Earlier today, me and the rest of the gang were talking about some of the best car movies to watch during the Coronavirus outbreak. “We threw around many different ideas for the best car movies for this top five list,” explained Carl Anthony, Automoblog’s Managing Editor. “Ultimately, Tony Borroz on our team has the most experience, having worked in film and Motorsports for most of his life.”
So when Carl asked me to come up with a list, I went to work. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, here is what I came up with. I should say these aren’t unequivocally the best car movies of all time, and there are plenty more than just these five. Either way, now is a good time to grab some popcorn and watch one of these classics.
#1: American Graffiti
Set in Modesto, California, the George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola film has aged well. From a gearhead’s perspective, it’s a wonderful movie not just because of the cars alone, but because of what particular cars we see on screen: Milner’s yellow Deuce Coupe, Falfa’s menacing ’55 Chevy, The Pharaohs’ Merc, and “The Blonde’s” Thunderbird. So choice!
The music is right for the film’s subject matter, with the original soundtrack featuring the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, The Platters, Chuck Berry, and The Beach Boys. The acting is just what it should be from a bunch of people who became superstars: Richard Dreyfus, Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, and Suzanne Somers. Wolfman Jack, a staple on the radio at the time, appears as himself.
It’s a perfect movie for gearheads but still a great movie for everyone else. American Graffiti, which came out in 1973, later inspired David Fincher when we was directing Fight Clubin 1999.
Steve McQueen’s ode to the most famous sports car race in the world is hard to fault, especially when it comes to the cars. Real Porsche 917s, believable replicas of Ferrari 512s, Lolas, support-category 911s, and little French heaps. From a car spotters’ perspective, this movie just doesn’t stop.
The cinematography is innovative and compelling, and much of the movie was shot during the actual running of the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans. Whether you know much about racing or not won’t really matter. Like how people who know very little about cars can still get into The Fast and the Furious, you don’t have to be a racing scholar to enjoy Le Mans (although there are books if you want to become a racing scholar).
At the end of the day, this movie is as cool as the guy who starred in it.
Often overlooked, Two Lane Blacktop tells the story of three guys and a drag racing grudge. Starring the great Warren Oates, Dennis Wilson, and James Taylor – yes, Dennis Wilson, the drummer from The Beach Boys and folk singer James Taylor. Oddly enough, Wilson and Taylor did not provide any contributions to the film’s soundtrack.
The real soundtrack is with the cars in Monte Hellman’s 1971 road movie. Oates drives a GTO Judge and Wilson and Taylor are driving a mean ’55 Chevy with a high-rise, double pumper setup. Look familiar? It should. It’s the same one Harrison Ford drove in American Graffiti.
Where to Watch:Amazon (DVD or VHS [yes, really] only)
Rush is Ron Howard’s tale of racing’s two unlikeliest frenemies, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). Fantastically shot and wonderfully edited, Rush is a no-nonsense look at Grand Prix racing in the mid-70s and just how far a guy (Lauda) would go to win. Lauda squares off against Hunt who was a good-time party boy 24/7 and still a winner.
Like Le Mans, you don’t have to be a racing genius to appreciate the storytelling here. I have been around and worked in professional Motorsports my entire life, and I have found at least one thing is true: drivers are, generally, a taciturn bunch. They don’t talk much. And when they do, it’s not about their feelings or what it’s like to crash and almost die.
Ron Howard, in his directing of Rush, is able to tell this in a way few films have. It’s a better modern racing movie than Ford v Ferrari, and deserves to be considered one of the best, along with Le Mans.
This isn’t a car movie and it’s not a racing movie, but it has some of the craziest driving in a movie you’ll see. A remake of the French film The Wages of Fear, Sorcerer is the story of three guys with nothing to lose, willing to risk their lives to get out of debt by driving a convoy of broken down trucks full of dangerously unstable nitroglycerine through the South American jungle.
The scene of them driving across a rickety rope bridge in the middle of a torrential downpour is frightening. Then again, Sorcerer was directed by William Friedkin, the guy who made The Exorcist, so he should know frightening.
This list should keep you busy for at least five nights of the Coronavirus lockdown. Let us know what car movies you are watching and if you agree with our list on Twitter. Until then, stay safe, stay home, and wash your hands!
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.