Cars have long played an important role in film. Of course, they transport our characters to different locations, but they are also used as locations themselves. The kind of car a protagonist or villain drives can tell us a lot about them.
In addition to that, many of us just like cars, too. We find them interesting and we enjoy seeing Hollywood transform something any of us could buy into a crime-fighting, otherworldly device. Cars are fast, fun, and add a lot of excitement to movies. And so, here is a list of some of the most thrilling cars ever put to screen. These are technological wonders — this list includes flying cars, diving cars, cars that can disappear, and an abundance of cars made for fighting bad guys.
So, buckle up, grab the wheel, turn on the air-conditioning, and join us for a walk-through of the 14 Most Extreme Cars in Movies.
And stay tuned ’til the end for a few of the least extreme cars as well!
James Bond’s Vanishing Vanquish in Die Another Day (2002)
Rewind to 2002. Daniel Craig was acting on stage and co-starring in Hollywood films like Road to Perdition, but was not yet a household name stateside. Pierce Brosnan was James Bond, always looking only slightly perturbed, like he had an oscillating fan blowing in his face.
In the 20th film of the franchise (and what would become Brosnan’s swan song as the secret agent), Die Another Day featured ice palaces, space lasers, and diamond-encrusted henchmen. It was over-the-top even by 007 standards, so the movie needed a car that would fit the bill.
And boy, they found it.
The car was a 2002 Aston Martin Vanquish, a gorgeous grand touring coupe from the heralded British car company. The squat stance and flared arches communicated an aggressive yet sophisticated presence, perfect for Bond. And like every Bond car before it, the Aston was equipped with some pretty neat gadgets, like mini-turrets that popped out of the hood, rockets in the grill, and… an invisibility cloak? Yes, the makers of the movie thought it’d be a good idea to give Bond a car with, to put it in military terms, “adaptive camouflage.”
Audiences and critics weren’t too hot on it though, seeing it as inane plot-hole filler and the final straw in the mediocre flick. It also took away from the relative realism of the James Bond universe. Sure, there had been unbelievable characters and stunts in the past, but the invisible Aston was just too much for many viewers.
Xander Cage’s Pontiac GTO in XXX (2002)
When it comes to saving the world from Eastern European thugs, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) chooses to ride in a blueberry-blue 1967 Pontiac GTO, replete with rocket launchers and a nitrous boost.
Xander Cage lives for excitement: He documents his professional daredevil stunts with the help of a film crew, and they have viewing parties afterwards with the local hip and edgy crowd. Xander’s so cool, his parties include guys doing skateboard tricks in his apartment. He doesn’t mind. And it’s this cavalier attitude that the US government sees, and likes. Cage is recruited and put through a rigorous training program to become a special agent for a top-secret government branch, and is then sent on a mission to stop a group of Euro baddies from unleashing chemical warfare.
The Tumbler Batmobile in The Dark Knight Trilogy
Somewhere between a stealth fighter and a piece of construction equipment, the Tumbler iteration of the Batmobile is a wonderfully alien presence on the streets of Gotham. Its rear tires are massive 44” mudders, while those up front resemble street slicks and employ left and right independent suspensions for better approach. Planks of matte black bulletproof material jag the length of the machine, making it at once intimidating and aerodynamic.
It has all the usual weaponry Batman needs to halt diabolical villains, and in one particularly grand chase scene in The Dark Knight, Batman crashes the Tumbler in a city tunnel network, only to jettison forward from the rubble in his Bat Pod two-wheeler. Yes, the left side of the Tumbler’s frame hides a motorcycle, so he can pursue even when the tank-like car is disabled.
Chevy Monster Truck in Tango & Cash (1989)
L.A. police detectives Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Cash (Kurt Russell) don’t like each other. They are elite cops trying to uphold the law in a chaotic world, but their egos can’t share the same room. Add to that, they have totally different styles: Tango is a smooth, well-dressed hombre, while Cash employs rougher tactics and likes to skirt procedure. But when crime boss Yves Perret (Jack Palance) sees the two messing with his empire, he devises a way to set up the veteran cops by framing them for the death of an undercover FBI agent. Tango and Cash are thrown in jail, where many of the con-men they’d arrested now reside. They must work together if they are to survive prison and ultimately take down Perret.
