Perhaps only second to the theme of love, cars are nearly an inescapable part of movies. Among this year’s Best Picture nominations in the upcoming Academy Awards extravaganza, vintage and futuristic vehicles are prominent in Mad Max: Fury Road, Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies.
But while prominent, cars aren’t the stars of any of this season’s top films set for the spotlight in the 88th edition Academy Awards on Feb. 28.
Still, cars are often presented in starring roles. In many instances, the vehicles used in iconic Academy Awards films through the years are as famous the actors and actresses who’ve drove them in anger and in sheer joy.
Cars Often Shine In Academy Awards Movies
Cars, in fact, are part of almost ever fantasy or love-themed film. A 1962 Volkswagen Bug was the lead character in the movie Love Bug (1977). A Ford Futura concept was made into the Batmobile in Batman (1989).
How about the Aston Martin DB5 in the Goldfinger (1964)? And it the 2003 remake of the Italian Job, three Mini Coopers bounced up and down Italian streets throughout nearly the entire movie.
It’s impossible to select the best car movies of all time. But here are here are five famous cars in five famous movies the past 45 years.
Ron Howard directed the biographical drama film based on the Formula One rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 season.
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 directing talents.
The documentary details the life of Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian driver and hero to his native country. Senna, who three Formula One world titles, was killed on May 1, 1994 in an accident while leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
The film’s 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 sometimes needs a hero.
French Connection (1971)
Gene Hackman plays detective Popeye Doyle, and the film includes arguably the most intense car chase in movie history. 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.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Barry Newman plays a car deliver driver named Kowalski. He bets his boss he can deliver a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum to San Francisco in what seems an impossible brief time span
A Medal of Honor veteran in the Vietnam War, Kowalski 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.
Steve McQueen epitomized cools. He plays inspector Frank Bullitt, who drives a 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback. He pursues 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.