Elegy for Gas-Guzzling Supercharged Car Movies

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, USA (@peteramartin)
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Elegy for Gas-Guzzling Supercharged Car Movies

With gasoline prices soaring past $4.00 per gallon in the US, it may be time to kiss all those gorgeous, big-engined, gas-guzzling, supercharged automobile movies goodbye.

Starting in the late 60s with a certain motorcycle movie, American filmmakers began to jam out on the highways. Gas was cheap and spirits (and other things) were high, and nothing was more freeing than the idea of getting in your car, getting out of town, and getting back to nature.

In celebration of those road flicks, and with a sad nod to the reality of insanely expensive fill-ups, we wave "So long, and thanks for the gasoline-scented memories."

After the jump: my top 5 gas-guzzling supercharged car movies ... and be sure to tell us your faves in the comments section.

5. Vanishing Point (1971)

You know that feeling when you've been driving for hours and hours, and the road ahead has telescoped to a tiny window barely the width of your eyeballs, and your eyelids keep interferering with your view? That's Vanishing Point, the point of no return beyond which Barry Newman keeps pressing the pedal to the metal and Cleaven Little keeps talking and a naked woman rides a motorcycle and Delaney & Bonnie sing for no apparent reason and the highway never ends.

4. Dirty Larry Crazy Mary (1974)

Peter Fonda and Susan George are all that the title implies and more, intoxicated by speed and the thrill of running from the law and running away from life and running until their lungs figuratively burst. Crazy Mary: "Hey, wait a minute... why aren't we slowing down?" Dirty Larry, laughing: "She doesn't know me very well, does she, Deke?" Deke (played by the unfairly forgotten Adam Roarke): "Not likely she ever will, with about one second to live."

3. Lost in America (1985)

The vehicle of choice for Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty is not a supercharged car but a huge Winnebago motorhome, but the sentiment is the same. They quit their jobs, sell their house, and set off to crisscross America, traveling the highways and byways in search of freedom. Things don't work out as they hoped, but Brooks (and frequent co-writer Monica Johnson) pierced to the heart of thirty-something childless couples in Reagan's America, not quite fitting in and pining for something better. The classic shot comes at the start of their journey, as the by-now-oversued "Born to Be Wild" accompanies the Winnebago's slow, stately Interstate Highway exodus from modern life.

2. Two Lane Blacktop (1971)

Monte Hellman painted with the camera; Two Lane Blacktop is the closest things to an existential piece of poetry that I've ever seen. It feels like a fever dream, like you woke up in the back seat of a car with a purring, rumbling engine, and no idea where you were. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson live to race and race to live; Warren Oates thinks he has the right stuff, but he's only a pretender.

1. Easy Rider (1969)

No question, this was the one that started it all. All you need are two wheels and a bag of grass, evidently. Easy Rider feels comfortably lived in, like a well-scuffed pair of immeasurably comfortable shoes, yet it soars with the promise of tomorrow.

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GohattoJuly 9, 2008 12:59 PM

1.) THE CAR = That dam thing was the size of a tank and just loved doing donuts not among decapitating Kathryn Harrold.
2.) Wages of Fear= They may not be racing but a simple truck ride never turned out so harrowing .
3.) I will link these together = Gumball Rally , Grand Theft Auto , Smokey and the Bandit.
4.) Bullet and French Connection

Kurt HalfyardJuly 9, 2008 6:52 PM

The very recent little micro-indie BLOOD CAR certainly taps into the effect of rising gas prices and what people will do to keep the vehicle running. It's a fun film worth looking out for.

GAPSJuly 9, 2008 11:02 PM

I feel a little hollow inside having only seen one of these films as yet.

But an interesting viewing experience while watching Two Lane Blacktop just last year: Myself and my younger sister were watching it on a lazy autumn afternoon, and the feeling you describe there must have got to my sister, because she fell in and out of sleep the way you do on a long car trip. The film ended, and when she realised, she got up, went to the bathroom, and threw up. No prior or residual sickness, or inducement.
Later she went back and finished off what she couldn't remember, and loved it.

