Cars and movies, especially action films, go hand-in-hand. And while there are a lot of great movies with cars in them, there is a much more select group of what we would call great car films. Even fewer still are there cars that stand out as specific highlights of those movies – with the exception of some unfortunate gimmicky plot devices (we’re looking at you, Herbie).
It’s not to say that there are no a lot of iconic movie cars – it’s just that there are thousands of movies, a good portion of which have cars in them, so the ratio is a bit skewed. Still, it takes a special vehicle for us to qualify it as a great movies car. For us, it has to be especially unique, essential to the plot, a major part of the characters’ motivations, and/or it has to practically be a character itself. With that in mind, we put together the following list of the best movie cars.
1994 GMC Vandura
Vans, typically speaking, get a bad rap in the motor vehicle world. Although, there are those who are staunchly pro-van, if you look hard enough. And while we could take or leave most of them, one stands out head-and-shoulders above the rest: the GMC Vandura from The A-Team. Now, it’s worth noting that the original A-Team van from the TV series was actually a 1983 model Vandura, whereas the film version from 2010 is a model from more than a decade later. Still, there’s so little variation in the line that we’re going to give this one a pass. Just don’t get too attached to this one, as it sees very little screen time in the action comedy flick.
1932 Ford Coupe
Though American Graffiti, as a whole, was George Lucas’ love letter to his hometown of Modesto, California – we (and car enthusiasts everywhere) have definitely latched onto the ’60s-era vehicles that appear in the high school comedy drama film. And while there are quite a few notable vehicles in this one – like the white ‘56 T-Bird Suzanne Somers drove around in or Harrison Ford’s black ’55 Chevy – the one that really stole the show is a 1932 Ford Coupe. So the story goes, it was this car that helped reignite the popularity of hot rods after the release of the movie in 1973.
Back to the Future Trilogy
Probably no movie car is as iconic as the DeLorean DMC-12 from the Back to the Future series. Truly, they are intrinsically tied to one another. Unfortunately, apart from it’s exceedingly unique visage, the DMC-12 wasn’t actually a very good car. It utilized a Peugeot-Renault-Volvo (PRV) 2.85-liter V6 engine that only pumped out 130 horsepower, which is a pretty low figure on its own. But it wasn’t helped by the fact that the car featured an all stainless steel body – which looked quite nice, but was also heavy. In fact, on standard American models, the speedometer maxed out at 85 mph – three shy of the necessary speed to time travel, according to the science-fiction series.
1974 Dodge Monaco 'Bluesmobile'
The Blues Brothers
Nine times out of ten, if you ask people for their top car movies, The Blues Brothers won’t even rank. And that’s perhaps understandable – it’s not a movie about cars. Hell, even the cars in it aren’t that cool – with one small exception: the Bluesmobile. A 1974 Dodge Monaco retired police cruiser, this sedan is as iconic as the black suits, fedoras, and wayfarer sunglasses worn by Jake and Elwood Blues. And it has as much of an identity as any other character in the flick. Fun fact: The Blues Brothers actually held the record for most cars destroyed in a movie for a very long time, only being beat out by its sequel in the year 2000 – by a grand total of just one car.
1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 Fastback
Bullitt might actually be the best car movie of all time. And it’s certainly the best Steve McQueen movie, for anyone who even remotely appreciates getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. And while McQueen is certainly the flesh-and-blood star of the flick, the most iconic and recognizable scene-stealer is definitely the 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback done up in Highland Green that he drives throughout the film. Interestingly enough, only two cars were built for the movie – one of which was wrecked so bad that it was destroyed following the end of the shoot. The other exchanged hands a couple of times before completely disappearing – only to recently have been discovered after having been missing for 40 years.
1958 Plymouth Fury
Whether you appreciate his work or not, there’s no denying Stephen King’s impact on the horror genre in both the world of film and literature. If you are a fan, however, you’re probably aware that in a few of his stories, he has tackled the concept of killer vehicles – both in Maximum Overdrive and, of course, Christine. The movie version of the latter – which was directed by another master of horror, John Carpenter – actually featured 17 different Furys, put together from a total of 24 donor cars, and two other Plymouth models (a Belvedere and Savoy) as the titular character. Of those 20 cars, only two still remain.
