There are many who think of cars as just a utility to get you from one place to another, and sure, that’s obviously true in the most fundamental sense; there is no other practical reason to own one. But cars have long since evolved into other things such as status symbols or expressions of personality, and one of the best places to see cars being worshipped, in these ways and others, is on the big screen. Sometimes, the vehicle in a film is central to the plot or becomes an icon in and of itself. With that in mind, here are 10 iconic cars from the world of cinema.
10. The 1958 Plymouth Fury from Christine (1983)
The aptly named Fury was the star of this John Carpenter film, based on the Stephen King novel. The quick version: a high school nerd buys and restores an old car to its former glory, but the car is possessed by an evil spirit that seduces said nerd, turns him into an overconfident and obsessive jerk, and then attempts to kill all the people who try to get between them. Also, evil spirit means supernatural powers, so get this: the car can repair itself. (Yet oddly it didn’t repair itself in the first place, and needed someone to buy and restore it.) The car is a beauty… too bad about, you know, all the murder. Fun fact: this film was parodied (among others) in an episode of Futurama, where Bender turns into a were-car.
9. The 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback from Bullitt (1968)
Bullitt seems more famous for the 10-minute car chase scene than for the car itself. Frank Bullitt is a lieutenant with the San Francisco Police Department. When a mob informant under his protection is gunned down, Bullitt pursues the hitmen in his car. At first, it’s a calm, observational prowling kind of chase, but once the jazz soundtrack cuts out, it’s pedal to the metal. No dialogue, just roaring engines and steep hills. The chase is tight, the cars get some air on each hill, hubcaps are flying off—it’s like playing 10 awesome minutes of Grand Theft Auto. There’s something about hearing the deep, heavy growl of a muscle car’s engine that tells your brain to release all the testosterone in your body at once.
8. Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters (1984)
Traffic in Manhattan can be nasty, but carrying around an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on your back is going to be a bit awkward on the subway. If you’re a scientist of the paranormal capturing ghosts for a living, you’re going to need a car, right? As Janine said on their first mission: “Oh, they’ll be totally discreet.” And here is said vehicular discretion: the Ecto-1. Tires squealing, lights flashing, and a weird siren blaring, this noisy, restored hearse (that is, a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor combination car) is loaded with all sorts of gadgetry to fight malevolent spirits, and all it needed was “some suspension work, and shocks, and brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear end…maybe new rings, also mufflers, [and] a little wiring.” In short, it was perfect. They don’t make ’em much wackier than this.
7. Greased Lightning from Grease (1978)
Systematic, hydromatic, and ultramatic, Kenickie’s car is Greased Lightning. It’s a 1948 Ford Deluxe, restored and souped up with, er, “borrowed” parts, and it’s the centrepiece of one of the more memorable musical numbers from Grease (oh, who are we kidding—they’re all memorable). Used primarily to impress girls and defeat rival greasers in drag races at Thunder Road, the car also appears as two versions of itself: the white one with silver lightning bolts, used for racing, and then the awesome red one with white lightning bolts, shown in the fantasy sequence while they’re singing “Greased Lightning,” and at the end, when the car flies away with Danny and Sandy. “If it were in any better condition, it would fly.” Looks like Mrs. Murdock was right about that.
6. The 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Cameron: “It is his love, it is his passion…”
Ferris: “It is his fault he didn’t lock the garage.”
And with those words, Ferris Bueller appropriates the object that propels the rest of the action in the film. While posing as his girlfriend Sloane’s father, he overconfidently kisses her in front of Principal Rooney, causing Rooney to chase him throughout the movie. The excess mileage on the car eventually leads to Cameron’s breakdown and subsequent determination to get his life in order and stand up to his father. But those plot points aside, the car is just gorgeous. How could anyone, especially someone as mischievous and cool as Ferris, ever resist it? “And I must be honest here, I love driving it. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
5. The 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum from Vanishing Point (1971)
This movie is the mother of all car chases. A car delivery driver named Kowalski finishes a job and immediately wants to start on his next one, a supercharged Dodge Challenger. He needs to drive from Denver to San Francisco, and makes a bet that he can do it by the next day at three in the afternoon, giving him about 15 hours to cover 1,250 miles. It’s doable, but only if you drive non-stop and break every speeding law… which is just about what he does, causing each state’s police to pursue him as he passes through. The car is a growling muscular beast, but it’s more than that—it’s really a symbol of liberty. The film reveals parts of Kowalski’s back story, which in turn reveals what, er, drives him (we can’t say much more without blowing the ending). It’s something of an existentialist statement on ’60s counterculture, all boiled down into an appropriately named Challenger.
4. The DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future (1986)
There are cars, and then there are cars that travel through time with the help of a little plutonium, a flux capacitor and reaching a nice calm speed of 88 miles per hour. In the real world, the DeLorean was a flop commercially, but it will forever be cool because of Back to the Future. The unpainted stainless steel body, the sleek-yet-hard design angles (seems very ’80s), and, of course, the gull-wing doors all increase the cool factor; as Doc Brown said, “If you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” It shot lasers before jumping though time and it left fiery skid marks in its wake. And it was eventually modified to fly! How much better does it have to get?
3. The Pursuit Special from Mad Max (1979)
Max Rockatansky is the top cop of Australia’s Main Force Patrol, who, with his fellow officers, tries to keep the roads safe from insane biker gangs in a dystopic future. The job is rough and he wants to resign, fearing for his sanity/humanity, but when his wife and son are killed by one such gang, he snaps and hunts them down in his Pursuit Special. Max’s car is a modified 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT 351. Sometimes referred to as a V8 Interceptor, this car uses nitro and churns out 600 horsepower, easily catching up to motorcycles. But while the car is impressive and roars with the best of them, what’s more interesting overall is how the cars Max drives reflect his psyche. He first drives a bright yellow Interceptor, when everything in his life is normal and on track, but the Pursuit Special is all black, and bigger, meaner, more aggressive. By the time we see it again in The Road Warrior, it’s been heavily modified and is worn and rusted out. Not bad for a car that doesn’t really get all that much screen time.
2. The Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger (1964)
This is the ultimate James Bond car, hands down. It debuted in Goldfinger and made return appearances in Thunderball, Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale and Skyfall. The gadgets available to Bond in this car are, these days, the stuff of spy movie legend: bulletproof windows, revolving licence plates, a radar tracker, smokescreen, oil slick, left and right front-mounted machine guns, tire slashers, and a passenger ejector seat by way of a concealed red button in the gearshift head/knob. To the older gamers reading this: ever play Spy Hunter? This is where that game got its inspiration from. Fun fact: Jerry Seinfeld drives a DB5 in the Julia Louis-Dreyfus episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
1. The Batmobile from Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)
There have been a lot of Batmobiles in the movies, and while the Tumbler from the Christopher Nolan films was badass, nothing really comes close to the iconic look of the Batmobile from the Tim Burton-directed Batman films. It was built on a Chevy Impala chassis and had a 1970 Corvette body, giving it sleek lines and curves, and it was super-low to the ground, making it stealthier in appearance. Then there are the gadgets! A grappling hook for sharp turns, spherical bombs that popped out from the wheels, bulletproof shielding (that can also withstand the aforementioned bombs), twin Browning machine guns under the fenders, shin breakers, disc launchers, oil slick, smokescreen, and voice command—it’s basically James Bond’s car, but for a guy in a bat suit. And it had an afterburner in the rear! It shot fire as it drove! Come on… it doesn’t really get much cooler than that.