Grand Theft Auto: 10 Much Cooler ’70s Car Movies That Need for Speed Rips Off

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If you go see Need for Speed this weekend (which I scrap for parts in this week's Scene), you need to know one important thing: It rips off, like, a bunch of ‘70s car-chase movies. If you are a fan of these movies (like myself), you may find yourself just sitting there in the theater, clocking off all the movies this clunker lifts from.

For the rest of you who would like to see those Me Decade movies before or after Speed — or if you just want to skip Speed altogether, which would be preferable in my opinion) — here is a rundown of the 10 films Speed obviously needed to jack.

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Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
With Trans Am-driving man of the people Burt Reynolds eastbound and down and dodging all kinds of law while romancing passenger Sally Field, Hal Needham’s debut hit was the Star Wars of the car-chase genre. (It was the second highest-grossing movie of 1977, behind Star Wars.)

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Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
This car-chase masterpiece from late star/director H.B. Halicki (and inspiration for the lame Jerry Bruckheimer-produced remake starring Nicolas Cage) is still essential viewing for those who want to see cars obliterated on the road as often as possible.

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The Gumball Rally (1976)
Way before those silly-ass Cannonball Run movies (also directed by Needham), Chuck Bail’s long-lost flick was the original screwball comedy about a cross-country race and its wacky participants (among them Michael Sarrazin, Raul Julia and Gary Busey).

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Grand Theft Auto (1977)
Ron Howard’s debut film as a director wasn’t Night Shift or Splash but this Roger Corman-produced romantic farce, where he and his wealthy girlfriend (Nancy Morgan) try to elope in her daddy’s Rolls-Royce, with many other parties in pursuit.

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Death Race 2000 (1975)
Corman is at it again, as the producer of this futuristic black satire from cult director Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul), with David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone and cult goddess Mary Woronov as some of the competitors in a literal do-or-die televised race.

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Le Mans (1970)
Aaron Paul obviously aped the strong, silent mannerisms of Steve McQueen for Speed. So why not just watch the real thing, saying almost nothing at all in Lee H. Katzin’s quiet, intensely focused drama as a troubled racer competing against the best in the world? Car-movie fanatics would back over Citizen Kane to see this on a big screen.

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Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Monte Hellman’s even quieter cult fave, with musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson as street racers butting heads across the country with Warren Oates’ blustery Pontiac GTO driver, was just one of several existentialist, counterculture road movies of the ‘70s, along with ...

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Vanishing Point (1971)
Richard C. Sarafian’s film is most memorable for the Dodge Challenger Barry Newman’s protagonist drives, that naked biker chick, and Cleavon Little’s badass DJ — who, as Scene editor Jim Ridley reminded me, Michael Keaton basically imitates throughout Speed.

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Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)
Paul has the adorable but unfortunately named Imogen Poots as his Brit passenger in Speed. Peter Fonda has Susan George (rocking an American accent) accompanying him in this open-road demolition derby from The Legend of Hell House director John Hough.

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White Lightning (1973)
We started with Burt, so let’s end with him. This gleefully redneck number from the underrated Joseph Sargent (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) has Reynolds as a moonshine-running convict in retribution mode, chasing down the crooked cop (Ned Beatty) who killed his brother.

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