Cars on Film: Fiction Versus Reality. By Frankie Wallace.
High-speed chases, street drag races, incredible driving stunts, and even accidents that get your heart racing are all par for the course when it comes to cars on film. As a society, we’ve gotten used to (and even expect) how cars are depicted in movies in somewhat elaborate and exaggerated ways.
While most car chases and accidents portrayed in movies aren’t exactly realistic, they can definitely be entertaining. The Fast and the Furious franchise has built upon people’s love for that kind of action for years, bringing in over $5 billion for all of their movies.
As entertaining as car chases and accidents in movies might be, it’s important to be able to differentiate fact from fiction. The reality is, most car accidents don’t happen because of police chases or drag races. Alcohol, speeding, and reckless driving are the biggest factors when it comes to crashes in the U.S., and unfortunately, about 6% of those crashes will end in fatalities, which is something else that isn’t often portrayed on film.
To get a better look at fiction versus reality when it comes to cars on film, let’s talk about a few notable car movies and scenes, and then cover how they differ from real-world situations.
Cars, Cast, Chases, and Crashes
Most car chases, races, and accidents tend to happen in action films. That’s been the standard in the movie industry for many years. Sometimes, a car in a film can completely steal the show. After all, what’s a James Bond movie without an Aston Martin? What’s Back to the Future without a Delorean? That’s the first fact vs. fiction idea to keep in mind; cars are often a part of the cast in movies. Whether the main character has a specific vehicle they drive, or the car takes center stage by allowing the driver to pull off specific stunts, go at faster speeds, etc., you’re probably not going to feel the same way about an exciting car scene if someone is driving a station wagon. The reality? The type of car you drive doesn’t really have an impact on whether you get in an accident or not. So, while a Shelby Mustang on film might look cool speeding away from the police, that’s a bit more unrealistic in real life.
Even some of the best car films of all time don’t necessarily depict scenes you’d see in real life. The original version of The Italian Job focuses on three British Mini Coopers. In one dramatic scene, the vehicles ride through shopping malls, go downstairs, and even drive on rooftops. While it’s not impossible, it’s highly unlikely someone could do that without being a professional driver and without some “movie magic” involved.
In 1971, The French Connection secured its spot as one of the best car movies ever made, too, but it doesn’t follow realistic rules, either. While the scenes involving a detective taking over a Pontiac LeMans to chase down a hitman are exciting, it’s not hard to see that just about every traffic law imaginable is being broken, and it’s hard to believe that by running stop signs and lights and ignoring pedestrians and cars, the driver doesn’t get into a serious accident. In fact, the entire scene was set up to rhythmically fit the beat of the song “Black Magic Woman,” by Carlos Santana. 2017’s Baby Driver followed a similar pattern with incredible car chase scenes set to a specific soundtrack.
Are Any Car Movies Realistic?
For as many elaborate and exaggerated chase scenes that grace the silver screen, there are also plenty of more subdued and realistic car films and scenes. They can actually be more difficult to watch since they portray a closer look at reality instead of boosting your adrenaline for entertainment purposes.
One of the best examples of a realistic crash on film is from 2007’s No Country for Old Men. Javier Bardem’s character is in a side-impact accident and is the lone survivor of the crash. What’s really interesting, though, is the acting in the aftermath of the accident. Bardem’s character is visibly shocked and in a lot of pain, despite refusing medical attention. He’s limping and shaken from the scene. Some films with similar crashes might have their ‘hero’ of a character simply walk away unscathed, but Bardem plays the part in a more realistic fashion.
Another more realistic depiction of cars on film can be found in the Danish movie, The Guilty. A police dispatcher makes a connection with a woman who is being abducted. Part of the film depicts a car chase and kidnapping that you don’t even see on the screen, but it feels like you’re peering into something very private and very real, which is what makes the movie so thrilling.
The Reality of Car Accidents
Most car accidents in real life don’t happen for crazy reasons. As stated above, things like texting, using substances, or other distractions are often to blame. That’s one of the biggest differences between reality and film. The other big difference is what happens after an accident.
More often than not, a car isn’t going to blow up as it does in a movie. If you’re lucky, you’ll walk away from an accident without any injuries, but you certainly won’t walk away from the scene of a crash and go about your day like actors in film sometimes do. At the scene of a crash, you’ll have to work with law enforcement to explain what happened, and you may even need to speak with a forensic nurse that’s working with law enforcement if someone caused the crash and, subsequently, your injuries. And that’s just the injuries to yourself, the damage to your car isn’t going to be an easy fix either.
Movies have a tendency to gloss over vehicle damage, or ignore the pain and suffering your wallets going to feel when you try to get your baby back in shape. I think we can all remember when Edward Cullen used his bare hand (and vamp strength) to simply pop a dent out of Bella Swan’s truck in the first Twilight movie. If only it were that easy. Sadly, even a minor dent isn’t typically something you should try to fix by yourself, and depending on how bad the damage is, it can run you several hundred, or even thousands to get fixed, and a heck of a lot more time than it took Edward.
Another thing we don’t often see in movies is how car accidents can affect people on a long-term basis. If you get into a serious accident, you could have lasting physical injuries. If an airbag strikes you or glass from the windshield caused damage to your face, you may need realistic cosmetic surgery or other reconstructive procedures. Accidents can also cause mental and emotional trauma, and may even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder that requires the help of a mental health professional.
So, while cars in movies often look cool weaving through the streets, and even getting into explosive accidents, it’s not usually a realistic portrayal of what that kind of driving would look like in the real world. But, if the success of action films with cars has taught us anything, it’s that people aren’t going to stop watching any time soon, so pass the popcorn and buckle up for more classic car scenes in the future.
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