Certain vehicles are made for the movies. We love to see the souped-up Lamborghinis and Ferraris tearing it up in adrenaline-thumping street chases and European sedans outfitted with the weapons and gadgets 007 needs to save the girl and world. Sometimes vehicles are less showy and instead are placed to coincide with their launch as part of a larger marketing effort. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if the hottest new vehicle of the moment – the all-new 2021 Ford F-150 – made its debut on the next trending Netflix true-crime docuseries.
Hollywood and automakers have a long history of showing each other love in the form of cross-promotion. Consider the 1968 Ford Mustang GT390 holding its own for over nine minutes in the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. Those nine minutes branded the Mustang permanently on the hearts of tens of thousands of movie buffs.
Most of the time, the car steals the spotlight from the handsome leading man. Automakers know this kind of exposure adds emotion and aspiration, appealing to buyers that want a little bit of the buzz in their own driveways. Product placement in the movies is a powerful marketing tool used to evoke emotion and excitement. And it works.
Which cars and trucks stand out for their big-screen performance? We took a look at a few of our favorites to find out, including some unlikely breakout stars.
#10. The Ford Mustang GT390 in Bullitt.
In the police thriller Bullitt, the 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback tore up the streets of San Francisco in pursuit of a much less famous 1968 Charger. In less than 10 minutes, the iconic chase scene, starring Steve McQueen, imprinted on the hearts of pony car lovers and took its place in Hollywood history as one of the best car placements ever in a movie.
#9. The Chevy Camaro in Transformers
Affectionately known as Bumblebee, the canary yellow 1977 Chevy Camaro was front-and-center as the hero and magically transformed from its pre-transformer rusted-out junker to a one-off pre-production 2007 version of itself. Over the multiple movie franchises, the Camaro further evolved into an SS (for Transformers: Dark of the Moon) and was eventually joined by a Kelly green Corvette Stingray.
#8. The Chevy Volt in Tomorrowland
Who doesn’t want to be in a Disney movie? The 2016 Chevy Volt lived our dream with a big part in the futuristic Tomorrowland, which brings to life Disneyland’s favorite space-themed land. The Volt’s appearance is yet another example of Disney and GM’s long promotional partnership. Chevy is also the official vehicle of Shanghai Disney.
#7. The Audi R8 in Iron Man
Everyone loves Marvel Studios’ Iron Man franchise. The wealth and gadgets, along with over-the-top villains and heart-thumping action, is the perfect backdrop for Audi’s futuristic R8 Spyder, a low-profile upscale ride that Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) prefers over his garage full of options. The R8 proves to be a worthy sidekick for Stark when he’s not in his billion-dollar suit of armor saving the planet.
#6. The MINI Cooper in Pixels.
In the happiest and most colorful automaker/film collaboration, the adorable fleet of MINI Cooper S roadsters starred as the famous ghosts from the arcade game Pac Man, chasing the hero in an otherworldly video game war brought to life. Starring funnyman Adam Sandler, Pixels tanked mightily at the box office, but those adorable MINI Coopers captured our hearts.
#5. The Volkswagen Touareg in Bourne Ultimatum
As prominently as the Chevy Camaro was featured in Transformers, the Volkswagen Touareg accepted an opposite and less obvious role. The result was movie magic because viewers focused on the chase scene and not the emblem on the cars. Volkswagen blended seamlessly into the storyline, providing cover for the gunmen and adeptly zipping through congested, twisting European city streets.
#4. The Aston Martin in Countless James Bond Movies
We love 007 for his ingenuity, flair with the ladies, and his taste in well-equipped cars. From 1964’s Goldfinger alongside the original James Bond, Sean Connery, to its more recent appearance alongside Daniel Craig in 2015’s Spectre. The Aston Martin in all iterations represented luxury, sleek performance, and a respite from the endless stream of bad guys, especially with its hidden weaponry and handy ejector seats.
#3. The Ford Explorer in Jurassic Park
Who will ever forget the bright green and yellow Ford Explorers emblazoned with splashy Jurassic Park logos and outfitted to look like safari vehicles? The Explorer held its own – for a while – against an angry rogue T-Rex, protecting its occupants from becoming a late-night snack. We couldn’t tear our eyes away as the gargantuan reptile spun it around in the mud like a top, but even as it perished, the Ford oval was prominent, and its taillights continued to blaze brightly, a fun and fitting reminder of Ford’s durability.
#2. The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in Smokey & The Bandit
Way back in 1977, a souped-up 1976 Firebird with a high-performance Trans Am package lit up the screen and provided the backdrop for a Burt Reynolds/Sally Field love affair. Complete with T-tops and a giant firebird splashed across the hood, the getaway car for these adorable bootleggers featured a massive 6.6-liter engine. The production team destroyed four Trans Ams during filming and requested a fifth for promotional purposes, which Pontiac provided.
#1. The DeLorean DMC-12 in Back to the Future
In the Back to the Future movie franchise, the futuristic matte silver DeLorean wasn’t just a car, it was a time machine complete with a plutonium-fueled flux capacitor that sent teenager Marty McFly backwards and then forward in time. Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown famously said, “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?” Stylish it was, with gull-wing doors hinged at the roof and a unique sporty-yet-boxy profile that is burned into moviegoers’ minds forever.
These are just 10 of many examples of cars and movies in perfect harmony. Clever product placement is nothing new for Hollywood, but there’s something about some sexy sheet metal that engages audiences and helps define the actors posing as heroes, villains, and regular average Joes and Janes. A car is an accessory. It can tell a story of wealth or despair and is at home as a prominent fixture or background eye candy.
Some movies – like the Fast and Furious series – center the plot around aspirational vehicles that do amazing things, like speed through city streets at blistering speeds or crash through the fronts of buildings. It’s exhilarating to see previewed cars and trucks that haven’t yet seen the inside of a dealer’s showroom.
We’re introduced to a depiction that both the automaker and the filmmaker believe best represents the vehicle’s vibe. The DeLorean equates to futuristic time travel, and the Aston Martin is the refined and classy vehicle equivalent to a martini, “shaken not stirred.” These vehicles showcase their personalities up on the big screen where we can admire them and aspire to own them.
We hope this marriage between the silver screen and sheet metal continues for years to come, especially with new vehicles like the 2021 F-150. Otherwise, how would we know which over-the-top cool car we should buy next?