it ultimately easier to track down, which put two of the show’s major characters in jeopardy. 

How to Fix It:

In short? A different RV, purchased legally, of a more common model that was also more mechanically sound would have gone a long way toward making the lives of its meth-cooking owners easier. Something with greater potential for handling unforgiving terrain and perhaps bulletproof construction may have been smart, but at the very least Jesse really should have fixed the buzzer that lets you know the battery is being drained!