Movies and car chases go together, but when muscle cars on sale to the public started outrunning police cars in the 1960s, it gave filmmakers a few ideas. What if the criminals were better equipped (automotively) than the cops on their trail? Several classic films of the era addressed this topic, which make the best chase movies of all time.
For this list (which is by no means exhaustive), cars that starred in the films or stole the show in limited action were chosen. Pure star quality was the only element they all share in common, though some have the same make and model. Naturally, the Big Three of yore dominate. American automakers seem just as competitive in Hollywood as they were in Detroit as they vied to place their cars in big-budget films.
Here are ten amazing muscle cars that starred in hit films — some great, some okay — over the years.
10. 1971 Mustang Mach 1 in Diamonds are Forever (1971)
It wasn’t always an Aston Martin for 007. In Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connnery’s Bond hops off a three-wheeler in the desert and into a slick 1971 Ford Mutstang Mach 1 fastback on his way to thwarting Las Vegas police. When one car appears to corner him in a dead end, Bond resorts to a little daredevil driving to regain his advantage. He’s cool as a cucumber on two wheels or four, but it’s that hot Mustang that grabs the most attention in the scene. That’s the way to sell a car.
9. Chevy Nova SS in Deathproof (2007)
Quentin Tarantino loves 1970s American B-movies, and in the “Grindhouse” double feature he went to work with a muscle car and a vintage psycho. Kurt Russell plays Stunt Man Mike, a stalker and killer who drives a matte black 1971 Chevy Nova SS rigged for film stunts. Later on, there are a few Dodge muscle rides turning up in the action (and references to classic muscle car flms), but it’s the SS that sets the schlock-terror tone in Deathproof.
8. 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
It turns out muscle cars come in handy when civilization disintegrates. Mel Gibson relies on his 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT to power him through post-apocalyptic desert lands in 1981′s Mad Max: The Road Warrior. The Falcon interceptor takes a good deal more abuse than the average ride, but its staying power reflects the type of might muscle cars hoped to represent. Decades later, the concept still held sway.
7. 1977 Pontiac Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Burt Reynolds did a lot of posing behind the wheel of a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit, and the word is a bunch of these rides were totaled by stunt men during the shoot. The plot involves Reynolds serving as the lead car in his Trans Am for a truck full of beer that needs to make its way across state lines. It’s 1970s American comedy at its silliest, but it’s easy to stay focused on the film when the car is in the shot.
6. 1976 Chevy Camaro in Transformers (2007)
There’s a scene in Transformers when a 1976 Chevy Camaro becomes a 2009 Camaro Bumblebee. It’s product placement at its most flagrant, but the original car that gets its modernization is one choice ride. Before it makes its exit, the ’76 gets to pull off the two-wheel stunt. Anything James Bond can do with a Mustang Mach 1, this Camaro can do without a driver.
5. 1969 Dodge Charger in Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
The Dodge Charger makes many appearances in films for obvious reasons. It has the quintessential American intimidator look, which works for Wesley Snipes in Blade as much as it did in a lighthearted film like Dukes of Hazzard. Really a revisiting of the TV series rather than a standalone film, a highlight of the 2005 version was the 1969 Charger — along with the 1968 and 1970 models that were reportedly converted to look like a ’69.
4. 1966 Ford GT40 in Fast Five (2011)
More speed demon than pure muscle head, the 1966 GT40 featured in Fast Five was the model that won the 24 hours of Le Mans, so there are few American cars with as much racing history as the GT40 had in its steel. It’s also one of the best looking models Ford ever produced. When Vin Diesel and the gang yank one out of a moving train in the film, car lovers might hop a little in their seats. The only negative is the GT40 is reportedly a replica in Fast Five.
3. 1970 Dodge Challenger in Vanishing Point (1971)
Barry Newman has the job of driving a supercharged 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in Vanishing Point. Along the way, he decides to bet the price of drugs he’s buying that he can make the run in 15 hours, which means he has to average over 80 mph for the trip. This angers a whole lot of cops patrolling Nevada and Colorado, but not the naked blond riding a motorcycle he enounters in his travels.
There is the beautiful touch of a DJ describing his progress in real time that anticipates the conceit in The Warriors, but Newman starring as “Kowalski” and his Challenger R/T steal the show.
2. 1969 Dodge Charger in Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)
Classic American car fans gets two pieces of scenery to chew on in this film. “Crazy” Larry (Peter Fonda) is an aspiring NASCAR driver who needs funding to support his racing team. Naturally, he decides to rob a supermarket safe and hit the road with his mechanic and his driving skills in a 1966 Chevy Impala. Unfortunately for the aspiring racing team, Larry’s casual girlfriend “Dirty” Mary has snuck inside the car and comes along for the adventure.
The crew has their hands full, so at one point they steal a 1969 Dodge Charger (at 1:10 in the video) and raise the stakes. The whole movie feels like an awesome car chase, with the striped Charger in the starring role. With that car and the title Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, this film has to rank high on any muscle car film list.
1. 1968 Mustang GT in Bullitt (1968)
Was any star more believable in car (or motorcycle) chases than Steve McQueen? Bike lovers have the jump in The Great Escape, but muscle car fans get McQueen in a dark green 1968 Mustang GT 390 fastback chasing a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T on the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt. Like most films on this list, the plot is less important than the adventure on the road. McQueen’s pursuit of suspects hits its high mark because of the authenticity.
The Charger may have been a match for the GT, but in Hollywood Steve McQueen was not going to lose any chase. Every time the bad guys think they’ve lost him (the driver grinning smugly), McQueen appears in the rearview mirror burning up asphalt on their trail. If a car chase looks seems worthy of the “best ever” tag, screen Bullitt for comparison.