At one point in the movie, Cash employs a heavily armored assault vehicle as his ride of choice. It features huge off-road tires, a driver-side mounted mini-gun, and a full cage. The vehicle was in actuality a one-off custom job, likely built on a Chevrolet K-series frame, with the bodywork based on the car company’s eighties Blazer concept vehicle.
Eleanor in Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
In the 2000 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, master car thief Randall “Memphis” Raines (Nicholas Cage) and his crew are ordered to steal fifty exotic cars in a limited amount of time and deliver them to a shipping yard. Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston), a British gangster known as “The Carpenter” for his affinity for building coffins, is holding Memphis’s brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) hostage until the job is complete. Each of the cars is located in a different part of LA, and the team gets to work mapping them and assigning them nicknames — women’s names. Some of the more interesting picks include a 1988 Porsche 959 (“Virginia”), a 1999 Mercedes-Benz CL 600 (“Donna”), and a 1998 Toyota Supra Turbo (“Lynn”). Somehow, Memphis and company are able to steal forty-nine out of fifty cars with little issue. The last ride on the list is Eleanor, a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500. Memphis has a great deal of love and respect for this car, and in one scene, as he’s being chased by the police on his way to the shipping yard, he coos and apologizes to the machine any time it gets dinged up or loses a side mirror.
As cheesy as the movie is, the cars showcased are awesome. And the ’67 Shelby is one of the best. Between the model’s inception in 1965 and Ford’s takeover of the custom shop in 1969, Shelby Mustangs were being amped up under the expert supervision of the man himself, Carroll Shelby. The legendary car aficionado and entrepreneur got his start in the fifties as a Formula One driver. He was quite good at that, but retired in 1959 and started his eponymous company. His debut model was a breakthrough: He had the idea to have British carmaker AC Motors affix a huge V8 engine inside its compact roadster, and then he would import it to America. It was the AC Cobra, and it had a monumental impact on motoring and motor sport.
After that, he helped Ford create the GT 350 and GT 500, which were Mustangs given the high-performance treatment. He spent the rest of his life working with Ford and Dodge, to build some of the most exciting muscle cars on the road.
The first year it was offered, the 1967 GT 500 is still seen by many as being the ultimate American sports car: it combines the classic pony car design with a monstrous seven-liter V8 engine. Gone in 60 Seconds introduced new generations to the rare and highly sought-after ‘Stang.
Tornado-thumping Dodge Ram 2500 in Twister (1996)
As Jurassic Park was for Mercedes-Benz and Transformers for GM, Twister was an eye-popping PR bonanza resting squarely on a single Dodge truck. It’s not just any truck though, as the movie reminds you again and again. It’s a heavy-duty version of Dodge’s full-size Ram, slapped with red paint and standing tall thanks to mighty ground clearance. It’s the hero vehicle, owned by meteorologist Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt), which she and her estranged husband, weather reporter Bill Harding (Bill Paxton), drive squarely through multiple tornadoes. They’re not just storm-chasers who get too close by accident: Sitting in the bed of the truck is their co-creation, a machine called DOROTHY, that is built to release dozens of sensor balls into the eye of a tornado so its makeup can be mapped and progress can be made in early storm detection and advisory.
The truck gets stuck on a downed tree, drives through an exploded tanker, and careens through fields and rivulets to chase — and evade — huge storm funnels. The rugged design of the mid-nineties Ram fits perfectly in a disaster film like this.
