Bullitt, Grand Prix, Gone in 60 Seconds (the original), LeMans, Mad Max…these are the car movies that most automotive enthusiasts will know and have seen multiple times. If you’re hardcore, you can recite lines from any of them on demand and faster than someone can pull it up on YouTube. Well, except LeMans, which has maybe five paragraphs total of dialogue! But with a little digging, you can find some great, off-the-radar car movies that’ll give you some real entertainment.
Here is our list of underrated, unknown, or otherwise overlooked car movies that are well worth the watch!
David Carradine is Everglades bootlegger Harley Thomas that has the hots for his rival bootlegger’s daughter Nancy Sue Hunnicutt (played by Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson) and is constantly dodging the bad guys to keep his still going. After finding out that Nancy’s bootlegging father is getting ready to ship out a load of battery acid hooch that could kill, they run across the Everglades in Harley’s 1957 Chevy sport sedan trying to stop the load disguised as harmless soda pop from getting out. Besides the car chase, there’s an airboat and swamp buggy action, along with a gator-wrestling priest holding Sunday worship. What other movie gives you all that?
Kurt Russell as Rudy Russo, a shady used car dealer that knows all the tricks to make sure someone leaves his lot in a “new” car. From taxis repainted with water-based paint, a combat fatigued mechanic who is as superstitious as they come, and the twin brother of Russell’s boss (both played by iconic actor Jack Warden) trying to steal the dealership because its property value is about to soar. Throw in a long-lost daughter that falls for Rudy, a crazy Mexican with a desert yard with hundreds of used cars, and two television hijackers that provide some laughs, you’ll enjoy watching this multiple times. Plus one of the funniest destructions of a Mercedes you’ll see.
This Cannonball Run remake, err, rip-off, err, sequel. Well, we’re not sure what to call it exactly, but it featured lots of car hijinks and action, plus a celebrity cast that included a load of 1970s and 1980s stars. While it didn’t win any Academy Awards or make it on a “greatest ever” lists, it’s still pretty good in the realm of car movies and has some entertaining moments, like skipping a Lamborghini Countach across a pond like a flat stone.
Pretty sure you just said an expletive or two in your mind or out loud while questioning our sanity after reading this one. If you were a kid in the 1980s, you probably watched Knight Rider on TV in all its 1980s glory. Well, a few years after the show’s demise, it was resurrected into a TV movie while The Hoff was living it up on the success of Baywatch. Bad stuff’s happening, criminals are frozen while serving out their sentences, guns are banned, the police are driving Chevy Corsicas, and Michael Knight gets pulled into action one again. But KITT was pretty much scrapped, so his guts are installed in Michael’s 1957 Bel Air hardtop before it gets dumped in the ocean and KITT’s brain is transplanted once more into the General Motors/Pontiac Banshee test car. And Scotty from Star Trek pops up in a supposed-to-be funny cameo. Hey, we all have our guilty pleasures!
This racing biopic covers the life and rise to drag racing fame of Shirley Muldowney (played by Bonnie “Mrs. John McClane” Bedelia). Beau Bridges plays the always fiery and colorful Connie Kalitta, and a young Anthony Edwards plays Shirley’s son. Lots of cool drag racing scenes along with some original drag racing footage and the legendary voice of racing announcer Steve Evans thrown in to boot.
This one’s a personal favorite. Made by So-Cal Speed Shop founder Alex Xydias, The Hot Rod Story documents the rise of hot rodding and drag racing in popularity after World War II and, along with it, the performance industry. Narrated by Xydias himself, you go from the dry lake beds to the Bonneville Salt Flats to the birth of quarter-mile dragstrips across the country and the NHRA. The now vintage footage in this one is beyond superb, and the scenes from iconic U.S. Nationals in Indy with Don Garlits and the rest of the slingshot dragster drivers of the golden age will make you pine for a time machine. While it’s not on Netflix, you can get a copy from the So-Cal Speed Shop website and enjoy whenever you want.
At the time, no one could have imagined how this Burt Reynolds classic would end up predicting the future of NASCAR. If you haven’t heard of Clyde Torkle’s Chicken Pit, you need to head for Amazon and pick up a DVD copy of this one pronto! You get classic Burt Reynolds, in a feathered chicken suit driving a stock car, former NFL-er Bubba Smith (Hightower from Police Academy) saving the day, several NASCAR stars like Dale Earnhardt Sr., Harry Gant, and Cale Yarborough, air gun hijinks, jewelry made from poop (seriously), and the great announcing voices of Ken Squire, Chris Economaki and David Hobbs. And did we mention Burt Reynolds in a chicken suit?
Not a shocker Burt Reynolds is in this list twice with this automotive sweat fest. In prison for running moonshine in Arkansas, Burt’s Gator McClusky finds out his only brother has been killed by the corrupt sheriff in Bogen County, played by Burt’s buddy Ned Beatty. Gator decided to work with the Feds to bust the sheriff and avenge his brother from behind the wheel of a souped up 1973 Ford LTD with essentially a Shelby motor under the hood. Car chases, a barge jump that almost killed stuntman Hal Needham, more sweat (this one comes close to rivaling Cool Hand Luke for sweatiest movie ever) and Burt Reynolds showing what a full-size hot rod could do before catalytic converters ruined everything. Sadly, its sequel, Gator, didn’t feature near as much car stuff, but did have Jerry Reed singing the theme song and playing the bad guy with a cool name Bama McCall.