We are used to seeing actors and actresses become big stars after they hit the big screen. However, sometimes props wind up stars, too. I’m talking about the movie cars!
Vehicles can be more than just a prop. They might also be pivotal elements when it comes to the plot, character development, and more. Some might even become an extension of the characters themselves.
Not all cars can become stars, but some of the vehicles that grace the big screen have gone on to become icons. They’ve enjoyed much more than fifteen minutes of fame. I’m talking about cars like James Bond’s Astin Martin or the DeLorean-turned-time-machine from Back to the Future. They are the kinds of cars you just can’t forget about, even after all these years. Some of these have even driven up the value of the models used!
Let’s check some of these cars out. They’re cool and unique, and they are definitely the stuff dreams are made of. You really can’t forget them after seeing them on the big screen. Thanks to some movie magic, and some serious custom upgrades, these cars have become movie stars in their own right.
The Station Wagon from National Lampoon’s Vacation
I can’t see one of these station wagons without thinking of Clark Griswold and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Hey, I can’t really see an 18-wheeler without thinking of an imitation wood paneling station wagon, either. (If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean!) The Griswold family starts with one tacky station wagon and is upgraded to the Wagon Queen Family Truckster before heading out on the road trip.
The fictional Wagon Queen Family Truckster was created by the legendary George Barris, who was the king of custom vehicles in Hollywood. It was actually a modified 1979 Ford Country Squire, with a metallic pea green paint color, extensive imitation wood-paneling decals, and a massive amount of headlights. The clunky, ugly, gas-guzzling monstrosity is as much of a star of Vacation as Chevy Chase if you ask me.
The Jeep Wranglers from Jurassic Park
Hold onto your butts! The Jeep Wranglers used as staff vehicles in Jurassic Park are definitely iconic. The vehicle’s inherent ruggedness fits perfectly into the movie. While the Ford Explorer was used to shuttle tourists around the park, the rugged Jeeps were used by staff to shuttle people to and from the airport and to the park’s main building. And later, they were also used by some characters in an attempt to get away from the escaped dinosaurs…
It’s unclear how many Wranglers were used in production because we never see more than two at any given time. However, they were numbered, and we see 10, 12, 18, and 29 throughout the movie. Did they just swap out numbers to make it look like they had more than they did? Or, were there other numbered vehicles that ended up on the cutting room floor?
The original Wranglers used in the movies were kept by Universal Pictures, and some of them can be seen at Universal parks. Jeeps 18 and 29 reappear in Jurassic World. The movie’s popularity spawned a bunch of replicas, too. You can even make your own, with this in-depth guide!
The Shaggin’ Wagon from Dumb and Dumber
Half of this movie just wouldn’t have been the same without the iconic Shaggin’ Wagon. Only the best for Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, right? What was once a regular ol’ Ford Econoline van was transformed by filmmakers into the Mutt Cutts vehicle we all know and love.
Tan carpeting was added inside and out to make it fluffy and lovable. It’s got floppy ears, a nose, a tongue hanging out of its doggy mouth, and you even have to lift up the rear leg to get to the gas cap. The Shaggin’ Wagon is definitely a unique ride for two very unique characters!
Bumblebee from Transformers
We couldn’t have Transformers without Bumblebee. In fact, the character/car even got a spinoff with 2018’s Bumblebee. A sequel is expected in 2023. While the original robot was a small yellow Volkswagen Beetle, the live-action Bumblebee got quite the makeover – and this vehicle is one of the more recognizable cars from the big screen. The car is a yellow Camaro with black racing stripes.
The fun part, though, is that the first Camaro used was actually a concept car, as the Camaro was still on hiatus and not available to the public. It’s likely that Transformers played a big part in the Camaro’s success when the fifth generation went on sale to the public in 2009.
The “Ferrari” from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Fun fact: the Ferrari that Ferris Bueller takes out for a joy ride with his friends? It’s not actually a Ferrari at all. It’s an imposter! A limited budget restricted the purchase of a real 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, an incredibly rare vehicle since only 56 were ever made. That’s why they created one.
The replica was created from a Ferrari-inspired fiberglass bodywork, a custom steel-tube subframe, a speedometer lifted from a Jaguar, and a Ford V8 from the ‘70s. Modena Design also slapped a few Ferrari badges on there to make it realistic and ended up in hot water for it. Ferrari sued them since they didn’t secure the rights from the automaker.
The DeLorean from Back to the Future
In real life, the DeLorean was definitely a sales flop with a brief and turbulent history. The company folded in 1982, just a little over a year after the first DeLorean rolled off the line in January of 1981. But when Back to the Future hit theaters in 1985, the unique vehicle had been given a makeover as a time machine.
The DeLorean’s prominence in all three of the Back to the Future movies boosted the car’s popularity – but unfortunately, it came too late. The Detroit-headquartered DeLorean Motor Company had been out of business for a few years already. I bet DMC founder John DeLorean wished the movie’s car really could travel back in time.
James Bond’s Aston Martin from Goldfinger and Thunderball
Much like many other vehicles on this list, it’s hard to think about James Bond movies without also imagining the character’s signature vehicle. And although the character’s car of choice has changed as much as the actors who portrayed him, most envision the same car: the Astin Martin DB5. It appeared in the first Bond flick, Goldfinger. The iconic silver ride came back for Bond’s next flick, 1965’s Thunderball, with some enhanced gadgets. Bond had other Astin Martins over the years, but the DB5 made appearances in GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale, Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time to Die.
The original “gadget” Astin Martin was actually missing for 25 years, after being stolen in the late ‘90s from a hangar in Boca Raton, Florida. It was recently located in a “private setting” in the Middle East, according to experts at Art Recovery International.
The Ectomobile from Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife
It might have needed “suspension work and shocks, brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission, rear end… maybe new rings, also mufflers, a little wiring…” but where would the Ghostbusters be if it weren’t for the Ectomobile? Dubbed Ecto-1 because of the license plate, this odd vehicle was once a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Sentinel. Try saying that five times fast.
The vehicle was a combination car, a vehicle that could serve as both an ambulance or a hearse – a function that smaller towns and rural areas took advantage of, where funeral homes offered emergency ambulance service on the side. It was upfitted with a pull-out rack of ghost-capturing proton packs, a siren, a roof full of gadgets, and the signature Ghostbusters logo. The Ectomobile is definitely unique and has become one of the most memorable movie cars of all time.
Obviously, we can’t have a list of iconic movie vehicles without including the Batmobile. The Dark Knight has been using it for pursuit, prisoner transportation, warfare, and even as a mobile crime lab for several decades. However, the Batmobile has changed just as often as Batman himself, so it’s difficult to choose just one to include here!
The bubbly Batmobile used for the campy Batman TV series and movie from the 1960s is definitely iconic and remained the only on-screen Batmobile until Tim Burton’s Batman arrived in 1989. Burton’s Batmobile ditched the camp for a serious, sleek sports car built for speed.
But perhaps Batman’s wheels from the Dark Knight Trilogy takes the spot for most famous on-screen vehicles in recent years. Nicknamed the Tumbler, it was a two-ton military prototype that was upfitted with an array of gadgets and weapons. The Tumbler is certainly unique looking. It also ejected a motorcycle – dubbed the Batpod – and then self-destructed.