Earlier today, me and the rest of the gang were talking about some of the best car movies to watch during the coronavirus outbreak. “We’ve come up with a lot of different ideas for the best car movies for this top five list,” said Carl Anthony, editor of Automoblog. “Ultimately Tony Borroz on our team has the most experience, having worked in film and motorsport for most of his life.”
What are the best car movies?
So when Carl asked me to make a list, I got down to business. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, here’s what I found. I have to say, these aren’t unequivocally the best car movies of all time, and there’s a lot more to it than these five. Either way, it’s a good time to grab some popcorn and watch one of these classics.
# 1: American graffiti
Set in Modesto, California, the George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola film has aged well. From a reducer point of view, this is a wonderful movie not only because of the cars, but because of which cars in particular we see on screen: Milner’s yellow Deuce Coupé, Falfa’s menacing Chevrolet 55, Pharaohs Merc and “The Blonde” Thunderbird. So choice!
The music is adapted to the subject of the film, with the soundtrack starring Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, The Platters, Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys. Acting is exactly what it should be from a group of people who have become superstars: Richard Dreyfus, Harrison Ford, Ron Howard and Suzanne Somers. Wolfman Jack, a radio staple at the time, comes across as himself.
It’s a perfect film for gearboxes but still a great film for everyone. American graffiti, released in 1973, later inspired David Fincher when we made Fight Club in 1999.
Where to watch: Prime Video or Hulu (Free with free trial)
# 2: Le Mans
Steve McQueen’s ode to the world’s most famous sports car race is hard to fault, especially when it comes to cars. Real Porsche 917s, believable replicas of Ferrari 512s, Lola’s, support-grade 911s and little French piles. From the perspective of car watchers, this movie just doesn’t stop.
The cinematography is innovative and compelling, and much of the movie was shot during the actual unfolding of the 1970 Le Mans 24 Hours. Whether you know a lot about the race or not doesn’t really matter. Like how people who know very little about cars can still get into The Fast and the Furious, you don’t have to be a racing specialist to enjoy Le Mans (although there are books if you want to become a racing scholar).
At the end of the day, this movie is as cool as the guy who played it.
Where to watch: Amazon (DVD only)
# 3: two-way blacktop
Often overlooked, Two-way blacktop tells the story of three guys and a drag racing grudge. With the greats Warren Oates, Dennis Wilson and James Taylor – yes, Dennis Wilson, Beach Boys drummer and folk singer James Taylor. Oddly enough, Wilson and Taylor didn’t make any contributions to the film’s soundtrack.
The real soundtrack is from the cars in the 1971 Monte Hellman road movie. Oates drives a GTO Judge and Wilson and Taylor drive a mid-size Chevy ’55 with a dual-pump high-rise setup. Seems familiar? It should. It’s the same that Harrison Ford drove American graffiti.
Where to watch: Amazon (DVD or VHS [yes, really] alone)
# 4: rush
To rush is Ron Howard’s story about the two most unlikely enemies in the race, Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). Fantastically shot and wonderfully edited, To rush is a pragmatic look at Grand Prix racing in the mid-70s and how far a guy (Lauda) would go to win. Lauda confronts Hunt who was a good 24/7 party animal and always a winner.
As Le Mans, you don’t have to be a racing genius to enjoy the storytelling here. I’ve been around and worked in professional motorsport all my life, and I’ve found that at least one thing is true: Drivers are, in general, a taciturn bunch. They don’t talk much. And when they do, it’s not about their feelings or what it’s like to crash and almost die.
Ron Howard, in his staging of To rush, is able to say it in a way that few movies have. It’s a better modern racing movie than Ford vs. Ferrari, and deserves to be considered one of the best, with Le Mans.
Where to watch: Prime Video, Vudu or HBO Now
# 5: sorcerer
It’s not a car movie and it’s not a racing movie, but it has some of the craziest drives in a movie you’ll see. A remake of the French film The wages of fear, Sorcerer is the story of three guys with nothing to lose, willing to risk their lives to get out of debt by driving a convoy of broken down trucks full of dangerously unstable nitroglycerin through the South American jungle.
The scene where they cross a rickety rope bridge in the middle of a torrential downpour is frightening. Then again, Wizard was directed by William Friedkin, the guy who made The Exorcist, so he should know scary.
Where to watch: Prime Video, Fandango Now
What car movies do you watch?
This list should keep you occupied for at least five nights of coronavirus lockdown. Let us know what car movies you watch and if you agree with our listing on Twitter. Until then, stay safe, stay home and wash your hands!
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life driving vintage and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle formats. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.