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20 Most Iconic Movie Cars of All-Time

14 minute read

By Devon Taylor

Key Takeaways

  • Some vehicles have become big stars by appearing in beloved films or TV series.
  • The vehicles have been driven by some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
  • Whether the vehicles are actually available in real life or fictional rides, many movie franchises have iconic cars to call their own.

There have been many famous cars featured in movies and television shows over the years. In some cases, the cars are as famous as the people who drove them on both the big and small screen. Mention a particular movie or TV program and people instantly think of the car in it. And no matter what a person’s age is, most of us are familiar with the most iconic cars in film and television history. Here’s a list of the most unforgettable on-screen vehicles.

Honorable Mention – James Bond Cars

Honestly, we could make a whole list of just Bond cars. The famed British spy is renowned for his tuxedos, martinis, gorgeous women, and, of course, his incredible lineup of customized spy vehicles. In most movies, 007 drive an Aston Martin, although he’s also been seen behind the wheel of a BMW, Audi, or Lotus on occasion.

The most famous Bond car is easily the 1964 Aston Martin DB5, seen in Goldfinger and Thunderball. Not only was he DB5 beautiful to look at, but MI6 outfitted it with cool spy features like a ram bumper, machine guns, ejection seat, smoke screen, and oil-slick. It even has a dashboard map, predicting modern GPS systems decades before they were commonplace.

The 1976 Lotus Esprit Series 1 is another iconic James Bond drive. Seen in The Spy Who Loved Me, this car blew audiences minds when it become a fully functioning submarine after Bond plunges it into the water. Too bad the real version couldn’t perform such a trick.

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20. 1967 Shelby GT500 “Eleanor” – Gone in 60 Seconds

Oh, Eleanor. A car so powerful and elusive that even the greatest car thief in the world considers it unlucky. Nicolas Cage’s memorable turn as Randall “Memphis” Raines made the 1967 Shelby GT500 a star all over again. This classic car boasted a 351 Ford V8 engine and cranked out 400 horsepower. That may not seem impressive by today’s standards, but the Shelby GT500 blew people away in ’67.

Due to Raines’ history of bad luck with Eleanor, he naturally saves it for last on his quest to steal 50 cars in a single night in order to save his brother’s life. Unfortunately, Raines and Eleanor arrive 12 minutes late to the drop off. Luckily, the gang manages to thwart the bad guys, save Raines’ brother, and even the tip off the police about where the stolen cars are stashed. After all, they didn’t really want to steal them in the first place, right?

Via Mecum Auctions

19. 1971 Chevrolet Nova SS – Death Proof

Death Proof is such a weird concept for a movie that only Quentin Tarantino could have made it work. Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, an all-American-looking guy who just happens to be a serial killer. His weapon of choice? Well that would be his 1971 Chevy Nova SS, of course. As he explains to one of his victims, the car has been modified from his stuntman days to be “death proof,” with full racing seat, harness seatbelts, extra padding, reinforced roof panel, and a study roll cage. One problem, though: only the driver gets that particular benefit.

The Super Sport (SS) version of the Nova debuted in 1968. It was actually one of the smallest muscle cars to come out of Detroit in that era. The ’71 version included a 5.7 liter V8 engine that could crank out up to 270 hp. It could go 0-to-60 mpg in 6.2 seconds, which wasn’t bad for a heavy muscle car like the Nova.

Screenshot: Dimension Films

18. 1966 Ford Thunderbird – Thelma and Louise

Fun fact: the 1966 Ford Thunderbird that was essentially the third star of Thelma & Louise wasn’t chosen for any automotive reasons. The classy convertible was mostly picked because it was easy to film. With a removable top, the Thunderbird allowed the director to get plenty of great shots of the heroines driving. Plus the roomy backseat let other characters join the story at various times.

The production actually used five different cars, which were surprisingly all unmodified. One of them famously meets a grisly demise at the bottom of the Grand Canyon during the film’s climatic ending. One of the remaining cars — signed my stars Brad Pitt and Geena Davis — sold at a 2008 auction for $71,500. Not bad for a car with an original MSRP of just under $5,000.

