Hooniverse Asks- What's the Lamest Automotive Trope in the Movies?

Ham-fisted Burgler

Hollywood sells fantasy. And no matter how gritty the subject or vérité the cinéma liberties are always taken in the story telling. When an audience member has certain knowledge of which of a film’s actions run counter to reality, it can result in a whole lot of eye rolling and utterances of oh sure. Take for example Sci-Fi films that have sound in the vacuum of space, who doesn’t get irked by that? And of course those of us steeped in automotive knowledge can find fault with a cornucopia of Hollywood movie car tropes.

For me, the thing that really burns my biscuits is the removal of rearview mirrors and head rests from movie car set pieces as they interfere with sight lines to the “talent.” I notice it every single time. There’s also the screeching tires on dirt roads, the ability to hot wire just about any car simply by touching together a pair of wires yanked from under the dash, and . . .  well, I’m not leaving any fun for you.

Fantasy requires a suspension of disbelief, but when it’s so egregiously lame a plot device, that can be extremely difficult. When it comes to movies and cars, what to you stands out as the lamest movie tropes that Hollywood expects us to accept?

Image: carcityofdanbury

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105 responses to “Hooniverse Asks- What's the Lamest Automotive Trope in the Movies?”

    1. JayP2112 Avatar

      Same could be said for Frank Bullitt's fastback.

      1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

        And John Connors dirt bike in T2

        1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
          Peter Tanshanomi

          You mean the one that randomly converts from four-stroke to two-stroke and back?

          1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

            That's the one! The Japanese were cleverer in the early Nineties than ever.

          2. Vairship Avatar

            It's even better than the V8-6-4, it's the 4-2-stroke!

      2. vwminispeedster Avatar

        And the Charger's regenerating hubcaps

        1. Maxichamp Avatar

          How was Austin?

          1. vwminispeedster Avatar

            Amazing! I need to pull my photos off my camera and post them to facetubes. I would totally go back again. Great track, got to see a lot of the action from all around throughout the weekend. Them opening pit lane and the front straight was very cool. I've also never seen so many Pontiac G8s and GTOs (and one current Ute with a GTO front end) in any one place. It was wonderful.

    2. dculberson Avatar

      And halfway through a race, when you see the bad guy gaining on you, that's when you actually push the gas pedal to the floor. And then the rear tires light up even if you're already going 100mph! It's racing man!

      1. danleym Avatar

        Also, conversations between two people in different cars both driving really fast.

    3. TurboBrick Avatar

      First reply is the correct reply. Movie car accelerates faster when you shift up and step on the gas.
      Oh, and the expression "going into overdrive" when referring to doing something harder or faster etc…

    4. CABEZAGRANDE Avatar

      If we're talking F&F, the one that gets me the worst is that doing a burnout on street tires and completely overcooking them gives you MOST AMAZING LAUNCH EVAR!!!
      And that nitrous makes you shoot awesome blue flames from your exhaust.
      And that a Charger SRT8 that has good odds of breaking a half shaft at stock power levels can pull a 10 ton safe.
      This well is just too deep.

      1. danleym Avatar

        And yet, despite all the silliness, I still love those movies.

        1. pj134 Avatar

          I think I'm going at midnight on Thursday/Friday.

          1. danleym Avatar

            I don't think I'll make the midnight showing, but I'm aiming for Friday evening.

        2. CABEZAGRANDE Avatar

          I love them too 🙂
          Well, with the exception of 2. That one should just be forgotten.
          But this is a franchise where I really can just turn off the engineer brain, suspend my disbelief, and just enjoy them for what they are, extremely entertaining films. I've already got my tickets for Friday 🙂

        3. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
          Peter Tanshanomi

          I never seen any of them.

          1. pj134 Avatar

            You haven't lived, friend.

          2. Tim Odell Avatar
            Tim Odell

            A quarter mile at a time…?

        4. Tim Odell Avatar
          Tim Odell

          Never seen a single one.

