Action and thriller movies have always been lauded for their epic car chases and stunts. In every action film, it seems like directors and producers try to outdo their predecessors by using bigger explosions, more technologically advanced vehicles, and more over-the-top action scenes.
But sometimes, less is more. In recent years, cars are becoming less and less memorable in action films and TV series. Can you tell me what kind of car Tom Cruise drives in the Mission: Impossible franchise? Or Jack Bauer from 24? Once upon a time - about 30 to 40 years ago - the vehicles that our favorite heroes drove were often just as much of a main character as the heroes themselves.
That is why most of the most memorable cars in film and television were usually muscle cars of the late '60s, '70s, and '80s. They were simply more appealing than today’s run-of-the-mill sportscar. When Americans saw the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit, everyone had to have one. There was a special appeal in these older cars that just isn’t emulated today. Here are 15 of the most memorable cars in movies and television.
15 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 - Back to the Future (1985)
Giorgetto Giugiaro designed the stunning DeLorean DMC-12 for John DeLorean, and with its wing-styled doors and sleek look, it was a visual masterpiece. The fact that it could travel time when it hit 88 MPH was even more stunning. Okay, so maybe the DeLorean wasn’t quite the supercar that it’s made out to be in Back to the Future, but there’s no doubting that it is one of the all-time iconic vehicles in cinema history.
The DeLorean flopped in the 1980s, despite its moviestar status, but it resurged and has since become a cult automobile, with its futuristic/retro design helping to bring back the DeLorean Motor Company.
14 1962 Volkswagen Beetle - The Love Bug (1968)
13 1966 Ford Thunderbird - Thelma & Louise (1991)
12 1982 Pontiac Trans Am - Knight Rider (1982 - 1986)
Knight Rider became a huge franchise, but the series that set it off in 1982 will always be the most memorable. Starring David Hasselhoff and his artificially intelligent, self-aware, nearly invincible Trans Am, KITT, the show was a huge success, and brought the anthropomorphic car back into the spotlight.
KITT was a customized 1982 T/A that cost about $100,000 to build (or $250,000 in today’s money), and was clearly borrowing from the hype of Smokey and the Bandit’s Trans Am from a few years earlier. At a time when the Trans Am was the most popular car in America, it only makes sense that producers would use that knowledge to their advantage, and thus, KITT was born.
11 1977 Ferrari 308 GTS - Magnum, P.I. (1980 - 1988)
10 1977 Pontiac Trans Am - Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Smokey and the Bandit director Hal Needham chose the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am to star in his legendary action-comedy, and America was sold immediately. After the movie debuted, sales for the car increased by about 30,000 cars from 1977 to 1978, and by 24,000 for 1979. Americans loved the “Starlight Black Special Edition” car because of what they’d seen in the movie: zipping and sliding around corners, leaping over broken bridges, and evading cops all over the countryside.
9 1975 Ford Gran Torino - Starsky & Hutch (1975 - 1979)
Originally, Starsky & Hutch creator William Blinn was going to have Starsky drive a Chevy Camaro convertible, but Ford was the loan-car suppliers for the production company. So they went with the legendary “red tomato,” two-door 1975 Gran Torino (complete with white “vector” stripe), and never looked back.
8 The Batmobile - Batman (1989)
This was a hard choice between the ‘60s-era Adam West Batmobile, and Tim Burton’s sleek car from 1989’s Batman. We went with the Michael Keaton-driven Batmobile because it just looks awesome, it most resembles the car from the animated series, and it was seriously badass in the movie.
7 1966 McLaren M6GT Custom - Hardcastle and McCormick (1983 - 1986)
6 1970 Dodge Charger - The Fast and the Furious (2001)
One of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time (and Universal’s biggest), The Fast and the Furious could be considered this generation’s James Bond films, largely because of the awesome cars.
5 1932 Ford Coupe - American Graffiti (1973)
Before George Lucas became a household name with the Star Wars franchise, he wrote and directed this 1973 coming-of-age story, which starred some seriously nifty hot rods. The film takes place in Modesto, California in 1962, and centers around the rock and roll culture among post-WWII baby boomers. Produced on a budget of $777,000, American Graffiti became one of the most profitable movies of all time, and was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
4 1973 XB GT Ford Falcon Interceptor - Mad Max (1979)
Arguably the best film series to come out of Australia, the dystopian Mad Max series has always sported some sweet cars, but none more so than the original Ford Falcon “Interceptor” in 1979’s Mad Max, starring Mel Gibson. From 1980 to 1999, George Miller’s film held the Guinness record for the most profitable film.
3 1969 Dodge Charger - The Dukes of Hazzard (1979 - 1985)
The '68-'70 Dodge Charger is clearly one of the most popular and iconic cars used in film, and The Dukes of Hazzard is really the show that started the craze. The #1 “General Lee,” as it was called, was an orange '69 Charger with a Confederate battle flag painted on the roof, which is apropro since it was named after the Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
2 1968 Mustang GT 390 - Bullitt (1968)
It’s been said that any car Steve McQueen drove, or even stood next to, became instantly cooler. That was the same with 1968’s Bullitt, in which McQueen drives around in a sweet ‘68 Mustang GT 390.
1 1964 Aston Martin DB5 Vantage - Goldfinger (1964)
Before there was Steve McQueen or Mel Gibson or David Hasselhoff, there was Sean Connery, as the British MI6 agent with the License to Kill - James Bond. The Bond films have always had the coolest, most technologically far-out cars in film, but the 1964 Aston Martin from Goldfinger takes the cake as the car that best epitomizes Bond’s coolness.
Goldfinger was the third and one of the most well-received Bond films. The ‘64 Aston Martin DB5 is the original supercar that all other 007 cars can be traced back from. It was also driven in Thunderball, and restored and driven in the final moments of 2015’s Spectre. Besides being visually stunning, the gadgets made this car spectacular: it came with machine guns, a ram bumper, ejector seat, smoke screen, oil-slick spray, and a map screen (foreshadowing today’s GPS).
Sources: Edmunds.com, PopularMechanics.com, MoviePilot.com
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