The Dark Knight Trilogy
It’s probably a stretch to call Christopher Nolan’s militarized tank a ‘car,’ per se, but we’d be remiss in our duties if we didn’t put some version of the Batmobile on this list. And while we love both the Adam West original and those from Tim Burton’s reboot, this beefed up gritty version still tops the list as our favorite driven by the cowled comic book superhero. What’s most interesting about this particular vehicle is that it didn’t start out as something else. The Tumbler is actually a completely original bespoke car that was constructed by a team of 20 in Britain. And if you’re wondering what, exactly, makes it tick, it’s loaded with a 350 cubic inch 5.7-liter Chevy engine that pumps out 400 bhp.
1971 Chevrolet Nova SS
A unique take on the slasher film genre, Death Proof follows the story of a stunt driver who uses his car to kill his victims – not by running them over on foot, but by getting into mutually-destructive accidents. There are actually several very cool vehicles in this film: a 1969 Dodge Charger, a 1970 Dodge Challenger, a 1972 Ford Mustang, and a 1971 Chevy Nova SS. They are all drool-worthy, but the Nova wins out by a hair for its extra menacing matte all-black paint job with a skull decal on the hood. If you appreciate Quentin Tarantino, great cars, and violent movies, you should definitely check out Death Proof.
1969 Dodge Charger 'General Lee'
The Dukes of Hazzard
While we would never suggest to anyone straight-faced to watch the Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, and Jessica Simpson 2005 movie reboot of the popular ’70s television show, The Dukes of Hazzard did get one thing right: the General Lee. From the bright orange paint job, to the racing decals on its non-functional doors, to the iconic I Wish I Was in Dixie horn, director Jay Chandrasekhar of Broken Lizard (known for Beerfest and Super Troopers) did not disappoint with this loving recreation. And that’s especially true when you consider that the filmmakers opted for a legitimate ’69 year model, when it would have been much easier to swap it out for a later one.
1961 Ferrai GT250 SWB California Spider
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Though this car sees an extremely unfortunate demise, there’s no denying how cool Cameron’s Dad’s Ferrari GT250 from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is. Or was. Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the original vehicle specified in the script. Turns out, it was actually supposed to be an unspecified Mercedes-AMG. Then, when it came time to create the movie, writer-director John Hughes decided that he would actually be choosing between a Porsche and the Ferrari. When he saw the Ferrari in person, however, he deemed it the perfect fit. But if you’re terrified of watching this car become undone, worry not – it’s actually just a replica.
1959 Cadillac Miller Meteor 'Ecto 1'
Ghostbusters 1 & 2
The ability to take tight corners and blitz a quarter mile isn’t the only way a car can be deemed cool when it comes to movies. Sometimes it just has to be unique and iconic enough to stand apart from the crowd. That’s exactly the case with the 1959 Cadillac Miller Meteor. Strangely enough, only 25 of these ambulance-hearses were ever actually built – two of which were transformed into Ecto 1 ghostbusting models for filming. They both survive as collector cars, as well.
1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 'Eleanor'
Gone in 60 Seconds
Gone in 60 Seconds is, perhaps, a fairly polarizing movie. There are some fans that will tell you the original is the better film, whereas a younger crowd might rally for the Nic Cage remake. Whichever side of the fence you stand on, however, you cannot deny the beauty and the majesty that is Eleanor, a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 from the 2000 movie version. This gorgeous resto-mod has almost single-handedly inspired a whole generation of new car fanatics. Best part is, if you want your own version of Eleanor, there is actually a firm called the Fusion Motor Company that is building licensed replicas of this car.
1967 Austin Mini Cooper S 1275
The Italian Job
When it originally came out in 1959, the Mini was a neat, if not very cool compact car perfect for tooling around the narrow (and sometimes ancient) city streets of Europe. But when it was one of the chief plot elements in the Michael Caine heist film, The Italian Job, this car was elevated beyond the realm of novelty and into that of automotive legend. And while we could generally take or leave the car’s modern counterparts (with exception for, say, the sports wagon), the classic originals are still some of the neatest little cars we’ve ever come across.
