The used car market is intimidating. There are more than enough new cars, with a dizzying array of segments, trims, and options to peruse; multiply that by all of the years ever to try to comprehend how hard it can be to choose a used car. It’s fair to say that most of what you’ll find at an online car dealership or on a sales lot is going to be less than 15 years old, but still, there are too many choices!
Shoppers need to come up with rules for themselves – specific body styles, features, makes, or models – to search for. For the driver who is also a fan of film, making a connection to their favorite stories can narrow the list significantly – especially since many classic film cars are essentially unobtainable without boatloads of cash, a skilled body shop, and the good luck to find what you are looking for. This list of iconic movie cars is focused on models you could reasonably find on the used market today because they’re less than 30 years old and under $30,000 – so if you think driving a movie car is the next best thing to being a movie star, keep a keen eye out for these five models:
#1 – 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX
It’s almost funny that the first movie that came to mind when I thought of this list was Baby Driver, but the movie conjures an image of the bright red WRX as strongly as it does the face of its protagonist. While the movie felt to me like a lighter rehash of Drive, the opening chase sequence is a modern classic thanks to the Subaru’s ridiculous drifting maneuvers. Of course, some of those sideways skids required modifications, like a special handbrake or even a conversion to RWD for some of the prop cars, but that shouldn’t matter unless you plan to attempt the objectively insane slides that Baby could do in his sleep.
You can pick up a used 2006 WRX for well under $10k if you aren’t too picky, and even examples in excellent condition will run you under $20k. Exercise the patience to find one in bright glossy red or with the black leather interior, get the new seats or paint job to flesh it out, and find some sweet black wheels to complete the look. The Impreza WRX might not grab as much attention as some others on this list, but you will always know you are a Baby Driver impersonator, and that’s all that really matters.
#2 – 2003 Cadillac CTS
What you may not remember about Cadillac is that in the 1990s, Caddy was boring. Nice enough but not exciting at all, a far cry from the brand that’s spitting out 600 hp manual transmission drivetrains today. But when word leaked to GM that the Wachowskis had to find a couple of cars suitable for the epic chase/battle scene they had in mind for The Matrix Reloaded, becoming exciting was exactly what Cadillac executives had in mind.
Their aggressive pursuit of the bit role that the all-new EXT and CTS models filled in Reloaded played no small part in successfully transforming Cadillac’s image from the retiree’s brand to something cool that young people would aspire to. I was of an age where I didn’t know what The Matrix was, but I saw the brand-new Cadillac CTS in the trailers, and the ’03 model was forever branded a cool car in my young mind. I know at least one other person whose dream car was the ’03 CTS in that standard silver paint thanks to its acting credit, and they could find one for under $5,000 today – just, leave out the bullet holes, please.
#3 – 1992 Jeep Wrangler (YJ)
This is a change of pace compared to the others on this list, as the YJ Wrangler doesn’t stand out to anybody as a cop-evading street drifter. But that makes it no less iconic to those of the Jurassic Park Generation, who got their first glimpse of what a David Attenborough film might have looked like in the year 120 million BC with a beige-and-red Jeep in the frame. Don’t forget the scene where Ian Malcolm is recovered from the T-Rex attack site, and our heroes end up in a Jeep Wrangler chase scene to get away!
Wranglers are some of the best “investment” daily drivers you can get because of how well they tend to hold value. Thank the cult following that Jeep has created for themselves over 80 years of off-roading prowess. Even so, the YJ is one of the less popular iterations, thanks to square headlights that made it look more like other Jeep models. This practically trivial detail could benefit the prospective Jurassic Park Ranger, who can find plenty of ’92 Wranglers for under $10,000.
After that, the modifications to make your Wrangler an “Isla Nublar edition” aren’t too intense. The Sand Beige paint color was a stock option, and red striping is a simple paint addition. Red wheels, BF Goodrich off-road tires, and a winch round out your essentials. A red rollbar is optional, the Sahara trim leather interior is recommended, and the most authentic off-roading headlights you can get would be muy bueno. With an entire fan club dedicated to transforming YJs into JPs, you won’t be alone in your quest either! Getting this one right is almost too easy.
