Cars As Stars
The talk and debate at the Oscars is always over who should win the best actor, actress, best picture, etc. But almost every year there is, among car enthusiasts and movie buffs, talk and debate over which movie had the best cars as co-stars, especially if there is a memorable chase scene.
The year 2012 saw several interesting car choices for stars. Let's have a look, and then you can see our choices for best performances by cars of all time. Spoiler-alert: Herbie The Love Bug didn't make our list.
The Avengers: Acura NSX Spyder Concept
The 2012 edition of The Avengers, based on the Marvel Comics series, was much better than the 1998 remake of the British TV series of the same name. The film, starring Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, grossed more than $1 billion last year.
The film featured the Acura NSX Spyder concept car that is not yet even for sale to the public. Downey Jr. got to pilot the convertible version of the rod. You may remember that the original NSX took a brief but memorable star-turn in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. The car was owned and driven by "The Wolf," played by Harvey Keitel who comes to the rescue of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta. "It's 30 minutes away," says The Wolf when getting the call for help. "I'll be there in 10."
Dark Shadows: 1971 Plymouth Barracuda
Tim Burton's remake of the 1970s cult TV classic series was a perfectly good waste of celluloid, and ignored by movie goers. The best part of the movie, much to Johnny Depp's chagrin, though, might have been the cherry-red 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, which serves as wheels for the witch played by Eva Green. This car is a collectible, despite being cast in a bad Burton flick.
Men In Black 3: Taurus SHO
In the third movie in the series, the alien hunters are driving a Taurus SHO. But when Will Smith takes a turn back in time to 1969, he is issued a car we like better for the times -- a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500. The car was perfect cop-issue hardware, and fitted out with a suitably growly V8 engine.
Hit and Run: 1967 Lincoln Continental
God knows Ford's Lincoln brand is having a hard time making a go of it these days. But let's not forget that the brand had a heyday. In last year's Hit and Run, the featured car is a 1967 Lincoln Continental. The movie stars actor/comedian Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell and Bradley Cooper.
An ex-getaway driver flees the feds and bad-ass gangsters after quitting the witness protection program so he can drive his girlfriend to her new job in LA. Gotta love that Shepard's character, "Charlie Bronson," chooses a Conti as his ride for the trip. The size, the strength and the V8 under the hood is just the ticket.
Dark Knight Rises: Lamborghini Aventador
There aren't that many Lamborghini Aventadors built and sold each year. But this one, in gun-metal paint, is the way we would want ours. For the final movie in Christopher Nolan's trilogy, The Dark Knight rides around powered by a V12 engine and 700 horsepower.
Holy horsepower, Batman!
The Classics: Steve McQueen's Mustang In Bullitt
There was nobody cooler than Steve McQueen in the 1960s. In Bullitt, which he produced, the San Francisco police inspector drove around the Bay area in a 1968 Mustang GT. The car took its star turn during one of the best chase scenes in cinematic history as McQueen jockeyed for position against the two killers who were in a Dodge Charger.
The growl of the Mustang GT comes through even on a bad TV set as McQueen gains, and then fall backs as the bad guy shows his Winchester pump shot gun. Of course, McQueen comes out okay after the chase, but not so much the car, leading him to request a replacement set of wheels when he returns to the cop-house. The bad guys ran their Charger into a gas station pump, which exploded and barbecued them beyond recognition.
The car has become so iconic because of the movie that Ford recreated the GT in 2006 and called it the "Bullitt" edition.
The Classics: The Italian Job's Minis
The first Italian Job movie in 1969 featured Minis creating a traffic jam in the streets of Turin to cover up a gold heist. The movie starred Michael Caine, and was filmed without an ending. The movie ended with the getaway bus, full of gold, teetering on a cliff. Michael Caine's character, Charlie, says, "Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea." Cut. The end.
The disappointing ending led to a remake of the Italian job, starring Mark Wahlberg and Edward L. Norton, which featured three Minis that were modified to hold a load of gold bars heisted from an armored truck. The cars were chosen because of how small they were. They needed to be driven down sets of steps and through storm-drain tunnels with the heavy load of loot, and finally be driven into rail cars.
Mini did not pay for the placement in the movie, though the cars got such star treatment, it may have seemed that way. What makes it one of the best performances by cars in a movie is the fantastic driving sequences with Wahlberg, Jason Statham and Charize Theron behind the wheels of the Minis.
Classics: The French Connection's 1971 Pontiac LeMans
Popeye Doyle, played by Gene Hackman, drives a pretty crappy looking brown 1971 Pontiac LeMans that he steals from a driver he stops in Queens as he is pursuing his quarry. The bad guy gets on an elevated train and he thinks he loses Popeye. But Doyle pursues the train under the tracks on the streets below in his borrowed LeMans.
What is remarkable is that Hackman did his own driving in this legendary chase scene. And in one of the takes, he actually hits a civilian car, driven buy a guy who managed to get through the barricades set up by the production crew to protect the early morning shoot.
The LeMans does excellent duty, being driven at times around 80 mph under the trains trestles, and enduring several bashes and collisions along the way before Popeye catches up with the guy and shoots him on he steps as he is descending to what he thinks is safety. Doyle is exhausted but manages to get off a kill-shot with his Smith & Wesson 38.
The Classics: Ronin's 1998 Audi S8
The 1998 crime thriller Ronin put the Audi A8/S8 on the map in one of the best car chase sequences ever put on film. Shot on location in France, the film features a team of hit men and thieves doing some of their most memorable driving in a 1998 Audi S8. The movie's expertly choreographed gun fights and chase scenes draw the viewer in more than just your average shoot 'em up movie.
Ronin is notable for its car chases, the last being a particularly lengthy one through the streets and tunnels of Paris, a scene reportedly inspired by the chase by paparazzi of Princess Diana's car that led to her death. Some scenes used up to 300 stunt drivers according to the DVD director commentary, including ex-F1 driver Jean-Pierre Jarier. Car work has been a specialty of Frankenheimer, a former amateur racing driver, ever since his 1966 film, Grand Prix.
The Classics: Christine's 1958 Plymouth Fury
The 1983 film based on the Stephen King novel of the same name is about and stars a 1958 Plymouth Fury with an evil mind of its own.
Directed by John Carpenter and starring Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, and Harry Dean Stanton, the movie has become a cult classic, especially for Plymouth fans. Sadly, Chrysler folded the Plymouth brand more than a decade ago.
Two other Plymouth models, the Belvedere and the Savoy, were also used to portray the possessed car on screen. Why? Total production for the 1958 Plymouth Fury was only 5,303, and they were expensive to buy at the time. Numerous vehicles were reportedly destroyed during filming, but most of the cars were Savoy and Belvedere models dressed to look like the Fury.
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