Aston Martin DB5
James Bond Series
Sean Connery has played James Bond more than any other actor – clocking in with seven total films as the character. The Aston Martin DB5, similarly, has appeared in seven different James Bond movies – including some starring Sir Connery, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. And that’s reason enough to say that this vehicle is the ultimate Bond car. It helps, too, that it happens to be one of the most beautiful motor vehicles ever to have graced this Earth. Whichever way you slice it, this car and the world’s most famous spy go hand in hand.
1970 Porsche 917
There are a few things working in this car’s favor, as far as best movie vehicles are concerned. First, it was driven by Steve McQueen – a man so cool that anything he touched also became cool itself. Second, the Gulf Oil livery wrapped around it is striking, recognizable, and beautiful; arguably the most recognizable in racing history. Lastly, the car itself is a thing of mechanical beauty. An actual test car for the real LeMans 24-hour endurance race, it was purchased to appear in the film of the same name, and the rest – as they say – is history.
1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe 'V8 Interceptor'
Mad Max Series
We love all things Mad Max-esque, but nothing comes with quite as high a level of respect and admiration as the Road Warrior’s original V8 Interceptor. This apocalyptic hot rod can be seen in three of the series’ films, including The Road Warrior, Mad Max, and Fury Road – meaning that, yes, it has appeared in the same number of films as the original Max Rockatansky himself, Mel Gibson. It’s also, like the DeLorean DMC-12, a movie car that far outshines its real-world counterpart. And if the rumors of another Mad Max flick in the works are to be believed, we hope to see this vehicle return yet again.
1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Smokey and the Bandit
The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am is one of the few cars on this list that never needed a film appearance to make it cool. From its iconic hood graphics to the growling V8 under the hood (yes, we know there was a baseline V6 version), this is one badass car. Honestly, the car is cooler than the Burt Reynolds movies in which it appears. And we can’t help but think that, in Quentin Tarantino’s action-thriller, Kill Bill 2, Daryl Hannah’s character, Elle Driver, drives a similarly styled Trans Am as a direct nod to the Smokey and the Bandit original.
1976 Lotus Esprit S1 'Wet Nellie'
The Spy Who Loved Me
While the Aston Martin DB5 is inarguably the most Bond-like of all the spy’s vehicles, there’s another that stands apart from the rest for its uniqueness – the Lotus Esprit S1 from The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s perhaps unceremonious nickname, ‘Wet Nellie,’ comes from the fact that this car doubles as a submarine. Now, as a result of its unique requirements, it’s not actually a real Lotus, but rather a custom replica with built-in amphibious capabilities. The funny thing is, it was not water-tight, so it required operators to wear scuba gear when driving it. For above-water shots, however, actual Lotuses were used.
1974 Ford Gran Torino
Starsky & Hutch
The third of the tv-shows-turned-movie-reboots on our list, Starsky & Hutch wasn’t what anyone might call a cinematic masterpiece. Luckily, we’re not concerned with that. What we’re interested in is the gorgeous red and white 1974 Ford Gran Torino the titular duo drive around in in the course of the forgettable-at-best film. Like The Dukes of Hazzard, while we left the theater wanting in regards to story, we were not disappointed by the appearance of this spot-on vehicular recreation.
1970 Dodge Challenger R/T
While Bullitt likely takes the title for the best car movie of all time, Vanishing Point isn’t that far behind, despite the fact that it lacks the star power of someone as prominent as Steve McQueen. It’s an excellent watch, to be sure, but we have to give some of the credit to the white 1970 Dodge Challenger the main character drives throughout the film. All told, eight different versions of this vehicle were used, though only one survived. And, interestingly enough, the now-iconic all-white paint job was chosen exclusively so that the car would stand out against the scenery in the background.
Best Car Movies
If you want to see some of the films these cars come from, a good deal of them can be found on our list of the best car movies of all time.
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