The beginning of the 20th century was accompanied by two new technologies that would permanently alter life as we know it: the automobile and the motion picture. The timing was extremely convenient for the movie business, as cars quickly became a favorite subject for artists exploring their newfound abilities to capture moving images. For as long as people have been driving cars, there have been people who wanted to stand next to them with a camera and film it.
The two art forms have essentially grown up together, as the past 100 years of movies also serve as a document of the way car design has evolved. The most glamorous vehicles of the 1930s and 1940s fit right into the lavish Art Deco sets of Old Hollywood. And when cars became faster and more colorful after World War II, the movies did too. When New Hollywood auteurs started making boundary-pushing road movies in the late 1960s and 1970s, cars became the ultimate symbol of the freedom they so openly yearned for.
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And then, of course, you have the car chase movie. People pursuing each other in very fast cars is one of Hollywood’s most reliable subgenres, and car chase movies have only improved as we’ve invented new filmmaking technologies. Legendary filmmakers like Steven Spielberg cut their teeth on car chase movies before moving on to bigger things, and modern favorites including Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright made a point of paying homage to the genre after they had established themselves as notable auteurs.
Revisiting the best car movies is both an important film history lesson and a rollicking good time. From nuanced dramas to thrillers about handsome guys making their cars go vroom vroom, the automobile has provided an enduring symbol that filmmakers of every stripe have been able to work with.
With “Fast X” arriving on streaming (it hits Peacock September 15), it’s a great time to check out some great car cinema (assuming you’re not busy rewatching the other “Fast and Furious” movies). While the latest adventure from Vin Diesel and Friends might be the beginning of the series’ final trilogy, history makes it clear that the car movie genre isn’t going anywhere.
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