Top 10: Best car films
Choosing the 10 best car films isn't an easy task considering the sheer number of excellent options. So, without further ado, these are the top 10 car films as ranked by the Honest John staff - including a few unexpected choices.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Pill-popping Vietnam-vet ex-race car driver Stanley Kowalski fires across Death Valley in a souped-up, 1970 two-door Dodge Challenger, for no other reason than he fancies the challenge. With plenty of influences from the 1960s — namely the use of recreational drugs and a naked woman on a motorcycle — Kowalski sets off on the epic challenge of driving from Denver to San Francisco in less than 24 hours.
Mixing chases and stunts with spectacular desert scenery and soul music, Vanishing Point is a classic road movie that will have you dreaming of thundering V8s and driving for the fun of it. The Dodge Challengers were prepared by Max Balchowsky, the same genius who prepared the vehicles for Bullitt, and no modifications were made other than uprated suspension for the jumps.
Fun fact: (Spoiler alert) The car that runs into the bulldozers in the final scene was actually a Chevrolet Camaro with its engine and gearbox removed and towed by one of the Challengers.
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A horror classic from the pen of Stephen King, the 1983 film Christine sees a 1958 Plymouth Fury take on a personality all of its own, wreaking terror on those who dare to cross it and transforming the personality of its nerdy owner, Archie. Although it received mixed reviews on initial release it has since achieved cult status thanks to the clever effects, tense action scenes and 1950s culture.
Filming required a number of Plymouth Furys to be bought by the production company, not helped by the fact that the 1958 model was produced in small numbers and only came in beige paint, unlike the eye-catching red of the film car.
Fun fact: The regeneration scenes were shot using plastic recreations of the body parts with hydraulics attached that would suck them into a malformed shape, with the footage then reversed to create the effect.
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Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Forget about Nicholas Cage; this the original 1974 film which was written, directed, produced and starred H.B. Halicki — he even did most of the stunt driving in the film too. The film is about insurance investigator Maindrian Pace, who has an illegal side business ‘ringing’ cars. He's approached by a drug lord to steal a list of 48 vehicles. Pace’s efforts end up centred around a Mustang named Eleanor as the police close in.
Filmed on a tiny budget — many of the cars appear in several scenes because Halicki could only afford so many vehicles — the production values are low but the authenticity is high. Many of the crashes and spills happened for real, and Halicki injured himself several times during filming. A definite must for the true enthusiast with a 40-minute car chase in the final act.
Fun fact: In filming all of the stunts in the film Halicki suffered broken ribs, a broken leg and ten compressed vertebrae following the final jump.
This 1968 American thriller stars Steve McQueen and is notable for the 11-minute car chase, which is widely regarded as one of the most influential in film history. It was shot in San Francisco, with the two 1968 440 Magnum Dodge Chargers used because they could cope with the jumps over the hills of San Francisco, though the suspension was mildly upgraded to cope with the demands of the stunt work.
The 1968 390 V8 Ford Mustang GT, meanwhile, became a pop culture icon. Two Mustangs were used for filming the chase scene, and both needed the engines, brakes and suspensions heavily modified.
Fun fact: Cinematographer William Fraker was also strapped to the bonnet of the Mustang, where he filmed while the car sped around doing over 100mph.
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The Italian Job (1969)
Michael Caine, sporting a cockney accent, organises a heist to steal $4 million in Mafia gold located in Turin using red, white and blue Mini Coopers. The charming classic is silly, but endearing, with the success of the current MINI Cooper owing a lot to The Italian Job and the 2003 remake.
The epic car chase through the streets of Turin, Italy is well loved by both film buffs and car enthusiasts alike. But the famous car chase through the sewers, in which the robbers try to throw off the police, was actually filmed in Coventry. Though the mafia actually shut down whole sections of Turin for filming, resulting in the real traffic jams you see in the movie, as well as the reactions of the drivers.
