When a vehicle eclipses the flesh-and-bone actors and becomes the superstar of a film—that's when it's a great movie car. There are dozens of memorable cars in film, but to crack the top, a vehicle must influence a generation, inspire car culture, and become the stuff of every kid's dreams.
These are our favorites, in no particular order.
James Bond's legacy of famous cars and far-out gadgets can be traced back from one car—the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 007 driven in Goldfinger and Thunderball. Without any Bond spy modifications, the Aston Martin DB5 is a work of art. But it's the special effects that have made this car quite possibly the most beloved movie car of all time. The long list of cool tricks included ram bumper, machine guns, ejector seat, smoke screen, oil-slick sprayer, and more. Looking back on the Aston from today's perspective, the most interesting feature may be the map screen in Bond's car, which foreshadowed today's navigation systems.
So just how influential and significant is the original Bond car? One of the few Astons used in those movies sold last year for a whopping $4.6 million.
One more Bond car, because it's a classic.
By the 1970s the voluptuous shapes of sports cars from the 1950s and 1960s gave way to distinctive and futuristic wedge designs. Pointy cars like the Lancia Stratos and Lamborghini Countach changed the automotive landscape. But neither one of them were ever driven by James Bond.
In The Spy Who Loved Me, the secret agent drove the white Series I Lotus Esprit hard. Yet the moment that sticks in everyone's mind is when the car transforms into a submarine after Bond jumps the car into the water. The Lotus sprouts stabilizer fins and props, and later, it drives up onto the beach as it morphs back into a car—with beachgoers staring slack-jawed.
When Smokey and the Bandit director Hal Needham chose a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am to star in his movie alongside Burt Reynolds and Sally Field, he couldn't have predicted the impact that car would have on America.
The Trans Am actually looked more or less the same for more than a half decade before the film debuted. But that didn't matter. When audiences saw that Trans Am slide around corners, leap over broken bridges, and evade Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) for hundreds of miles, they wanted a black and gold T/A in their garage. After the movie debuted, sales leapt by about 30,000 cars from 1977 to 1978 and by another 24,000 for 1979. Americans went nuts for the Starlight Black Special Edition paint job, the T-Top roof, and the fact that the car was quicker and better-handling than the Corvette of the same generation. It was probably a combination of all three—plus a heaping dollop of Burt's star appeal—that made the Trans Am a legend.
A few years before Star Wars, George Lucas shot American Graffiti, a reflection of his memories of the car culture in California in the 1960s. Besides a cast that included future megastars such as Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, and Richard Dreyfus, the movie had some great hot rods. But only one has become the most recognized Deuce Coupe in the world.
The brash Canary yellow '32 Ford highboy is powered by a Chevy 327 V-8, and sits a little tall in the rear for some seriously cool rake. The climatic drag race on Paradise Road pits Paul Le Mat (John Milner) in the '32 Ford against an equally tough-looking '55 Chevy driven by Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford). The '32 Ford smokes the Chevy off the line, and halfway down the road the Chevy flies off the road, flips, and blows. It's an amazing special-effects scene, but in reality the same '55 Chevys in this movie would appear (painted flat gray) in another car movie classic, Two Lane Blacktop.
Visually, John DeLorean's DMC-12 was a stainless-steel stunner designed by the legendary Giorgetto Giugiaro. Under the hood, though, the DeLorean wasn't quite the supercar that flashy bodywork promised, carrying a pokey 130-hp 2.9-liter V-6. No matter. Its futuristic looks combined with a bit of movie magic gave the DeLorean legendary status, and because it was a time machine in the film, the real-life specs didn't really matter, with one exception: Reportedly, the prop staff replaced that sluggish V-6 with a V-8 from the Porsche 928, which went a long way toward helping Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) hit 88 mph, fire up the Flux Capacitor, and shoot back to 1955.
