Much like in our everyday modern life, cars are a big part of movies. They have created many memorable moments, been a part of many exciting action sequences, and helped to define characters clearly. Cars are much more than just another movie prop. Sometimes they are part of the cast, and others they are the main attraction.
This list commemorates those cars that went above and beyond simple transportation in a film. These are cars that define a particular movie or character. These are cars that, when seen in real life, conjure up images of their movie counterparts. These cars have infiltrated popular culture and become historic icons of both film and motoring.
Top Ten Most Iconic Movie Cars
10. Toretto’s Charger
Film That Made it Famous: The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Also Seen In: Fast & Furious (2009), Fast Five (2011)
Reason It’s on the List: The Dodge Charger is the most famous movie/TV car of all time. The ’68-’69 model was featured as “The General” in Dukes of Hazzard, made a memorable foe in Bullitt, was driven by the titular character throughout the Blade series, and appeared in Tarantino’s Death Proof among others. The reason I chose The Fast and the Furious charger is because the ’70 Charger is the star of three films (and counting?) in that two-decade-long franchise.
Actual Car Model: 1970 Dodge Charger
Claim-to-Fame: 950 HP, Toretto built it with his dad
Shining Moment: **Spoiler alert** An everything-on-the-line quarter mile drag race at the end of the film in which the Charger jumps in front of an oncoming train only to get taken out by a semi-truck in spectacular fashion.
Real-Life Reality Check: The climactic quarter-mile scene in the film takes about 90 seconds longer than it should.
9. Cameron’s Father’s Farrari
Film That Made it Famous: Farris Bueller’s Day Off (1987)
Also Seen In: None
Reason It’s On the List: It isn’t just a fabulous-looking car, this Ferrari meant a lot too. Ferris’ joy ride is an excellent example of movie escapism and is also an important symbol in the film. The way that the car is portrayed makes it seem very important, and the journey that it experiences is just as memorable and entertaining as the main character’s journey.
Actual Car Model: 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider SWB
Claim-to-Fame: Loved dearly by Cameron’s father, only 104 of the actual model were produced.
Shining Moment: **Spoiler alert** After their day on the town, the main characters try and erase proof of their escapades by running the car backwards to take the miles off of the odometer. A heated exchange occurs over what they did and the car is accidentally pushed off of a ledge.
Real-Life Reality Check: The real car was so rare that the film-makers could not afford one for the movie. Instead, the car in the film is a fiberglass replica built off of an MG.
8. “V8 Interceptor”
Film That Made it Famous: Mad Max (1979)
Also Seen In: The Road Warrior (1981), Mad Max: Fury Road (2014)
Reason It’s On the List: Few other movie cars have looked as bad-ass and intimidating than this one. It’s a perfect representation of the film’s style and Australian origins. The car was also highly innovative at the time because of the way that it was modified from stock to look futuristic and fit the bill of the film, becoming an important prop and signature of the franchise.
Actual Car Model: 1973 XB GT Ford Falcon Coupe
Claim-to-Fame: Blown 600 HP engine, “last of the V8’s”
Shining Moment: Used as tool for revenge, includes forcing the “Toecutter” into an oncoming semi.
Real-Life Reality Check: Only real modification from stock was the front nosecone, everything else was fake, including the supercharger.
Film That Made it Famous: Transformers (2007)
Also Seen In: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Untitled Transformers Sequel (2014)
Reason It’s On the List: Arguably the only car on this list that is also a major character. Bumblebee has a long history in cartoon and comic form, not to mention many toys. For the 2007 film, Bumblebee was interpreted as a new Camaro before the car was even for sale, which not only gave the film an exciting co-protagonist, but helped to generate buzz for the car’s production run. Two films later (with another on the way), Bumblebee is still a major face of the franchise and is arguably the most iconic movie car of the last decade.
Actual Car Model: 1976 Chevrolet Camaro/2006 Concept Camaro
Claim-to-Fame: Transforms into giant robot, is sentient.
Shining Moment: Reveals itself to Sam in order to protect him and fights Barricade, transforms back into Sam’s beat-up-car and starts talking to him through the radio.
Real-Life Reality Check: Since the production Camaro was still two years away during filming of Transformers, the film-makers had to use a 2006 Pontiac GTO with a body modeled after the 2006 Concept car.
Film That Made it Famous: Ghostbusters (1984)
Also Seen In: Ghostbusters II (1989)
Reason It’s On the List: Iconic is not good enough to describe this car. The Ecto-1 is a movie prop legend. To be truthful, this is the only car on this list that is not heavily featured in its debut film, yet is every bit as notable and recognizable as the other entries. That says as much about how much of an impact it made on movie audiences as it does about how well this car fit in and helped to define Ghostbusters.
Actual Car Model: 1951 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Futura Ambulance/Hearse Combination
Claim-to-Fame: Stored equipment for the team, may have ability of inter-dimensional travel.
Shining Moment: With its unique siren and surprising speed, is able to get the team to a hotel in dramatic fashion in order to respond to a ghost emergency.
Real-Life Reality Check: Was supposed to be black, but the film-makers thought that a black car would be too difficult to film at night, so it was changed to white.