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17. 1969 Mustang Mach 1 – John Wick

It’s too bad John Wick’s (Keanu Reeves) beloved Mustang ends up totally ruined in the opening scenes of the sequel, because the car of a beauty. The 1969 pony car was Ford’s first ever implementation of the Mach 1 performance package. The car, along with Wick’s beloved dog Daisy, were two of Wick’s happiest reminders of his wife Helen, who had recently passed away. Helen was actually the reason Wick retired from his profession as underground assassin, an unprecedented decision.

Unfortunately, an ignorant Russian gangster spots Wick’s Mustang as a gas station. After unsuccessfully trying to buy it on the spot, Iosef Tarasov breaks into Wick’s house to steal the car (and kills Daisy in the process). This transgression sets Wick off on a revenge fueled rampage that will soon span four different movies. Lesson: never mess with John Wick’s car. Or his dog.

Screenshot: Lionsgate

16. 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum – Vanishing Point (1971)

This movie is the mother of all car chases. A car delivery driver named Kowalski finishes a job and immediately wants to start on his next one, a supercharged Dodge Challenger. He needs to drive from Denver to San Francisco. Foolishly, he makes a bet that he can do it by the next day at three in the afternoon. That gives him about 15 hours to cover 1,250 miles. It’s doable, but only by driving non-stop and breaking every posted speeding law. Which is exactly what he does, causing each state’s police to pursue him as he passes through.

The car is a growling muscular beast, but it’s more than that. It’s really a symbol of liberty. The film reveals parts of Kowalski’s back story, which in turn reveals what, err, drives him (we can’t say much more without blowing the ending). It’s something of an existentialist statement on ’60s counterculture, all boiled down into an appropriately named Challenger.

Screenshot: 20th Century Fox

15. 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off  (1986)

Cameron: “It is his love, it is his passion…”
Ferris: “It is his fault he didn’t lock the garage.”

And with those words, Ferris Bueller appropriates the object that propels the rest of the action in the film. While posing as his girlfriend Sloane’s father, he overconfidently kisses her in front of Principal Rooney. That causes Rooney to chase him throughout the movie. The excess mileage on the car eventually leads to Cameron’s breakdown and subsequent determination to get his life in order and stand up to his father.

Those plot points aside, the car is just gorgeous. How could anyone, especially someone as mischievous and cool as Ferris, ever resist it?

“And I must be honest here, I love driving it. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

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14. 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback – Bullitt (1968)

Bullitt seems more famous for its iconic 10-minute car chase scene than for the car itself. Frank Bullitt is a lieutenant with the San Francisco Police Department. When a mob informant under his protection is gunned down, Bullitt pursues the hitmen in his car. At first, it’s a calm, observational prowling kind of chase. However, once the jazz soundtrack cuts out, it’s pedal to the metal. No dialogue, just roaring engines and steep hills.

The chase is tight, the cars get some air on each hill, hubcaps are flying off — it’s like playing ten awesome minutes of Grand Theft Auto. There’s something about hearing the deep, heavy growl of a muscle car’s engine that tells your brain to release all the testosterone in your body at once.

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13. 1958 Plymouth Fury – Christine (1983)

The aptly named Fury was the star of this John Carpenter film, based on the Stephen King novel. The quick version: a high school nerd buys and restores an old car to its former glory. However, the car is possessed by an evil spirit that seduces said nerd, turns him into an overconfident and obsessive jerk, and then attempts to kill all the people who try to get between them. Classic Stephen King.

Also, evil spirit means supernatural powers. So the car can repair itself. (Oddly, it didn’t repair itself in the first place, and needed someone to buy and restore it first.) The car is a real beauty. It’s too bad about, you know, all the murdering it does. Fun fact: this film was parodied in an episode of Futurama, where Bender turns into a were-car.

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12. The Mutt Cutts Van – Dumb and Dumber

It’s not the most famous movie vehicle of all-time. However, nobody who has seen the 1994 movie Dumb and Dumber can forget the infamous shag-covered mutt cuts van that actors Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels drive from Rhode Island to Colorado. Made out in the image of a dog, the van is hilarious to look at and exemplifies the stupidity of the two lead characters.

In real life, the van used in the movie was a 1984 Ford Econoline. It was painstakingly customized to give it the shaggy dog appearance. Seeing Harry and Lloyd race across America in that van is unforgettable. Sadly, the van is abandoned halfway through the film so that the duo could drive an equally funny vehicle — a tiny moped scooter.

