In movies, everything is sacrificed for the sake of the story. Except for laughs. When making a comedy, funny is the only thing that matters. And when funny matters, cars get wrecked.
Short of a pie in the face, nothing has been as reliably hilarious in cinema as cars doing stupid, silly and, usually, massively destructive things. Cars that are ridiculously decorated, cars that have goofy anthropomorphic personalities and cars that collapse into a pile of parts at just the right moment are staples of American cinema. In a word, they're clichés.
Blame Laurel & Hardy for starting it all with their series of comic Ford Model Ts. Those bits are still funny.
Here are the comedic cars that have set the standards throughout the history of motion pictures. You know, these dozen.
12. 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 from Back To The Future (1985) — That's right, Doc Brown built a time machine out of a DeLorean. "The way I see it," he explains in the film, "if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?" Besides some gobbledygook about the stainless-steel skin having some necessary properties for intertemporal transport, the DeLorean was already an icon of misbegotten ventures by the mid-1980s. So it made good comic sense to cast it in this classic.
Incidentally, at a cast reunion event in London just last month, star Michael J. Fox reportedly said, "I wish I had a video, a gag reel of how many times I was hit by that freakin' door, the DeLorean door." Beyond that, according to RadioTimes.com he said that "it was the worst thing to drive" and that "(t)he money it would take to get me back into the DeLorean is a LOT."
11. 1967 Plymouth GTX Convertible from Tommy Boy (1995) — It's a pristine piece of muscle car royalty at the beginning of this film's central road trip, and a wiped-out piece of junk by the end. While the movie stars Chris Farley in the title role, the GTX is the prized possession of the character played by David Spade.
Interestingly, Spade was also featured alongside a classic Mopar in 2001's Joe Dirt, where his character drives the world's most dilapidated 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona. And this past January, Spade won the bidding for a real, Hemi-powered 1969 Charger Daytona at a Mecum auction. His winning bid was $900,000. That's a whole different kind of hilarious.
10. 1964 Lincoln Continental Deathmobile from National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) — The suicide-door Lincoln of Flounder's brother Fred starts off pristine and ends up transmogrified into the terrifying Deathmobile. It's the perfect vehicle for when the situation absolutely requires that a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part. This clip is short, but it gives you a look at the Deathmobile.
9. 2015 Tartan Prancer from Vacation (2015) — Everything no one ever asked for in an Albanian minivan. An overwhelming number of stupid buttons, styling that doesn't go in any particular direction and the sort of excitement that comes with four sideview mirrors pointing into one another. But it's tough, too — it rolls five times with only a few bare scratches. And Edmunds.com did the definitive comparison test.
8. 1984 Ford Econoline from Dumb and Dumber (1994) — Mutt Cutts of Providence, Rhode Island, may only do a mediocre grooming job on your dog, but they arrive in full fur style in this van. A full two decades later, the sequel would bring the van back — but without any of the laughs.
Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?
7. 1973 Ford Torino from The Big Lebowski (1998) — The Dude's marginal existence includes this beater that just gets more and more beaten over the course of the movie. Finally, it's barbecued. For people who don't care about cars, but do like a rug that really ties a room together, this Torino is an icon of California sloth and ease. Except for the Nihilists. They don't care about anything.
6. The Cyclops from The Big Bus (1976) — An overlooked and truly funny spoof of disaster movies, The Big Bus is about the insane adventures surrounding the first nonstop bus trip from New York City to Denver. That's half a country! And the bus is the massive, nuclear-powered, double-decker, articulated Coyote. Among its insane features are a bowling alley, swimming pool and the elegant Oriental Lounge where Tommy Joyce is tickling the ivories.
5. 1987 Gran Detroit Farm & Country Turbo from Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) — John Hughes' epic road movie pairs the great Steve Martin with the equally stupendous John Candy in a series of transportation misadventures. And the best of those insane developments takes place inside this slightly disguised Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country convertible. You know, the "luxury" version of the K-Car with the fake wood on the sides that the world is still trying hard to forget. Fire, spinning, driving the wrong direction on the interstate and listening to Ray Charles sing "Mess Around" all ensue.
Think of the Gran Detroit as the Metallic Pea companion to the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. That's Hughes' other great automotive creation.
4. 1976 AMC Pacer Mirthmobile from Wayne's World (1992) — Even outside the context of a comedy film, the AMC Pacer is its own kind of odd funny. But in Wayne's World it takes on a sort of weird grace when Wayne, Garth and friends sing along with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
3. 1983 Wagon Queen Family Truckster from National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) — For a full generation, no vehicle will ever be funnier than the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from National Lampoon's Vacation. It's the car that has defined what a miserable, lousy and totally hilarious car should be for two generations of American pop culture. But it's not the car you ordered.
The 2015 version of Vacation came up with a funny alternative in the Tartan Prancer, but it doesn't really match this classic of wood-paneled queasiness. Incidentally, the Truckster replica seen in the new film is owned by the Griswold family in Georgia.
2. 1962 Volkswagen Beetle Herbie in The Love Bug (1968) — Vehicular star of a sweet-natured and immensely amusing Disney movie, Herbie was the VW with a mind of his own and a passion for winning races. At least in this first Love Bug film, the goofiness is low key, the racing scenes are a blast and the stunts solidly staged by the legendary Carey Loftin. Plus Buddy Hackett, David Tomlinson and Joe Flynn are all hilarious.
Opening late in 1968, The Love Bug would go on to be one of the top-grossing films of 1969. And it's the movie that hooked an entire generation of kids on cars. Meanwhile, Herbie the VW would get stuck in a series of lousy sequels, dopey reboots and TV rip-offs.
1. 1974 Dodge Monaco Bluesmobile in The Blues Brothers (1980) — It flies, it leaps, it goes 120 mph down through Chicago and it avoids every car the Illinois State Police can throw at it.
If you've read this far, you're already reciting favorite lines of dialogue in your head.
"The new Oldsmobiles are in early this year!"
What makes the Bluesmobile Dodge the standard by which all other movie comedy cars must be judged isn't how wacky and guffaw-inducing its antics are, but how it moves the whole movie. Without that car's big 440-cubic-inch plant, the movie would fall apart just like the Bluesmobile does when it delivers Jake and Elwood to the Cook County Assessor's office.
It's not just a car that's funny. The Bluesmobile is a character that's heroic, athletic, brave, self-sacrificing and funny.