Bond’s Remote-controlled BMW 750iL in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
While most of James Bond company cars are sleek, impractical supercars (see the Aston Martin and Lotus also on this list), his car of choice in Tomorrow Never Dies was, on the surface, a pretty staid choice. It was a big, lumbering BMW 750iL, which in 1998 was the German carmaker’s top-of-the-line model. It had an autobahn-ready V12 engine, a huge boot, and refined interior appointments. Quite nice, but its outer dimensions were more reminiscent of a 4,600 lb toaster.
But under all that executive folderol, the skunkworks at Mi6 altered the sedan into what may be the most tech-laden Bond car ever. There were “typical” features — glove compartment safe, Stinger missiles hidden in the roof — and the more extreme, such as re-inflating tires, a metal cutter hidden in the badge, and a security system that would send an electric pulse through the sheet metal if thieves got too close. But the most incredible bit that set this thing apart was its remote control feature. Bond could operate the car using his cell phone (no small feat with 1997 technology).
In one memorable scene in a parking garage, Bond evades baddies who stand between him and his ride by navigating it past them, leaping into the backseat, and driving it out of harm’s way while he’s crumpled up in the back seat.
Doc Brown’s DeLorean DMC-12 in Back to the Future (1985)
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute, Doc,” a surprised Marty McFly says, “Ah… Are you telling me that you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?”
The car that got the attention of McFly was pretty amazing, even leaving out the whole time-travel thing. The DeLorean DMC-12 was the only model made by the DeLorean Motor Company. It was produced and sold between 1981 and 1983. Manufactured in Ireland, about 8,500 were produced. It was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, one of the great automobile designers (other works of his include the gorgeous De Tomaso Mangusta and the Maserati Coupe).
The DeLorean had a straight-line, modern design, with sharp angles, a brushed stainless steel body (it couldn’t rust), and its signature gull-wing doors. It was a low-slung two-door coupe, standing about as tall as a Lamboghini Murcielago, or a TV cabinet. It was a good-looking car and, thanks to Back to the Future, it’s been cemented in western pop culture.
It wasn’t particularly fun to drive (unless you got it over 88 mph), nor was it the most reliable car on the road, but this one, at least, could travel through time. As Doc Brown put it best: “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” And style it had.
Bond’s Lotus Esprit Submersible in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Look at pictures of a DeLorean and a first generation Lotus Esprit next to each other and you’ll see a similar design. It’s no coincidence: Both were designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Beneath the skin though, it was another story. The Esprit was more of a bona fide sports car than the DeLorean, a pedigree that came thanks to Lotus’ illustrious racing heritage.
Painted in white for 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, the Esprit resembled a shark. It was low, angular, and had a wide front air dam that looked like a snout. Good thing, because for the James Bond picture they turned the thing into an amphibious vehicle (ie. a submarine).
It looked even more at home underwater than on land, and was equipped with enough lethal technology to make a great white blush. Features included torpedoes, mines, surface-to-air missiles, and a squid-like black ink discharger. The little Lotus transformed into a sub with the flip of a switch: The lower half of the body would fold in neatly, and fins would slide out of the wheel wells. This was one of the neatest and most memorable Bond-mobiles ever.
Concept Dodge M4s Interceptor in The Wraith (1986)
The Dodge Interceptor gained some acclaim for being featured prominently in the 1986 independent movie The Wraith, which starred Charlie Sheen. A streamlined, $1.5 million supercar from the future, Dodge only made four Interceptors. The vehicle never went into production, but each of the prototypes were fully operational and capable of supercar-like performance. And in an action thriller like The Wraith, the Interceptor was appropriately menacing.
Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes) and his gang of drag-racers control an Arizona town, harassing drivers and evading the police. Teenager Jamie Hankins is dating Keri Johnson (Sherilyn Fenn), the girl who Packard wishes was his. Jamie is murdered under strange circumstances, though the town knows who is to blame for his demise. Then, one day a new kid comes into town. Jake Kesey (Sheen) tracks down the gang and, with the help of his futuristic Interceptor, beats them one-by-one in drag races that all end with the loser perishing in a fiery crash. Jake and Packard finally square off, as Packard is readying to take Lori with him out-of-town. But Jake wins, bringing Packard’s crime wave to an end. He gives the supercar’s keys to Lori’s little brother, and rides off with her on a motorcycle into the horizon.