Screenshot: New Line Cinema

11. The A-Team Van

It wasn’t fancy or high-tech. However, the red and black van drove in the iconic 1980s television show The A-Team endured in the public’s conscious, as has the program. A 1983 GMC G-15 van, The A-Team’s vehicle of choice was shown in nearly all 97 episodes of the TV program. During the series run, it was subjected to a lot of abuse — including being shot up, set on fire, driven into lakes, run off cliffs, and flipped over on countless occasions.

Perhaps it was the fact the van was featured in so many action sequences that audiences remember it so readily when asked to recall The A-Team. It could be argued that the van is as well remembered as Mr. T’s Mohawk or the show’s signature, and oft-repeated, lines: “I love it when a plan comes together,” or “I pity the fool.”

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10. 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am – Smokey and the Bandit

The 1970s was the era of the car chase movie. Perhaps no film exemplifies the genre better than 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit. And the 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am featured in the film is as well-known to audiences as the movie’s stars, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field. The Trans Am is even featured on many posters for the movie alone — without Reynolds, despite him playing the title character Bandit.

With a simplistic plot about efforts to transport beer across county lines while being pursued by a Sherriff (Jackie Gleason), Smokey and the Bandit is short on story and long on car chases. Luckily, almost all of them feature the now-legendary Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, which audiences at the time could not get enough of.

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9. 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Hearse – Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters 

The tricked out 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Hearse featured in the iconic 1984 movie Ghostbusters is mostly memorable for all of the additions to it. They which included flashing lights, sirens, and an amped-up radio system. Oh, and serious paranormal equipment for the gang to fight and capture ghosts

The idea to use a hearse as the Ghostbusters’ vehicle of choice was an actor and co-writer Dan Aykroyd’s. His character can be seen modifying the hearse at the Ghostbusters’ headquarters (an abandoned fire station). Apparently, Aykroyd thought having the Ghostbusters drive a hearse that had previously been used to carry dead bodies would fit with the film’s gallows humor and theme of helping spirits and ghosts of the deceased. However, it was all the modifications on the hearse — and the iconic logo emblazoned on the side — that made the Ecto-1 truly memorable.

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8. The Mystery Machine Van – Scooby-Doo

The best-known vehicle ever to be featured in a cartoon has to be the Mystery Machine. Painted in multiple colors, and with the name “Mystery Machine” on the side, this van represented the late 1960s and 1970s esthetic better than almost any other vehicle of the time. It also carried Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby-Doo from one mystery to another each week on the popular TV show.

A real-life version of the van was developed for the live-action movie that hit theaters in 2002. However, it’s the cartoon version that’s most memorable to generations of children who grew up watching the lovable Scooby-Doo get out of one tight situation after another.

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7. 1975 Ford Gran Torino – Starsky and Hutch

If the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit was the best-known movie car of the 1970s, then the 1975 Ford Gran Torino from Starsky and Hutch has to be the best-known television car of the same era. Starsky and Hutch were two hard-hitting cops who cleaned up the inner city. They also happened to drive around in a super cool red and white Gran Torino.

Over the shows four year run, the Gran Torino became as iconic as the show itself. It often outshone its stars, David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. Those who watched will remember the red and white Gran Torino even if they can’t remember the actors’ names. A true testament to the car’s legendary status.

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6. Volkswagen Beetle – The Love Bug

The 1968 movie The Love Bug is about the car its named for — a 1962 Volkswagen Beetle named “Herbie.” So it’s kind of impossible not to recall the car when remembering the film. However, the Volkswagen featured in The Love Bug is so fondly remembered and beloved because of its distinctive paint job, signature number 53, and the quirky personality that was bestowed on the car. Herbie actually had a mind of its own and operated independently of its driver.

The Volkswagen Beetle from the movie was (and continues to be) so popular that it has become synonymous with that model of car and the Volkswagen brand. This was a case of product placement before it became commonplace in the movies. Herbie is still used to promote the Beetle and Volkswagen brands worldwide. Even as VW has one again stopped making the Beetle (for now, anyway), Herbie remains an iconic movie car.Getty

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5. The Batmobile

The Batmobile is a unique addition to this list. There have been many incarnations of the car, and almost every one of them is memorable and iconic in their own way. However, for the purposes of this list, we want to highlight the Batmobile from the 1960s television show that starred actor Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as his trusty sidekick Robin.

