List of street racing cars
With the release of Furious 7 this week and the impending release of Mad Max: Fury Road next month, car movies have suddenly taken center stage. Of course, a “car movie” can mean many things — from a racing flick to a road movie to, well, a film that’s just set among cars in general. Regardless, we thought this might be a good time to take a step back and look at some of the best car movies over the years, and to do so in an all-encompassing, inclusive way. As a result, this list of movies is quite eclectic — it includes gearhead classics, cult standbys, noirs, modern blockbusters, art-house favorites, and even some genuine obscurities. Along the way, it became clear to us that a “car movie, ” more than anything, is a film where a car plays a key role in the way a character interacts with the world — be it as a weapon, a tool, a dream, a setting, or a metaphor. Here are the 29 greatest car movies. (And as usual, we’ve stuck to one film per franchise, lest you wonder why there aren’t half a dozen Fast & Furious movies on this list.)
29. The Car (1977)
This is basically Jaws with a car, and it’s just as loony as that sounds. A black automobile, presumably from the depths of Hell, terrorizes a small-town community, and it's local lawman James Brolin's job to stop it. Utterly ridiculous, at times laughably so. But that's kind of its genius, too: Because this car does all sorts of things a car could never actually do, you never quite know what to expect. Directed by Elliot Silverstein, this cult horror flick was a late-show mainstay: Any kid switching channels late at night in the ’80s when those ominous “Dies Irae” chords came on knew he or she was in for something special.
28. Drive (2011)
This movie isn’t quite the masterpiece it was billed as at the time, but it is a fascinating blend of pop influences — the terse gearhead classics of the ’70s, the New Age stylings of the ’80s, the hip irony of the millennial era. Director Nicolas Winding Refn knows how to shoot violence, but more important, he knows how to anticipate violence. And using an almost comically inexpressive Ryan Gosling (playing a stunt-driver-cum-getaway-driver, not unlike Ryan O’Neal in The Driver), he builds elaborate, deadpan setpieces that are unnerving in the way they promise graphic, brutal horrors that the film only occasionally shows. Plus, let’s face it, the soundtrack is cool.
27. Thunder Road (1958)
In this classic 1958 noir set in the world of illegal mountain moonshiners, Robert Mitchum plays a young vet working as a transporter — one of “those wild and reckless men, who transport illegal whisky from its source to its point of distribution, ” using souped-up cars. This wasn’t a fanciful movie creation; it was an actual subculture. The film may not have the authentic details of those classic car movies that would start to come out a decade or so later, but Mitchum is, and will always be, the coolest cat onscreen. Give him a hot rod, and he’s suddenly cooler.
26. The Transporter (2002)
Jason Statham, who has now joined the Fast & Furious franchise (we’ll see if he gets to stick around), scored his first franchise playing an expert driver who gets paid to transport cargo — any kind of cargo, no questions asked. Many of us underrated this movie at the time; the silliness just seemed to be too much, and Statham’s stoic demeanor felt stiff, despite his considerable physical prowess. But over the years, he and the film have grown on us, gaining a wonderfully surreal, retroactive sheen. This is a fun, freewheeling, and oh-so-French action flick — the kind of movie that can slow down to ruminate on madeleines and Proust before proceeding with the mayhem. That, of course, is the EuropaCorp house style. The Luc Besson–led production company has also given us the Taken films, Lucy, and any number of other nutty, corny, go-for-broke action spectacles.
25. Mercedes, Mon Amour (1992)
Part The Bicycle Thieves, part The Old Man and the Sea, this little-known Turkish gem is a hilarious, poignant tale of a poor villager who goes to work in Germany and saves up to buy himself a beloved yellow Mercedes. Hoping to bask in the glory of his hard-earned success, he attempts to drive it back to his village, only to meet many roadblocks along the way — much of them having to do with his own venality and materialism, as well as Turkey’s infamously horrendous drivers. A very human tale that manages also to be a keen social satire.
24. Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)
Peter Fonda and Adam Roarke play two 0-to-100 holdup artists/racers who rob a huge supermarket, only to get saddled with the NASCAR groupie (Susan George) whom Fonda's character bedded the night before. Speeding away from the cops in, first, a souped-up 68 Chevy Impala, and then a garish Dodge Challenger, the trio bicker and banter relentlessly. Meanwhile, the pissy, frustrated lawman (Kenneth Tobey) trying to coordinate the manhunt has to deal with abject incompetence and mind-boggling bureaucracy, as well as his own desire to relive his youth. There isn't a single sane person in this movie, but the tremendous stunts, crossed with the film's surprisingly easygoing atmosphere, have made this a car classic.