America is a country that is a defined by car culture. Over the last century, the existence of cars and trucks has left an imprint on virtually all factors in our lives. With a society that is so car-related, its little surprise that cars have played starring roles in many of our motion pictures too. How many? Probably in the thousands, if you count independent and foreign films. In this article, we will look at a few of the best-known ones.
Based in Southern California in the late 1950s, American Graffiti is a car film celebrating all aspects of car culture. Directed by George Lucas, it explores young love, rebellion and coming of age themes. Ron Howard holds the starring role, but Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Suzanne Summers, and others make appearances in this film. If you were a teenager in the late 1950s, this film is quite a nostalgic trip.
Duel is the first full-length film directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay written by Richard Matheson. Featuring a traveling salesman and an angry trucker, the tension and pacing in Duel is pitch-perfect. The driving scenes are masterfully done, with both the car and truck taking on personalities of their own. Coupled with a nail-biting ending, Duel is a great Saturday night movie.
Back to the Future
Any list of car movies would be incomplete without the inclusion of Back to the Future. Playing a central role throughout the film is a Delorean DMC-12. An eccentric inventor (Christopher Lloyd) modifies a DMC-12 and makes it into a time machine (!) This is simply a fantastic movie and it wouldn’t be a mistake to say that this is one of the greatest family movies of all time.
Christine is a perfect example of a car movie that doesn’t just utilize a car in the plot, the car is the plot in this Stephen King film. The central character is an old fifties car. Our friends at East Hills Chevrolet of Roslyn, a Local Chevrolet dealer in Roslyn, NY, identified it for us. “Christine” is a 1958 Plymouth Fury that has an attitude and stalks humans. This is one of King’s best films and a true horror classic.
For Americans of a certain age, this film needs no introduction. Two brothers (Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi) get their band back together to raise money to save the orphanage they grew up in. The comedy is perfect and there’s a really cool car (1974 Dodge Monaco) with some really great driving sequences and lots of police cars. If you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing and arrange to see it tonight.
Gran Torino is about way more than the titular car. It’s an examination of present day America and the ways that different generations co-exist. Clint Eastwood both starred and directed this movie. While there are no thrilling car chases to keep you on the edge of your seat, a Ford Gran Torino is a focal element in the plot. Gran Torino was nominated for several Academy Awards.
OK, to start Robert Duvall and Steve McQueen are central characters in this movie. The plot is solid enough: a police officer tasked with protecting a key witness from a pair of mob hitmen in 1968. However, the real reason to watch this is a hair-raising car chase involving a Mustang GT that ranks among the best ever filmed. Take a moment and really appreciate McQueen’s effortless cool.