The best movie cars ever
These are the top 30 best cars from famous films, as chosen by you
Whether encapsulating the freedom of the open road, giving unspoken extra detail as an extension of character or used simply as a prop to set the scene, the car has long been used in film to great effect.
A golden era of ‘car films’ can be roughly plotted as existing somewhere between the late 1960s and early 1990s – a period when the output of car manufacturers was wide and varied and – arguably – much more characterful than today’s offerings.
It’s no surprise then that our list of the Best Film Cars, the first 12 voted for by Carbuyer readers, should include both a hot-rod Chevy and a Peugeot 406; there’s a car to suit every role and when filmmakers get it right, the results can be spectacular.
There are a few famous omissions from our list, but we’ve tried to include some automotive stars that perhaps don’t get the recognition they deserve. However, some cars were simply too iconic not to feature – as the results of our poll seem to confirm.
1. Mini Cooper S – The Italian Job
The Mini’s starring role in The Italian Job helped to fortify its place in popular culture, not to mention providing a cheeky British charm that fitted right in with the tone of the plot. The film’s feature-length car chase sees the three Minis perform some of the most memorable driving stunts in film history.
2. Ford Mustang – Bullitt
The 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback driven by Frank Bullitt – played by Steve McQueen – in the 1968’s Bullitt is one of the most recognisable muscle cars in cinema. Driven in anger in pursuit of a Dodge Charger R/T through the streets of San Francisco, the car’s debadged grille, ‘Highland Green’ paintwork and roaring V8 made it an instant, menacing icon.
3. DeLorean DMC-12 – Back to the Future
If earlier versions of Back to the Future’s script had been stuck to, its iconic automotive centrepiece could have been replaced by a fridge – luckily, that wasn’t the case and the DeLorean DMC-12 went on to become one of the most beloved on-screen cars ever. The DMC-12’s starring role has made it a cult classic despite its flaws as a car.
4. Shelby GT500 – Gone in 60 Seconds
Gone in 60 Seconds – a 2000 remake of the original film of the same name – featured a heavily customised Shelby GT500 in a starring role. Set apart by its modern bodykit, large wheels and silver paintwork, the car’s significance in the film was matched by its instantly unforgettable on-screen presence.
5. Audi S8 – Ronin
As the preferred vehicle of a specialist driver in a team of estranged ex-special forces agents depicted in the 1998 thriller Ronin, full use was made of the Audi S8’s 355bhp, 4.2-litre V8 and quattro four-wheel drive system. It resulted in some of the most exciting car chase scenes ever committed to film. Other large, powerful cars to join in on the action included a BMW M5 and a Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9.
6. Toyota Supra – The Fast and the Furious
With its loud graphics, bright paint and huge spoiler, the modified Toyota Supra featured in The Fast and Furious cemented the early-2000s car modification scene in the minds of an entire generation. Other fan favourites from the film included modified examples of the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Honda Civic and Volkswagen Jetta.
7. Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Film-lovers can’t think of the 1986 John Hughes film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off without picturing a bright-red Ferrari blasting through the streets of Chicago. Most of the cars used in the film were replicas (one of which sold in 2013 for over $230,000), but the genuine article was used to film close-ups.
8. Pontiac Firebird – Smokey and the Bandit
Muscle cars have been a cornerstone of film since they first arrived in the 1960s, but few are as iconic as the black-and-gold Pontiac Firebird starring in 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit. None of the four cars supplied for use in the film survived filming, but an original promotional car sold in 2016 for over half a million dollars.
9. Dodge Challenger – Vanishing Point
Much like Two-Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point was a film with a focus on the enduring appeal of the open road. A white Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum was the star of the show and has since become an icon of 1970s cinema. A Jaguar E-Type also makes an appearance in the film, albeit rather briefly.
10. Dodge Monaco – The Blues Brothers
Famous for its great music, dry humour and comically-destructive car chases, 1980’s The Blues Brothers can also be remembered for its star car – a clapped-out 1974 Dodge Monaco police car with a speaker strapped to the roof that was used by the film’s main characters on their ‘mission from God’.
11. Peugeot 406 – Taxi
A Peugeot 406 is the last car you’d expect to take pride of place in an action film all about speed, but the car’s star turn in the 1998 action-comedy film Taxi relies precisely on unlikeliness. As a modified taxi with a souped-up engine, aerodynamic aids and even automatic rear-seat sick bags, the car was a great visual gag in itself – albeit one that features in some great car chases.
12. ‘55 Chevrolet Bel Air – Two-Lane Blacktop
With singer-songwriter James Taylor in the leading role, Route 66 as the backdrop and a fully drag-prepped Chevy Bel Air as the automotive star, Two-Lane Blacktop is a film that captured the feel of 1970s America perfectly. Other period-correct cars featured in the film include a Pontiac GTO and a Chevrolet El Camino.
13. Subaru Impreza WRX – Baby Driver
For such a well-known performance car, it’s surprising the Subaru Impreza has rarely had a leading role in Hollywood, but Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver of 2017 changed that. The bright red rally-inspired saloon features in the film’s first act, driven spectacularly by “Baby”, a talented getaway driver played by Ansel Elgort.
14. 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood – Ghostbusters
You can now buy the Ghostbusters’ 1959 Cadillac, part ambulance and part hearse, better known as Ecto-1, as a Lego kit - and that’s as good a sign of the car’s significance as any. Dan Akroyd’s character bought the car in the film for only $4,800, and fitted it with everything the team needed to deal with New York City’s paranormal problems...
