Cars are movies stars. Who can forget the Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger? How about the 2003 remake of the Italian Job with the three Mini Coopers bouncing up and down all those Italian streets during the heist scenes?
Cars scenes are seemingly part of nearly every fantasy movie or a film with a love story theme. A 1962 Volkswagen Bug was the lead character in the Love Bug. A Ford Futura concept was made into the Batmobile in Batman.
There are too many great and not-so great cars in movies to count. But here are five famous cars in five famous movies, beginning with TheWeeklyDriver’s favorite.
French Connection (1971)
The film includes arguably the most intense car chase in movie history. In the scene, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) drives a 1971 Pontiac LeMans while chasing a drug king who’s trying to escape via a commuter train in Brooklyn, New York.
With a close-up camera on his face most of the long scene, Doyle endures five classic movie stunts while pursuing the elevated train. A car in an intersection sideswipes the LeMans. The car is clipped by a truck with a Drive Carefully bumper sticker on it. The car narrowly misses a woman with a baby stroller and crashes into a pile of garbage. The car hits a steel fence after a truck blocks Doyle’s vision. The car is driven at a reckless speed against traffic to return to a parallel path with the train. Hackman won the Academy Award for best actor and a bunch of other acclaim, much of for his driving scene intensity.
The classic driving scene features Steve McQueen’s character, inspector Frank Bullitt, who’s driving a 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback. He’s pursuing a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, driven by Bill Hickman, as the evil henchman Phil. The backdrop: The hills of San Francisco.
McQueen drove his car for 90 percent of the scenes with two stuntman doing the rest. The Charger R/T was driven entirely by Hickman, a stuntman. Watch the movie and you can feel like you’re in one of the cars. The role epitomes McQueen’s legendary coolness.
The documentary tells the life and times of Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian racing driver and hero to his native country. Senna won three Formula One world titles, and was killed on May 1, 1994 in an accident while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
The driving scenes in the film detail the beauty, danger and spectacular nature of the Formula One circuit. Senna is often considered the most daring and talented driver in the sport’s history. The film also shows the ways a country sometimnes needs a hero.
Ron Howard makes great movies. Rush joins the list as a biographical drama film based on the Formula One rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 season.
Directed by Howard, the film features Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Lauda. The movie brilliantly intertwines archived footage of the real drivers and dramatic cinematography. Like Senna, Rush wondrously shows the realities of the sport without a filter. It’s a classic and provides another example of Howard’s vast talents.
Vanishing Point (1971)
A fantasy film about a car delivery driver called Kowalski played by Barry Newman. In the main premise, Kowalski bets his boss he can deliver a white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum in quick order to San Francisco.
Kowalski, a Medal of Honor Vietnam War veteran, former racecar driver and motorcycle racer, visits a biker bar parking lot around midnight to buy Benzedrine to stay awake. That’s when the action begins, most of it around cars, crashes and unique characters Kowalski encounters during his drive west. It’s a cult classic, probably best watched with a friend or two, a pizza, a six-pack of beer and some good loudspeakers since the soundtrack is excellent.
My blogpost was written as part of my collaboration with eBay.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.