For some folks, a car movie is all about the car. For others, including us, it can play a secondary but interesting role. Our Top 10 selections are necessarily subjective so your personal favorite may not be among them. But we guarantee… spend an evening with any of these classics (accompanied by an affectionate companion and a bottle of fine red wine) and your daily commute will never be the same again.
1) To Catch a Thief
What more could you ask than a cast that includes Cary Grant and Grace Kelly? How about a setting in the French Riviera? And how about that graceful Sunbeam Alpine convertible Ms. Kelly drives throughout the film? If he were alive, director Alfred Hitchcock might resent my implication that To Catch a Thief is a car movie but in the romantic sense it is. After all, it was he who set up the hilarious scene where a Citroen driven by the French police pursues Kelly’s Alpine along the Grand Corniche.
2) A Man and a Woman
A romance between a movie script girl and a race car driver who meet while visiting their children at boarding school, it features many scenes with Jean-Louis Trintignant at the wheel of a Mustang. Watch him performing spins on the sands of a Normandy beach and speeding through a rainy night to meet his new love after competing in the Monte Carlo Rallye. The early morning test scenes in a Ford GT40 are as real as it gets. Trintignant is the son of former F1 driver Maurice Trintingant.
One of our favorites; partly because we are McQueen fans; partly because we all love Jacqueline Bisset and finally because it features the greatest chase scene ever filmed. McQueen did most of his own driving, nothing faked or artificially speeded-up. When he flies over those blind crests and momentarily takes to the air, it’s real. When Steve’s Mustang drifts through the corners, it’s real.
4) Tucker, the Man and His Dream
A car movie that’s all about cars. Preston Tucker was a man who dreamed of becoming an auto manufacturer. His ambition was to build a more advanced car than the Big 3, including a rear-mounted V-8, headlights that turned with the front wheels, and a streamlined body. The film, produced by Tucker owner Francis Ford Coppola, stars Jeff Bridges and catalogs Tucker’s struggle to get prototypes on the road while battling forces beyond his control. Were GM, Ford, and Chrysler the bad guys?
A world-class race driver, Steve McQueen had an ambition to compete in the 24-Hours of LeMans, the toughest road race the world has ever known. But to the film studio he was an expensive commodity whose life should not be risked in such a hazardous sport. McQueen’s revenge was to produce a film which would transcend the corny storylines and flaming crash scenes typical of Hollywood race movies. The resulting epic is generally regarded as the best racing movie ever made.
6) Vanishing Point
Barry Newman is Kowalski, ex-marine, race car driver, cop. Kowalski is hired to deliver a car from Denver to San Francisco in less than 15 hours. Pursued by the cops, he is helped by a blind black DJ, Super Soul (Cleavon Little), who updates Kowalski’s progress on a local radio show, praising him as “the last American to whom speed means freedom of the soul.” With Super Soul’s help, he performs remarkable driving feats on-road-and-off, through some attractive though intimidating territory.
7) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The story of a car that could fly enchanted adults and children alike. Chitty is discovered as a derelict by a young brother and sister, who persuade their widowed father (Dick Van Dyke) to restore it. Joined by romantic interest “Truly Scrumptious” (Julie Andrews) the family begins a hilarious adventure, which becomes truly troublesome when the evil Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria attempts to steal Chitty. The car transforms itself into both hovercraft and aeroplane in this magical tale.
No one does car movies like John Frankenheimer, who also produced Grand Prix. Ronin (Robert deNiro) is an outcast hired to assemble a cast of specialist bad guys in Nice, France, in order to retrieve an important suitcase from a man who is about to sell it to the Russians. The chase scenes in this film are cliff-hangars, including scenes where Ronin drives a Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 at high speed on an expressway… in the wrong direction. A great suspense movie with fabulous car handling.
Dennis Weaver, traveling the lonely roads of the west, unintentionally angers the driver of a huge, nasty-looking semi. The truck begins tailgating him and no matter what Weaver does he can’t get away. Spielberg never reveals the driver as he films the semi from menacing angles. The scariest car movie ever made.
I would be negligent without recommending at least one James Bond film. Though most have included interesting cars and chases the best was, and still is, Goldfinger. Sean Connery drives an Aston-Martin DB5 kitted out with all of M’s weapons, which come in handy when Bond is pursued up a twisting Swiss mountain road.