The Best Car Movies From Each DecadeLast Updated February 5, 2020
There have been plenty of car movies since the 1950s, but what are the best car movies of each decade? Whether you’re a fan of the classics or all about the best special effects, there’s a car movie out there that you need to watch! We’ve broken it down by movie, the cars featured in the movie, and why they are our top pick for each decade.
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1950s — Thunder Road (1958)
Thunder Road stars James Mitchum as Robin Doolin, a Korean War veteran who comes home to take over his family business — moonshining. The movie follows Doolin’s challenges as he deals with both the police who want to shut down his business and the gangsters who want to steal his business from him. It’s hailed as the first muscle car movie, and has definitely stood the test of time in the eyes of car movie enthusiasts.
The four-wheeled star of this movie is a 1951 Ford Deluxe. In the movie, it’s referred to as a 1950 Ford two-door, but it’s just a Deluxe with a few modifications — they removed the taillight trim, added the hood and taillights from a 1949, and the grille and front bumper from a 1950. They did goof a little bit — they forgot to switch out the 1951 dash that gives the car away!
For a bit of extra trivia, the moonrunner cars used in the movie actually belonged to local moonshiners in the area where the movie was filmed!
1960s — Bullitt (1968)
Bullitt tells the tale of a policeman working to find out who killed a witness he was protecting. This Steve McQueen classic is a fantastic film in and of itself, but the real star of the movie is the 1968 Mustang GT McQueen drives in the film.
Filmmakers used two different versions of the Mustang GT on set, because one of them was damaged during filming. Once the movie was over, one was sold to a private collector. The other was lost for decades until earlier this year, when it was found in a Mexican junkyard and restored.
The 390 Mustang GT was supposed to be a good bit slower than the Dodge Charger used by the movie’s antagonist, but the Mustang is only slower than the Charger by two-tenths of a second.
1970s — Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
You can’t talk about car movies without mentioning the classic car-theft movie Gone in 60 Seconds — the story of a car thief who has to steal 48 cars in five days. The 2000 Nicolas Cage remake is no replacement for the original.
The non-human star of this film is one of the most iconic cars in movie history — “Eleanor,” a yellow 1973 Ford Mustang. Even the famous Eleanor wasn’t safe from brutal accidents, though. All told, there were 97 cars damaged during the movie, including the yellow Mustang when it was rear-ended by a Cadillac.
Fun fact: Most of the cars in this film were owned by the movie’s director.
1980s — The Cannonball Run (1981)
Cross-country car racing makes for great drama, and that’s why The Cannonball Run is such an iconic car film. This movie follows an illegal cross-country race and features some of the sexiest sports cars of the era. Everything from a 1978 Dodge Sportsman to a 1969 Porsche 911 gets the spotlight as the race makes its way across the country. The Ferrari 308 featured in the film actually belonged to the film’s director, Hal Needham.
Some not-so-fancy cars are included in the race, too, like a 1973 Honda Civic and a 1980 GMC C35 pickup truck.
1990s — Ronin (1998)
You can’t go wrong with a Robert De Niro film, and Ronin is one of the best of the decade. The movie follows De Niro’s character, a former U.S. intelligence agent hired to find a package that is also sought by several different and violent groups.
This movie has one of the biggest car-casualty counts — some 80 cars were destroyed during filming, and some of the most exciting car chases in the film required more than 300 stunt drivers.
European sports cars are the stars of this movie — two Peugeots, a BMI, a Mercedes, an Audi and even a Citroen are featured in the film.
2000s — The Fast and the Furious (2001)
This movie launched its own franchise, but none of the many sequels hold a candle to the original. The first The Fast and the Furious movie came out in 2001, and follows the late Paul Walker as an undercover police officer trying to bust a crew of racers who also happen to be thieves. This movie featured some of the best sports cars in recent years, including Vin Diesel’s 1970 Dodge Charger, a Ferrari F355 Spider and a beautiful 1970 Chevy Chevelle, just to name a few.
You don’t get those racing scenes without going to the source — upwards of 200 of the race cars in the movie were driven by real, illegal street racers. Two of the actresses, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster, didn’t even have their driver’s licenses before this movie started filming!
One important takeaway for fans of this movie is that you should probably stay out of the way of Vin Diesel’s fist — the actor accidently broke a stuntman’s nose during one fight scene.
The 2010s — Drive (2011)
A mechanic and stuntman, played by Ryan Gosling, helps a neighbor and her son because of her husband’s connections in prison — but you don’t really care about the story, do you? You’re here for the restored 1973 Chevy Chevelle that was the central focus of the movie. A lot of news articles call it a Chevy Malibu, but it’s a Chevelle with Malibu trim — the Malibu didn’t become its own model until 1977.
This car is unique for a number of reasons, primarily because Ryan Gosling picked the Chevelle out of a junkyard because it fit his character — then took the time to rebuild most of it himself. He rebuilt everything but the transmission from the ground up. The engine is an all-aluminum 32 valve 5.0L V8 engine with dual overhead cams.
For a movie called Drive, they couldn’t have picked a better car — or a better driver.
Since there have been movies, there have been cars in movies and movies about cars. These movies have been a great way for car lovers to enjoy their favorite pastime, and for non-car-lovers to find a new favorite hobby. That's why we put together this infographic listing out the best car movies of each decade. Everything from the popular cars, actors and what made each and every one of these movies special in their time.
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