Car culture is a diverse mix of style, passion, science, art, and competition that makes for some fantastic stories. Filmmakers have used cars, car chases, and automotive culture on more than a few occasions as the basis for movies that have gone on to become classics. Well-made cinema of this type is usually a hit with general moviegoers. For auto enthusiasts, though, they can become all-time cult classics. Here are 10 of the Best Revhead Films around.
10. American Graffiti (1973)
George Lucas’ look at life for a group of Northern California high school students contemplating a future after graduation in the late-1950s made for a compelling story. But the cars the kids drove were what resonated about the film. The yellow 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe driven by main character John Milner, played by Paul Le Mat, became an icon among classic hot rod enthusiasts. A custom 1958 Chevrolet Impala and 1956 Ford Thunderbird driven by supporting actors and a 1955 Chevy driven by Bob Falfa, played by Harrison Ford, further added to the automotive eye candy. The ’50s soundtrack is also pretty catchy, if you ask us! If you’re a ’32 lover, follow our three-part Deuce feature with Waldwick Auto and Bert Emick.
9. Le Mans (1971)
Porsches, check. Ferraris, check The world’s most famous endurance race, check. And Steve McQueen (as fictional racer Michael Delaney) in the prime of his career, double check. It’s hard to imagine this formula not being a hit. Filmed in France in 1970 at the Circuit de la Sarthe where the 24 Hours of Le Mans is run, this now-celebrated movie was actually a flop at the box office when it was new. In the decades since its release, however, it has grown to be a cult classic among sports car fans. That’s partially due to the Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s and partially due to McQueen’s lasting appeal as the “King of Cool.”
8. Days of Thunder (1990)
NASCAR experienced significant growth in popularity through the 1990s and early 2000s. Although many factors went into that boom for the sport, a movie starring Tom Cruise as a NASCAR driver just as he became a huge Hollywood star didn’t hurt. Although the story of untamed racer Cole Trickle, played by Cruise, is mostly predictable, it’s also very entertaining. Cameos from real NASCAR drivers like Richard Petty and Rusty Wallace added to the fun. The film also gave us classic quotes like “Rubbin’ is racin,’” and “Hit the pace car!”
7. Cannonball Run (1981)
Take big-name stars of the 1970s and 1980s like Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, Terry Bradshaw, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. And now have them race from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States. While the result was a mix of amusing and eccentric, it’s still an enjoyable movie. Machines like a Ferrari 308, a Lamborghini Countach, a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, and a 1970s NASCAR stock car used in the event also contributed to the movie’s quirky appeal.
6. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
This film helped launch the careers of Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker. It also welcomed a new generation of performance enthusiasts. While this movie starred foreign cars like a Toyota Supra, a Mitsubishi Eclipse, and a Mazda RX-7 in contrast to American cars in gearhead movies of the past, it still had the same spirit of excitement as the classics. The sport compact boom that can still be felt in the US today was lifted from the popularity of this film.
5. Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Most people hear the title of this movie and think of the 2000 version starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie. Although the modern film carried on the essence of the original, the 1974 version ticked the right boxes when it came to gearhead classics. It had car chases, loads of action, and desirable cars ranging from a Lotus Europa S1, a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, and a Lamborghini Miura, to a Plymouth Barracuda, a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, and the now iconic “Eleanor” Ford Mustang.
4. Vanishing Point (1971)
You know a movie is a cult classic when a vehicle that appeared in it becomes associated with it for decades after its release. That’s the case with the white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T driven by Vanishing Point’s main character, a former race car driver simply known as Kowalski. To this day, it’s not uncommon for both classic and modern white Challengers to be referred to as “Vanishing Point Challengers.” The film itself, in which Kowalski is chased from western Colorado towards California, features loads of action, excellent car chases, and a rebellious spirit that’s tough not to enjoy.
3. Ronin (1998)
A heist movie starring Robert De Niro and cars like a BMW 535s and an Audi S8 doesn’t sound like a typical car movie. And it wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t still thrilling to watch! Director John Frankenheimer brought in dozens of stunt drivers, including former Formula One racer Jean-Pierre Jarier, to get behind the wheel of mostly European sports sedans for the movie’s high-adrenaline chase scenes. If you’ve never heard of or had interest in this one, it’s definitely worth checking out.
2. Smokey & the Bandit (1977)
This film helped elevate Burt Reynolds to mainstream superstardom and made the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am one of the most iconic cars of its generation. It’s the story of Bo “Bandit” Darville, played by Reynolds, in the TransAm and Cledus “Snowman” Snow in an 18-wheeler, and their quest to deliver a truckload of Coors beer to Georgia, where it was illegal to sell at the time. The car stunts and action, humor, and charm of Reynolds made it a success of major proportions. It was such a hit, in fact, that only one film was more successful in 1977. That film? The original Star Wars!
1. Bullitt (1968)
Overall, Bullitt was an OK movie (lower those fightin’ fists!). So why, then, is it the number one gearhead film on this short list? Two reasons: Steve McQueen and the greatest car chase to ever appear in a Hollywood film. McQueen plays San Francisco police Lieutenant Frank Bullitt who is given the task of protecting an organized crime informant so he can testify at a trial. When the informant is assassinated, Bullitt goes after the killers. When McQueen, in a 1968 Ford Mustang GT, spots the assassins, driving a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, a chase through the hills of San Francisco ensues. The action, sound, and excitement of the chase is still the standard by which all car chases are judged. And while the car action is the centerpiece of the film, the final scene is a thriller as well.