5. Frank’s 1968 Mustang
Film That Made it Famous: Bullitt (1968)
Also Seen In: None
Reason It’s On the List: The car chase scene in Bullitt is not only one of the greatest in all of cinema, but it redefined what a “car-chase” would become for modern audiences. Therefore it is only fair that the car that starred in that chase is featured on this list. The car also fits well with the personality of the man behind the wheel, both in the film and in real life. Furthermore, since Steve McQueen was the king of cool, he made the car look good, and the car made him look good. Together they created perhaps the best man-machine working partnership on this list.
Actual Car Model: 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390
Claim-to-Fame: Special magnesium wheels and a trademark hue of green.
Shining Moment: Thrilling chase sequence up and down the streets of San Francisco.
Real-Life Reality Check: Although McQueen was an accomplished driver, he wasn’t allowed to drive the car for all the chase sequences. For interior shots when he is not driving, the rearview mirror is tilted down to avoid showing the stunt driver’s face.
4. The Batmobile
Film That Made it Famous: Batman (1989)
Also Seen In: Batman Returns (1992)
Reason It’s On the List: The Batmobile is a staple of the caped crusader. It helps him fight crime and is as much a part of him as his cape. I chose Burton’s version to represent the many versions of this vehicle. Although Burton’s Batmobile was not the first to appear in a film, it defined the look and feel of his particular vision. Like Bumblebee, this car actually participated in the action scenes and at times stole the show. It was a weapon, and the way that 90’s era Batman films used the vehicle as such helped to make action films more exciting and paved the way for Nolan’s Tumbler in the 2000’s reboot.
Actual Car Model: Built on Chevrolet Impala chassis.
Claim-to-Fame: Afterburner, grappling hook, shield system, ability to deploy bombs, machine gun.
Shining Moment: **Spoiler Alert** In order to raid the Joker’s compound, Batman uses the Batmobile as a mobile fortress, running down the gate, then using the shield to protect himself from a rain of bullets. He drops a small bomb that does big damage, killing all the bad guys and allowing Batman to live another day.
Film That Made it Famous: The Love Bug (1969)
Also Seen In: Herbie Rides Again (1974), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), Herbie Goes Bananas (1980), The Love Bug (1997), Herbie Fully Loaded (2005)
Reason It’s On the List: Like Bumblebee, Herbie is a character more than a car. Herbie’s legacy spans 6 films and five decades. Of all the cars on the list, Herbie is featured the most in his films. Unlike most of the other cars on this list, Herbie’s films aren’t traditional action movies. Instead, Herbie’s films featured a lot of impressive stunt driving, car-related set pieces, and related comedic moments. Herbie is a legend because he has been a staple in cinema for so long and proves that you don’t need over-the-top action stunt pieces for a car to steal the show.
Actual Car Model: 1963 Model 117 Volkswagen Type 1 (Beetle)
Claim-to-Fame: White, blue, red stripe down the center. Number “53”.
Shining Moment: **Spoiler Alert** Herbie gets cut in half during a race. Back half finishes and wins the race before the front.
Real-Life Reality Check: To make Herbie drive itself, one car was fitted with a set of pulleys and levers and second set of pedals in the back for a rear-seat driver. The rear-seat driver sat high enough to see out the windshield but low enough to not get caught on film.
2. James Bond’s Aston Martin
Film That Made it Famous: Goldfinger (1964)
Also Seen In: Thunderball (1965), GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Casino Royale (2006), Skyfall (2012)
Reason It’s On the List: James Bond gave us the idea that a movie car could be so much more than just transportation. It was source of action, excitement, drama and romance. This particular car defined James Bond’s suave style and represents what makes the franchise so exciting. This car introduced movie audiences to the idea that a car could also be a weapon and action sequences have been elevated to another level ever since then. It is also an excellent pairing with James Bond as a character; elegant, strong, handsome, and classic.
Actual Car Model: 1964 Auston Martin DB5
Claim-to-Fame: Chocked full of gadgets; revolving license plate, GPS display, rotating tire slashers, smoke screen, oil slick…to name a few.
Shining Moment: When a bad guy ends up in the passenger seat with a gun, Bond triggers the ejector seat and launches him out the roof.
Real-Life Reality Check: The car was originally supposed to drop nails from the tail lights, but this was deemed too easy to recreate in the real world so it was changed to an oil slick.
1. Doc’s Time Machine
Film That Made it Famous: Back to the Future (1985)
Also Seen In: Back to the Future Part II (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Reason It’s On the List: No car was as defined by its appearance in a film than this one. Today, the DeLorean is known best BECAUSE it was featured in this film, and the film is so recognizable BECAUSE the car was perfect for its role. Yes, although it didn’t have a life of its own, you could argue that the time machine was a very important character in the Back to the Future franchise. It was just a perfect fit for the feel and tone of the franchise and it performed its duties admirably. Could you imagine the original film being as successful with a different car?
Actual Car Model: DeLorean DMC-12
Claim-to-Fame: It has gullwing doors, a stainless steel body, and it’s a time machine.
Shining Moment: In order to escape a group of Pakistani terrorists, Marty races off in the time machine to 1955.
Real-Life Reality Check: In the film, the time machine had to achieve 88mph in order to function. The stock DeLorean was rather lackluster in performance, so a Porsche engine was fitted to make the vehicle more responsive. Similarly, the original speedometer topped out at 85, and was replaced for the film.