While you may typically think of actors and actresses as the biggest stars in the film and entertainment industries (and rightfully so), that’s not always the case. In some movies and TV shows, the actors and human characters are often forgotten or overlooked because of the true stars that steal all the attention—the cars!
Let’s just rattle off a few movie names from history and you can take a second to think about the first thing that comes to your mind for each: Smokey and the Bandit, Bullitt, American Graffiti, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Fast and the Furious, Mad Max, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
We’re going to go out on a limb and say that the first thing you thought of for at least most of those movies were the famous cars from them. Even if not (we need to give Burt Reynolds and Steve McQueen some credit too), we bet you can think of the cars from each one now!
Without further ado, let’s dive into our list of the top 8 most iconic on-screen cars of all time. And don’t worry, none of those movies’ cars that we just listed made the list, so you haven’t seen any spoilers!
1. General Lee, The Dukes Of Hazzard
Without a doubt the most famous Dodge Charger in history, the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard franchise is arguably the only reason that the TV show and the feature film are anywhere close to as successful as they were. The bright orange 1969 Dodge Charger featuring a Confederate Flag on its roof and its famous horn helped propel The Dukes of Hazzard to a household name on a global stage.
Named after the American Civil War General of the same name—Robert E Lee—the General Lee is one of the most visually recognizable cars on the planet. As soon as the Duke boys in the show and movie hit the horn which played the first 12 notes of the song “Dixie”, everyone knew the General Lee was about to make an appearance. And when it did show up in the TV show and the movie, it typically brought along with it some true excitement.
Famous for having its doors welded shut and performing all sorts of stunts (especially fan-favorite long jumps), the General Lee was designed to be used and abused. And that’s exactly what happened during filming. In fact, over 300 Dodge Chargers were used during the filming of the TV show and movies due to how many were destroyed!
2. Ecto 1, Ghostbusters
One of the most iconic characters from the wildly popular 1984 Ghostbusters film was the modified Cadillac that the team drove around New York City on their hunt for the paranormal, known as Ecto 1. The car that eventually became Ecto 1 was a 1959 Cadillac ambulance/hearse combination that was attention-grabbing enough on its own. It was 20-feet long, weighed over three tonnes, and had the famous late-50s Cadillac tail fins (which were the biggest fins to ever appear on a production car).
To turn it into Ecto 1, the Miller-Meteor Cadillac needed to have additional modifications made to it including extra lights, sirens galore, and, of course, the ghost detection system mounted to the roof. The completed version of the car that was actually used for filming was so impressive to see on the streets that it’s said to have caused crashes in New York City during filming as passersby would be so distracted when they caught a glimpse of it!
Without Ecto 1, the Ghostbusters team wouldn’t have been able to catch all the ghosts and find all the other paranormal activity in the movie, and it’s lived on as one of the most memorable “characters” in the film. The car has since shown up time and time again in video games, TV series, and comic books that are part of the Ghostbusters franchise.
3. Batmobile, Batman
Arguably the most recognizable vehicle to ever grace the big screen is none other than the one driven by one of the most popular superheroes of all time — the Batmobile. There have been many renditions of the Caped Crusader’s famous car throughout history, up to the high-tech versions you’ve seen in the more recent films. But none compare to the original Batmobile that was created for the 1966 Batman TV Series.
Created by the famous car designer and customizer George Barris, the original Batmobile was a heavily modified 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura. In just over two weeks, Barris took the otherwise stock Futura and turned it into the famous orange and black creation that took the world by storm. To turn the car into the Batmobile, Barris added a nose-mounted chain slicer, multiple laser beams, an in-car telephone and computer, a radar, a police beacon, and more.
The original Batmobile was created for the hit TV series featuring Adam West and was an instant fan-favorite. After it was no longer needed for the show, the Batmobile remained in George Barris’ personal collection until it was auctioned off in 2013 for nearly $5.8 million. The Batmobile has been re-imagined many times since its original creation, with the most recent version being driven by Ben Affleck’s Batman in the 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
4. KITT, Knight Rider
The Knight Rider moniker is actually home to an entire franchise of TV and movie entertainment. The franchise includes four television series as well as three feature films. In all of the TV shows and movies, one character remained consistent (albeit with a few upgrades and a subtle name change over the years) — KITT — the famous 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Well, not quite, but that’s what most viewers remember KITT as.
In fact, KITT is an acronym for Knight Industries Two Thousand, which was actually the artificial intelligence computer module that was placed within the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. But for the sake of this article, we’ll be referring to the car itself as KITT (and because that’s what everyone refers to it as). KITT was a technologically advanced Trans Am that was self-aware and nearly indestructible thanks to a high-tech protective coating and the intelligence of the car itself to avoid potential damage.
