Cars are a huge part of the cinematic experience — whether you’re watching Thelma and Louise embark on a long trip to get away from their dreary lives or seeing Chris Farley head across the nation selling brake pads to save his family’s business. Stories are naturally about movement — getting from one place to the next.
There is no way to establish the absolute best car movies in terms of satisfying everyone’s needs. For this list, we’ve left off car movies that are strictly about track racing. That doesn’t mean some of those movies aren’t the best too. We’ve also tried not to place too much emphasis on either the car or the movie. Generally speaking, this list contains movies that have a fine blend of classic or inventive cars, complicated characters, strong plot points, or the right amount of humor.
And our 10 best car movies of all time are…
1. Taxi Driver
This is an iconic car movie with an iconic lead character. Robert DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, a taxi driver who’s a Vietnam veteran that loses control and exists in a city that perpetuates his obsessions. His taxi acts as a vehicle of loneliness and isolation, keeping him away from normal social interaction and instead keeping him where short-term relationships in the form of cab rides are typical.
Ryan Gosling is a movie stunt driver by day and a getaway driver for hire by night. His loner character falls in love with his neighbor, and soon he finds himself in the grips of a criminal organization. In this dangerous underworld of heists and murder, he defends his new love and her son. The driving scenes are tense but realistic and keep the gearhead in you entertained.
Steve McQueen is a cop from San Francisco who is a bodyguard to a witness who ultimately gets murdered. The story gets political from there when a politician urges McQueen to hide the body until he can solve the case. Bullitt’s major car chase scene is the one by which all other chase scenes are gauged.
4. White Lightning
Burt Reynolds: Do we really have to go into detail? Okay, fine. If Burt Reynolds isn’t a good enough reason, then how about this: booze, ladies, CARS, retaliation, and moonshine. After Reynolds gets out of prison, he teams up with federal agents to break up the moonshine ring.
5. Back to the Future
Hopefully, no one needs to tell you the plot of this movie. Oh, you know — it’s just probably the most watched time-travel movie of all time. This movie’s the reason so many kids who grew up in the 80s wanted a DeLorean more than anything in the world.
6. Vanishing Point
Although this movie was rebooted, we’re focusing on the original, which was produced in 1971. This movie is so fascinating. An ex-racecar driver and war veteran drives into Denver to deliver a car and pick up another car and drive it to San Francisco. In a hurry to make it in 15 hours, Jimmy Kowalski speeds and gets chased by the cops. However, he refuses to stop in order to make his delivery in San Francisco.
7. The Hollywood Knights
This cult film is a favorite for a lot of people as a classic teen movie before teen movies were teen movies. On Halloween night in 1965, a car gang called the “Hollywood Knights” fights to try to save their beloved drive-in diner, Tubby’s Drive-In. The diner is being shut down and demolished to make room for an office building. Despite the immature elementary hijinks, the cars are cool.
8. Two-Lane Blacktop
The 70s churned out some great car movies. This film is odd in that nobody has a name. A driver, a mechanic, a sociopath, and a young hitchhiker all take part in a two-car race to Washington, D.C. The winner gets the other’s car. In this movie, there is no place like home, and that means being on the road for all of them.
A family-friendly movie makes this list purely by its message that it isn’t always about the finish line. Lightning McQueen gets detoured on his trip across the country to compete in a race. He gets acquainted with a number of other cars and learns that the journey, the unexpected, the twists and turns, and the traffic are all what make life worth living. Enjoy the ride because when it’s done, it’s done.
Christine is not about just any normal ’58 Plymouth Fury. The car itself is an indestructible force of evil, dead set on killing anyone that gets in her way. Arnie Cunningham is a wimp who falls in love with this beautiful car, and when you see it, you’ll know why. He becomes undeniably devoted to Christine and begins to transform himself from a nerd to the most popular kid in school. However, once he gets the girl, Christine gets jealous.
What are we missing? Let us know in the comments section what car movies you think burn enough rubber to beat this list to the finish line.