Fun fact: Each of the three Mini Coopers would have had to carry about 1070kg (2300lb) for the film's $4 million dollar heist - in addition to the driver and passenger. Since a 1968 Mini only weighs 630kg (1400lb), each of these vehicles would have realistically had to carry one and a half times its own weight in gold.
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Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Another film from 1971 and one with a similar free spirit behind it, Two-Lane Blacktop pays homage to street racers with a story of a dash across the USA along Route 66.
Starring famous musicians James Taylor, Dennis Wilson and Warren Oates, the characters are named The Driver, G.T.O. and The Girl. It's a film of atmosphere and mood rather than epic dialogue. The key cars in the film are a modified Chevrolet 150 and a Pontiac GTO, and a convoy of cars was driven across the country in the process of filming.
Fun fact: One of the Chevrolets used in the film also appeared in another road movie American Graffiti, driven by Harrison Ford.
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Death Proof (2007)
Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s homage to low-budget slasher films, inspired by stunt men who death-proofed cars to survive crashes in films. Though an unusual choice in this list, it fantastically mixes horror, car stunts and a generally bizarre premise - that of a a stunt driver (Kurt Russell) who enjoys killing carloads of unsuspecting women.
Filled with extended scenes of seemingly irrelevant dialogue and violent action - especially in the chase scene between the 1970 Chevy Nova and a 1969 Dodge Charger - it's a typical Tarantino-esque experimental movie, though not everyone will like it (as it's mediocre Rotten Tomatoes score suggests). Tarantino once said, "Death Proof has got to be the worst movie I ever make. And for a left-handed movie, that wasn’t so bad."
Fun fact: One of the main characters in the movie (the one that's stuck on the bonnet of the Dodge Charger in the chase scene) is a professional stunt woman named Zoe Bell, played by professional stunt woman Zoe Bell. She had never acted before, but she had worked with Tarantino on Kill Bill as Uma Thurman's stunt woman.
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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Taking the Mad Max theme and jamming it up to 11 with spectacular cars, eye-catching stunts and flame-throwing guitars, Fury Road is a reboot of the Mad Max franchise in a post-apocalyptic battle for precious resources that sees Tom Hardy take the lead role. Gaining widespread praise for its action and storyline, Mad Max Fury Road was named as one of the best films of 2015 and bagged six Academy Awards too.
It’s not a film for concourse enthusiasts as the starring vehicles are heavily modified, but there is fun to be had in trying to spot the origins of the outlandish creations.
Fun fact: Tom Hardy fans will have to make do with looking at him as he only has 58 lines of dialogue in the whole film.
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The Cannonball Run (1981)
Possibly one of the slowest-starting films ever made, The Cannonball Run eventually gets into gear and delivers a mix of tongue-in-cheek comedy and outlandish stunts that has never been bettered. Inspired by the actual race of the same name and written by Brock Yeats, a US automotive journalist who helped conceive the race itself, the film contains many elements taken from the real races including the idea of using a heavily-modified ambulance as an unstoppable racer.
Starring Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Jackie Chan and Roger Moore playing a brilliantly self-deprecating version of himself, The Cannonball Run delivers laughs and thrills by the truckload.
Fun fact: Director Hal Needham included a gag reel at the end of the film after it proved so popular on a previous film, Smokey and the Bandit II - also starring Burt Reynolds.
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Blues Brothers (1980)
Starting out as a Saturday Night Live sketch before being turned into a film, The Blues Brothers charts the fortunes of brothers Jake and Elwood Blues as they undertake a mission from God to save the orphanage where they grew up. Dan Akroyd and John Belushi star as the brothers, but the 1974 Dodge Monaco police car that serves as the Bluesmobile arguably steals the show.
The storyline might be lightweight but the music scenes are incredible, with cameos from Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown to name a few, while the stunt scenes are incredible; The Blues Brothers set a world record for the most number of vehicles destroyed in a single film. A cult classic, it has laughs, stunts and a soundtrack to savour.
Fun fact: The scene where the Ford Pinto falls from a great height required the film’s producers to obtain a permit from the Federal Aviation Authority.
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