          1. danleym Avatar

            They're all pretty cheesy, and there's a lot of incorrect and just plain silly stuff ("You blew the welds on the intake!"), but if you can let go of all that, they're quite entertaining.

          2. Tim Odell Avatar
            Tim Odell

            "…if let go of all that, they're quite entertaining"
            Excrement comes out the cow at body temperature, but it's not what I'd consider a good choice for warming up on a cold day.

          3. ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
            ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

            Andy Sidaris films are my go to for cheese with cars (also with sides of boobs and guns not to mention all the other vehicles).

      2. pj134 Avatar

        How about what happens a little after 1:35?
        [youtube pZZ60jrw6cg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZZ60jrw6cg youtube]

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          Losing weight makes you faster (and look stupid).

      3. Maymar Avatar

        Oh, don't forget (or at least I won't since I finally saw Fast Five on the weekend), if your tires are already spinning, the correct way to get traction is to turn on NAWS. That stuff is like magic juice.

    5. Devin Avatar

      It's better than the XXX Corvette, which had an automatic with a unique shift pattern. At work, can't get the video, but it went something like PDNR

      1. danleym Avatar

        I would look for it for you, but I'm not entering XXX into any search field while I'm at work.

    6. name_too_long Avatar

      Don't forget shifting the automatics.

    7. Sjalabais Avatar

      This post and subsequent examples of making-a-car-movie-with-bicycling-script-writers-that-know-nothing makes me want to watch one them. Which one is the best? I don't even know myself what I mean with "best"… =8^)

  1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    One thing that gets me is that every single car alarm remote in film or TV prompts exactly the same "plip plip" from the car. Mind you, even TV remotes go "beep" in some things I've seen….

  2. OA5599 Avatar

    <img src="http://www.thestranger.com/images/blogimages/2009/03/12/1236894245-zoebelliseverywhere.jpg"&gt;
    Window frames on the "Vanishing Point Car" in Death Proof. Tarantino went to so much detail to even have the right license plate on the car, but then he blew all credibility with the not-even-realistic-looking window frames that don't even attempt to look like they belong on the car.

    1. TurboBrick Avatar

      Now that goes to the same category with my annoyance with movies like Memphis Belle where they used Spanish Bouchons to stand in for Messerschmitt 109's. It's supposed to have an inverted Daimler Benz not a Rolls Royce engine, it looks completely wrong!

      1. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar

        Wow. Never noticed that, but now that you mention it. . .

    2. LTDScott Avatar

      I love that movie and I'm ashamed to admit I never noticed that.

    3. Devin Avatar

      In his defense, those are a stunt person safety thing. I'll accept some visual non-continuity if it means preventing a person from dying.

      1. OA5599 Avatar

        No they aren't. They are a plot device. They are a way for the girls to take off their belts and quickly attach them to a visible part of the car without doing something boring like wrapping them around the door hinge. It also provides an excuse for Zoe Bell to be able to reach the roof. But if you look at the shot above, she is just hanging on without using the belts.
        <img src="http://i2.ytimg.com/vi/-L_FvGQsflk/mqdefault.jpg"&gt;

        1. Devin Avatar

          It's still necessary, for the sake of the stunt, to have a place to attach the belts and other safety rigging equipment, including in the buildup to the stunts as filmed. The reason behind it is for the safety of the stunt performer, and if Zoe felt that the frames were necessary so she could do the stunt and not die, I'm totally okay with the frames being there.

          1. OA5599 Avatar

            Like I said, the film could have had the safety equipment placed around an existing door hinge or hood hinge. Do that in a shot, and then they could even have a strap depended on for the stunt attached to something welded into a concealed place by the stunt crew.
            Or just used a car that already had window frames…but then it wouldn't be the Vanishing Point Car…which didn't have window frames.
            BTW, the frames are not even consistent within the stunt vehicles. The one up top has a sharp corner, while the second one has a gradual curve.