#4 – 2010 Chevy Camaro
When Chevy closed the curtains on the Camaro in the early ’00s, they handed the reins of the pony car market over to Ford. Then the retro-styled 2005 Mustang redesign took the industry by storm. The sheer nerve of Ford got somebody’s blood boiling at GM HQ, just as it had 40 years earlier with the original Mustang release. Fast forward to 2007, and young car fans like me were more excited to see the brand-new Camaro concept car on-screen than we were to see it transform into one of the best pre-MCU heroes we ever had, Bumblebee the Autobot. While Transformers is at its most exciting in explosive battle sequences, it’s loaded with professional-grade driving shots too, and for me, that was more than enough.
The “new” Camaro (i.e., all Camaros since the 2010 re-release) looks and sounds awesome, and these days it out-performs its direct competitors on the track despite boasting a lower sticker price. Sure, it has a reputation for being exceptionally tight inside and hard to see out of, but you buy the Camaro despite these things because it’s all about the look, the sound, and the feel. I think any kid whose parent is driving a canary yellow Camaro with black racing stripes – of any generation – is immediately thrust into cool-kid-dom thanks to the Transformers franchise.
As a much newer vehicle than every other on this list, the 2010 SS models still fetch around $15,000 – so repainting as-needed and adding racing stripes to complete the look starts to sound intimidating for a modest budget. Even so, the Camaro is one of the best hp-per-dollar buys out there, so if a pony car was already on your radar, consider locking on to Bumblebee!
#5 – 2000 Honda S2000
As a franchise that has now stretched to nine movies, The Fast and the Furious inevitably features several cars that became icons to young people who dreamed of fun and exciting rides that were both achievable and personal. The best of these (which you still have a realistic hope of acquiring) is Suki’s pink-on-pink Honda S2000 from 2 Fast 2 Furious. Not only does this car rank near the top of most evaluations of the Fast and Furious garage, but compared to the Toyota Supra, 1970 Dodge Challenger, and Mazda RX-7 that also dominate such lists, it’s by far the most common and accessible in the North American market today.
While you probably can’t easily replicate the extensive bodywork and fantastic detailing of the movie car, dressing an S2000 in hot pink won’t break the bank (might break some mirrors, though). I think this is the one example where you’re better off just maintaining the car you get with detailing and mechanical service to keep it in the best shape imaginable, rather than doing the extra legwork to make it look like the movie car, due to the sheer scope of work involved and polarizing nature of the color scheme.
In part, that’s because the S2000 is expected to appreciate significantly in years to come. Honda’s roadster is still reputed as a sports car masterpiece, and with no “next-gen” offering in sight, enthusiasts are going to become collectors just to be able to say that they have one. It’s already happening – these 20-year-old cars sell for roughly $20,000 today compared to their original $30,000 MSRP. If you’ve got the resources and interest to get into the game that is buying and selling cars for money, the S2000 seems like a great bet, and it remains a premier performance roadster with an excellent cinematic connection to boot.
(Head)Lights, (Rear View) Camera, (Head-Turning) Action!
With more than 100 years of cinematic history along with a century of automotive development, cars have starred in dozens of films since the very beginning. From Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Bullitt, Smokey and the Bandit to Goldfinger, and Ghostbusters to Back to the Future, some very special models have cemented their place in history not for their sales numbers, reliability standards, or record-shattering performance, but for how they earned a place in our hearts through film. Unlike most of these dream cars, which are only that, those on this list – the Subaru Impreza WRX, Cadillac CTS, Jeep YJ Wrangler, Chevy Camaro, and Honda S2000 – remain accessible on the used car market. So, if you’re a big-time cinema fan, maybe the used car market isn’t so intimidating and huge after all.