Looking for a way to beat the winter blues? Sit back, relax and stay warm this season with our list of car-themed films to catch up on this Christmas - including fan favourites Fast and Furious, Back to the Future and The Italian Job.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is probably the perfect Christmas car movie. Flying automobiles, frolicking fun and fearsome pantomime villains. While the screenplay of this 1968 movie was written by legendary children's author Roald Dahl, it was based on the James Bond creator Ian Fleming's novel of the same name from 1964. In fact, the movie was made by the 007 movie franchise producer, Albert R. Broccoli.
Dick Van Dyke, plays inventor Caractacus Potts who restores a barn-find early 1900s racing car, into the eponymous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the flying car. Huge fun, great for the kids, but one warning: the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang song will be stuck in your head till New Year!
Fast & Furious Franchise
Since the first movie came out in 2001 with a fairly simple story line about an undercover cop trying to infiltrate a street-racing gang of thieves, the franchise has grown to encompass nine movies, with a tenth set to release in 2023.
You could certainly sit down and binge all nine movies, as long as you are able to suspend your disbelief as the movies get increasingly surreal. Over the series, the protagonists evolve into indestructible superheroes whose car customisations evolve to such extraordinary levels, they can shoot an old Pontiac Fiero into space.
If you only watch a couple, I’d recommend the first one, because the cars and action feel real and relevant, and the third in the series, subtitled ‘Tokyo Drift’ because of the brilliant drifting in it.
The Great Race (1965)
The Great Leslie is the suave and debonair hero played by Tony Curtis, while Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) is his nemesis and typical melodramatic villain. They compete in a turn of the century race from New York to Paris.
The film flopped when it first came out, but aside from its overblown stereotypes, this comedy is fun to watch and notable for two achievements, inspiring the Wacky Races cartoon series and featuring the greatest movie pie fight sequence ever!
Another one from Disney depicting an entire world populated only by vehicles. The Pixar animated movie features a red racing car, Lightning McQueen voiced by Owen Wilson and his would-be mentor, Doc Hudson, a 1951 Hudson Hornet voiced by actor and motor racing enthusiast, Paul Newman, in his last movie role.
Director John Lasseter said he wanted to combine his two passions, cars and animation, and spent months working on making the movement of the cars believable. There are some fun sequels to squeeze in too.
The Italian Job (1969)
Plucky Brits led by Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) take on the Italian mafia by daring to steal a cache of gold bullion from the heart of Turin and escaping in a trio of Mini Coopers. The cars escape the police by driving through and atop buildings, in the underground and through sewage pipes in a sensational car chase sequence that remains captivating to watch.
The film, which features Noel Coward in this last role, is a cult classic, and features in the Top 100 British Films ever made. Just remember: "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"
THE LOVE BUG (1968)
You will fall in love with classic Volkswagen Beetles after watching this 1968 movie about Herbie, the Love Bug. The comedy features a down-on-his-luck racing driver who is befriended by an anthropomorphised Beetle that is seemingly a secret speed freak! Our duo are racers with heart, and take on the villainous car dealer, Peter Thorndyke.
Movie producers, Disney, lined up a casting call of cars that included Volvos, a TVR, an MG and even some Toyotas. But they choose the Beetle because studio staff actually reached out to pet it.
Speed Racer (2008)
Based on a Japanese cartoon series about motor racing from the 1960s, the live-action movie starred John Goodman among others, retelling the story of a young racing driver.
The movie's racing sequence were heavily animated though truly spectacular. While it wasn't well received on its release. it's since been recognised for its ground-breaking cinematography and has developed a cult-following.
The Cannonball Run (1981)
Some of the biggest superstars of the day came together for this movie about a rip-roaring race from coast-to-coast (based on real event also created by the movie’s writer, Brock Yates).
Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Jackie Chan, Farrah Fawcett and Roger Moore spoofing himself as James Bond, all jump into cars as diverse as a Ferrari 308, Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, Subaru GL 4WD, Aston Martin DB5 and even an Ambulance fitted with a racing engine.