KITT works with the main protagonist of Knight Rider, Michael Knight, and follows them around as they fight crime together. During the TV shows and movies, Micheal Knight is able to have full conversations with KITT and the two characters combine to become the runaway stars of the show. Although we have to be honest, KITT has become much more iconic over the years than Michael Knight!
5. Herbie, The Love Bug
In 1968, Disney released The Love Bug to follow the lives of a racing hopeful and his sentient Volkswagen Beetle, Herbie. While the movie as a whole was wildly popular, grossing over $50 million on a $5 million production budget (figures in USD), there was really only one star of the movie in the public’s eye — Herbie.
The fan-favorite Volkswagen Beetle had a mind of its own, was fully autonomous (able to drive himself), and was created to have many human-like features and emotions to make him more appealing to viewers. To cap it all off, Herbie was also a serious racecar that was a legitimate contender in auto racing events, which was the secondary plot (though expertly disguised by Disney as the main plot) of the movie behind the romance of the two human main characters.
Herbie is easily recognizable due to its uniqueness as a Volkswagen Beetle (the most famous Beetle ever), its red, white, and blue racing stripes, the number 53 emblazoned on various body panels, and, of course, his likable personality and sentience. Herbie has lived on in fame following The Love Bug and has since appeared in four subsequent movies as well as a television show in the early 1980s.
6. DeLorean DMC-12, Back To The Future
Ever since its appearance in the popular 1985 movie Back To The Future, the DeLorean DMC-12 has become one of the most desirable collector cars in the world that doesn’t cost a fortune. In the movie, the DeLorean was used as a time machine to allow Emmet Brown and Marty McFly to travel through time using a flux capacitor.
To activate the flux capacitor and make the journey through time, the DeLorean needed to be traveling at precisely 88 miles per hour and needed 1.21 gigawatts of power — which have both become popular references used by people around the world for nearly 40 years. When two small bits of info like that survive nearly half of a century and are still referenced commonly, that’s when you know you’ve got a truly iconic car on your hands!
The DeLorean is famous in both the movie and also in real life for its unique design including gull-wing doors that open up like a Lamborghini and full brushed stainless-steel body panels all over the exterior. It’s without a doubt one of the most unique cars ever built, and they commonly sell for around $60,000 or more to this day. Though the uniqueness of the car might have gained it a following on its own, the DeLorean was truly made famous by the Back To The Future movie franchise.
7. 1963 Aston Martin DB5, Goldfinger
The James Bond movies are known for their action, romance, and amazing cars. Even with how many souped-up cars are used throughout the franchise, none compare to the most iconic James Bond car of all time — the 1963 Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger. While the car was an incredible piece of machinery in its own right outside of the film (designed by Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera and built by Aston Martin), the version used in Goldfinger will live on forever.
The DB5 in Goldfinger took James Bond car modifications to the next level and inspired the cars in future films as well as car enthusiasts all around the world. In the film, the Aston Martin came outfitted from his accomplice “Q.” with revolving license plates, a dashboard-integrated GPS system, armrest controls (that controlled the oil slick, smoke screen, machine guns, and rear-mounted bulletproof screen), tire slashers, ejector seat, and more.
If those sound far-fetched and fantastical, that’s because they were! When it was released in 1964, Goldfinger took the world by storm with what it was able to do on-screen with the DB5 and made it one of the most iconic cars ever produced. In fact, Aston Martin is building 25 brand new recreations of the movie version of the James Bond DB5, which have already been sold at a price of $4.25 million each.
8. 1968 Austin Mini Cooper S, The Italian Job
Younger moviegoers may recall the 2003 version of The Italian Job with Mark Walhberg and Edward Norton, but that was actually a remake of the 1969 movie of the same name. One of the many common themes between the two movies was the use of Mini Coopers as the main vehicles of the films. But the ones used in the original version of the movie — the 1968 Austin Mini Cooper S versions — are far more iconic than the ones from the 2003 movie.
The 1968 Austin Mini Coopers that were used in the 1969 film were instant fan favorites because of their ability to drive on any surface needed, whether that meant roads, sidewalks, or even roofs at high speeds. Charlie (the main character) and his crew in the movie used the Minis to maneuver around at high speeds in seemingly impossible ways, escape car chases, and partake in action scenes throughout the movie. The car scenes in this movie are often compared to the famous chases from Bullitt (which unfortunately just missed the cutoff for this list) as some of the best big screen car chase scenes in cinematic history.
While the Mini brand name was already popular, the release of The Italian Job made the car’s popularity shoot through the roof, and they have been one of the best-selling cars in Europe ever since. Although the special effects and action scenes might have been more impressive in the 2003 remake, the recognition that the Minis gained from the 1969 film was never going to be replicated. The 1968 Austin Mini Coopers will continue to go down as some of the most iconic movie cars of all time.