Before the era of enhanced special effects and CGI, the American cinema relied on audience’s love for thrill-seeking and adventure in the form of automobiles. Imagine walking outside your front door, settling into the driver’s seat and racing at high speeds and throwing caution to the wind as you whip your car around the city streets, without a care in the world. It’s an entirely approachable form of wish-fulfilment and escapism that movies have captured for years. Here’s a list of famous automobile feature films, the cars and the scenes that made them so iconic.
The year: 1968
The scene: Hands down one of the most famous car scenes in Bullitt – and cinema – is the chase through the streets of San Francisco. Steve McQueen rips his Ford Mustang GT Fastback around the mountainous streets pursuing a couple of hitmen in a Dodge Charger R/T. Hubcaps spin off of their rims, shotgun bursts fly and an explosive gas station conclusion. Bullitt is also undeniable proof that Steve McQueen is the King of Cool.(Bede735 via Wikipedia)
2. The Italian Job
The year: 1969
The scene: If there was ever a movie that was an advertisement for the compact British automobile The Mini Cooper, it’s The Italian Job. It should come as no surprise that the best scene of The Italian Job is…the Italian Job. After our lovable scoundrels load up their Minis with their stolen gold and peel off through the streets of Turin. The Minis comically avoid law enforcement through shopping areas and on top of buildings until they reach their getaway coach.
3. American Graffiti
The year: 1973
The scene: Before Star Wars George Lucas’ claim to fame was American Graffiti, the coming-of-age story set in the 1960s. The most memorable scene to come out of this classic is probably the one where John Milner meets his rival Bob Falfa. After a bit of trash talking, the two of them race through the streets in Milner’s Deuce Coupe and Falfa’s 55 Chevy.
4. Two-Lane Blacktop
The year: 1971
The scene: Among other things, Two-Lane Blacktop marks James Taylor’s ONLY film credit. Seriously. Like many great car movies, the best scene of Two-Lane Blacktop is the drag race at the film’s conclusion. James Taylor’s character “The Driver” speeds his Chevy 150 down the strip, all sound fades out and it appears that the film projector melts the strip. Maybe not the climax cars fans want, but art is art.
5. Taxi Driver
The year: 1976
The scene: Ok, this one might be a bit of a cheat; but it DOES have “Taxi” in the title after all. Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough film about Vietnam vet turned vigilante Travis Bickle is a dark reflection of the seedier parts of New York City in the ‘70s. As Bickle prepares to became a one-man war on crime, he stares into the mirror and says “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you know the line.
6. Gone in 60 Seconds
The year: 1974
The scene: No we’re not talking about the Nicholas Cage movie, we’re talking about the genuine article written, directed and starring H.B. Halicki. The most recognizable scene once again comes at the end of the film. At the end of a lengthy police chase, our scoundrel hero Pace passes over a blockade of wrecked cars. Just to make sure you knew how important this moment was (and how lucky Pace was) we see this moment four different times from four different angles. And like any good scoundrel, Pace evades the law.
7. Smokey and the Bandit
The year: 1977
The scene: Burt Reynolds and his famous mustache star as the titular bandit, hired to haul beer across county lines while being hounded by “Smokey” – Sheriff Bufford T. Justice (what a name.) In a film that is arguably one long chase scene, one of the great scenes takes place in a diner. The Bandit stops in for a quick bite to eat, only to have Smokey cozy up right next to him. Smokey goes on and on about the man he’s chasing, with no idea whatsoever that the Bandit is right in front of his nose.
8. The Fast and the Furious
The year: 2001
The scene: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, The Fast and the Furious movies have endured as the car action franchise of the past decade. Though you can argue which one is superior, let’s just look at the original installment, whose best scene is one of its last. Bryan (Paul Walker)’s 1995 Toyota Supra Turbo against Dom (Vin Diesel)’s 1970 Dodge Charger R/T. They peel down the road and narrowly escape an oncoming train, only to have Dom clip the front of a semi, flipping the Charger over several times into a barrel roll. And of course, cop Bryan helps outlaw Dom out and allows him to escape.
The year: 2011
The scene: Though the classic car featured in this Ryan Gosling action movie is the ’73 Malibu, the scene to beat in Drive is the getaway chase in the stolen Ford Mustang 5.0 – a modern version of the Bullitt car. The pursuing Chrysler 3000 tries to knock the Driver off of the road but he shifts into reverse and outruns the guy. The Mustang might not outrun the 3000 in real life, but it’s still a hell of a scene.
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