We round up some of the best car-related films that will keep you strapped to your sofa this Christmas
26 December 2019

If you're looking for a dose of automotive movie action instead of the usual Yuletide flicks this Christmas, take our advice and dig out these films that feature cars in leading roles.

Grand Prix (1966)

Directed by John Frankenheimer; starring James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand

Grand Prix is just as well filmed as Steve McQueen’s Le Mans but comes with the sizeable benefit of actually having a plot. But my interest here is personal, because I once spent a day with its star, the late James Garner. He was so good he not only did all his own driving but also doubled for other actors who were too scared to get behind the wheel. And when he bails out of his burning ‘Yamura’ at Brands Hatch, that really is Garner you’re seeing. Far more importantly, he was also not only an incurable petrolhead but one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. Andrew Frankel

School for Scoundrels (1960)

Directed by Robert Hamer; starring Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Alastair Sim

For a start, that wonderful celluloid cad and bounder Terry-Thomas is in it – and not only that, he’s also driving a Benelli. Well, actually an Aston Martin DB3S, but here’s your first clue that this is no ordinary film, which uses four-wheeled plot devices. Hero Ian Carmichael is conned by Peter Jones and Dennis Price into buying the preposterous Swiftmobile, which underneath the serpent and elephant bonnet ornament is actually a 4.5-litre Bentley. It all comes good in the end as Carmichael part-exchanges it for a Healey 3000 and £100. James Ruppert


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Cars (2006)

Directed by John Lasseter and Joe Ranft; starring Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Paul Newman

Yes, it’s a computer-animated kids film about a world populated by anthropomorphic cars. But beyond the talking cartoon jalopies and Nascar racers, Cars celebrates the joy and romance of open-road motoring like few other films. The characters’ personalities encapsulate the spirit of the (surprisingly accurate) cars they represent, while the plot – racer Lightning McQueen gets stuck in the sleepy town of Radiator Springs – is really a touching lament to a golden age of motoring ended by the rise of highways. Plus it helped to make petrolheads of a generation of kids growing up in a world hostile to cars. Sadly, follow-up Cars 2 was turgid, although I will forever love Cars 3 for containing a Jocko Flocko reference. James Attwood

The Cannonball Run (1981)

Directed by Hal Needham; starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett

There’s no point pretending car chase films are high art; they’re all about entertainment. And you can’t get more entertaining than the hammed-up megastar-fest that was The Cannonball Run. The cast read like a Hollywood who’s who: Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Peter Fonda and – most importantly – the god-like Burt Reynolds. All they did was have a daft race across the US, but it was hilarious: the cars were brilliant and the character cameos likewise. Jackie Chan drove a rocket-powered Subaru GL. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr dressed up as Catholic priests, for heaven’s sake. What’s not to like? I haven’t seen it for years, but as a teenager my best mate had a copy on VHS that we wore out over a couple of otherwise uneventful summers. And I will remember the title sequence, with the white Lamborghini Countach on the run from the patrol car that gets ‘resprayed’ red, for as long as I live. Matt Saunders

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Baby Driver (2017)

Directed by Edgar Wright; starring Ansel Elgort, John Hamm, Jamie Foxx

The exhilarating blend of epic driving scenes and hip soundtrack makes Baby Driver my winner. Main character Baby is a music lover coerced into working as a getaway driver for a crime kingpin. Cue the six-minute opening scene, with Baby pulling in to pick up his partners in a Subaru Impreza then driving like a (skilled) maniac to evade the police. It sets the tone for an outstanding driving movie scored by tunes such as Harlem Shuffle and Know How. If only we could all be as cool as Baby. Rachel Burgess

The Bourne Identity (2012)

Directed by Doug Liman; starring Matt Damon, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox

A drive from Zurich to Paris doesn’t sound promising but when the car is a Mini, even 10mph looks like a high-speed chase. Things really kick off, though, when Bourne is pursued through Paris. It was a stroke of genius to lump him with a Mini, because we find ourselves rooting for the little car. Obsessives can enjoy the way the crew had to swap it (early on the steering wheel says ‘Mini’ but later on ‘Cooper’) while manoeuvring the same BMW 7 Series into multiple scenes. Add cameo appearances from a cast of 1990s European hatchbacks and this is a car movie to savour. John Evans