Despite its movie celebrity, the DeLorean flopped on the market in the 1980s. But the car's unique, retro-futurist design has earned it a cult following today. There's even a new restoring and improving the cars.
Any vehicle driven, ridden, or even stood next to by Steve McQueen was instantly made cooler. But the Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 didn't need much help. The movie's chase scenes on the streets of San Francisco, tailing a 1968 Dodge Charger, are some of the best ever recorded on film. And the stripped-down look of the movie Mustangs made them subtly meaner-looking than regular production 'Stangs. The original magnesium American Racing Torque Thrust wheels give McQueen's car its aggressive stance.
You know that a car has transcended its cult movie status and become an icon when a car company makes a limited edition version twice, as Ford has with the Bullitt Mustang.
The 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T—especially the Hemi model—was one of the most impressive pony cars to come out of the muscle boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s. And its reputation was cemented with the film Vanishing Point (though the R/Ts in the film were 440-powered). The plot is simple: Kowalski (Barry Newman) bets that he can drive from Denver to San Francisco in less than 15 hours (which would require an average speed of over 80 mph). As you can imagine, there are plenty of great stunts, which were put together by the same team that worked on Bullitt. Kowalski dusts off a Jaguar XKE, launches the Challenger over a gully, and does all kinds of other crazy driving.
However, there is one glaring error: In the final crash that destroys the car, the filmmakers used a '67 Camaro rather than a Challenger.
When it comes to cars, Australians are historically just as power-hungry as Americans. So in the 1960s and 1970s, the Australian arms of American car companies created some fairly brutal muscle machines—cars we never saw in the States. One of them was the Ford Falcon. In its third generation, the Falcon XB GT got its power from a 351-cid V-8. But for the movie Mad Max, the filmmakers transformed the already cool Falcon into the "Pursuit Special" or "Interceptor." The crew plastered a new nose on the front end, emblazoned the body with huge flares, and tucked seriously fat tires underneath them. The centerpiece was under the hood—or, more precisely, sticking out of it. In the movie, the switch-activated supercharger boosts the power of the interceptor any time Max needed to skedaddle. But, alas, it was only a movie and that supercharger was a fake.
Like Bond cars, Batmobiles, in all their permutations, have transcended generations and remain cool. But the tough, militaristic Batmobile Tumbler that has appeared in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is the most visually and technically significant Batmobile since the George Barris–designed 1960s version. A beefy 350-cid Chevy V-8 powers the tank-like Tumbler to 60 mph in around five seconds, even with 37-inch off-road tires, according to the filmmakers. The front tires are mounted to an independent front suspension with around 30 inches of suspension travel. And the body is said to be made of more then 65 carbon-fiber panels.
What makes the Tumbler cooler than most movie props these days is, simply, that it's a real thing, not a computer-animated fantasy. We certainly dig that.
The classic 1968–70 Dodge Charger is a TV and movie superstar. The most famous of all was the '69 Charger "General Lee" from the The Dukes of Hazzard TV show. Another Charger starred in the 1970s cult hit Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. But in 2000, the venerable Charger took to the screen again, this time built as a menacing black street-racing machine for Vin Diesel. With a wicked stance, giant rear tires, and a humongous engine and supercharger sticking out of the hood, the Charger was insanely cool.
It was the climactic action scene of the movie that made this car so memorable. As Vin Diesel's character Dominic Toretto lines up against Paul Walker's character, who's driving a Supra, he floors the throttle and the Charger does a sick wheelstand and burnout at the same time. Movie magic for sure, but still fun to watch. Later in that same race, the two cars jump a set of train tracks just as a locomotive passes, and a heartbeat later Diesel flips the Charger in a spectacular finish to the chase scene.