  3. joshwebster84 Avatar


    1. danleym Avatar

      They all do the same thing with a single well placed bullet into the gas tank.

      1. name_too_long Avatar

        And the gas tank fills every space not occupied by the actors.

  4. dculberson Avatar

    The lamest trope to me is the "slow motorcycle." So many movies show the hero on a super sport bike and the bad guys chasing in a police car or SUV and they bad guys have no problem catching up to the motorcycle. Even a slow sport bike is lightning fast compared to a Crown Vic.
    An egregious example: Mission Impossible II had Tom Cruise on a Triumph Speed Triple 955i, a bike that will go 0-60 in ~3.4 seconds and will go on to 150 mph. He was being chased by some guys in, of all things, a Nissan Patrol which would be lucky to go 0-60 in 15-20 seconds and might top out around 105mph eventually. Yet the movie had the Patrol bumping the back tire of the Triumph (hello lame motorcycle physics too) and generally keeping up with it no matter what Mr Couch Jumper did. Ridiculous.
    The Matrix is another good example, but I'll grant them that the motorcycle chase happened inside the Matrix so vehicle speed and physics might not be exactly "normal."

    1. CABEZAGRANDE Avatar

      I'd extend this to all glaringly inferior cars that can magically keep up with far superior vehicles. The one that stuck me the most recently was the Gone in 60 Seconds remake, where a worked over GT500 Mustang was being easily kept up with by P71s and a 528i.

    2. smalleyxb122 Avatar

      That’s not just limited to motorcycles. During any pursuit or race, the vehicles involved are always inexplicably evenly matched. I reckon it’s important for suspense, and to keep both (or all) vehicles in frame, but sometimes the vehicles are glaringly mismatched, but somehow have nearly identical performance.

    3. Neen85 Avatar

      Well that's because the Triumph Speed Triple was having to switch constantly from street to full knobby tires throughout the entire scene. That takes time you know….

      1. dculberson Avatar

        Ha ha! I noticed that, too. Must have had a heck of a tire machine to do a tire change at speed.

    4. BlackIce_GTS Avatar

      Cradle 2 the Grave: a Porsche 996 has difficulty outrunning a Lincoln Navigator. About as believable as DMX's acting. Hiyo!

  5. julkinen Avatar

    Detaching floors.

  6. BradleyBrownell Avatar

    Any car that flips, it is instantly visible that it has had its fuel tank and drivetrain removed for the stunt. Bothers me every time I see it.

  7. TurboBrick Avatar

    Missing headrests. I understand why they do this, but especially scenes shot inside Volvo 240's made to look like they conform to 1964 DOT specs look out of place to me.

    1. OA5599 Avatar

      The first time i saw The Sixth Sense, I had to rewind this scene. I missed a bunch of the dialogue while I was focused on trying to figure out why the headrests were missing.
      [youtube 3qqVQcZxpqA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qqVQcZxpqA youtube]

  8. Alff Avatar

    70's TV, particularly Quinn Martin Productions, was responsible for so many errant automotive memes. I actually love them for their cheesiness. A couple have been mentioned above…
    Regenerating hubcaps and self-healing body panels and frames.
    Cars that go airborne at the slightest provocation
    Cars that explode at the slightest provocation
    Tires that squeal just as loudly on dirt
    Any dark car that drives off a cliff immediately transforms off screen into that same nondescript black sedan (I think it's an LTD, could be wrong)

  9. LTDScott Avatar

    You can often see the column shifter in Park in through-the-windshield shots of people driving cars in shows and movies. It happens frequently enough that even my wife notices it now. Drives me nuts.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      Clearly you're supposed to put it in Park when driving down the Parkway!

  10. danleym Avatar

    I'll go with driving through stuff like locked chain link fences, barrels, well placed stacks of pallets, and the like, and suffering no damage. A close second to this is jumping anything in some normal street car and still being able to drive the car.

    1. Devin Avatar

      Also fire hydrants getting knocked over on the lightest tap. Fire hydrants are sturdy, they will mess you up.

