The 11 best movie muscle cars
No pony cars. When creating this list of the best movie muscle cars, we decided not to include any pony cars. No Mustangs. No Camaros. No Trans Ams. No Challengers and no ‘Cudas.
It was a tough decision, one we lost a few nights of sleep over, but we hope you can understand why. We feel that some our other lists, including Best Movie Mustangs, Best Movie Camaros and Best Movie Mopars, already covered those vehicles. Sorry Mr. McQueen, but your Highland Green Mustang didn’t make this particular muscle list.
We also decided to limit the Dodge Charger count to two. Yes, only two. If you’re itching for more, get your fix with our previous Best Movie Dodge Chargers list. The two we chose for this roundup shouldn’t surprise you, either.
This left us with nine remaining spots for other well-deserving movie muscle cars that have thrilled us on the big screen over the years. The list includes a few SS Chevelles, a couple of 442s, a Plymouth GTX, and three GTOs. Did we miss any of your favorites?
Dazed and Confused (1993) — 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 454
There’s more than one great muscle car in this film, including an Orbit Orange 1970 GTO Judge with a hood tach and black vinyl roof. Although, its Rallye II wheels incorrectly wore trim rings. The star of this movie is the black 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 454 driven by Matthew McConaughey’s character. The LS5-powered muscle car, which he calls Melba Toast, is correct down to its 14-inch SS wheels, white SS stripes and optional cowl induction hood. According to the movie’s dialogue, it has a 4.11 Positraction rear end and the engine shot shows the correct air cleaner assembly with the proper decals and factory chrome valve covers.
Jack Reacher (2012) — 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 454
Tom Cruise has driven a long list of cool movie cars and motorcycles on the big screen, but one of his best is the red 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 454 in this action flick. Unlike the Chevelle in Dazed, this one is four-speed, and Cruise drives it in anger. (He eventually destroys the muscle car in a five-minute long chase scene.) The car is visually correct with a cowl induction hood and black SS stripes, although its SS wheels look to be 15 inches in diameter and bit wider than stock. It also has lame aftermarket seats. The shot of the tachometer shows a 5500 rpm redline, which confirms it is LS5 powered. Nine Chevelles were built for the movie, some into SS clones and some with automatics for stunt work.
Fast and Furious (2009) — 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 454
This red 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS 454 is actually first seen in last few frames of the The Fast and the Furious, the first installment of the franchise. It returns with Vin Diesel in the fourth film, first appearing factory stock with black SS stripes and a cowl induction hood with hood pins. The only visible mods are its 17-inch Torque-Thrust style wheels. Then Diesel’s character rebuilds the muscle car into a stealthy grey primer street machine. Six primered cars were built for the movie, including one without an engine for filming Diesel in the interior. For the wheelie scene the car was equipped with a 502 big-block, 4.88 gears and a tray behind the rear bumper holding 700 pounds of lead.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) — 1969 Dodge Charger
Long before there was Bo and Luke’s General Lee, there was the 1969 Dodge Charger from this Peter Fonda car chase film. To make sure the car popped off the screen it was painted Citron Yella (code GY3), a High Impact Dodge color from 1971. To complete the street machine look there’s a non-factory black stripe running the length of its flanks and 440 callouts on the Charger’s quarter panels, which told movie goers all they needed to know. Oversized tires on deep-dish slot mags gave the Dodge the perfect stance. Multiple cars were used for filming and destroyed in the process; R/T badges come and go from one shot to another, and there are a few moments when the Charger wears a 1968 grille without the center divider.
Bullitt (1968) — 1968 Dodge Charger
One of the first American muscle cars to wow movie goers, this black 1968 Dodge Charger and the success of Bullitt kicked off a long list of automotive themed cinema deep into the 1970s that included films like Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Gumball Rally and even Smokey and the Bandit. And much of the team responsible for the Bullitt chase scene, still the greatest ever filmed, went on to create the incredible car action in The Seven Ups and The French Connection. This tire smoking 440-powered Mopar, stock down to its hubcaps, also started a love affair between second-generation Dodge Charger and Hollywood that’s still going strong 50 years later.