Getting déjà vu? The Dodge Charger and the car-heavy Furious saga make the list again, and for good reason. For the seventh film, moviemakers reimagined Dom Toretto's (Vin Diesel) black Charger into something even wilder than his original wheel-standing car. Dennis McCarthy, the vehicle's builder, is an avid off-road race fan, and this particular Charger is basically a full Baja race truck in disguise. The suspension is a long-travel, high-clearance design that allows for massive off-road tires on bead-locked rims. To cover the larger wheels, the fenders have been expertly flared. They make the beast look incredibly imposing and capable.
Perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie involves Toretto launching the Charger from the back of a transport plane at 30,000 feet and skydiving to the ground. The Charger floats down to the road below and suspension soaks up the landing after the chute detaches. Yes, it's all very far-fetched. But there's a shred of believability here simply because that Charger is so well set up.
Keanu Reeves' most memorable on-screen vehicle just may be a Los Angeles city bus. But his coolest is the Mustang in the movie he made 20 years later—John Wick. The Mustang in question is identified in the movie as possibly being a "Boss 429," but that's not the case. A real Boss '9 is rare and highly collectable—one sold at auction back in 2015 for $550,000. It's likely the film crew used a '69 Mustang Mach 1 with either a 390 V-8 or a 428. Both are plenty potent for on-screen antics and look absolutely badass.
The cool thing about this movie is that it's clear this is a real car doing the driving without any CG. It's also reported that Reeves did most of the stunt driving himself after going through a performance driving school. And one of the best scenes is watching him fishtail the Mustang around a wet airport parking lot, sliding it closer and closer to a row of dump trucks. The Mustang reappears in John Wick Chapter 2.
Rabid Mad Max fans eagerly awaited the return of the franchise when Mad Max: Fury Road was announced for a 2015 launch, three decades after the last installment. But few expected the movie to be packed with so many wild and innovative vehicles. It could certainly be argued that this latest movie had more interesting cars and trucks than any Mad Max before it. Perhaps the wildest of them all is the Gigahorse.
This beast looks like it should exist entirely in CG. But no, this is a real thing. Double '59 Cadillac bodies ride atop a massive truck chassis powered by twin Chevy big block V-8s that have both been supercharged. All that power turns massive tractor tires that give this monster the stance of a funny car dragster from the 1970s—on stilts.
Though the Gigahorse doesn't really do too much in terms of typical movie car stunts, it's so cool to look at that it's captivating to watch the thing just driving straight through the desert. The most memorable scene with the 'horse is in the long final chase of the movie, as the convoy enters a tight canyon, Max (Tom Hardy), Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and their crew finally kill Immortan Joe, the bad guy driving the Gigahorse.
The Bluesmobile may not be the Batmobile, but this decommissioned Mount Prospect, Illinois, police cruiser is just as recognizable as Jake and Elwood Blues’ outfits. Born from Saturday Night Live veterans Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, the sketch resulted in two movies. The Dodge Monaco version was only used in first film; the sequel saw a 1990 Ford LTD Crown Victoria as the Bluesmobile’s latest incarnation.
The film utilized 13 different cars as the Bluesmobile, all of which were former California Highway Department patrol cars made up to look like Mount Prospect patrol cars. Some of the cars were modified for speed, others for jumps or high-performance maneuvers, depending on the scene. More than 60 old police cars were purchased and used for the film’s many chase scenes—the volume resulting in a 24-hour body shop on set to perform repairs as needed. A world record 103 cars were wrecked during filming. Legendary custom car designer, fabricator, stuntman, and stunt coordinator—and creator of the Monkeemobile—Dean Jeffries worked on the first movie, saying in , “I worked on ‘The Blues Brothers’—we must’ve smashed a couple hundred cars on that one.” The number of wrecks for Blues Brothers 2000? 104. No better person to surpass you than yourself.
Directed by John Carpenter, how could we leave a horror movie centered around a 1958 Plymouth Fury off the list? Stephen King was so popular at the time and had enough clout that the film went into production before the book was even published. Anywhere between 23 and 28 cars were used in the film (sources vary), and not all of them were Furys. Columbia Pictures placed ads across the country looking to buy Belvederes and Savoys, too. The majority of the cars were used on screen and the rest were used for spare parts.