      1. danleym Avatar

        Speaking from experience?

        1. Devin Avatar

          Yes, I must confess.

      2. Stu_Rock Avatar

        That's a good one. Also, in movies the broken fire hydrant always has a dramatic eruption after being hit, even if the movie is set in a place with cold winters.
        Just in case someone doesn't understand the problem–in such locations, fire hydrant valves are at the depth of the main to prevent ice plugging. When a car hits a hydrant like that, no water comes out.

        1. danleym Avatar

          True, but I could see a hard enough accident still dislodging the valve on a dry barrel hydrant. You still have a solid link between the nut up top and the valve that's however many feet below the surface- if that link is damaged, it could cause the valve to open. But yeah, the stereotypical geyser erupting out of a broken hydrant is much more likely around LA with their wet barrel ones.

    2. SSurfer321 Avatar

      In the first Transporter, when he steals the M-B and escapes through the fence, no damage was done to the car. Next shot driving down the road the bumper is wrinkled, lights are broken and the grill has come loose.

  11. name_too_long Avatar

    Rampant, tail-out, oversteer in front wheel drive cars.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      Especially under panic braking

  12. TurboBrick Avatar

    Oh! I forgot the best one!!
    "Back to the Future", the mall parking lot chase scene: The DeLorean appears to be completely overpowered to begin with, I don't think that parking lot is long enough for it to get up to 88mph… but have you ever noticed how the libyans VW bus has no problems keeping up with it? That car is slow, but not THAT slow.
    Also, for the best ratio of "Car Chase Cliches per Hour", I'd suggest any episode of "TJ Hooker". Also, that and Hill Street Blues are the only evidence left that the Dodge St. Regis actually existed.

    1. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar

      Wow. Haven't thought about the St. Regis in years.
      Mid-2000s I was on a Chrysler/Dodge forum a lot. There was an old dude there who'd retired from the film industry who said they'd wrecked hundreds of them on film in the early 80s because they could get them used for almost nothing, some already painted like cop cars. The California CHP in particular had unloaded them as fast as they could.

    2. name_too_long Avatar

      Clearly, the Libyans were running a Porsche-swapped bus.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        Either that or the DeLorean was really a VW-based kit car…

  13. Alcology Avatar

    That anyone that gets in a car in the movies, or on TV, is an immediate stunt car driver. I'd like to think that skill is lying low inside me but I'm sure I'd crash trying to do anything remotely "cool."

    1. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar

      The first and only time I ever attempted a J-turn (in a friend's car, no less), I slammed the curb and blew a tire. Also wrecked a hubcap that turned out to be very hard to replace.

    2. Dean Bigglesworth Avatar
      Dean Bigglesworth

      Taken 2 isn't a very good movie to begin with, but It went from "okay maybe the next scene is good" to "what the fuck is this shit?" when the teenage daughter who was either scared of driving or had repeatedly failed her driving test(can't remember which, possibly both) suddenly becomes an excellent getaway driver when people are shooting at her. While daddy shoots out of the window beside her.

  14. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
    C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    One of the best auto theft scenes.
    Go to 0:38. Sorry for the positively horrible quality.
    Bonus, who doesn't want to hoon a 500 CID FWD land yacht?!
    [youtube roJYjYk8Meo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roJYjYk8Meo youtube]

    1. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
      C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      Hmph…can't edit.
      I wanted to add that, for a couple of decades, GM's were just about this easy to 'liberate'.
      One other thing…I love how Ahnold, in the old Fury cop car, reverses, open diff, so plenty of smoke, then goes to D after flipping around, not either touching the brake or letting off the throttle.
      318 plus the 727 trans = CAN TAKE ABUSE WIN!

      1. OA5599 Avatar

        You can't edit a post with an embedded Youtube. You can delete and repost, though.
        I believe the Caddy in the film was a 1977 model, which would have had "only" 425 cubic inches instead of the full set of 500.

