The tyre-smoking, piston-pumping, adrenalin-fuelled appeal of car-themed movies is beyond doubt.
Cars and films go together like petrol and open flames.
So, without further ado… our top ten automotive classics from the big screen:
1. The Driver (1978)
The Driver was loved by Tarantino and huge in France, but a complete flop in the US. It features a fantastically emotionless Ryan O’Neal as an insouciant getaway car driver entangled with Isabelle Adjani. Hard-boiled and neo-noir, The Driver inspired 2011’s much slicker, but far less worthy, Drive.
2. Mad Max (1979)
A dystopian auto flick set in the Australian desert that was banned by New Zealand and Sweden. Made on a shoestring budget (only Mel Gibson’s costume was real leather; the rest of the cast were forced to endure pleather) of just AUD$400,000, and featuring early 70s Ford Falcon Coupes dressed up as ‘Pursuit Specials’, the film went on to earn over £65 million worldwide.
3. Bullitt (1968)
A Dodge Charger and a Ford Mustang blaze through San Francisco in one of the most tyre-screeching car chases in celluloid history. Leather-gloved anti-hero Steve McQueen ensures the bad guys get what they deserve. Bullitt was a genre-defining thriller that has left a lasting legacy.
4. American Graffiti (1973)
Set in 1962, American Graffiti’s rock ‘n’ roll, bildungsroman plot revolves around a group of teens on a night of cruising. Though it was rejected by all the major studios when it was pitched, this nostalgic look at mid-century hot-rod culture went on to become hugely profitable. It made director George Lucas a millionaire and financed his next little enterprise, a film called Star Wars.
5. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
A family musical with dastardly villains, a heart-warming story and a car that can sail and fly! The film was based on a novel that Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame) wrote as a bedtime story for his son. Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay (perhaps explaining the slightly dystopian undertones) and Benny Hill stars alongside Dick Van Dyke. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is an enduring classic.
6. The Love Bug (1968)
Another quirky family film, The Love Bug is about a down-on-his-luck race driver and his anthropomorphised Volkswagen Beetle, Herbie. The movie honked its way into the hearts of cinema goers everywhere at the close of the swinging sixties, and became the third highest-grossing film of 1968 earning more than £25 million in the US alone.
7. Vanishing Point (1971)
A vintage anti-hero tough guy and his muscle car, a super-charged Dodge Challenger, are on a do or die mission to get from Denver to San Francisco in just 15 hours. Add to the mix a shed-load of Benzedrine, some post-Woodstock cynicism and a girl riding a motorcycle naked and you’ve got 105 minutes of blazing road movie that’s left an indelible legacy on film culture.
8. Back to the Future (1985)
Doc’s iconic DeLorean time machine, a DMC-12 that was fuelled by nuclear reaction (produced with plutonium stolen from a group of Libyan terrorists, no less) stole the show in this film. Unbelievably, the DeLorean wasn’t even part of the script until the third draft. Had the earlier fridge-as-time machine trope been successful instead, Back to the Future may not have been the highest-grossing film of 1985, nor gone on to take the world by storm.
9. Le Mans (1971)
The whisper thin plot of Le Mans is mere filler for the meat of this racing movie: Porsche 917s vs. Ferrari 512s. The thrilling sequences in Steve McQueen’s F1 film were shot mostly during the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, and its accurate portrayal of the era has made the film enduringly popular among race fans. It tanked at the box office in the US though, not only because Americans neither knew or cared about Le Mans, but because Grand Prix (1966) had already taken F1 movie honours just a few years previously.
10. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
This legendary trucking film was huge in its time – a top grossing film released in the shadow of Star Wars. The worldwide gross for Smokey and the Bandit is estimated to be around £200 million. The plot pivots on a bet accepted by Bandit (Burt Reynolds) to deliver Coors beer from Texas to Georgia (Atlanta was dry country in ‘77) and the high-speed caper that ensues.
So, there they are. Our top ten automobile themed films chosen from a slew of contenders, with an obvious (and for our money, unavoidable) bias towards the classic 60s and 70s era of hero cars. How does the list line up with your top ten?
This article is brought to you by Danny, a writer and blogger from Transport Innovation, the patient transport group who provide travel soluitions throughout the UK.