Many Americans saw their first Corvette in motion at the movies. Chevy began building its new sports car in Flint, Michigan, in 1953. Production moved to St. Louis for 1954, and soon after, a black Corvette starred in the 1955 Mickey Spillane private eye film Kiss Me Deadly. Driven throughout the film by the main character Mike Hammer, the movie car was one of just four black Corvettes built in 1954.
In the 63 years since, Corvettes have appeared in thousands of movies, many recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures, including Terms of Endearment and Boogie Nights. More recently, America’s favorite sports car has appeared in the Fast and Furious, Transformers, and Rush Hour franchises. And stars that have driven Corvettes on the big screen include Jack Nicholson, Elvis Presley, and Dennis Hopper.
Choosing the five best movie Corvettes wasn’t easy, but nevertheless, here they are.
5. Hot Rods to Hell (1967)
Belching smoke throughout this classic car flick, the star car—a 1958 Chevy Corvette—was done up gasser style with a high-riding suspension and missing front bumper, grille, and valance. Painted red, with two yellow stripes that run the length of the car and flames covering much of its coves, the Corvette was also equipped with a two-point roll bar and Radir five-spoke wheels with spinners and slicks. Tim Allen once told Motor Trend that Hot Rods to Hell was his favorite car movie, and he’s not the only one. Recently a faithful replica of the film’s automotive star was built in Utah and documented on the H.A.M.B.
4. King of the Mountain (1981)
In this cult-car lover’s classic about street racing on L.A.’s infamous Mulholland Highway, Dennis Hopper drives a mean 1967 Corvette coupe with side pipes and deep dish slot mags. With missing bumpers, hood, pop-up headlights, and backlight, the rough Corvette is one part red and two parts primer, with a custom-molded rear spoiler. It’s the perfect embodiment of a tired Corvette street beast circa 1981, only it’s unclear if it’s a small-block or big-block. All we can see is that it has a single carburetor. And man, does it sound good. The car comes out of mothballs for the final climactic race and ultimately meets an explosive demise as it leaves the mountain road and plummets to its final resting place.
3. Con Air (1997)
The Corvette in this Nic Cage action flick is a complete contrast to the King of the Mountain Corvette. Although they are both 1967 models, the Con Air Corvette is a roadster and it’s in beautiful condition with shiny and correct Silver Pearl paint and all of its body panels and bumpers. It’s a small-block, four-speed car with a black interior, no side pipes or headrests. It wears incorrect aluminum knock-off wheels, which were, in fact, used on Corvettes from 1964–66. They look great, but by 1967 Chevy had switched to the similar bolt-on design. It also wears an unfortunate license plate: AZZ KIKR. Like the King of the Mountain Corvette, it is completely destroyed at the end of the film, first dragged behind an airplane and then dropped to its destruction. So it goes.
2. Corvette Summer (1978)
Although it’s not universally loved, this is without a doubt the world’s wildest and best-known movie Corvette. It’s a full custom job with exaggerated bodywork, extreme paint, side pipes, and right-hand drive. Welcome to 1978. The movie car started out as a small-block 1973 coupe with the L48 350 and automatic transmission, but some internet sleuths say two cars were built for the movie, and they may have been different vintages. This is the first movie Mark Hamill made after hitting it big the year before as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.
Corvette Summer wasn’t quite as popular or critically adored, but there is good car action, especially when the Corvette goes up against a Trans Am (the same Trans Am used on TV’s Chips) in the Nevada desert. The best scenes, however, take place cruising the Vette on Van Nuys Blvd, L.A.’s hot spot at the time. The car survives today in a private collection.
1. Clambake (1967)
Elvis Presley made some good movies and more than a few duds. Clambake isn’t one of his best, but there are cars in this film, including vintage Ferraris, Jags, and one of the coolest Corvettes of all time, GM’s Corvette Stingray XP-87 Racer. Designed by Peter Brock (who would go on to create the Shelby Cobra Daytona), Larry Shinoda (who would also create the Ford Boss 302 Mustang), and GM’s VP of styling Bill Mitchell, the Stingray XP-87 arrived in 1959. Essentially, it was a race car with a tube chassis engineered by Zora Arkus-Duntov, and a thin fiberglass body for people to gawk at. Its shape foreshadowed the second-generation Corvette, which debuted in 1963.
Although red in Clambake, it was originally silver when it raced, winning an SCCA C-Modified national championship in 1960. Afterward it became a regular on the auto show circuit. Powered by a fuel-injected small-block, the Stingray Concept is still owned by General Motors and is once again silver. It often makes appearances at significant events and concours, including Pebble Beach, and it recently appeared at the Petersen Automotive Museum.