The illusion of Christine’s ability to regenerate herself was created using hydraulic pumps located inside the car that were attached to the sides of a plastic-paneled body double. The pumps then sucked in the sides to create a damaged version of the car, and then the film was reversed. Some tricky special effects for 1983.
Another deceiving trick? The sound we hear from Christine’s engine isn’t actually a Plymouth Fury. Filmmakers used a recording of a 1970 Mustang 428 Super Cobra Jet engine.
Hold onto your butts, we are now entering Jurassic Park, circa 1993. Though the cars appear to be Jeeps, they’re really Ford Explorers, and a solid portion of the movie takes place in and around them. While these Touring Vehicles didn’t see much off-roading, they are an integral part of the Jurassic Park experience—I mean before the dinos got loose and the characters realized they were stuck on Isla Nublar. Customized by Hollywood pro George Barris, many fans have been inspired to replicate the car, taking years to painstakingly re-create the ’90s icons.
The cars were modified to give the illusion of automation by hiding the driver in the trunk, where they watched a small TV that was fed outside images via two cameras. Six cars were used in the film, charged at, stomped on, flipped over, and buffeted by prehistoric predators. Some were completely destroyed and at the end of filming three dumpsters had been filled with parts.
Ah the Mirthmobile, the perfect get-around for a flame-throwing, headbanging, licorice-loving guy or gal. While the 1992 film resurrected the Pacer and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it’s widely considered to be one of the ugliest cars ever made. Intending to break ground in the compact-car category at the time, its main selling point was its unusual width—it was as wide as a midsize car.
It’s typical for movies to have multiple versions of the same car, but it’s believed that only one Pacer was used for the casts’ trips to Stan Mikita’s Donuts. This Pacer has the larger 4.2-liter I-6 motor mated to a three-speed auto transmission. The hatchback was modified for the film inside and out, including a hole in the roof allowing for the installation of the red-rope licorice dispenser.
The Ectomobile, or ECTO-1 and ECTO-1A, from the Bill Murray era mind you, is just as famous as the men riding inside it, maybe more so. Made from a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor, it’s an end-loader ambulance/hearse combination with a 6.3-liter V-8, good for 320 horsepower. The original idea for the cruiser was more sinister, painted black with purple and white strobe lights to give it a glow. It would have been more than a pedestrian car, though, it would have had supernatural powers, mainly interdimensional travel and the ability to dematerialize. Once it was pointed out how often the car would be shot at night, the idea was nixed.
Two of the cars were initially purchased, but the final converted version was primarily used during filming. We first see the Miller-Meteor in black and without modifications, the secondary vehicle, Dan Aykroyd prescribing “some suspension work and shocks, brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear end, new rings, mufflers, and a little wiring” before it can go out on calls. In New York City, sightings of the ECTO-1 during promotions after the film’s release caused car accidents.
After this, the second vehicle was converted into a fully equipped Ectomobile, garnering the name ECTO-1A. After being mistreated and left to the elements on a Sony backlot, both cars were refurbished. ECTO-1 was fixed up and used as a promotional tool for the video-game release in 2009, and ECTO-1A was resurrected after a group of dedicated fans started a petition to purchase the car from Sony, ultimately restoring it themselves.
It’s not the ’80s without a proper movie montage, and what better fodder than restoring a vintage Camaro with John Cusack? Better Off Dead is an underrated classic, a coming-of-age story for Lane Meyer, who just wants to get the girl and kick some jock booty. An impulse purchase—because it looked “tasty”—and an eyesore on his family’s front lawn, he gets around to restoring the 1967 Chevy Camaro SS will the help from a French foreign exchange student.
Love blooms, as well as his street cred, with this classic muscle car. The car still make appearances at shows across the U.S. after a zealous fan tracked down the screen-used model used in the film.
