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Couch + epic car flick = good times
The ultimate car movies mean different things to different people, and can include everything from cultish classics and art-house favourites to cutesy cartoons and modern blockbusters. Whatever the genre, car movies should ultimately influence generations, inspire global car culture and more than anything, become the stuff of every kid’s (and adult’s) octane-tainted dreams.
Many James Bond movie buffs believe that the legacy of the hero and his high-tech gadgets can be traced back to just one superb vehicle – the Aston Martin DB5, driven in both Goldfinger (1964) and in 1965’s Thunderball. Its uber-cool modifications include machine guns, an ejector seat, an oil-slick sprayer and a before-its-time map screen that is an unexpected blueprint for today’s Sat Nav systems.
Bullit (1968) quite possibly sets the scene for all future dramatic car chases, with gritty cop Steve McQueen hunting down some mean-arse baddies, which results in probably one of the most revolutionary car chase scenes ever. Played out on the streets of San Fran, it features a Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 aggressively tailing a 1968 Dodge Charger, and was so influential it prompted Ford in later years to release two limited edition versions of the car, aptly named the Bullitt Mustang.
This was a bumper decade in terms of car movie magic, beginning with 1971’s Le Mans. Probably one of the better Steve McQueen classics, it features super-lifelike footage and the danger is absolutely for real. The film used very few stunt drivers (McQueen, as an avid car enthusiast had no ‘body double’), and in fact one of the movie’s actors (a race car driver himself) lost half his leg in a crash while shooting.
A car-fetish classic, 1971’s Vanishing Point sees a mysterious speed freak (played by Barry Newman) leading police on an epic journey via a mixture of awesome chase scenes and dramatic stunts in his hotter-than-hot rod, a Dodge Challenger R/T.
Two-Lane Blacktop also released in 1971 is not so much about the cars, but about the mood. It’s a classically quiet road movie that sees James Taylor (yep, the muso) and crew racing another dude cross-country in a Pontiac GTO. With riveting performances and some fantastic driving sequences, it’s a slightly obscure choice for a rainy day couch-surf.
Again from 1971, Duel is what some consider to be Steven Spielberg’s first real feature movie, which revolves around a mild-manner commuter (actor Dennis Weaver) being relentlessly terrorized by a tractor-trailer (yep), and if you’re after some hot rod satisfaction, check out the 1973 flick American Graffiti, a rambling tale with a great special effects scene at the end, that features future mega-stars Harrison Ford and Ron Howard.
A few more notable flicks of this decade that flaunt some pretty gnarly vehicles in the lead role – Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) features a souped-up 68 Chevy Impala, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me a Series I Lotus Esprit and Smokey and the Bandit (also from ’77), a Pontiac Trans Am with a divine Starlight Black Special Edition paint job.
1981 sees Cannonball Run hit the big screens, a wildly hilarious romp about a group of wild street racers (starring Burt Reynolds and Roger Moore), and the second in the Mad Max series, The Road Warrior, a post-apocalyptic action movie filled with weird inventors, BDSM biker gangs and feral children. And of course you can’t miss Back to the Future and the DeLorean DMC-12, which was fired up with a V8 engine apparently stolen from a Porsche 928.
The movie adaption of Stephen King’s classic novel, Christine (1983) features a madly possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury which takes on a life of its own, the cult classic, Repo Man, (1984) a Chevy Malibu that mesmerizes suburban punk Emilio Estevez, and Tucker: The Man and His Dream from 1988 tells the tale of an independent inventor who revolutionises the automotive industry. Worth a look mainly because of the powerhouse team in charge of its conception – director Francis Ford Coppola and producer George Lucas.
1991 was also a good year for auto flicks, including Autostop, a magical short film about an Italian champion racer tasked with driving his Fiat Tempra from Italy into Russia, and Days of Thunder featuring Tom Cruise in the role of (weirdly named) Cole Trickle, a stock car racer who tries to take on the NASCAR circuit.
And then there’s the Ridley-Scott directed Thelma and Louise (which has been unfairly denied its status as a ‘car movie’), which tells the story of two macho/feminist heroines who road trip it renegade-style after a series of unfortunately unlawful events. A chick flick cult classic.
An automobile-lover’s dream, 2000’s Gone in 60 Seconds stars Nicholas Cage who is charged with stealing 50-odd cars in 96 minutes, and is a visual delight with its smorgasbord of Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and an epic chase scene with a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500.
The first of what is now a 12-year franchise, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious is the story of a cop who gets involved in the underground world of street racing. Worth a watch if only for the wheel stand/burnout scene featuring a 1970 Dodge Charger.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) stars comedian Will Ferrell at his psychotic best in the role of a smug NASCAR driver who (in-between some great racing scenes), meets a fiery end in a humiliating crash.
2006’s Cars is, despite being kid-targeted, a lovely bit of automobile magic featuring Owen Wilson as the voice of champion race car, Lightning McQueen.
And 2007 sees the release of Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s homage to cult car movies.
Drive which debuted in 2011 stars Ryan Gosling as a mercilessly cut-throat stunt/getaway driver, Rush (2013) is Ron Howard’s biopic about the rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
And if you’re after a futuristic vehicular buzz, check out Mad Max: Fury Road from 2015. Crammed with trippy, wildly imaginative trucks and cars, the highlight of this flick has got to be The Gigahorse. It looks entirely computer-generated, but is in fact a real life mash-up of a bunch of ’59 Cadillac bodies perched atop a massive truck chassis that is powered by a supercharged V-8 engine or two. Wild.
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