The Fate of the Furious (2017) — 1971 Plymouth GTX
Vin Diesel’s character Dominic Toretto has driven quite a few notable Mopars over the years, including a gaggle of second-generation Chargers, the 1970 Road Runner known as Hammer and another 1970 Road Runner with a 440 Six-Pack hood from a 1969 model. But the coolest is the pro-touring style Plymouth GTX in the most recent installment of the franchise. Although IMDB says the car is a 1972, Dennis McCarthy, who built the car for the production, says it’s a 1971. He also says the rear wheels and tires are an incredible 16-inches wide. A handful of cars were constructed for filming, all using LS V-8s from GM and automatic transmissions. Sorry Mopar fans.
Demolition Man (1993) — 1970 Oldsmobile 442 W-30
Finding a perfectly preserved Matador Red 1970 Oldsmobile 442 W-30 (still wearing its blue California license plates) hidden underground in the year 2032? Yup, that’s part of the plot of this Sylvester Stallone film, and according to reports, a real 442 W-30 car was used for the production. The movie car sold in 2011 at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction for $93,500, and according to the auction house it was once owned by the GM Heritage Collection. Of course a handful of clones were built for the action scenes, which has the Olds crashing through windows and gates, jumping, and of course being riddled with bullets. The Olds was such a big part of this blockbuster that Mattel’s Hot Wheels issued a small-scale version of the car.
The Hitcher (2007) — 1970 Oldsmobile 442
In this 2007 thriller, a remake of the 1986 original, the main characters go on a road trip in a clean 1970 Olds 442 with the optional ram air hood. According to some reports online, five identical cars were built for filming, including one real 442. The cars appear factory-correct, with the exception of the stripes on the decklid. Someone in the transportation department must have gotten confused and thought they were painting a Chevelle SS. For more Olds 442 movie action check out Black Cat Run from 1998. The main character drives a 1970 442 convertible with hood scoops from a 1970 Hurst Olds.
Home for the Holidays (1995) — 1970 Pontiac GTO
This one is so obscure we almost missed it. Robert Downey Jr. drives a Bermuda Blue 1970 Pontiac GTO that wears a Judge rear spoiler and Rallye II wheels without trim rings, but no Judge striping or badging. The Goat is an automatic, does not have a hood tach, and its hood scoop inserts are body color (a Judge would have black scoop inserts). Another detail to look for is the Royal Pontiac rear license plate frame. That’s no accident—someone on this movie was into Pontiacs. The car is seen throughout the movie and isn’t babied. Downey’s character drives it hard. The movie car showed up on eBay back in 2016 with a Buy-it-Now price of $24,500. The owner said the car had a 455 engine with a few modifications and was not numbers-matching.
Hollywood Knights (1980) — 1965 Pontiac GTO
For some high-quality first-gen Pontiac GTO action check out Knight and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. The Martinique Bronze ’66 is perfect down to its Rallye I wheels. But our favorite first-gen movie GTO is the red 1965 hardtop in this raunchy teenage flick about a bunch of rich car nut teenagers in ritzy Beverly Hills in 1965.
Hollywood Knights is filled with American beauties including a real 427 Shelby Cobra, the Project X ’57 Chevy in its prime and a beautiful silver ’65 El Camino, but the coolest muscle car in this flick is the GTO. Seen throughout the film, it’s perfectly period with a black vinyl top, raised suspension, big tires and a set of Cragar S/S mags. And it sounds like it has headers and aftermarket exhaust. It’s exactly the “Day 2” look that’s so hot right now. Unfortunately, after quite a bit of digging we came up empty on the movie car’s provenance or whereabouts today. Anyone know where it is?
Two Lane Blacktop (1971) — 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge
The primered 1955 Chevy in this movie gets all the love, but for muscle car fans it’s the 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge that makes this cult road movie so timeless. The Orbit Orange GTO wears Judge stripes but no Judge badging. It also rolls on a set of Keystone Klassics, which were popular in the early 1970s. In the film the driver of the GTO, who is named GTO in the credits, says the car has the optional 455 engine but the Pontiac does not have 455 CID stickers on its front fenders.
Some say these cars were standard GTOs with Judge stripes. The cars were automatics and you can hear them get rubber on the 1-2 shift during the film. According to Jim Wangers, the GTOs were loaned to the production by Pontiac, and Two Lane’s director Monte Hellman has said that he drove one of the two GTOs around LA for a few months after filming and got a bunch of speeding tickets. Today the whereabouts of the TLBT GTOs remain unknown.