  15. rovingardener Avatar

    Front wheel drive or four wheel drive cars spinning their rear tires for take off. Really?!

  16. Synchromesh Avatar

    All good points here but I would like to bring up one more – alternating damage to vehicles between shots. Good examples are the Porsche chasing scene in Commando where damage on the Porsche is inconsistent with timing and Broken Arrow Hummer chasing scene with similar issues. I'm sure there are tons more examples of this in every movie that involves chasing and vehicle damage.

  17. Devin Avatar

    Complete disregard for model years. The most distracting of these that I've seen recently is Battles Without Honor or Humanity (or the Yakuza Papers), which takes place in the fifties over a number of years, but since their primary car is a '57 Chevrolet it's hard as hell to figure out what year you're supposed to be in, because while some stuff is ostensibly taking place in the early '50s that car suggests it's all after '57.
    Beverly Hills Cop 2 also has two Ferraris, made in different years, with different front ends, but insists they are the same car.

  18. Maymar Avatar

    My wife has Bones as her default "nothing else is on but I'm going to watch something" show. One particular episode, they made a very specific point of figuring out a corpse had been previously stashed in the trunk of a Maserati Quattroporte (by wool fibers from the carpet, and the victim having come in contact with battery acid, ergo, rear-mounted battery). And when they go to open the trunk? Blatantly a Honda remote/key. Because of course it is.
    Although, launching from that point, egregrious product placement. No one talks about benign features like that.

    1. danleym Avatar

      That show is awful for product placement. My wife was really into it for a while, too, so I've seen a lot of the episodes (missed the Quattroporte one, though). Bones gets a Prius in one, and for the whole episode she keeps saying stuff like "I'll bet your car doesn't get 51mpg" and stupid crap like that, that had nothing to do with the plot. I never thought it was that good of a show anyways, but that crap just took it even more downhill.

      1. Tim Odell Avatar
        Tim Odell

        Agreed on the product placement. In one episode Angela's driving a Prius and they make a big deal about the lane departure warning.
        Also, ain't no way the FBI is going to be using Toyotas (particularly the Sequoia) as standard-issue cars.

        1. Maymar Avatar

          To be fair, only the Sequoia's really questionable – most of the characters work for the Smithsonian knockoff, the Jeffersonian Institute. Not that it makes it much better (although it seems to have been dropped this season).

  19. salguod Avatar

    A recent episode of the comedy 'New Girl' had once character driving a prior generation Camry (~3-5 years old, the lumpy one),in beige of course. Another character says "Nice car" and he replies "Thanks, I'm kind of a car nut."
    Uh, no. I think I literally yelled at the screen.

    1. danleym Avatar

      Reminds me of the two coworkers of mine who were discussing buying a new car recently. One of them makes the comment that he's "a huge car guy" then proceeds to say he's trying to decide between a Prius and a Smart. Fortunately, I kept the screaming inside my head.

      1. wunno sev Avatar
        wunno sev

        i have respect for both the prius and the smart, the prius especially
        the prius is an engineering work of art
        the smart is similarly a pretty neat little package
        would i buy either? i could see myself owning a smart some day.
        point is, i'm hesitant to condemn them as cars a car guy might like.

        1. salguod Avatar

          The Smart never made sense to me. All but the absolute base model are priced into Honda Fit territory. While the Fit looses a bit in MPG (not a lot, frankly), it gains buckets of practicality. Five seats, hatchback versatility and a dash of fun-to-drive is a lot to gain for the marginal loss in economy and maneuverability.

      2. Devin Avatar

        To be fair, one of my neighbors has a Smart and an E-Type, so it's possible, if weird.
        Says a guy who drives a sensible Hyundai hatchback.

        1. danleym Avatar

          Do you guys get the diesel Smart?
          I just think that the US offered Smart is completely pointless and has no strong selling point. I can understand purchasing a Prius out of necessity, as blah as they are they do get very good gas mileage, and if that is your principle need I can understand buying them. Not something I would buy, even if gas mileage was my main purpose for buying a car, but I can understand it.