The iconic car from the 1960s TV show was a modified 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car. It was originally priced at $250,000 but never went into full production. The show’s producers were able to get their hands on this one-of-a-kind car and the rest, as they say, is history.

While the Batmobile featured in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman was cool, as was the tank-styled “Tumbler” version in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, it’s this original Batmobile from the campy 60s TV series that is best remembered. In fact, the original Batmobile remains so popular today that it has its own website, complete with the car’s history, specifications, and news on replica models.

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4. Ferrari 308 GTS – Magnum, P.I.

Few cars are as associated with a TV show as the Ferrari from the 1980s classic Magnum, P.I. The car was not only the ride of lead character Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck), it also exemplified the cool Hawaiian location of the program. We’re talking palm trees, sandy beaches, bikinis, and sunshine. Even people who didn’t watch the program know that Selleck drove a red Ferrari on the show.

The 1977 Ferrari 308 GTS was even featured in the program’s title sequence each week. The car was also frequently used as a plot point, as when Higgins (John Hillerman) would threaten to take the vehicle away from Magnum to punish him for some foolishness he’d undertaken or trouble he’d gotten into. When people think of the 1980s, this Ferrari is one thing that comes to mind.

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3. K.I.T.T. – Knight Rider

Probably the only television car from the 1980s better known than Magnum’s Ferrari is K.I.T.T., the artificially intelligent Pontiac Trans Am from Knight Rider. While Knight Rider may seem cheesy in retrospect, it was a huge hit when it aired on NBC from 1982 to 1986. It made a star out of both the series lead, David Hasselhoff, and the Trans Am itself. Fun fact: K.I.T.T. stands for Knight Industries Two Thousand, which was the car’s code name.

The car’s main features were that it could drive itself, talk, and go pretty fast (all features to be found in most cars these days). Even still, a sentient car was an amazing concept in the 1980s. K.I.T.T.’s image was emblazoned on lunch boxes, backpacks, and t-shirts everywhere in the 80s. Toy versions of K.I.T.T. even become a bestselling toy for a while. And while Hasselhoff may have lost his edge over the years, K.I.T.T. remains as cool as ever.

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2. General Lee – The Dukes of Hazzard

The 1969 Dodge Charger from TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, with its distinctive orange paint job, is such a big part of the program that it has its own name — the General Lee. It’s hard to find a more iconic car from TV or film than this one. The show, which aired from 1979 to 1985, was about cousins Luke and Bo Duke speeding around Hazzard County in General Lee. They mostly did good deeds and spent time evading the bumbling police, who were always in hot pursuit.

Kind of like a TV version of Smokey and the Bandit, The Dukes of Hazzard was about cars and car chases. General Lee was at the center of it all. With doors that didn’t open and a seemingly limitless speed, General Lee was seen each week performing breathtaking stunts and cool jumps. It would occasionally even be driven on two wheels. The car always survived, somehow. In fact, it never seemed to even get a chip on its paint job. And while the show has remained popular in reruns, General Lee has remained legendary.

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1. DeLorean DMC-12 – Back to the Future

Who can forget the DeLorean time machine from the Back to the Future trilogy? As much a character in the film as Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), the DeLorean DMC-12 captured the imagination of everyone. Powered by its Flux Capacitor, the DeLorean became the most iconic movie car ever.

The original car from the movie still makes appearances at comic, sci-fi, and fantasy conventions. People line up and pay good money to have their photo taken with the stainless-steel beauty. It’s also reported to be the most reproduced movie car ever. By that, we mean people are still purchasing old DeLoreans in order to restore and modify them, so they look like the one from Back to the Future.

The movie series turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to the DeLorean Motor Company. The DMC-12 itself was widely panned when released because of its stainless steel exterior and gull wing doors. The DeLorean Motor Company actually went out of business in 1982, before the film was released. However, thanks to Back to the Future, the car lives on and remains fondly remembered by movie buffs everywhere.

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Devon Taylor

Managing Editor

Devon is an experienced writer and a father of three young children. He's simultaneously trying to build college funds and plan for an eventual retirement. He's been in online publishing since 2013 and has a degree from the University of Guelph. In his free time, he loves fanatically following the Blue Jays and Toronto FC, running, camping with his family, and playing video games.

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