The late 1960s and early 1970s was a watershed period for many aspects of American cinema, and one big change was how cars were portrayed onscreen. Previously they had usually been seen in movies purely to get characters from one place to another, and often involved actors sitting in front of fake-looking projected backgrounds. But movies such as Bullitt and The French Connection showcased a thrilling new approach to filming cars. The modern car chase was born, as directors strapped cameras onto hoods and risked life and limb to get some amazingly exciting automotive action.
High-speed car mayhem wasn’t just the domain of action movies. It started to be used by thriller and horror directors, who saw the vehicle as not just a tool, but as a threat in and of itself. And not just cars–huge thundering trucks, with their imposing height and size, became a genre favourite. Sometimes these vehicles had crazy drivers, and sometimes they were controlled by supernatural forces.
Of course, there’s only so much you can do with a car or truck chasing innocent people down the road, and eventually many of the movies inspired by classics such as Duel and Christine became familiar retreads of what had gone before. And some vehicles will never be scary, as anyone who sat through the woeful British movie I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle will tell you. But at its best, the killer vehicle movie can be as effective as sharks, demons, or masked pyschos.
We’ve gone back through the last five decades of killer vehicle films to pick ten must-sees for fans of automotive mayhem. These films all take a different approach to the genre, and while not all are great movies, they all deliver where it counts–ie. scary cars and trucks out to maim and terrify their human creators. Hit it!