When you think of the best car movies, you have to think about what car lovers will appreciate. Things like hot rods, fast cars, car chases, racing movies and spectacular car crashes come to mind, and we have all of that in the movies listed below.
"American Graffiti" (1973)
Is there a film that better capture’s America’s love affair with the automobile? “American Graffiti is a brilliant film by George Lucas set in 1962, a time of innocence before the JFK assassination introduced a turbulent decade. It was a time of beautiful American cars and hot rods, cruising the streets of your town to rock-n-roll and classic disc jockeys like Wolfman Jack, drive-in theaters and drag races of course. The film was released in 1973 and sparked a wave of nostalgia for a simpler time that had been lost, and its influence extended to television with shows like “Happy Days.” Throw in Suzanne Somers as the beautiful blonde driving the 1956 Ford Thunderbird and you have the ultimate car movie.
"Fast Five" (2011)
Unofficially, this is dedicated to the “Fast and Furious” franchise as a whole, but “Fast Five” is the pinnacle of the racing series to date – a welcome reminder that for as cheesy, soapy and utterly preposterous as these movies can get at times, they’re also incredibly entertaining. Most franchises are already running on steam by the fifth installment, but “Fast Five” completely reinvigorated the series by taking it to new heights, delivering everything that fans have come to expect over the years while rewriting the DNA to ensure that they can continue for many years to come. Though the focus on racing has decreased dramatically in recent installments, the cars are still the stars of the show, with each high-octane set piece upping the ante in excess and sheer ridiculousness every time. Then again, the over-the-top nature of the “Fast and Furious” films has always been its greatest asset and biggest criticism, and there’s no better example of that then watching Vin Diesel and Paul Walker speed through the streets of Rio towing a giant bank vault from the fenders of their stolen police cruisers. This is guilt-free entertainment at its very best, guaranteed to put a smile on your face no matter how hard you try to resist.
This classic thriller has Steve McQueen driving 1968 Ford Mustang GT-390 Fastback with 325 horsepower, four-speed manual transmission and that incredible V8 sound. It might be the coolest Mustang ever. Throw in one of the best car chase scenes in movie history with McQueen and his Mustang chasing a 1968 Dodge Charger with the 440 Magnum V8 engine through the streets of San Francisco and you have a movie worthy of this list.
"Smokey and the Bandit" (1977)
This wacky comedy was released in 1977 when you couldn’t get Coors beer east of Texas, and the premise of this film involves hauling 400 cases of beer from Texas to a dry county in Georgia. Bert Reynolds and his black Trans Am escorted the truck driven by Jerry Reed, and the great Jackie Gleason played Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice, the “smokey” who chases them throughout the film along with his idiot son. Reynolds picks up a young and sexy Sally Field along the way and manages to outrun Sheriff Justice and hundreds of other hapless cops throughout the south. Gleason is hilarious in this film as every scene seems to set up a classic one-liner from the old pro, and Reynolds has plenty of fun in the lead role.
"The Blues Brothers" (1980)
The late 70s and early 80s produced so many classic comedies with films like “Animal House,” “Stripes” and “Caddyshack,” and “The Blues Brothers” ranks right up there with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd starring and John Landis directing. You may not think of this as a car movie right away, until you consider the almost absurd number of chase and crash scenes in this film. The brothers drove the Bluesmobile, a retired 1974 Mount Prospect, Illinois Dodge Monaco patrol car and managed to cause complete mayhem.
"The Road Warrior" (1981)
The post-apocalyptic genre is hot again in tons of movies and TV series, but this second installment in the “Mad Max” series with Mel Gibson starring as Max Rockatansky sets the standard. The tricked out cars like the Black Mad Max Interceptor (a Ford Falcon XB Coupe, V8 351) steal the show and inspired other films like the “Death Race” series.
"The French Connection" (1971)
This classic crime thriller is set in New York City with Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider starring as detectives Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle Buddy "Cloudy" Russo. It’s known as a car film, however, due to the stunning chase scene at the end of the film through the streets of New York. Popeye is driving a 1971 Pontiac Lemans as he’s chasing a hit man in an elevated train.
"Death Proof" (2007)
When “Grindhouse” was first released, a lot of people came away complaining that Quentin Tarantino’s portion felt anti-climactic compared to Robert Rodriguez’s tongue-in-cheek zombie flick (“Planet Terror”). But try watching the two films again separately and it becomes clear that “Death Proof” is by far the superior movie. Though the first half is still a slow burn filled with some delicious Tarantino-penned dialogue and not much else (apart from the awesome head-on collision detailing all sorts of vehicular carnage), the second half makes up for it with a stronger cast and an adrenaline-pumping finale. Tarantino has proven on numerous occasions that he knows how to shoot action, and the climactic dual between Stuntman Mike’s Dodge Charger and his prospective victims’ white Dodge Challenger (a nod to the 1971 film “Vanishing Point”) is one of the coolest car chases in cinematic history, thanks in part to the authenticity of having real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell bravely clinging to the hood of the speeding vehicle for everyone to see. The only thing better than the actual chase is the way that it ends: with a perfectly timed dash of dark humor and a freeze frame.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Ron Howard and Peter Morgan love history. The latter is responsible for writing some of the best historical dramas of the past decade, and although there’s a lot to like about “Rush” – particularly the chemistry and performances of its two leading men – it’s not the duo’s greatest collaboration. With that said, the film does a number of things really well, like giving Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth equal screen time as Formula One rivals Niki Lauda and James Hunt, even if the best moments are the scenes they share together. The actors play off each other wonderfully, though Brühl has the juicier role due to his character’s more dramatic story arc. What’s perhaps most impressive about “Rush,” though, is the way in which Howard and Morgan have crafted the story so that both men “win” in the end. It’s a tricky proposition, but they pull it off thanks to the actors’ commitment to their roles and a handful of thrilling F1 racing sequences that capture the danger and daredevil spirit of the sport during the 1970s.
"Le Mans" (1971)
If someone is going to get two movies on this list it has to be a badass like Steve McQueen. McQueen had a real love for cars and racing, so he was a natural to make a film about the grueling 24 hours of Le Mans. Race fans love this film as it’s loaded with racing scenes and features the rivalry between Porsche and Ferrari, with McQueen’s character driving the 1969 Porsche 917.