The Best Underrated Car Movies that you Should Watch Now!
A quick list of some forgotten pieces of automotive art fantasized on the silver screen!
As a car fan, I love watching all of the movies and tv shows that have a cool vehicle involved in the main plot or just the stuff in the background that just makes the film what it is. Some of my favorites include American Graffiti, The Love Bug, Ford VS. Ferrari, The Cannonball Run, and The Fast And The Furious. The majority of lists with the best movies for a gearhead like me to watch usually include these fan favorites somewhere in them. But in this list, I'm going to be talking about the car movies that don't get quite as much attention as the ones I mentioned but really deserve it.
This list isn't based on me ranking them but just giving a general shoutout to them. So don't be upset at me that some of my choices are higher up than others. So without further ado, lets get right into it!
The Lively Set (1964)
Image credit: Amazon.com
The Lively Set is a fictional title which premiered on October 14, 1964 starring James Darren, (Casey Owens) Joanie Sommers, (Doreen Grey) Doug McClure, (Chuck Manning) and Pamela Tiffin (Eadie Manning). The plot of the movie is that Darren's character has designed and built his own jet-powered race car for a filthy rich playboy in a world where jet cars are being proven to be faster and more dominant than the traditional piston engine vehicles in every field of motorsport. After a failed test drive of the vehicle Owens decides to ditch his project for a more regular race car but eventually he and his crew improve the vehicle and enter it in the Tri-State Endurance Run.
The car Owens had been working on in the movie is actually the Chrysler Turbine. A concept car that Chrysler had been experimenting with to see if jet engines were the future for all automobiles, although it doesn't look anything like the car portrayed in the poster. One fun fact about the film is that Randy Newman and Bobby Darrin composed and directed the music for the whole movie. So you know it's going to sound great! Other appearances in the movie include a 1923 Dodge RPU Hot Rod, a 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix, a 1961 Dual-Ghia, as well as the one and only Mickey Thompson.
So if you are a fan of alternative fuel sources or cars from the sixties, I highly recommend you check this movie out for yourself! You can watch the trailer here.
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Image credit: Walmart.com
Viva Las Vegas is a very light hearted musical and comedy movie starring the lovely Ann-Margret alongside the king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley. Directed by George Sidney, the movie follows the main character Lucky Jackson, a talented racing driver who is struggling to win enough money so he can purchase a new engine for his 1962 Elva Mark 6. Jackson quickly befriends a wealthy Italian count named Elmo Mancini but eventually become rivals once they realize they're in love with the same girl. Not only is Lucky racing for his crush, he is also racing for the cash he lost in Sin City while trying to win more to build his car.
While musicals certainly aren't everyone's cup of tea, this one does manage to keep your attention and the screenplay is overall pretty solid for its time. Elvis isn't the only major icon to appear in the movie, either. Some truly historic race cars make the cut as well! One example of this is a 1958 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta driven by the count in the race. Others include a 1962 Shelby Cobra 260, a 1957 Maserati 450S and a couple of C2 Corvettes. But perhaps the most famous vehicle out the entire lineup is Old Yeller. This yellow, rough looking, Buick powered junkyard dog was built and tuned by famous American race car constructor Max Balchowsky. He himself did some of his own driving in the movie, too. It may not be the prettiest car at the track, but it was beating the likes of Ferrari and Maserati all over the map and was driven by racers such as Dan Gurney, Bob Bondurant, and Carroll Shelby to name a few. In the long run, Viva Las Vegas is a fun charming bit of film that I recommend you watch soon. You can watch the trailer here.
Thunder Road (1958)
Image credit: IMDB.com
When I hear the two words thunder and road together, I usually think of the Bruce Springsteen song. But recently it has been the black and white thriller under the same title that has been coming to mind. Thunder Road stars Robert Mitchum as Lucas Doolin who is a moonshine runner constantly making dangerous high speed deliveries for his fathers liquor business. Doolin has to deal with the pressure of his younger brother, Robin, who wants to be a part of the family business, a gangster from a nearby town who also pleads to help out, as well as a Treasury agent who wants to put an end to to the Doolin's illegal business.
Doolin's main choice of car is a 1950 Ford "Shoebox" which has been extensively modified to outrun and juke the cops chasing him. For some reason the film says it's a '51 but it isn't. There is also a 1949 Oldsmobile 88 that makes a debut as well as a souped up 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 that later gets wrecked by Doolin during a night run from the law. If you love stories about bootleggers and old American cars from this era, then Thunder Road is the movie for you. It always keeps you on the edge of your seat and the black and white aesthetics really add to the gritty purposeful atmosphere of the film. You can watch a clip of it here.
