They never intended to make the legendary Steve McQueen movie, Bullitt, a car film. However, it became one of the biggest legends of the genre. The reason is the epic car chase scene involving a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT Fastback and a black 1968 Dodge Charger 440 R/T along the hilly streets of San Francisco. The movie is a classic detective flick with a forgettable plot and production except for the legendary chase.
As one of the biggest car fanatics among movie stars, Steve McQueen requested to do the stunts by himself using his remarkable driving skills. Also, the directing and shooting of the chase were innovative adding to the uniqueness of the footage.
This underrated movie is an interesting and wonderfully presented story about the greatest rivalry and friendship in drag racing history between Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen. Those guys didn’t just create the sport – they also expanded it far beyond what it was in the late 60’s.
The movie is a great reminder of how intense and real the original drag racing scene was back in the days. The director included a lot of original footage and even a cameo appearance by Don “The Snake” Prudhomme.
Forget the terrible 1997 TV remake of this road movie classic and concentrate on the 1971 original release, starring Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, and Dean Jagger. This is a story about a guy who has to deliver a new Dodge Challenger with a souped-up engine. But he has to go from Denver, Colorado to San Francisco, California in just 12 hours to win a bet.
Of course, driving that fast causes the police to chase him. The main character encounters an array of strange people during his trip, too. He reflects on his life and decides that there is only one way out of the situation. Vanishing Point was a controversial movie when it came out, but soon became a cult classic. It also made the white Challenger a symbol of rebellion and speed.
The colorful world of NASCAR racing is always interesting to movie makers because it is the best and biggest American racing series. One of the best NASCAR movies is the 1990 action classic, Days of Thunder, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
It is a story of a young and upcoming racing driver who is eager to prove himself in NASCAR. The story is interesting, but the best thing about this movie is that all the racing scenes are authentic. There is no computer-generated animation, so it is pure racing action on the silver screen.
This underground car movie classic never appealed to wider audiences despite the famous musicians who they dubbed as actors: James Taylor and Denis Wilson. The movie is about two guys, a driver and his mechanic, and their hot rod 1955 Chevrolet. The pair travels across America racing for money.
Along the way, they cross paths with a strange fellow in a brand new yellow Pontiac GTO. There isn’t much dialog or plot in this movie. However, there are some authentic scenes of illegal, back-door racing in the late 60’s and early 70’s, which makes this flick interesting.
When renowned filmmaker and ex-actor Ron Howard announced that he was working on a movie about the greatest rivalry in Formula One history, the movie and car world was suspicious. But, they were all wrong since Rush is a masterpiece of the racing movie genre.
Set in 1976, Rush is a story about one racing season and two fantastic characters – Niki Lauda and James Hunt. The story is about racing battles, confrontation and friendship. They used a lot of original footage and the production was perfect. This movie is a must-see for every racing fan.
There are two movies with the same name and the same plot. One is a B-production flick set in the early 70’s. The other is a blockbuster hit from the early 2000’s starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie. Both movies tell the story about a professional car thief and his race against time to steal and ship 50 high-end cars for export.
The newer movie is far more popular. It is a highly polished version with better production, photography and newer cars including the graphite gray Shelby GT500 Elenor. But if you want authenticity and pure car stealing action, look for the 1973 release. You won’t be disappointed.
The 1971 Steve McQueen classic, Le Mans, has defined the car racing movie genre. This was his personal passion project and a box office flop that nearly cost him his place in Hollywood. But it soon became a car movie classic due to the uncompromised nature and realistic representation of the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
Interestingly, the used real racing cars like the Ford GT40 and Porsche 917 in the shooting. In fact, McQueen himself drove the Porsche. He also asked his famous racing driver friends to help, so the movie credits look like 1970 racing season standings.
One of the coolest, funniest car movies is the 1977 blockbuster, Smokey and the Bandit. Starring Burt Reynolds and country music legend Jerry Reed, it is a story about two guys smuggling truckloads of beer from Texarkana, Texas to Atlanta in just 28 hours.