          1. Devin Avatar

            Used to, but new ones are all gas. Which seems like a mistake to me, but I guess they still sell.

          2. salguod Avatar

            I don't think we ever got the diesel.

          3. Tim Odell Avatar
            Tim Odell

            Agreed we got the worst possible Smart.
            With a manual and/or diesel, all the crap it gets on enthusiast circles would be reversed.
            I would've been interested in a Smart roadster, but they cancelled that just in time for the '08 gas price spike.

          4. Maymar Avatar

            It's a city car, for legit congested cities, which is a very limited niche in North America, but it's got its place.

    2. Maymar Avatar

      I think that was supposed to be comedic. I'm still more bothered by Schmitt driving a Ford Flex (or being on his second, I suppose). Considering they got everyone else's cars pretty spot on (even the Fo' Scape this season), the character responsible for the douchebag jar driving a sensible, oddball family wagon seems exceptionally strange.

      1. salguod Avatar

        Maybe, but that's a much more subtle joke than the show is known for.
        The Flex sort of works for me for Schmidt because of his two sided personality. On one hand, he's the image conscious DB, on the other he's the guy who values comfort & practicality. Actually, a Camry would likely be a better choice.
        Of course, I'm sure it's just a product placement driven decision rather than character driven.

    3. BobWellington Avatar

      Reminds me of the actual Camry commercials…"It has stuff that guys like, like the rims and the sleekness…it had the Bluetooth…" No, not just Bluetooth, THE Bluetooth.
      I tried to embed it, but it's not working.

  20. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Squealing tires whenever any car goes around a corner at any speed.
    Second most annoying is every car wreck ends with a fireball.

  21. Corvette_Poncho Avatar

    I cant stand the default "hotwire" sequence when a car is stolen. It always has the following steps:
    1) Rip down two random wires from under the dash. They are magically already stripped.
    2) Rub the wires together and show some sparks. Make it appear as they are hot and carrying 500 volts.
    3) Slowly twist the now cool wires together and the car magically starts.

  22. dukeisduke Avatar

    When a car explodes, the explosion has to be GIGANTIC, and maybe there are MULTIPLE EXPLOSIONS! The only realistic explosion I've ever seen is (SORRY, SPOILERS!), at the end of the '80s BBC series Spyship – Tom Wilkinson and his girlfriend get into Wilkinson's car, he turns the key, and the car explodes (they were presumably blown up by MI-5). The bomb goes off, isn't too big, and it sounds like an explosion inside a metal drum. Just enough to kill both of them.
    Also, unrelated, but in the film Raid on Entebbe, the Israeli commandos are in a C-130 (Allison turboprops), but when the engines start, they make that recip sound, like it was a DC-6 with radial engines.

  23. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    running from the bad guys, driving at 10/10ths
    he's getting closer, go faster!
    driver puts his foot down a little more

  24. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    All cars made between 1963 and 2013 have nearly the same top speed, which can only altered in short bursts by shifting.
    On a rare occasion (Gone in 60s) we get the opposite: the "fast" car can outrun everything (including a helicopter) and be over the horizon in a matter of seconds. Think you have to be in an F-18 for that to happen.
    Would love to see a realistic chase where someone just pulls away at like 8mph faster.
    "GET HIM!"
    "Damn…he's right there…still there…ok, took the next exit…getting a little smaller now…"

  25. ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
    ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

    [youtube PaPrK26fTvM http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaPrK26fTvM youtube]
    Notice the colors of the fluids. I do understand that the fact that THAT is what makes it impossible to my mind is silly, but still, come on!

    1. joedunlap Avatar

      Gawd, that is so wrong on so many levels it makes my head hurt!

  26. joedunlap Avatar

    Cant remember where I saw it, but the deployed airbag that remains inflated, pinning the driver in the seat.

  27. Bsphillips Avatar

    "Blower Switch"