The movie gets increasingly absurd as the illegal race progresses. Eventually it feels like the cast threw away the script and ad-libbed their way through it. It’s also features arguably the greatest opening sequence of a car movie ever: a black Lamborghini Countach playing cat and mouse with a police Trans Am across the Las Vegas desert. Ignore the sequels.
Back to the future
Marty McFly: “Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?”
Dr. Emmett Brown: “The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”
And thus begins one of the greatest science-fiction trilogies every made, as the mad inventor and his assistant race between the past and future to correct the cascading time paradoxes they themselves cause.
It’s story-telling at its best, with some of the most memorable movie characters every created, including of course, the third star of the series – the DeLorean DMC 12 with the gullwing doors and the fictional flux capacitor. Great Scott!
Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
Although the Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie blockbuster is a remake of a 1974 film, the newer remake is slicker, cooler and features superb cars and proper tyre-shredding action, a great soundtrack plus Cage inimitably being Cage.
The movie has resulted in countless silver-grey 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 ‘Eleanor’ replicas, the ‘hero car’ and making it the second most famous Mustang after Steve McQueen's car from Bullitt featured further down this list.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Burt Reynolds at his cocky best, blasting from Texarkana to Atlanta in a black Trans Am escorting a fast-moving lorry carrying an illegal consignment of beer.
Directed by Reynold's friend and stuntman Hal Needham, this was the second highest grossing film of 1977, boosted sales of the Pontiac Trans Am, and no less than legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, said it was one of his favourite films. After watching this you'll want a red shirt, fake moustache and cowboy hat.
Ford Vs Ferrari (2019)
This movie is based on the rivalry and feud between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, that ultimately led to the American's beating the Italians at the LeMans 24-hour race in 1966 with the Ford GT40.
It's brilliantly retold with Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, and Christian Bale as racer Ken Miles.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Another cult-classic that initially flopped in the US, but achieved success in European theatres. It featured a disillusioned Vietnam vet, ex-cop and former racing driver, Barry Newman as Kowalski, driving a white Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco.
More than a relentless road movie, it's a thought-provoking piece of thoughtful cinema that provocatively explores counterculture themes such as rebellion, drug-abuse, sexual freedoms and racism.
Our hero's fate is sealed from the start and the shocking ending may seem futile, but the ride is worth it. Not one for the kids though.
The Gumball Rally (1976)
Another comedy about an illegal coast-to-coast road race, that somehow actually predates Cannonball Run. It's not quite as star-studded, although Raul Julia plays racing driver Franco Bertollini and famously explains the first rule of Italian driving: "what's behind me, is not important", as he rips the rear view mirror off his Ferrari Dayton and throws it away.
A true car fest, the movie also features an AC Cobra, Porsche 911, Mercedes 300 SL, Chevrolet Corvette and Jaguar E-Type among others.
Bullitt is known for one thing: a 10 minute 53 second sequence that features what is widely acknowledged to be the greatest car chase ever filmed.
Actor and amateur racing driver, Steve McQueen, did much of the driving along with three other stunt drivers. You can see when it’s McQueen driving from the rear-view mirror from the in-car footage.
Watch out for Volkswagen Beetle that appears several times during the chase, and when McQueen overshoots a corner and does a reverse burnout, that was a real mistake which was left in.
Two 1968 V8 Highland Green Ford Mustang GT fastbacks were purchased for the film with further modifications made to the engine, brakes and suspension. You can see this in how flat the Mustang corners compared to the standard Dodge Charger it's chasing.
You won’t take your eyes off the screen during the entire sequence and you’ll turn up the sound. The only problem with this neo-noir thriller, is that the other 102 minutes are a slow plodding study of angst-ridden and defiantly cool but pedestrian detective work. Just fast forward to the chase!
This movie depicts the real-life rivalry between Britain's James Hunt and Austrian, Niki Lauda, during the 1976 Formula 1 racing season. It provides an amazing insight into the lives of two extremely different personalities who nonetheless were both driven by the same goal, to win the F1 crown.
Grand Prix (1966)
And if you like classic motor racing films, Grand Prix is one of the best ever made. To put viewers right in the action, they employed various methods including strapping cameramen to the bonnets of the cars as they raced at speed!
It featured real formula series cars, and actual F1 drivers including some of the true legends such as Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney and Bruce McLaren.