All four of these movies celebrate different parts of driving, from the dangerous to the downright bizarre.
The term "car movie" is a pretty wide descriptor. Some car movies revolve around races, while others feature cars as an emotional centerpiece for characters to bond over, often discovering some important lesson on friendship during the process.
On the other hand, you have these four movies. Each one is a car movie through-and-through but utilizes cars in ways that aren't seen as frequently in the genre.
Initially released on TV in 1971, The Duel is an action-packed adrenaline ride that attempts to resolve the age-old philosophical (and literal) battle of car vs. truck.
The film stars the iconic Dennis Weaver as a commuter from California trapped in an escalating cycle of road rage with the unseen driver of a heavy tractor truck. When Weaver's character cuts off this slow-moving truck, he sets events in motion that result in an intense car chase across the high desert. Although he manages to earn the occasional reprieve by pulling off into public areas, he is quick to discover that this terrifying truck is never far behind.
What makes The Duel so interesting is that the premise effortlessly alternates between too absurd and all too real. We've all got unpleasant road rage stories, and this film is willing to entertain the idea of that road rage boiling over to a deadly degree. Once he's angered the truck driver, the road no longer feels safe. This sense of menace bleeds into every stop that he makes and every other person that he encounters on a frantic drive home.
Interestingly, this film marked the directorial debut of none other than Steven Spielberg! While The Duel is often left out of discussions about his earlier works, it developed a cult following that eventually warranted a full theatrical release.
If nothing else, this film is a great reminder to always use your manners while driving.
Okay, this one is cheating a bit. The Transporter series is one of the more commercially successful chapters in the Jason Statham Library of Shirtless British Violence. However, despite only having four installments (three main movies and a reboot), the surreal direct-to-DVD nature of these movies makes it easy to simply forget that some of them exist.
Transporter 3 is a car action movie in one of the most technical interpretations of the term. Although there is no shortage of heart-pumping driving sequences in the movie, there's also a great many scenes of car stunts in situations that would never reasonably include a car. At one point, Jason Statham's character escapes a violent shootout by nonchalantly driving his car off a bridge and into a ravine. Shortly afterward, he turns his car into a makeshift boat by siphoning air from the tires into cloth buoys. He does all this while wearing a bracelet that explodes if he ever gets too far from his car.
By the time that this car has been driven inside a locomotive train, Transporter 3 has featured car-based action scenes in almost every single location that a car should not be. While this isn't a car movie in the traditional sense, it ranks on this list for including more car than most other movies. When this series inevitably features a sequel in space, you can rest assured that a car will be up there too.
Taste of Cherry
On the other end of the action spectrum (and the world) is the cult classic Taste of Cherry.
The film follows a middle-aged man driving around town as he looks for someone to bury him after he dies. He offers little initial explanation beyond this, meaning that the audience often learns important plot elements at the same time as the characters he accosts. Throughout his drive, the protagonist meets a variety of interesting people, each offering a small vertical slice of insight into the world around them. While the film is largely devoid of action, what follows is an interesting voyeuristic experience that's worth watching just to see how the film manages to find direction in its premise.
What makes Taste of Cherry such an interesting car movie is the meditative focus it applies to driving. Important scenes are shot with no breaks, leaving them feeling like actual fluid and impactful car rides. Some of the tensest moments of the film happen inside a car with such intimate familiarity that it's easy to feel like you're sitting in the backseat and watching events unfold. Many of the exterior shots were filmed just outside Tehran and makes for a breathtaking backdrop upon which the events unfold.
Taste of Cherry is very intentional about how it uses driving, and although very little happens in some of the driving scenes, they all feel like they serve a grander purpose within the narrative. Although the film flew completely under the radar in its 1997 release, its presence on digital streaming platforms has brought it some attention.
The Car is a wonderfully unsubtle movie. Released in 1977, it feels one part celebration and one part parody of the numerous high-octane driving movies that fueled the '70s. One need look no further than the film's incredibly polarizing Rotten Tomatoes score to get a feel for its cult-classic weirdness.
The film follows a seemingly driverless car as it commits a spree of destruction and mayhem across a small desert town. These incidents start as simple hit-and-runs, but it soon becomes apparent to the protagonists that this car is less a vehicle and more some malevolent force of nature. It appears from seemingly nowhere, attacking in locations where the appearance of a car makes absolutely no sense.
At one point in the film, several characters appear concerned that it will show up during a marching band event. In another, the car randomly appears in someone's house, Michael Myers-style. Many of the scenes feel like common horror tropes repurposed to feature an automotive antagonist, but the film is weirdly consistent and committed to playing these attacks straight.
In many regards, this movie feels like a reimagining of Jaws with a comically key difference. What makes this film so enjoyable is its utterly stone-faced commitment to the premise while also feeling like the film's director has never seen a physical car in his life.
Certain cuts of the film conclude with the titular car prowling the streets of downtown Los Angeles, suggesting a potential sequel. While The Car Cinematic Universe has tragically failed to materialize, it wouldn't be impossible to imagine this vehicle continuing its rampage in the city, on a boat, and, of course, in space.
Do you know of any other interesting or strange car movies? Let us know in the comments below!