As we mentioned in Death of the Car Guy? if you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, you were fed a steady diet of movies that leaned heavily on car culture. Some of the car movies — Two-Lane Blacktop, The Car and Death Race 2000, for example – were pretty bad, but they at least had some shred of originality that helped you overlook their failings. Then there were the sequels, the ripoffs, and the clones that were cynically excreted to capitalize on the popularity of a better movie.
Now, we present to you 10 of the worst car movie ripoffs in history:
Starring: Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw
Dir: Sam Peckinpah
See if you can figure this out: The guy who made The Wild Bunch also made this gear-jammin’, CB-talkin’ cover version of Smokey and the Bandit based on the AM radio hit song of the same name. Of course, Sam Peckinpah also made Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, which might be one of the worst atrocities ever committed to film. Leather-skinned Kris Kristofferson looks – as always – like he just climbed out of a refrigerator box in a culvert, and Ali McGraw has the same short, curly perm that Mike Schmidt wore the year the Phillies beat the Royals in the World Series.
Starring: Lisa Lemole, Glenn Morshower
Dir: Rod Amateau
Drive-In was kind of a mashup of a non-nostalgic American Graffiti/Dazed and Confused – with lots of kids feeling each other up at the drive-in movie in the title – and Kentucky Fried Movie, in that there’s actually a parody of a disaster film playing on the screen. Two reasons to see this movie: The parody disaster movie, which is actually kind of funny, and Lisa Lemole’s epic 1970s shorts, which occupy about a third of the screen in some scenes. Director Rod Amateau was the supervising producer of Dukes of Hazzard and its short lived spinoff Enos, so he ain’t all bad.
Smokey Bites the Dust
Starring: Jimmy McNichol, Janet Julian
Dir: Charles B. Griffith
When your star power includes Jimmy McNichol – a guy that looks more like a chick than his sister – you’re gonna have a bad time. There’s only two reasons to have “Smokey” in the title: It was made in 1981, and it hoped to capitalize on the success of the Burt Reynolds/Hal Needham franchise. The car chases are just a collection of unused clips from the 3,000 other films Roger Corman produced.
Starring: Barry Bostwick, Persis Khambatta
Dir: Hal Needham
A personal note: I feel that Hal Needham screwed me with this Road Warrior-esque post-apocalyptic thriller. At the tender age of 13, I saved up and sent away for a giant Megaforce poster I hung in my room for six months before the movie came out. The poster had it all: Cool off-road sand rails, helicopters, motorcycles with machine guns, Persis Khambatta’s cleavage. Unfortunately, the cars were lame, the motorcycles were pathetic, and the sexiest thing on the screen was Barry Bostwick in a glittery headband straight from the set of an Olivia Newton-John video.
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan George
Dir: John Hough
This pseudo-existential ripoff of Two-Lane Blacktop and/or Vanishing Point often ends up on lists of the best car movies. Yes, it has cars in it. Yes, people chase each other around. If that’s all you need, you’ll love it, and you’ll enjoy picking out the crash scene that made it into the opening credits of The Fall Guy. But, if you have the patience to tolerate Susan George’s whining for more than seven minutes without wanting to stuff an oily rag in her mouth and push her out of the moving Charger, you should consider a career in social work. Spoiler Alert: They die at the end. I cheered.
Grand Theft Auto
Starring: Ron Howard, Nancy Morgan
Dir: Ron Howard
You have to appreciate this movie because it’s Ron Howard’s directorial debut. See it and then see RUSH to witness just how far that guy has come as a director. All of the marketing for this movie was centered on the number of cars you see destroyed, a direct lift of the entire reason to see the original Gone in 60 Seconds. There’s hardly a plot, the dialogue stinks (Howard wrote it). It’s amazing to realize that at this point in his career, Ron Howard the actor was a box office draw, carrying both American Graffiti and Happy Days. It’s also amazing that he only had a role in one more live action movie after this, and it was the awful sequel to American Graffiti. Good choice to move behind the camera, Ron.
Starring: James Caan, Some dame you never heard of
Dir: Howard Hawks
Redline 7000 is the hillbilly version of Le Mans, and it’s one of the many reasons I hate Steve McQueen’s movie. Le Mans has a great 20 minutes of racing footage, and then the rest of the movie is taken up with some turgid, half-cooked romance, leading all filmmakers to think that this is the way you make a movie about racing. Le Mans begat Redline 7000, which then begat unwatchable dreck like Bobby Deerfield. As much as I like Jimmy Caan, the racing scenes in Redline 7000 make me want to drown him in the Grotto at the Playboy mansion. Oh, and directed by Howard Hawks – wh-wh-whaaaa?!
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan
Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
To quote the title of Roger Ebert’s great collection of movie reviews, I hated, hated, hated this movie. First off, the plot is a blatant ripoff of the halfway decent Ryan O’Neal movie The Driver and the cool 1971 George C. Scott film The Last Run. Second, if you like cars at all, it’s got all the factual errors that make you want pull an Elvis and fire a .45 at the screen: modern cars stolen with little to no effort by the thief, chase scenes where four- or five-speed automatics shift up eight to ten gears sounding like manuals, and the whole scene discussing how the tread is good on the stock car Bryan Cranston’s character just bought. The tread?! What?! Fail.
Starring: Owen Wilson, Michael Caine
Dir: John Lasseter
It’s a good thing my son is only four and can’t read caustic movie reviews online yet, because he’d be mad at me. Cars 2 is his favorite movie. I loved the first one because it was – ironically – one of the most authentic car movies I’ve ever seen. The sequel, though, with its ridiculous James Bond ripoff plot, and the “Gasoline = Bad” subplot make it a painful experience to watch. And the racing, which was so close to reality in the first one, now has F1 cars on a dirt track? Come on.
Starring: Evel Knievel, Lauren Hutton
Dir: Gordon M. Douglas
This steaming pile is a blatant attempt by Evel Knievel to capitalize on the final seconds of his waning 15 minutes of fame. Unsatisfied with the fact that there was already a movie about him (the equally bad Evel Knievel starring George “Famous for Tanning” Hamilton in the title role) Knievel set out to make this monument to filmmaking ineptitude. About the only reason to watch it is the cast: it features Leslie Neilsen (!), Gene Kelly (!!) and Lauren Hutton at her gap-toothed 1970s hottest.
Image Credit: IMCdB.com, media.screened.com, dbcovers.com, AllPosters.com, picstopin.com