Critics agree the 1970s marked a new age in American cinema. The decade saw the emergence of the summer blockbuster (remember Jaws?), the rise of horror as a lucrative genre, a host of gritty crime films and numerous small-budget movies that generated cult followings. The 1970s was also a decade inundated with movies featuring car chases. Here we take a look at five unforgettable classics.
In this 1971 film, Kowalski—an ex-cop, ex-motorcycle and car racer, and Medal of Honor Vietnam War veteran turned car delivery driver—takes an assignment to drive a supercharged white, Dodge Challenger R/T 440 from Denver to San Francisco. But after making a bet with his drug dealer to complete the 1,000-mile trip in a day, Kowalski soon attracts the attention of police who pursue in a multi-state high speed car chase.. Throw in a psychic radio DJ, some homosexual hitchers and a naked woman on a motorcycle and you have the making of a cult classic car chase movie—one of the best of all time.
The French Connection
Here’s pretty solid proof they don’t make movies like they used to. It famously came out after the fact, but when director William Friedkin failed to get proper permitting for a five minute car chase scene in which Gene Hackman pursues a bad guy getting away in an elevated New York subway train, he went ahead and filmed it anyway—public safety be damned. It more than changes the way you watch the scene when you realize a lot of the near-car collisions were as real as some of the fear-stricken pedestrians—ordinary people who didn’t know a movie was being made—leaping out of the way of Hackman’s 1971 Pontiac LeMans.
Steven Spielberg, who often admitted to loving the 1971 film Vanishing Point, saw his career take off after adapting this Richard Matheson short story to film. Duel is about a salesman named Mann who gradually realizes a menacing, apparently driverless truck is trying to run him off the road. The original, made-for-television version of Duel was eventually turned into a feature-length film.
The Sugarland Express
Steven Spielberg is not known as a car guy despite the fact that the two most important movies that launched his career are settled around films that involve car chases. The Sugarland Express is based on the true story of a fugitive couple pursued by army of police and Texas bystanders after they kidnap their son (and, later, a Texas police officer). The last chase in Spielberg’s official big-screen debut is great—almost poetic—because it’s so well shot and for the John Williams music that sets the mood. This would be the first time Williams and Spielberg collaborated together.
Smokey and the Bandit
Hard to believe, but back in 1977 this lovable Burt Reynolds classic was the second biggest hit of the year—right behind, Star Wars. The film is basically one long car chase with a bunch or crazy stunts and car crashes. But over 30 years later, the humor and action of the film still holds up. The box office success of Smokey and the Bandit made the Trans Am wildly popular. So popular, in fact, that GM reportedly gave Reynolds a 1977 Trans Am as a gift. The actor held onto the car until 2014 when, in an effort to avoid bankruptcy, Reynolds started auctioning off his processions. Though it never actually appeared in the movie, the car sold for a reported $450k.
The car chase in Dirty Mary Crazy Larry? The clever spoof of the epic Bullitt chase in the 1972 movie, What’s Up, Doc? How about the chase scene from the original Mad Max in 1979? The list of great 1970s movie car chases is long. Take a second to tell us your favorite in the comment section below.