Given the emotional resonance and stunning visuals that often go part and parcel with them, it’s not all that surprising that cars have played memorable, even central roles in many iconic films. From silly British comedies to poignant documentaries and tense thrillers, the automobile has long been a staple of great cinema. And these days, thanks to the magic of widespread video streaming, watching or rewatching these great flicks is easier than ever.
Not all great car movies are available to stream without an additional fee, as studios increasingly herd their content onto proprietary streaming services. But, here are 10 car films that are available, as of this writing, to view on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and a few free video streaming services.
The Italian Job (1969)
The Italian Job is a classic British heist movie starring a nattily-dressed Michael Caine. There’s the cheery humor and the literal cliff-hanger ending to enjoy, sure, but The Italian Job may be most notable for being the single best car-spotting movie in history.
The film opens with an orange Lamborghini Miura cruising through the Great St Bernard Pass. The heist’s iconic escape cars are red, white, and blue Minis. An Aston Martin DB4 convertible and E-Type Jags play supporting roles. Heck, even the cops drive Alfa Romeo Giulias.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
An uncommonly handsome blue-eyed cop infiltrates a crew of illegal street racers-slash-highjackers. Predictably, he faces a moral dilemma. The Fast and the Furious features a bevy of drool-worthy late ’90s tuner cars, including the Toyota Supra, the Mazda RX-7 and the Mitsubishi Eclipse, as well as some classic muscle cars.
It’s safe to say that at the time, no one saw this fun summer action flick spawning one of Hollywood’s most bankable film franchises, with eight additional films — and at least two more on the way.
Cars 3 (2017)
The Cars franchise isn’t all that well-respected among Pixar aficionados, viewed as more of a commercial phenomenon than a series of quality animated films. But Cars 3 has some sweet moments and salient life lessons that resonate. It’s far better than Cars 2, at any rate — and it’s also a veritable lifesaver for stay-at-home parents staring down the barrel of a 17th viewing of Coco over a four-day period.
Mad Max (1979)
The original Mad Max was one of the most successful films ever, at least in terms of budget (less than $500,000 in Australian dollars) versus box office revenue ($100 million). Cars are featured prominently — most notably, Max Rockatansky’s supercharged V8 Interceptor based on a 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe, because a supercharged V-8 should always be your go-to choice in a post-apocalyptic universe where gas is hard to come by.
In addition to inspiring decades of fatalist visions of the future, Mad Max inaugurated what would become a common Mel Gibson trope: getting sweet revenge on the people who murdered his family.
Days of Thunder (1990)
Days of Thunder is a formulaic Tom Cruise movie emblematic of Hollywood excess — basically, Top Gun with stock cars instead of fighter jets. It’s not clear why anyone thinks that’s a bad thing.
The movie celebrates all things NASCAR; plot points were based on real NASCAR lore, and the racing series cooperated to the point of letting the movie cars run in actual races for filming purposes. And for pure Bush Sr.-era nostalgia, it’s hard to get more “1990” than Cruise’s raffish mullet, Mello Yello sponsorship, and Cary Elwes in a leading role.
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Sure, you could watch 2000 remake with Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie on Vudu if you’re willing to sit through some ads. Or, you can watch the original Gone in 60 Seconds from 1974, in which the versatile H.B. Halicki serves as director, producer, screenwriter, and star. Sure, there’s technically a plot about stealing 48 cars by a deadline…but really, it’s just a prelude to the more-than-half-hour-long, gratuitously destructive car chase at the end.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Blues Brothers is a music-based comedy, but cars play a central role. The most memorable character besides Jake and Elwood is the Bluesmobile, a 1974 Dodge Monaco sedan with the police-spec 440 Magnum squad car package that filmmakers made jump a drawbridge and crumble to pieces on command.
The 24 Hour War (2016)
This documentary from Adam Carolla and Nate Adams covers Ford’s epic quest to unseat Ferrari as the perennial champions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The film traces the process from Henry Ford II’s failed effort to buy Ferrari in 1963 — Enzo wanted to keep control of the racing division — through the development of the fabled Ford GT40 and Ford’s eventual triumph. (A feature film version of the story starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon came out last year, but it’s not available for free streaming just yet.)
Senna is a powerful, award-winning documentary about three-time F1 champ Ayrton Senna, perhaps the greatest racing driver and loafer-wearer of all-time. Using racing footage and home videos, Senna chronicles the Brazilian legend’s life, career, and heated rivalry with teammate and fellow world champion Alain Prost. It also looks at the resonance of his untimely death at age 34 in a crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
This BBC Films documentary examines the personal and professional life of British racing team owner Frank Williams, the founder and team principal of the Williams F1 team. The film looks at his early life and journey to the pinnacle of F1 success, as well as the response to Frank’s 1986 near-fatal car accident that left him paralyzed.
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