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Duel (1971)

Directed by Steven Spielberg; starring Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Carey Loftin

A nail-biting horror – and no, that’s not a description of the burbling Plymouth Valiant in which the great Dennis Weaver spends most of this movie sweating first in confusion, then in cold fear. Weaver plays salesman David Mann, who is cruising on a business trip through the Mojave desert when he inadvertently triggers road rage in the driver of a rust-riven tanker. Bad luck for our hero: the truck driver, who we never see, just happens to be a demented psychopath, who relentlessly pursues Mann’s Plymouth to an inevitable conclusion. The second feature from a promising young director foreshadows the chilling tension and sheer terror he’d tap back into four years later in a slightly more successful movie starring a shark. But forget about not going back in the water – Duel is your worst nightmare. Damien Smith

Le Mans (1971)

Directed by Lee H Katzin; starring Steve McQueen, Siegfried Rauch, Elga Andersen

A lack of realism – affecting everything from the Fast & Furiouses to Rush – bothers me. Step forward, then, Le Mans, starring Steve McQueen and with action so authentic that the film crew had a camera car drive during the race itself, while an accident in filming cost David Piper his leg. McQueen was apparently an unpleasant man so is no hero of mine, but he was an intense on-screen presence to accompany what I think are the best car visuals – and sounds – ever put on the big screen. Matt Prior


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26 December 2019

Where’s the original Italian Job?

26 December 2019

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26 December 2019
Cannonball run had a black lambo, it was cannonball 2 with the white/grey one that had the paint washed off to reveal the original red. Number 1 is always a favourite of mine, just the sound of the lambo accelerating away in the title sequence makes my hairs stand on end.

Other car films that I love,
love smokey and the bandit, it's just cool,
gone in 60 seconds for Eleanor,
fast and furious 1 for all the modified Japanese motors and other modified,
Rush tells a great story and is very enjoyable,
no man's land from the 80s, similar story to fast and furious but it's Porsches that are stolen to order.

26 December 2019

I agree; a fantastic film and who would have thought the gorgeous heroine was Thora Hird's daughter?? Just one minor point, though. Terry-Thomas drove a 'Bellini' not a 'Benelli'.

27 December 2019

I agree Straff.  Although I would suggest calling a 'Bellini' a 'Benelli' was a very major fail, akin to writing 'I love Star Wars.  Darth Vindor is really scary'. 


26 December 2019
The original Vanishing Point would be in there for me.

26 December 2019
So many films missing from this list! Vanishing Point, Mad Max, Redline 9000rpm etc.

26 December 2019

Ronin, Rush, Senna on my list 


26 December 2019

....fond memories of this film.

I lived in the Village where they filmed the scene outside the Star & Eagle Hotel, (Nino was celebtrating his win at Brands Hatch at the time), Yves Montand and Eva Marie Saint came outside the entrance for a 4 minute conversation about the 'insanity and cost of Motor Racing.

Our house was exactly opposite the Hotel and I was allowed (as a child) to stay up late to watch the filming from our roof terrace. Two complete evenings of takes and 3 days pre 'set-up' for four minutes of film!

I remember the dozens of huge support vehicles parked on the village green behind the Church (wearing the Grand Prix film logo's), transporters, American filming cranes (precursors to todays cherry pickers),  it was quite a 'thing' to a Kentish village in the 60's!

I am staggered at the lengths the film makers went, in order to capture the action on track..... no CGI in those days, as with the film Le Mans, it was all very 'analogue' strapping unlikely film equipment to racing cars.

Frankenheimer did well with what was available to him at that time....the naivety of the film is part of its charm. The message of the dangers of being a Grand Prix driver at the time - all too real.

27 December 2019
Agreed, "The Duel" is a masterpiece, a single-idea film that works brilliantly.
Ali Kaurismaki use of old clapped out Yank tanks in his films set in Finland is one of the director's more eccentric signatures.


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