Grab yourself a White Russian and enjoy his 1973 Gran Torino. It may look like a beater, but it was an underrated star of the movie and an extension of his being. Originally, his ride was supposed to be a Chrysler LeBaron, but it wasn’t large enough to accommodate Mr. Walter Sobchak himself, John Goodman. A switch was made to the Torino, which was a redesign of the ’72 model with a longer, over-exaggerated front nose. There were two Gran Torino’s used in the filming, one destroyed in the movie and the other made a splash on a season-eight episode of The X-Files where it was also destroyed.
Movie magic and a limited budget are the culprits of this Ferrari imposter. A “replicar” built to resemble a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California—which cost around $300,000 at the time—it is an amalgam of parts, including a steel-tube subframe, a Ford-sourced small-block V-8, and Ferrari-inspired fiberglass bodywork and emblems. As Cameron says, “My father spent three years restoring this car. It is his life, it is his passion.” To which Ferris retorts, “It’s his fault he didn’t lock the garage.” You can rest easy knowing that a real Ferrari was not “killed” in that infamous garage scene.
Instead of a Ferrari, you have a 1985 Modena GT Spyder California. Three replicas were made for filming, one used for most of the movie, a second for stunts and ultimately the car that rolls backward out of the glass garage, and a third for other shots. Two of them went up for auction in this century through Mecum, one in 2013 garnering $235,000, and a second this August selling for a whopping $407,000.
The first movie in a definitive franchise of comedy, Vacation is based on a story written by John Hughes for National Lampoon magazine. After seeing the success of Animal House, the crew decided to cash in, and by way of keeping it in the family tasked Harold Ramis with directing and Chevy Chase to helm the Clark Griswold character. While Chase is the puppetmaster of this lineup of misadventures, the “Wagon Queen Family Truckster,” or a heavily modified Ford LTD Country Squire, played a big role in the film. Who can forget the pea-green paint, faux-wood paneling, and eight headlights used to drive to Walley World, and as a temporary hearse for sweet Aunt Edna?
Shooting for the film let the cast and crew take a real-life road trip, shooting in more than 15 locations across four states. There were reportedly five station wagons made for filming, allowing for each one to be altered in any way the script and stage of the journey called for. It survived vandalism, an amazing jump (and subsequent breakdown) in the desert, and shifty mechanics. A little behind-the-scenes bet was placed to see if stunt coordinator Dick Ziker could jump the Family Truckster more than 50 feet in the desert, and he wound up winning his own bet.
In 2013, Mecum offered one of the film-used cars for $35,000 and it was a no-sale. It later showed up on Hemmings with a $39,900 price tag. As the car salesman said when Clark made this unwanted purchase, “You think you hate it now, wait ’til you drive it.”
The battle between Callahan Auto and Zalinsky Auto Parts was one well fought by Chris Farley and David Spade, much to the chagrin of Bo Derek and Rob Lowe. Tommy Boy asks Richard about his GTX and he says he “dropped in a 440 Magnum with a six-pack. You hang on to a car this cherry.” He should have known that it would slightly diminish in resale value after letting Farley in.
We see this car through two eras, pre-deer and post. The driver’s-side door falls off, the hood flies off, and the windshield gains a hole. When the hood departs after Tommy left an oil can in there, you can see that the engine has an air cleaner for a single four-barrel, 440 Commando.
With a name like the Shaggin’ Wagon, it was bound to be iconic. Known for its reliability, Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne rode in style in this previously nondescript 1984 Ford Econoline. Once the filmmakers gussied it up as Mutt Cutts, it sported a new look as an entirely different creature. Tan carpet was added inside and out, along with a tail, floppy ears, legs, nose, whiskers, and tongue. The van’s windshield functioned as the driver’s and dog’s eyes, and you had to lift a rear leg to reach the gas cap.
