I love movies. I especially love action movies. I also love cars. So one of my favorite things is movie cars. That is, cars that are in movies. Whether they play a key role in the story, or if they are just in the background to set the mood, movie cars are awesome. Here’s why.
No, I don’t mean the cars driven by the hero in the movie. The term “hero car” means the car used for closeup shots. These cars tend to have much more detail than non-hero cars. For example, a hero car may have working headlights, a nice interior, and any other details needed for the movie. You can see this in the Universal Studios movie, “Back to the Future.” There were many DeLoreans used in the making of the movie. Most barely ran. They were used for shots that were done very far away from the camera. But for closeup shots, a hero car was used that included all of the cool wires, lights, nobs, and gadgets needed for Marty to travel through time.
I own an “Extra Car.” It’s a 1931 Model A Ford used as an extra car in the Paramount Pictures movie, “The Untouchables.” The car was driven in a street scene near the end of the movie. It was never seen up close, so it’s like an extra in a movie. These cars may be gutted, or they may be fully working like mine is.
A prop car is usually a gutted car that doesn’t work but is meant to look like a real, working car. These cars often sit in the background just to make the scene look authentic. They don’t have to move, but it helps to make the scene believable.
Sometimes prop cars are used to show off fake “mechanisms” like on James Bond cars. For example, when you see rockets pop out of the side of a car, you may be looking at a closeup of just the fender of a prop car. A stagehand then pops the rockets out of the side by simply manipulating the mechanism with his hand, like a puppet. You simply don’t see the hand of the stagehand.
A stunt car is used for stunts, of course. Usually, these cars are specially rigged to flip or jump over ramps. They may also be used for chase scenes since they are replaceable if they get damaged. Often expensive cars (think Lamborghini) are fake. They are kit cars made to look like the real thing. It’s much easier, cheaper, and less heartbreaking to blow up a fake Ferrari than a real one.
Also, the electronics and specially tuned systems of new cars make them hard to use for chase scenes. Why? Because they are TOO safe. They don’t slide and do burnouts very well. So, some filmmakers just swap out LS crate engines for the current engines, so they have complete control over the car, using an aftermarket ECU, of course.
So the next time you’re watching an exciting car chase or a car that has just jumped a river (Dukes of Hazard style), remember, it’s probably not the car you think it is. Real cars just can’t stand up to that kind of abuse.