Not to disualify everyone else's opinions (since I feel hollow having only seen Thunderdome, as well), but from your list I get the idea more of road/vehicle (heh!) movies, as opposed to movies where the vehicle is juxtaposed against various other things...

Shelagh M. Rowan-LeggJuly 9, 2008 11:56 PM

I can only think of 3 right now:

1) Aberdeen. A little seen british flick about a woman, Kaisa (Lena Headey) who works in a high powered law firm, does drugs and sleeps with whomever whenever, whose mother calls to tell her that she's dying and wants Kaisa to bring her father (Stellan Skarsgard) from Norway to Aberdeen. has the task of bringing her father. It's not easy to make a road picture for Britain, which technically can be traversed in a couple of days, but this is a powerful film about the need to get somewhere no matter the obstacle.

2) Highway 61. Canadian, dead body in a coffin filled with cocaine, sex in a graveyard, a man who thinks he's Satan & loves Bingo.

3) Thelma & Louise. No reason should be necessary to articulate.

AirchinapilotJuly 10, 2008 12:13 AM

No love for Electra Glide in Blue? Okay Blake is a criminal but this movie .. it's a Conrad Hall shot movie for goddsakes .. is frigging beautiful. It should be a companion (contrasting) piece to Easy Rider.

wisekwaiJuly 10, 2008 12:45 AM

White Lightning - Early Burt Reynolds/Hal Needham effort. Great car stunts in spite of the fact that they are doing it all with Ford LTDs.

The Blues Brothers - The Bluesmobile is a model made before catalytic converters, so it runs good on regular gas.

eDWeiRDJuly 10, 2008 2:10 AM

Gone in Sixty Seconds (original).

DrewbaccaJuly 10, 2008 2:17 AM

Good call on Two Lane Blacktop. One of my gems I just discovered this year.

I'm also reminded of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from Vacation. There's even a funny scene at the gas station in which clark can't find the gas tank.

"Believe me Mr Griswold, if you're planning on taking the entire tribe cross country; this is your automobile."

MarinaJuly 10, 2008 5:59 AM

I didn't watch "Vanishing Point" until sometime last year and wow, I was expecting some low budget b-movie with no story and lots of car action but I found that along with the chase scenes, there was actually an interesting story in there. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Still have to catch up with "Two Lane Blacktop".

Tuan JimJuly 10, 2008 6:25 AM

Ok, Road Warrior and Thunderdome were weaker examples, but Mad Max deserves to be on the list. From the incredibly tight chase at the start (revving engine and everything), crashing through caravans, to the explosive finale -- and all for $100k - there's no comparison. Bonus points for using real motorcycle gangs and paying the extras with cases of beer and it's a sure-fire winner.

Simon AbramsJuly 10, 2008 6:52 AM

Whut about RONIN?

I agree with WAGES OF FEAR though. Sooo good.

Cinema-SuicideJuly 10, 2008 9:45 AM

Also, the car chase in To Live and Die In LA is bad ass. That is all.

sharkbaitJuly 10, 2008 4:09 PM

Bonnequin, Aberdeen is actually a Norwegian film, not British.

kungfueurotrashJuly 10, 2008 11:22 PM

The Fast and the Furious trilogy....

Kurt HalfyardJuly 11, 2008 6:33 AM

Just wanted to chime in and say that I really, really liked Aberdeen as well. Very underseen little gem. Actually, Lena Heady (with the exception of 300) has pretty much an entire filmography of gems (and yes, I'm Including Steve Barrons tele-movie MERLIN in there, where she plays Guinevere)

Donwoo2July 11, 2008 3:43 PM

amazing list!!

Halicki's 'Seconds' would be on there if the list went further, but it ain't top 5.

JohnnyBenderJuly 12, 2008 10:44 AM

Great call on BLOOD CAR Kurt, what a terrifically weird little film.

fumes49July 15, 2008 4:25 PM

Try the Aussie Film Running on Empty : 57 Chevy driven by a Blind Dude : Bad Guy driving Mopar :
or Shaker Run Kiwi Film with Leif Garrett and Cliff Robertson TransAm Black Panel Wagons for the Bad Guys and Car Jump off Rail Ferry