Like any classic outlaw, these two ladies rode in style in a 1966 Ford T-Bird. The car was chosen simply for its practicality for shooting movies: It’s open and easy to shoot the actors, and the backseat allows for Thelma and Louise to travel with other characters. A total of five cars were used in the movie: one “hero” car used solely for exterior shots, one camera car, two stunt cars, and one for backup. They didn’t receive any customization that is customary for a movie car, remaining the same as they would’ve been straight off the showroom floor. Since being purchased from Metro MGM Movies in 1991, one car was sold at auction in 2008 and earned $71,500—but that could have been for the Brad Pitt and Geena Davis signatures adorning the armrest and sun visor, respectively.
For RoboCop, the basic body of the 6000 SUX was a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, chosen for its four-door, futuristic look. Two complete, fully operational SUX cars were built with parts from a third one that production people blew up in Dallas. The actual auto bodies were made from fiberglass components, but the engine and interior were left unchanged from the original Oldsmobile. The wing mirrors were made specially for the car, check them out for yourself in this
A little history lesson is required to explain the choice of the name 6000 SUX, because it wasn’t just a random number. Director Paul Verhoeven spotted a Ford Taurus pass by set one day and decided it should be the car used in the film by the police and RoboCop. Ford was not interested in any way whatsoever to be involved with the picture and declined to provide them with any cars to use in return for free publicity. Production had to purchase all cars used in the film, but they were able to take a swipe at one of Taurus’s main competitors at the time, GM’s Pontiac 6000, in naming the 6000 SUX.
Aside from the soothing soundtrack of Simon & Garfunkel, this film is remembered for two things: “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me!” and the red Alfa Romeo 1600 Duetto Spider Benjamin Braddock drives. The car was manufactured from 1966 until 1994, when all production ceased and Alfa pulled out of the North American market in 1995.
Kurt Russell is an all-American man, so of course he drives an all-American car in the movie Death Proof. The story of a stuntman who like to take unsuspecting women for rides in his free time, he’s doctored his car to be “death proof,” but only for himself. The driver’s seat is a proper racing seat with padding and a reinforced roof panel, while the passenger seat is a tractor seat with Plexiglas surrounding it.
There were four cars built for the movie, and the only fully caged one that ran good enough to do the driving scenes was appropriately named “The Jesus.” Easter egg alert: The rubber-duck hood ornament is courtesy of Kris Kristofferson in Convoy. The other caged car, called “The Prius,” was destroyed during filming, which left “The Jesus” up for grabs, ultimately winding up in the hands of the true stunt driver’s high school son for a cool $500.
Seeming like a precursor to Toddlers & Tiaras, this well-received film followed a dysfunctional family as they traveled from New Mexico to California in a sunshine-yellow VW bus to get Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Who can forget the scene where they push the car down the side of the road while Greg Kinnear hops in to put the car in gear, each family member following suit? Five VW Microbuses were used for film—three of the vans had engines, and the two without were mounted on trailers.
After winning the SAG Award for best ensemble, Kinnear gave thanks to the iconic unsung costar: “I’d like to thank the engineers at Volkswagen for making a beautiful vehicle back in 1969 that is so comfortable, so safe.” Fox Searchlight hosted a special screening of the film in California for VW bus owners, and one of the screen-used buses is on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. As we learned from National Lampoon’s Vacation, the car definitely sets the tone of the road trip.
It’s automatic, it’s systematic, it’s hydromatic, well it must be While there’s many classic cars used throughout the film, this 1948 Ford De Luxe is the car of Danny Zuko’s daydreams, and the one he and Sandy fly away in after the carnival. From the scrapheap that we first see in the shop to the souped-up, Saran-wrapped car we end up with. With chopped front fenders, a Plexiglas hood, and tail fins, it’s clear that the “four speed on the floor” transmission Travolta sings about is nowhere to be seen in the race scene when he uses a column shifter. And it’s definitely not an automatic.