The weapons of choice for this attempt were the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am and Kenworth truck filled with 400 cases of Coors beer. You’ll have to watch the movie to see how things end. However, this movie is still funny and interesting even at 41 years old. And that black Trans Am is just as cool as ever.
This movie, which had two sequels is based on the real Cannonball race, an illegal road race in the early 70’s. The goal was to drive from New York to Los Angeles to beat the record time. But they also had to avoid police traps and helicopters while trying not to kill anybody.
The movie is a hilarious tale filled with driving, funny situations, all-star drivers and cool cars. And don’t forget those beautiful girls.
One of the most legendary George Lucas movies is American Graffiti. Set in the late 60’s, this is a coming of age tale about a group of guys graduating from high school and getting ready for college, real life and Vietnam.
Numerous driving, racing and cruising scenes make this film a car movie classic. It also represents the essence of car culture in small American towns in the 60’s. It will always be a 60’s cult classic and cool car film.
Believe or not there are eight Fast and Furious movies after they released the first one in 2001. This is by far the most successful car movie franchise in terms of box office success, but also in terms of its influence on global car culture.
Although the series is often criticized because of its unrealistic portraits, computer-generated car stunts and product placement, you have to respect the influence and success it has achieved. No one is a fan of computer graphics or aggressive product placement, but the Fast and Furious movies have won a special place in the hearts of younger generation car lovers.
Although there is a new movie with the same name and the same plot they released in 2003, the only one you should watch is the 1969 classic starring Michael Caine.
The plot is interesting and involves a group of British bank robbers who go to Italy to steal gold using three specially prepared Minis. The film promises good times and delivers some epic car chase scenes, interesting landscapes and a healthy dose of classic British humor.
The Volkswagen Beetle was the bestselling car in the world and a symbol of the hippy movement of the late 60’s. So, it is only natural they featured it in numerous films. It was a series of movies dedicated to a cute VW Beetle they called Herbie.
They released the first movie, The Love Bug, in 1968. It tells the tale of Herbie, a white racing Beetle and its interesting adventures. Since Disney was the studio behind this movie, Herbie was given an almost human character. He had an important role in the plot despite being just a car.
This is the most unusual movie on the list, but it is also the most intense and direct. It is also a true classic that has been hidden from the public for a long time. It is a 1976 short movie by French director Claude Lelouch. This interesting story begins in 1976.
Lelouch used gyro camera mounted on a bumper of a car to film nine minutes of hectic driving in Paris at dawn. There is no dialog in the movie and only one scene. It is the view from the front bumper just inches above the ground.
The film was immediately banned by the French police since they thought it promoted reckless driving and breaking laws. For decades, just a few enthusiasts possessed poor copies. Even Lelouch himself didn’t want to talk about it. Finally, in 2005 they released it on DVD and fans quickly regarded it as a true masterpiece of the car movie genre.
Francis Ford Coppola is a famous director and also a Tucker fanatic, owning two examples of the 49 they produced. His father was one of the first investors in the company, too. So, when Francis was a kid, his dad told him about Preston Tucker. Coppola learned about Tucker’s fight against the Big Three and how it destroyed his vision of the perfect family car.
That is why Coppola made this 1988 movie starring Jeff Bridges as Preston Tucker. It is an interesting flick that tells the true story about one of the biggest “what ifs” in the American car industry.
The Back to the Future trilogy is everyone’s favorite film since it captures action, adventure, comedy and sci-fi genre in one movie. For those who don’t know, this is a story about Marty and his friend Doc, a crazy scientist who manages to make a time machine in the form of a highly modified De Lorean DMC12.
The movie wasn’t supposed to be a car flick, but the appearance of DMC 12 and the story surrounding the car was so memorable, it became a classic of the car movie genre.
Did you find your favorite car on this list of the top 20 legendary car movies? Perhaps you are going to binge watch some of the car classics this weekend. These movies and the cars in them are stamped in the annals of car and cinematic history.