When it comes to Pontiac and movies, there can be only one that tops everyone’s list: the glorious jet-black 1977 6.6-liter Trans Am that played so central a role in Smokey and the Bandit that director Hal Needham considered it a character, not a prop.
But Pontiac made a lot of cool cars, and Hollywood has shown them a lot of love over the years. Even cars you might not think of, like the ’74 Grand Ville, have gotten their due.
We’ve already run down the 11 best movies with Trans Ams, so this time around we’re gonna widen the lens to take in other models. Here, in chronological order, are the 11 best movie Pontiacs that aren’t a Trans Am.
The French Connection (1971)
Only a seedy New York cop drama could make a brown 1971 Pontiac LeMans sedan cool. This absolutely essential ’70s classic, Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, features one of the greatest chase scenes ever filmed. How else would you describe a car chasing an elevated subway at 90 mph through crowded city streets (which was far more dangerous than it sounds, because the film crew didn’t actually close off all the streets first)? Nailing the scene required two Pontiacs—the hero car for exterior shots and another with a camera mounted inside to film Hackman.
Stunt driver Bill Hickman, who drove the black Dodge Charger in Bullitt did the hair-raising wheel work.
The Seven Ups (1973)
The Seven Ups isn’t a sequel to The French Connection, but it feels like one. It was directed and produced by the same guy (Philip D’Antoni, who also did Bullitt), stars Roy Scheider, and features an amazing chase. In this case, the cars are a Ventura that sounds like its running open pipes and an enormous Grand Ville with a 455.
Once again Bill Hickman does the driving, this time at the wheel of the Grand Ville. It took four months to film the 10-minute sequence, with cameras mounted in, on, and all around the two cars. Hickman, who was also the stunt coordinator on the picture, pushes the big sedan hard enough to catch some air.
Slap Shot (1977)
Our list of the 11 Best Movie Muscle Cars included the 1970 GTOs that appeared in Dazed and Confused, Two-Lane Blacktop, and Home for the Holidays. We didn’t want to leave the Goat off this list, so we’re including this Paul Newman movie about a minor league hockey player.
Our hero drives a weathered Baja Gold 1970 Pontiac GTO that sounds glorious and sports a black vinyl top, a tach on its steering column, and American Racing Torque Thrust wheels that could not be any cooler.
The car is featured prominently throughout the film, even appearing during the opening credits. And it appeared entirely by happenstance: Newman spotted the car on location in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and asked the owner if he could borrow it. The recently restored 400/four-speed GTO still prowls the streets of Johnstown and joined a celebration of the film’s 40th anniversary.
Youngblood isn’t a sequel to Slap Shot, but it could be. In this case, Rob Lowe plays hotshot American hockey prospect Dean Youngblood, who skates for a Canadian team called the Hamilton Mustangs. The film also stars Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, because 1980s. But we’re more interested in the 1970 Pontiac GTO, a car no doubt selected in homage to the car Newman drove.
This time the GTO is blue with a primered front fender and Rally II wheels. It’s driven by actor Jim Youngs, who plays Lowe’s older brother in the film. (As it happens, Lowe appeared with another GTO, a red 1966 convertible, in Wayne’s World.) We’d love to know what became of this car. Anyone know if it’s still around?
This fantastic flick teems with great cars, including a 1961 Impala SS convertible, a 1966 Corvette, and too many Cadillacs to list. And then there’s the 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix favored by Henry Hill, the protagonist played by Ray Liotta. Brown with a white vinyl top and Rally II wheels, the Pontiac is featured in the very first scene of the movie. That’s right, you see the Grand Prix before any of the actors.
That said, Hill—who really was a mobster, and wrote the book upon which Martin Scorsese based the film—drove Buicks in real life.
Last Action Hero (1993)
Our vote for the best movie Pontiac Bonneville goes to the 1969 convertible Arnold Schwarzenegger drove in this tongue-in-cheek action flick. The full-size droptop is bone stock down to the whitewall tires, and the five-minute chase with a hot-rodded 1956 Ford F100 couldn’t be more fun to watch.
Several big Pontiacs appear in Last Action Hero, and if you look closely you’ll spot some continuity issues during the action. There are a couple of shots where it appears to be a Catalina. Not that we have a problem with Catalinas.
The Faculty (1998)
The protagonist in this In this sci-fi horror film drives a black 1970 Pontiac GTO hardtop sporting ’70 Chevelle SS-style red stripes on its hood and decklid and Rally II wheels. We can’t tell you much about the movie, but we do know it features a sweet scene of the Poncho sliding and smoking its tires, although the car meets a fiery end in a collision with a school bus.
Several GTOs were used in the film, and at least one went up for sale—wearing Foose wheels—in 2014. Oh, and the film’s stunt coordinator, Bob Brown, was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s double in Last Action Hero, and he did some stunts in 2Fast 2Furious, Gone in Sixty Seconds, and Faster, which features a gold 1967 GTO hardtop. Forget six degrees from Kevin Bacon. We’re wondering it it ought to be six degrees from Pontiac.
Knight and Day (2010)
The gold 1966 GTO that appears in this good guy/bad guy action comedy, is one of the prettiest Pontiacs to appear on the silver screen. The movie stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz as… oh, you don’t really care about that. The car in question is stone stock down to the redline bias-ply tires wrapped around Rally I wheels, and the director makes it a point to show us it’s a Tri-Power car.
Cruise drives American muscle in many of his films, including a red 1970 SS Chevelle in Jack Reacher and a black and gold 1966 Shelby Mustang GT350-H in War of the Worlds, but this time it’s Diaz behind the wheel. There’s some good action and the film ends with the two driving off into the sunset.
Need for Speed (2014)
Most car guys remember this action thriller for its heavily-modified modern Mustang and exotic supercars including a Saleen S7 and a couple of Koenigsegg Ageras. But the flick opens with a four-minute street race featuring quality American muscle, including a 1969 Ford Torino, a 1968 Chevy Camaro (with a 1969 SS stripe), and a gold 1966 Pontiac GTO hardtop.
Although the GTO is similar to the car in Knight and Day, it’s visually different with a black vinyl top and larger diameter American Racing Torque Thrust wheels. Several GTO clones were created for the film and the extended action sequence, all with updated suspension, brakes and modern LS V8s for power.