15. Aston Martin DB5 – 007: Goldfinger
There are more James Bond cars than there have been James Bond actors, but indisputably the most famous is the silver Aston Martin DB5 that featured in Goldfinger. From the scene overlooking the Furka Pass, to ejecting one of Goldfinger’s henchmen from the passenger seat, the high-tech DB5 tweaked by Q is perhaps the perfect 007 ride. It’s featured in a few of the more recent movies too.
16. Tumbler – Batman: The Dark Knight
Like Ecto-1, Batman’s Tumbler is another vehicle that’s since been immortalised in Lego. Unlike George Barris’s Batmobile from the 60s or the art deco interpretation from the Tim Burton films, the Tumbler suited the grittier Christopher Nolan-era character. It was a military prototype more like a tank than a car, but did retain previous Batmobiles’ jet engines at the back.
17. Lotus Esprit – 007: The Spy Who Loved Me
The Lotus Esprit appears in a couple of Bond films but none more iconic than The Spy Who Loved Me. The white Esprit looked good on the road, but its star moment came when Bond plunges the car into the sea, at which point it becomes a submarine - before driving out again later onto a beach. “Wet Nellie” is currently owned by Tesla founder Elon Musk.
18. Volkswagen Beetle – Herbie The Love Bug
‘A Volkswagen with a mind of its own. Driving all over the place and going mad. If that isn't scary, I don't know what is’ said Father Dougal in the comedy show Father Ted. When you put it like that, perhaps Herbie, the anthropomorphic 1963 Beetle, isn’t quite as free-spirited as you remember, though it’s arguably gone on to inspire more replicas than any other movie car.
19. Chevrolet Camaro – Transformers
In the earliest Transformers media, Bumblebee was a Volkswagen Beetle - well, you can see what they were going for. But the transforming robot is now best recognised as a yellow and black late-model Chevrolet Camaro, a car that already looks like it’s part-way through transformation.
20. Ford Econoline van – Dumb and Dumber
It’s difficult to tell what’s underneath the furry “Mutt Cutts” livery on Harry and Lloyd’s van in Dumb and Dumber but we assure you it’s nothing more glamorous than a 1984 Ford Econoline van. We’re sure none of the dogs sliding around in the back in the film’s opening scenes were any the worse for their experience!
21. Lightning McQueen – Cars
Okay, so Lightning McQueen doesn’t exist in the real world (or does he?), and isn’t based on any one vehicle in particular, but the anthropomorphic star of the Cars movie has to be up there as a famous movie vehicle. Voiced by Owen Wilson, the smiling red stock car McQueen was surrounded by other recognisable vehicles throughout the film, from “Doc” Hudson Hornet to Sally Carrera, a 996-generation 911.
22. AMC Pacer – Wayne’s World
The AMC Pacer was masterfully chosen as Garth’s “Mirth mobile” in 1992’s Wayne’s World. An ironic classic today, it would have been deeply uncool in the early 90s, perfectly suiting the character. But the scene in which Wayne and Garth sing along to Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the great moments in cinema, and made the Pacer an icon.
23. Ford LTD Country Squire – National Lampoon’s Vacation
The Griswold family’s car was never referred to as a Ford in the National Lampoon movie series - instead, the “Family Truckster” was carefully crafted by the producers as a kind of generic and deeply unappealing family wagon of the era, complete with pea-green paint and faux-wood panelling - and the butt of plenty of jokes.
24. 1966 Ford Thunderbird – Thelma & Louise
The car wasn’t really the star in 1991’s Thelma & Louise - that undoubtedly goes to the story of escape, friendship and strength of the two central characters. But their 1966 Ford Thunderbird is literally a vehicle for that story, a perfect representation of their journey, and it ultimately meets the same end as Thelma and Louise in the movie’s final scene.
25. 1948 Ford De Luxe – Grease
There is a point when just about everybody wanted Greased Lightnin’, Danny Zuko’s 1948 Ford hot rod in the 1978 musical Grease. In retrospect, Leo’s 1949 Mercury looked much cooler, but it’s the wildly over-the-top red Ford from the eponymous song that everyone remembers - and it’s the one in which Danny and Sandy fly away (for some reason) at the end of the movie.
26. 1954 Lincoln Futura – Batman: The Movie
George Barris created some of cinema’s most iconic cars but none are more recognisable than the 1954 Lincoln Futura dressed up for the campy 1960s Batman film. The Futura was actually only ever a concept car, making it even more perfect as the Batmobile, complete with its iconic jet-age wings and double canopy cockpit.
27. 1958 Plymouth Fury – Christine
A possessed car in a film is nothing new; it was the theme behind 1977’s “The Car” mentioned above, and you could put an argument forward for Herbie too. But Christine is among the best known, with the appropriately named Fury the antagonist continually attempting to murder the human characters. Maybe don’t buy one...
28. 1966 Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider – The Graduate
The Alfa Spider in 1967’s The Graduate is a good example of a car getting disproportionate recognition for the size of its role in a film. It was probably the perfect car for Dustin Hoffman’s character though, and the scene driving over San Francisco’s bay bridge to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs Robinson” would make anyone want to be in Hoffman’s shoes.
29. Johnny Cab – Total Recall
There are plenty of memorable scenes in 1990’s Total Recall but one that stands out is the one in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character Douglas Quaid wakes up in the back of an autonomously-driven “Johnny Cab” - and later in the movie, commandeers one to escape from the men chasing him. Little more than two minutes of screen time but very memorable indeed.
30. 1971 Lincoln Continental MkIII – The Car
For those of a certain age “The Car” will be more familiar to you from Futurama’s parody, where wise-cracking robot Bender gets run down by a “wear-car” and becomes a deadly machine himself. But the scowling, demonically possessed car from the original 1977 movie was actually a Lincoln Continental MkIII.
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