The Weasley Family Ford in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
The Ford Anglia was a small and likable car that was featured prominently in the second Harry Potter film. Brothers Ron, Fred, and George Weasley “borrow” their parents’ Anglia to go and retrieve Harry from the Dursleys’ home at 4 Privet Drive. Naturally, they fly there. The boys’ father Arthur had enchanted the little car so that it could fly and become invisible. It helped Harry to escape the muggles and to begin his odyssey at Hogwarts.
The postwar Americana style of the little car was a great fit for such a fantasy world. Built in England, the fourth generation of the car was manufactured between 1959 and 1966. The model used in the film is a 1960 Anglia 105E Deluxe: The 105E is the designation for fourth-gen models, while the Deluxe refers to the outside paint scheme (Popular and Super were other trim options). It differentiated itself in other ways too: it had a refreshed front fascia with bugeye headlamps and a chrome grill, a flat roofline for better headroom, and an inline four-cylinder engine.
Ecto-1: The Ghostbusters’ Retrofitted Cadillac
The Ghostbusters needed plenty of space to carry their Proton Packs, Ecto Goggles, and other detection and containment equipment for driving around and hunting ghosts. After Dr. Ray Stanz (Dan Ackroyd) purchased the firehouse as their base of operations, he discovered a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance in a state of disrepair. Ray bought the car for $4,800 and fixed it up himself. He did work on the brakes, transmission, mufflers, suspension, steering system, and a little wiring. After that, the Ecto-1 was up and running, ready to take down the ghouls of New York City.
The ’59 Cadillac had plenty of space for everyone and everything. Some Cadillacs of the era were converted by coach-builder Miller-Meteor to serve commercial or civil purposes, including limousines, flower cars, hearses, and ambulances. The Ecto-1 is a Caddy that was given the ambulance treatment, looking like a stretched station wagon and painted white with red tail fins.
The War Rig in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Fury Road was one of the best movies of 2015. It’s well paced with great action scenes and strong direction. And being that it was a postapocalyptic chase movie, the cars featured didn’t disappoint. Everything looked like it was built from odd parts scavenged from the wasteland. A double-decker Cadillac with two sets of classic “shark fin” taillights, all on monster truck tires. A small buggy, covered front to back in rusted spikes — the automotive equivalent to a porcupine. A tow truck, converted into a harpoon-chucking assault vehicle. Every machine used in the film was vintage, from the 1930s to 1980s, which worked perfectly in a future world that is itself a bizarre amalgamation of the past.
The most impressive machine of all was Furiosa’s War Rig, a mammoth six-wheel-drive semi used for carrying precious liquids across the hot and arid landscape. It was well-built for the circumstances: knobby off-road tires; an enormous, skull-adorned plow; twin V8 engines; and smaller car bodies fused atop the tanker as lookout perches.
It’s the hero vehicle used by Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Max (Tom Hardy), as they protect a cadre of innocents and fend off Immortan Joe and his army of drug-huffing War Boys. Appropriately named, the War Rig shows itself to be extremely rugged and versatile.
The Souped-Up Audi S8 in Ronin (1998)
Some of the more memorable car chases in moviedom are showcased in John Frankenheimer’s excellent and underappreciated Ronin. An international team of elite con men and ex-government agents are hired by a mysterious employer (“the man in the wheelchair”) to retrieve an equally mysterious case, ala Pulp Fiction. The crew impeccably prepares for and conducts missions in attempts to obtain the case, which is being transported under the watchful eye of a throng of heavily armed bodyguards.
What sets this movie apart from others is how its director allows scenes to unfold and tension to build. World-class actors like Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, and Jonathan Pryce are given the freedom and screen time to show what makes them so great. And also, the car chases are so very good.
