Looking for your next movie night selection?
Below is our top twenty list of best movies for car lovers. Make some popcorn, grab a fellow gear head and have a great night!
John Frankenheimer claims two spots on this list, starting with this operatic story set against the backdrop of Formula 1 racing and featuring some of the most intimate and unique racing footage audience had seen until then.
Playing San Francisco detective Frank Bullitt, Steve McQueen not only certified his own legendary status as a gearhead but set the template for cool, capable drivers for generations to come.
The Italian Job
Peter Collinson’s original utilizes the same car (itself rebooted 30+ years later) to stage a thrilling heist at the height of the “caper” era when every star in the world wanted to command his own crew for a job netting a big payday after taking big risks.
As Steven Spielberg’s first feature-length film, this story about a driver (Dennis Weaver) unrelentingly pursued by a tank truck across the Mojave Desert sometimes feels like a training course for a future virtuoso mastering the tools of his medium.
That this film and Vanishing Point arrived in the same year was a godsend for gearheads and moviegoers everywhere, even if neither film made much of an impression at the time at the box office. Hellman’s film follows the two automobile enthusiasts as they indulge their drifter’s lifestyle across the country.
As pure as any of those other films even set to a slightly poppier soundtrack, Vanishing Point earned its cult status honestly, combining propulsive rock & roll energy and existential reflection in a perfect balance.
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
It’s amazing how many risks stunt drivers took in the 1970s, in films that seemed to spend more money on destruction than on a script. John Hough’s 1974 adaptation of the 1963 novel "The Chase" features more action in its trailer than some of the movies on this list do in their entire run time.
Smokey and the Bandit
Burt Reynolds plays a bootlegger distracting the fuzz from his truck-driving partner as they attempt to carry a payload of Coors from Atlanta to Texarkana. Reynolds’ smirking, joyful, fourth-wall-breaking Bandit is as iconic a hero in this genre’s rogues gallery as any ever created, especially opposite Sally Field as an adorably sexy runaway bride captivated by her driver.
The cat-and-mouse game between O’Neal as the nameless title character and The Detective gives the film a fantastic dramatic charge - one almost as intense as the driving sequences themselves, which are delightfully rough in terms of narrow escapes and unhappy collisions, evoking an unforgiving but exhilarating sense of realism.
The Blues Brothers
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are on a cross-country trek to reunite their old band, and redeem their past misdeeds. The film’s focus on vehicles strictly emphasizes quantity over quality; Jake and Elwood drive a beat-up, decommissioned police car, and they’re pursued by several dozen cruisers that are all subsequently damaged or smashed.
The Cannonball Run
In an era recovering from and repurposing the artistic excess of the 1970s, Burt Reynolds starred in this maximalist comedy about an adventuresome ambulance driver and his daffy partner as they join a fictionalized, star-studded version of an actual cross-country outlaw road race.
The Road Warrior
Since putting three of the four Mad Max movies on one list feels indulgent, I opted for only two - the best two, for overlapping but largely different reasons. Where the original Mad Max handles automobile chases with virtuosity and intensity---in its sequel, he brings in an interesting variety not only of vehicles, but characters.
Days of Thunder
There’s no disputing that this film is a carbon-copy of Tom Cruise’s Top Gun transplanted into the world of NASCAR. Scott captures the energy in and out of the car with typical style, transforming every act into a competition, an opportunity or challenge to prove Cole’s worth - to everyone else, if not himself.
After helming Grand Prix more than 30 years earlier, director John Frankenheimer returned vividly to the world of high-speed car chases in Ronin. As complex as the politics of the film may be, its quietly escalating plotting maneuvers like clockwork, sending its all-star ensemble through set pieces that feel almost intellectual even when they’re operating purely viscerally.
Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift
What superficially goes through the motions of a fish-out-of-water story on the surface becomes a celebration of car culture, filtered through the candy-coated aesthetic of mid-2000s Japan, that pits Asian ingenuity against classic American automotive muscle, and lands on the right balance by the time its racers reach the finish line.
Borrowing heavily as he always does to craft something wonderfully unique, Quentin Tarantino paid tribute to the exploitation films of his youth with this thriller about a killer stuntman (Kurt Russell) whose unconventional weapon of choice is his car. Death Proof features some of the most exciting and positively joyful driving in movie history.
There’s a transcendent level of joy that literally none of the others on this list match - it doesn’t care what’s possible, it’s only interested in what looks and feels thrilling and entirely unique. So even if this seems silly (it is) or unrealistic (it definitely is), it occupies an essential place in car movie history, exploring the exhilarating outer edges of the genre and techniques used to bring it to life.
Mad Max Fury Road
Max Rockatansky’s story foregrounds relevant, palpable emotional conflicts that don’t revisit the horrors Max experienced in previous films but venture in intriguing new directions, while the filmmaker exercises every ounce of creativity to generate vehicular stunts, augmented but seldom created with CGI, that are exhilaratingly tangible.
As a devoted student of action spectacle, Edgar Wright turns a heist movie into a glorious cinematic mixtape both of classic film references and absolutely rocking songs. Wright’s endlessly inventive, animated cinematography extends to the choreography of the chase sequences, which showcase some incredible stunts but also an amazing way to keep action fresh and fun even as an homage to many iconic predecessors.
Ford v Ferrari
James Mangold’s story of Ford’s corporate, technological and ideological competition with the racing giant Ferrari follows in the footsteps on several other stories about the iconic Le Mans race, including Le Mans, starring Steve McQueen featuring footage taken during the real-life race.