The Great Race (1965)
Image credit: playitagaindan.worldpress.com
I'm fairly surprised that this movie never gets mentioned at all in the car world because it's actually really great and this is a picture that I grew up with as a kid and have so many fond memories of. The Great Race is a comedy directed by Blake Edwards featuring massive Hollywood stars Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, along with the late and great Natalie Wood. Curtis plays the role of the Great Leslie. A brave, courteous, and sophisticated stunt devil who performs all these daring feats on a regular basis. Meanwhile his main rival, Professor Fate, with his assistant Max on his side try to sabotage Leslie's shows but with little to no success. The three men eventually enter in the Great Race where they and a female suffragette will have to work together to get themselves out of some pretty stick situations. The movie is actually loosely based on the real life Great Race. A long grueling cross continent motor race that started in New York City and finished in Paris, France. This was during the early days of the automobile when manufacturers wanted to prove that their cars were reliable and more than just toys for the rich.
The film was very well received by critics and audience members alike when it first came out. Even though there is an intermission during the movie, the memorable cast of characters, iconic scenes like the epic pie fight, and witty dialogue really do help the movie hold up surprisingly well. In conclusion The Great Race is a great time of enjoyment as well as a little slice of early twentieth century motoring. I highly recommend it! You can watch the trailer here.
Image credit: mikestakeonthemovies.com
Robbery is a movie that has been deeply rooted into British culture. Directed by Peter Yates and starring Stanley Baker, the plot of the film is heavily based off of the infamous "Great Train Robbery" of 1963. Stanley Baker's character, Paul Clifton, organizes a dream team of criminals to steal money owned by the British government from a mail train travelling from Scotland from London. The heist is successful but a Scotland Yard detective is continuously harassing them throughout the rest of the film.
The movie gives off some Italian Job vibes and it always manages to keep your attention through the whole thing. The getaway car used in the movie is rather appropriately, a Mark II Jaguar and it just gets absolutely destroyed during the chase sequence. If your a big history buff and love a good car chase, then you should watch Robbery now! The trailer of the movie is here for you to watch.
Image credit: imcdb.com
Image credit: youtube.com
Checkpoint is a British drama directed by Ralph Thomas. The plot of the movie is that a man named O'Donovan (Stanley Baker) is sent out to Italy to defect an Italian race car engineer. But things escalate quickly and many people are wrongly killed and an entire car factory is destroyed. So his boss comes up with a plan to enter him in the Mille Miglia so he can escape unnoticed.
What makes this movie really cool is that most of the racing segment is actual recorded footage of the 1955 Mille Miglia. The same one that the legendary Stirling Moss entered and won and described it as the best race of his life. So the driving you see throughout the race is real and it's quite exciting. The car that O'Donovan and his co driver use in the race is the Lagonda DP115. This long endurance race car was actually Aston Martin's first step into making a V12. It's 4.5 liter dual overhead cam engine produced 310 horsepower mated to a 5 speed transmission. Two were entered into the 24 Hours of Le Mans but but unfortunately none of them finished. But it is at least a looker. Other cars seen in the movie are Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, two Porsche 356s as well as a 550 Spyder, an Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce, and an entire lineup of post-war Ferraris, Maseratis, and Aston Martins.
While I thought some parts of the movie were slow going, Checkpoint is for the most part very entertaining to watch and is also a great representation of what many enthusiasts describe as "the golden age of racing." The full movie is actually up on YouTube and I've put a link to it here if you want to check it out yourself.
Image credit: glitterbest52.wordpress.com
And to finally cap things off on this list, we have Winning. Launched on May 22, 1969 and directed by James Goldstone, it follows the life a successful racing driver named Frank Capura. He is played by one of Hollywood's biggest car lovers, Paul Newman who in his own right was an incredibly talented driver himself. As he is practicing for this year's Indy 500, he is dealing with more personal matters such as losing touch with his wife and stepson.
Image credit: Pintrest
One interesting fact about the movie is that the Indycar that Newman drives in the movie is painted to resemble the #3 Rislone Special driven by Bobby Unser who won the Indy 500 a year prior to that. Unser himself makes a short appearance in the movie along with Dan Gurney. There is some genuine footage from the 1966 and 1968 500 and it's honestly pretty exhilarating. Anybody who says they don't watch IndyCar because it's boring or a Formula One knockoff are just wrong. Go watch the next race whenever it's on and you'll change your mind about the sport. I can safely say Winning is another great and underrated car movie that you should go watch right now. The link, for the trailer is right here.