Top 10 Best Car Movies
From American Graffiti to The Fast and the Furious, why we think these are must-see car movies
"How could you leave off Bullitt?!" "Where is Duel?" "Do Elvis and Viva Las Vegas mean nothing?"
We must have started with at least 30 solid candidates and whittled it down via heated exchanges and fisticuffs. That meant horror films such as Christine and The Car ended up losing the fight, as did favorites, including Two-Lane Blacktop and Smokey and the Bandit.
But where's the iconic '68 Ford Mustang Fastback? Bullitt's simply not that great of a movie. And to see the famous car-chase action, you need to weed through about two-thirds of inaction. Which brings us to another controversy: Where's Ronin? The Bourne Identity? The Italian Job? Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry? If this was Top 10 Best Car Chases, they'd be here.
Duel and The California Kid were made for TV but we opted to focus on theatrical releases. And sorry — Viva Las Vegas and Spinout seemed more like Elvis musicals that happened to have cars than car movies that happened to have Elvis.
Here are our picks for all-around good car flicks, listed in no particular order. Plus, we've included our favorite catchphrases. These DVDs are available for purchase on Amazon.com.
1. American Graffiti (1973)
Stars: Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford
Star cars: 1932 Ford coupe, 1955 Chevy, 1958 Chevy Impala, 1951 Mercury coupe, 1956 Ford Thunderbird
The story: A memorable last night of cruising for a group of high school friends.
Why it works: Milner's coupe. Falfa's '55. The Pharaoh's '51 Merc. A cop car leaving its rear end on the street. That ghostly white T-Bird with Suzanne Somers. Plus we like the lesson: When faced with life's big questions, hit the road.
Quote: "I'll love and protect this car until death do us part."
2. The Blues Brothers (1980)
Stars: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd
Star car: The Bluesmobile — 1974 Dodge Monaco
The story: The Brothers raise money to save their childhood orphanage and put their old rhythm-and-blues band back together. Why? They're on a mission from God.
Why it works: Is there any other movie with as much vehicular carnage? Maybe over-the-top stunts go on too long, but you've been talking about them driving through that mall for years, haven't you? And the music isn't bad either.
Quote: "It's got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant; it's got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on regular gas. What do you say — is it the new Bluesmobile or what?"
3. Cars (2006)
Stars: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Richard Petty
Star car: Porsche Carrera, Hudson Hornet, Willys MB, Ford Model T, Volkswagen microbus
The story: Racecar hotshot finds himself off the beaten track and learning life lessons from a bunch of small-towners. Did we mention they're all cars?
Why it works: Tire crumbs flying and roof flaps opening prove this was animated by gearheads. Sharp-eared viewers will dig the insider cameos.
Quote: "Turn right to go left! Guess what? I tried it, and you know what, this crazy thing happened. I went right!"
4. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Stars: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel
Star cars: Mitsubishi Eclipse, Toyota Supra, Honda Civic, Mazda RX-7, Dodge Charger R/T, Volkswagen Jetta
The story: Cop goes undercover in L.A.'s import street-race scene to bust a ring of electronics thieves.
Why it works: It pushed the burgeoning import car culture into the mainstream. The cars were a little cartoonish but earned street cred for having been built by actual import tuners. It's best during bumpin' nighttime street races, even though we've never seen as much neon at a real import show. As unbelievable as the race and chase sequences are, they're still pretty cool.
Quote: "I live my life a quarter-mile at a time."
5. Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Stars: H.B. (Toby) Halicki
Star cars: Many, including a certain Ford Mustang Fastback named Eleanor.
The story: Car thief has to boost 48 cars in a week. Mayhem ensues.
Why it works: The first half is probably studied in film school as how not to write, cast and act in a movie. But the cars on the thieves' hit list are super-fine, and the final 40 minutes have to be seen to be believed. Yes, Halicki hurt himself hitting that light pole. How could he not?
Quote: "I bet five more cars have been stolen in just the time I've been here."
6. Grand Prix (1966)
Stars: James Garner, Eva Marie Saint
Star cars: 1960s Formula 1 racecars
The story: The Euro-cool world of open-wheel racing.
Why it works: A throwback to when men actually drove Formula 1 cars (without computer controls) and stunts were with actual vehicles (without computer controls). The race footage, especially the in-car stuff, is still awesome. Racing purists may think Steve McQueen's Le Mans is more deserving, but this film's storyline is more engaging, soap opera or not.
Quote: "There is no terrible way to win. There is only winning."
7. The Gumball Rally (1976)
Stars: Michael Sarrazin, Gary Busey, Raul Julia
Star cars: Shelby 427 Cobra, Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona, Porsche 911 Targa, Camaro Z/28, Dodge Polara
The story: Fictionalized account of Brock Yates' highly illegal cross-country Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.
Why it works: For starters, it features two of the flat-out sexiest cars ever built — the 427 Cobra and Ferrari Daytona — duking it out at high speeds in Manhattan, the L.A. River, and everywhere in between. It's far more car-centered than the ridiculous Cannonball Run.
Quote: "And now my friend, the first rule of Italian driving: What's behind me is not important."
8. Mad Max (1979)
Star: Mel Gibson
Star car: Australian Ford Falcon
The story: Super Cop Max takes on a motorcycle gang in the near future — a tale of revenge driven by post-apocalyptic cars and crotch rockets.
Why it works: Drama, suspense, violence, dark humor, and that wicked, supercharged Falcon screaming across Australia's empty vastness. It's simple, low budget and gritty.
Quote: "Look, any longer out on that road and I'm one of them, a terminal psychotic — except that I've got this bronze badge that says that I'm one of the good guys."
9. Thunder Road (1958)
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Gene Barry
Star cars: 1950 Ford coupe, 1957 Ford Fairlane
The story: Noir-ish cops versus moonshiners melodrama.
Why it works: Cheesy dialogue, karate chops, wooden acting make it good-bad, but there's some jaw-dropping stunt driving. And lots of cars blowing up. One of the best speed traps ever: gasoline on spike strips so the car will careen out of control, flip over and crash — into a nearby power station. And blow up.
Quote: "That hard-headed hillbilly has caused us enough trouble already. Now tonight we're going to take him out. And I mean really out."
10. Vanishing Point (1971)
Stars: Barry Newman, Cleavon Little
Star car: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T
The story: Antihero, with help from a blind DJ, tries to deliver a car in record time.
Why it works: It's an antiestablishment fable dripping with the Vietnam era's distrust of authority. A man versus The Man battle waged over a tasty big-block-powered car. Government distrust is still a pretty hot topic. So is the Challenger.
Quote: "And there goes the Challenger, being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels."