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The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

We've compiled a list of the greatest motoring movies of all time – at least, movies somewhat related to cars and driving.

5 months ago
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Thanos Pappas
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Like most people, you’re probably either working from home or not working at all due to the Coronavirus lockdown.

With less time spent in traffic and more time in front of the TV (although we recommend doing some workout sessions to stay fit and healthy) you’re probably already hankering for high-quality car movies.

We’ve compiled a list of the greatest motoring movies of all time – movies somewhat related to cars and driving, that is.

To save yourself from wasting time watching the flops of the century or overrated blockbusters, we’ve included films with a relatively high score in IMDb, movies that were well received by both critics and the general audience.

While the list is in chronological order, we’ve chose to merge multi-film series by referring only to the best of the bunch. Fire up the DVD player, it’s time to get watching.

Grand Prix (1966)

Director: John Frankenheimer
Writers: Robert Alan Aurthur, Robert Alan Aurthur
Starring: James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand
Duration: 2:56
IMDb score: 7.2

A movie full of racing action, with actual footage taken from the Grand Prix of Monaco, Spa, Zandvoort and Monza.

Besides the cinematography and classic racing cars, you will also see famous drivers of the era including Juan Manuel Fangio, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren.

The story has to do with the fictional driver Pete Aron who loses his position at the Jordan-BRM racing team after a crash injuring his teammate Scott Stoddard.

The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

Bullitt (1968)

Director: Peter Yates
Writers: Alan Trustmant, Harry Kleiner
Starring: Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, Don Gordon, Robert Duvall
Duration: 1:54
IMDb score: 7.4

Very few people haven’t heard of Bullitt – an action-packed crime film including one of the greatest car chase scenes in the history of cinema.

Detective Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (McQueen) drives the legendary Ford Mustang Fastback in the streets of San Francisco, trying to catch a criminal that killed a key witness under his protection.

The story is based on Robert L. Fish’s novel Mute Witness (1963). Bullitt was praised by critics, enjoyed great success at the box office, and received the Academy Award for Best Editing.

Most importantly, McQueen’s car became an icon amongst car enthusiasts. It holds the title of the most expensive pony car ever sold and inspired Ford to create a special edition of the current Mustang.

The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

The Italian Job (1969)

Director: Peter Collinson
Writer: Troy Kennedy Martin 
Starring: Michael Caine, Noël Coward, Benny Hill
Duration: 1:39
IMDb score: 7.3

If classic Minis roaming the streets of Turin doesn’t ring a bell, then you should definitely watch The Italian Job. This British film from the late ‘60s is about a criminal gang trying to steal gold from a shipment after its leader was released from prison.

Besides the cool Minis in red, white and blue, notable cars on the film include a Lamborghini Miura, Jaguar E-Type, and an Aston Martin DB4.

The Italian Job was well received, and attained cult status among heist films.

An American remake was released in 2003 starring the modern Mini Cooper S (R53), garnering a good response from both the critics and the audience.

The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

Duel (1971)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Richard Matheson 
Starring: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone Duration: 1:30
IMDb score: 7.6

Duel is an action thriller from the ’70s. Originally shot as a TV film, it quickly surpassed its producer’s expectations, got a worldwide theatrical release, and eventually became a cult classic.

The story follows a salesman driving his orange Plymouth Valiant across the Mojave Desert in order to meet a client.

Things change for him when he realises that he is being pursued by a dilapidated Peterbilt tank truck which won’t leave him alone.

This was the movie debut for the famous Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who showcases his exceptional skills. Richard Matheson’s script was based on his own story originally published in Playboy magazine.

The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

Vanishing Point (1971)

Director: Richard C. Sarafian
Writers: Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Malcolm Hart 
Starring: Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, Charlotte Rampling Duration: 1:39
IMDb score: 7.3

An action film for those who love a police highway chase through the desert.

Kowalski (Barry Newman) is an ex-cop, army veteran and racing driver who has the task of delivering a brand new Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum (1970) from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours.

During his long trip he meets various characters while being chased by the police. A remake of this cult classic was shot in 1997 as a TV movie, but didn’t do justice to the original.

The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Director: Monte Hellman
Writers: Rudy Wurlitzer, Will Corry
Starring: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird
Duration: 1:42
IMDb score: 7.2

Two friends – the Driver and the Mechanic – street race a 1955 Chevy hot-rod across Route 66 to make a living.

They’re joined by the Girl, and then race a guy nicknamed GTO (guess what he drives). The winner of the race gets the opponent’s car as a prize, but despite some initial hostility, the group gradually forms an alliance.

The film was praised for depicting the American street racing culture of the ’70s, and is recognised by critics as a cult classic.

The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

Director: George Lucas
Writers: George Lucas, Gloria Katz, Willard Huyck 
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Harrison Ford, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark
Duration: 1:50
IMDb score: 7.2

A hot summer night with high school graduates driving around the city with their cars while listening to rock ‘n’ roll music.

School days are over and everyone is getting ready for college. The director, George Lucas, wanted to recreate the atmosphere he experienced as a teenager at Modesto – and does a really great job.

Love, friendships and rivalries complete a wonderful, nostalgic film that would equally satisfy a cinema geek and a petrolhead.

Besides cruising with windows down under the city lights, the movie also includes a famous drag race between Steve Bolander’s 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe hot rod against Bob Falfa’s black 1955 Chevy One-Fifty Coupe.

In 1979 the sequel More American Graffiti was released, following the lives of the main characters.

The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

Taxi Driver (1976)

You can’t make a cinema list without including at least one Martin Scorsese film – and what better film than Taxi Driver, widely considered one of the greatest movies ever made.

The main character is Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an army veteran who works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City. He falls in love with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and plots to liberate her by assassinating the presidential candidate for whom she works.

Infuriated by the injustice and the decay happening in the city, he takes the law in his hands trying to help an underaged prostitute (Jodie Foster).

If you loved Joker you have to watch Taxi Driver. It was a great source of inspiration for both director Todd Philips, actor Joaquin Phoenix.

The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

The Driver (1978)

Director: Walter Hill
Writer: Walter Hill
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani
Duration: 1:31
IMDb score: 7.2

An American neo-noir thriller taking place in Los Angeles during the ’70s.

The main character is a highly-skilled getaway driver (Ryan O’Neal) who steals cars in to use on his missions. The Detective (Bruce Dern) is trying to arrest the Driver by forcing other criminal characters to work for him.

Despite receiving poor reviews and being labelled a failure at the box office, The Driver has since become a cult classic and is considered to be the main influence behind several successful films of our time – most notably Pulp Fiction (1994), Drive (2011) and Baby Driver (2017).

The best films for petrolheads: Part 1

Back To The Future (1985)

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Bob Gale
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover
Duration: 1:56
IMDb score: 8.5

Here comes the ’80s, and the science fiction movie that made the DeLorean DMC-12 famous.

Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) is a teenager who uses a crazy invention of friend and eccentric scientist Dr. Emmett (Christopher Lloyd) to travel back in time.

There, he meets his parents and puts his existence in great danger while trying to fix the past. The film was praised by critics and enjoyed great success in the box office. Both sequels Back to the Future II (1989) and Back to the Future III (1990) were also well received.

The film also inspired an animated TV series and as a series of comic books and video games.

That’s enough for today. Put on some popcorn and enjoy watching these classics. Stay tuned for part two tomorrow!

Let us know if you agree with our selection and don’t forget to mention your own favourite films.


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