The best car chase scene of the film (and maybe ever) happens at the end, when De Niro and Reno in a Peugeot sedan are in pursuit of the enemies in a BMW, all of them going against traffic on a busy Paris highway. It is a spectacular scene that required dozens of talented stunt drivers.
But, earlier in the movie we see the crew’s company car, which itself gets involved in a number of chases. It’s an Audi S8, modified by the group’s driver for enhanced power and driving dynamics. An enormous green saloon with all wheel drive, the real-life S8 in 1998 was at the top of Audi’s range. It was a high-performance version of the A8 luxury sedan. Along with suspension and braking improvements, the S8’s centerpiece was its massaged 360 hp V8. What was probably coolest about this car was that besides minor details like a slightly larger air dam and chunkier rims, it looked exactly like its more sedate sibling, making it the ultimate sleeper.
Least Extreme: The Dude’s 1973 Ford Gran Torino in The Big Lebowski (1998)
Befitting El Duderino himself, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, we this heap is on the list because it’s in a state of such extreme disrepair it’s a wonder it can move.
In Joel and Ethan Coen’s comedy The Big Lebowski, Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) likes to bowl, and he likes to drink White Russians. Outside of that he’s just a bathrobe-wearing layabout living in Los Angeles. He’s content with his station in life, as are his bowling buddies Walter (Coen regular John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi). But one day a couple of toughs break into The Dude’s apartment and urinate on his carpet. He comes to learn that he’s been mistaken for a millionaire who’s also named Jeff Lebowski.
Eventually, The Dude gets pushed into helping his wealthy double, getting wrapped up in the tangled web of kidnapping, extortion, and double-crosses. But meanwhile, the most important thing on his plate is the upcoming bowling tournament.
The ’73 Ford Gran Torino perfectly encapsulates The Dude, as it is from another time. It’s a yellow four-door that gets smashed up, driven to meet the German kidnappers at the drop-point, and of course, used by to transport The Dude to bowling practice.
Least Extreme: Garth’s Bohemian Mirth Mobile in Wayne’s World (1992)
Wayne’s World is a great comedy about two slacker friends, Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey), who have their own public access show. Soon they are hired by a local station to make a show. But as the pressure mounts the friends must deal with many obstacles in their way. Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere, and Lara Flynn Boyle costar.
The movie was a massive hit when it came out in 1992. A lot of that success was due to the fact that it had two of the funniest people on the planet, in roles they had created in a beloved SNL sketch.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film takes place in Garth’s 1976 AMC Pacer. The scene starts the movie off well. Garth picks up Wayne at his parents’ house with a couple of buddies. Wayne promptly pops Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” into the cassette deck. The four croon along with Freddie Mercury, then they see their wasted pal Phil at a bus stop, who they pack into the tiny car as well. The five friends go on to cruise the city, head-banging to the tune. It is a great introduction to Wayne’s world, made all the better with five guys packed like sardines into a blue Pacer with flames on the side.
Least Extreme: Peter Gibbons’ Toyota Corolla in Office Space (1999)
Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) hates his job. He goes to work every day, adjusts bank software, and gets hounded by his eight bosses about upcoming deadlines. Most of his coworkers are annoying, though he does have a couple of buddies, Michael and Samir, who help him get through the day. His girlfriend and him haven’t been as close lately, and he wishes he could date one of the waitresses at the local chain restaurant. His job and personal life are monotonous and unfulfilling.
From the mind of writer-director Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, Idiocracy), this wonderful cult comedy about the drudgery and suburban despair that accompany working in a cubicle is one of the best satires ever about the modern workplace.
So Peter’s car, a mid-nineties Toyota Corolla, is the perfect fit for his unsatisfying life. The Corolla has long been one of the bestselling cars in the world, as it offers unparalleled reliability, great fuel economy, and a reasonable starting price. So what’s the issue? Well, all that practicality makes the car about as exciting as owning a washing machine.
Are we missing any of the more extreme cars from cinematic history? Let us know in the comments!
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