10 Great Car Movies To Binge During Quarantine
Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Stay inside
The quarantine continues. Which means you, the gear-head, need more reasons to stay inside. Thus, car movies.
What makes a great car movie? Is it amazing chases or perhaps just the appearance of a cool car itself? Not for my money.
To make a great car movie, the cars need to be stars—they must be characters themselves or at the very least, be memorable totems for which our heroes’ emotional journeys can be represented.
It’s why I didn’t include any 007 movies on this list, for example. While the Aston Martins are cool and the stunts are impressive, the car is really just another prop for Bond. While iconic, Bond’s Aston has no more emotional resonance for him than his gun or his suit, and arguably, it shouldn’t.
Same goes for the newest Fast and Furious movies. The cars don’t really mean anything any more. They’re just set dressing. Plus, you already know about those movies.
Instead, here are some great car movies you’ve perhaps never seen or haven’t visited in quite a while, and there may never be a better time to do so than right now.
Smokey and The Bandit (1977)
Smokey and The Bandit came out the same summer as Star Wars. Which really says something. The fact that this movie managed to compete at the box office and also stand the test of time is a testament to its charm and sheer fun-factor. The plot is so simple, it’s not even worth mentioning, The point is Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleeson, a mountain of Coors Beer and one very magical, black 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. That’s all you need to know,
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
No, not the 2000 remake with Nick Cage and Angelina Jolie. The 1974 original is much better. Sure, the “Eleanor” in the 2000 movie is a much cooler Mustang — a Shelby GT500E designed by Unique Performance (yes, the “E” stands for “Eleanor”). However, the original 1974 version still features a very cool (and, as you’ll discover, very robust) ‘73 Mach 1.
The movie famously features an impossibly long car chase, boasting a number of real accidents that were not planned and which are said to have wrecked some 127 cars. It’s ridiculously chaotic and very, very fun.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s adaptation of James Sallis’ 2005 novel of the same name is an exercise in escalating tension, thematic plotting and building a narrative around a mostly reactive protagonist. Which is perhaps why it still doesn’t click with so many mainstream movie goers. It’s sort of the antithesis of Fast and Furious movies.
However, Drive is also inarguably the best piece of cinema on this list and still delivers some of the best car chases committed to film in the last two decades. So if you’re looking for something more thought provoking in your car chase movies, this is your film. Automotive highlights include a stealthy ‘74 Chevelle and a 2011 Mustang GT.
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)
Like so many other car movies from the mid-70s, the plot doesn’t really matter in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.
Peter Fonda is a hopeful NASCAR driver who robs a bank and brings his one-night-stand played by Susan George along for the getaway. See? I told you. It doesn’t matter. They make good their escape in a 1966 Chevrolet Impala and later, a 1970 Dodge Charger R/T. And that’s really the part you care about.
Bullitt has an interesting plot about pushing the limits of the law and working outside the rules to catch those who don’t play by them. But you won’t be interested in any of that.
The good stuff is Steve McQueen tearing through the streets of San Francisco in his iconic, emerald green 1968 Mustang GT 390—chasing after two hitmen in their menacing, black 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440. The Bullitt chase is perhaps the greatest car chase that ever was or will be in a movie.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Here it is. The absolute pinnacle of “the plot doesn’t matter in car movies.” Vanishing Point is about a dude racing through the desert in his white 1970 Dodge Challenger because… reasons? It’s not exactly clear.
The whole movie is honestly a bit of a trip—borderline experimental even. But it’s still fun to kick back and get lost in the insanity as the movie delivers on what you really want to see—a Dodge Challenger doing Dodge Challenger things.
Death Proof (2007)
Many call Death Proof Quentin Tarintino’s worst movie and while there’s some merit to that, there’s still much to adore about Tarintino’s approach to the classic grindhouse muscle car flick.
Kurt Russel plays a serial killing stuntman who murders his victims using his car. He seems unmatched until he comes across a group of badass stunt women who make him regret every life choice he’s ever made.
Tarantino’s automotive picks are impeccable, including a 1970 Chevrolet Nova, 1971 Mustang, 1969 Dodge Charger and a white 1970 Dodge Challenger which plays direct tribute to Vanishing Point.
Also of note is the film’s chase scene, which is not just one of the best chase scenes of the last two decades, but perhaps one of the most tension-filled, adrenaline-pumping chases ever put on film.
The Gumball Rally (1976)
A gaggle of rich, bored individuals race from New York to LA because they’re bored. Again, you can’t think too heavily about the plot in these old 70s car movies.
The important part is that the movie features a 1966 Shelby Cobra 427, a 1974 Ferrari Daytona, a 1970 Camaro Z/28 and a 1974 Porsche 911. Watch this one with friends (via Zoom, obviously) so you can all fantasize about doing it for real one day.
Mad Max (1979)
‘Fury Road’ is the best Mad Max movie. And before that came out, The Road Warrior far outshined the original Mad Max. However, car fans will most likely enjoy the original 1979 film the most. It’s the most gritty, the most grounded and gives the hero cars—particularly Max’s iconic, black Ford Falcon Interceptor complete with its massive supercharger the most screen time and reverence.
While other franchise entries have purposely disposed of the Falcon to symbolize character change and growth in Max, the original film uses the car as a totem for his rage, vengeance and acceptance of a world he can no longer control. Which means it gets a lot of screen time and direct plot significance.
The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
Tokyo Drift is the best Fast and Furious movie. I will not even entertain a debate on this.
Unlike other Fast films, Tokyo Drift plays out more like a John Hughes movie than a chessy crime drama or over-the-top superhero blockbuster. It’s a coming-of-age and fish-out-of-water story, which is at times surprisingly grounded and even charming. It’s a bit like The Karate Kid meets Sixteen Candles with drifting and really bad mid-2000s music.
Yes it has its fair share of Fast ridiculousness and camp, but it’s infinitely less obnoxious or absurd than the other movies in the franchise. And let’s not forget, Tokyo Drift is really the last Fast movie to feature real-world driving “stunts” and actually put some focus on the cars themselves. There are many automotive heroes in this flick including a sleeper 1970 Monte Carlo, the infamous Veilside Widebody RX-7 and of course, the RB26-powered 1967 Mustang.