Elegy for Gas-Guzzling Supercharged Car Movies

Peter Martin, Managing Editor

With gasoline prices soaring past $4.00 per gallon in the US, it may be time to kiss all those gorgeous, big-engined, gas-guzzling, supercharged automobile movies goodbye.

Starting in the late 60s with a certain motorcycle movie, American filmmakers began to jam out on the highways. Gas was cheap and spirits (and other things) were high, and nothing was more freeing than the idea of getting in your car, getting out of town, and getting back to nature.

In celebration of those road flicks, and with a sad nod to the reality of insanely expensive fill-ups, we wave "So long, and thanks for the gasoline-scented memories."

After the jump: my top 5 gas-guzzling supercharged car movies ... and be sure to tell us your faves in the comments section.

5. Vanishing Point (1971)

You know that feeling when you've been driving for hours and hours, and the road ahead has telescoped to a tiny window barely the width of your eyeballs, and your eyelids keep interferering with your view? That's Vanishing Point, the point of no return beyond which Barry Newman keeps pressing the pedal to the metal and Cleaven Little keeps talking and a naked woman rides a motorcycle and Delaney & Bonnie sing for no apparent reason and the highway never ends.

4. Dirty Larry Crazy Mary (1974)

Peter Fonda and Susan George are all that the title implies and more, intoxicated by speed and the thrill of running from the law and running away from life and running until their lungs figuratively burst. Crazy Mary: "Hey, wait a minute... why aren't we slowing down?" Dirty Larry, laughing: "She doesn't know me very well, does she, Deke?" Deke (played by the unfairly forgotten Adam Roarke): "Not likely she ever will, with about one second to live."

3. Lost in America (1985)

The vehicle of choice for Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty is not a supercharged car but a huge Winnebago motorhome, but the sentiment is the same. They quit their jobs, sell their house, and set off to crisscross America, traveling the highways and byways in search of freedom. Things don't work out as they hoped, but Brooks (and frequent co-writer Monica Johnson) pierced to the heart of thirty-something childless couples in Reagan's America, not quite fitting in and pining for something better. The classic shot comes at the start of their journey, as the by-now-oversued "Born to Be Wild" accompanies the Winnebago's slow, stately Interstate Highway exodus from modern life.

2. Two Lane Blacktop (1971)

Monte Hellman painted with the camera; Two Lane Blacktop is the closest things to an existential piece of poetry that I've ever seen. It feels like a fever dream, like you woke up in the back seat of a car with a purring, rumbling engine, and no idea where you were. James Taylor and Dennis Wilson live to race and race to live; Warren Oates thinks he has the right stuff, but he's only a pretender.

1. Easy Rider (1969)

No question, this was the one that started it all. All you need are two wheels and a bag of grass, evidently. Easy Rider feels comfortably lived in, like a well-scuffed pair of immeasurably comfortable shoes, yet it soars with the promise of tomorrow.

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