In Boyhood — nominated this year for a Best Picture Oscar — Ethan Hawke plays the role of a divorced father who tries to be a decent dad to his son Mason. And, Mason Sr. is obsessed with his cool car. Who wouldn’t be? It’s a black 1968 GTO.
Without spoiling the ending, the car carries significance throughout the film, culminating in a telling scene toward the end about promises.
Cars and movies have been around for over a 100 years. For decades, car chases would be filmed on studio lots or with crude projections, giving only the illusion of driving. But since the late 1960s, cars in movies have been able to come out of the studio and play integral parts, perhaps going as far as to help nab Oscars for those involved.
It wasn’t until Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen in 1968, that someone finally figured out that multiple cameras and quick edits, when used together, made car chases look like they were actually taking place. The 10-minute-long take (you can see about 7 above) was not only a major breakthrough, but also a watershed moment for the Ford Mustang. Bullitt won a Best Editing Oscar, perhaps as a result of this scene.
The French Connection
Three years later, Gene Hackman drives a 1971 Pontiac Le Mans through Brooklyn to catch a hitman on a train in The French Connection. It’s some incredibly reckless driving, but there’s an interesting filming technique that makes it look more dangerous than it really was. According to the film’s director of photography, the cameras were undercranked to 18 frames per second instead of the regular 24, thereby making the cars look like they’re going a full third faster than reality.
Rendezvous bucks the idea of having a car within a movie. It’s a short film about a car chase from the car’s point of view. But what makes it iconic is the fact that it’s a real-life car chase with a camera on the hood of the car. Director Claude Lelouch simply strapped a film camera to the hood of his Mercedes Benz 450SOL 6.9 and, by some estimates, drove approximately 100 mph through Paris on an early August morning.
The Blues Brothers
Car chases in comedies can be even better than super-serious ones. The Blues Brothers has one of the more flat-out hilarious pursuits on film, which occurs all over Chicago. If you’ve ever wanted to see piles of vintage police cruisers stacking up as cops pursue two guys in sunglasses on a mission “from God,” this is your chance.
Driving Miss Daisy
Closing out the list is not an ode to another car chase (we just really dig them), but instead a nod to a film so indebted to beautiful cars that they become signs of the changing times. The beautiful-yet-gas-guzzling Cadillac Series 61 Sedanet plays a major role in the first half of the movie before being traded in for a W109 Mercedes. Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture in 1989 — just maybe for the story told through the incredible cars that appeared in it.
Combined with Morgan Freeman’s baritone, of course.