It seems like a good bet that if a car dealership is in a movie, the cast will be involved in some unscrupulous activities. Regardless, it’s still nice to see our industry on the big screen, no matter the misconceptions associated with the business. This list of films is pretty eclectic, including corrupt salesman, con artists, surrealism, and even aliens.
These are the Top Auto Dealership And Car Sales Movies:
Used Cars (1980)
You would think that a Robert Zemeckis directed, Steven Spielberg produced feature would be remembered. You would be wrong.
The mostly forgotten Used Cars starred Kurt Russell in the lead role as a devious salesman, laboring for an unsuccessful used-car dealership. The lots principal rival, located directly across the street, spends the film’s run time coming up with various schemes to usurp his competitors.
Filmed primarily in Mesa, Arizona, the feature wasn’t considered a box-office success at the time. However, the movie was an eventual precursor to Zemeckis and Spielberg’s collaboration in the Back To The Future trilogy.
Fun fact: several props from the movie were repurposed in the Sammy Hagar song “I Can’t Drive 55.” In response, Zemeckis used the song in Back To The Future II.
Michael Mann is one of the best action directors of our time. This underrated gem follows star James Caan, fronting a neo-noir heist thriller. Frank (Caan) is a professional jewel thief and ex-convict. He operates a pair of successful Chicago businesses (a bar and a car dealership) as fronts for his criminal enterprise. Frank wants to get clean and begin living a legitimate life, reluctantly heading teaming up with a powerful gangster. Two crucial scenes take place on one of Frank’s lots.
Thief was the first feature film ever directed by Mann, who spent the first five years of his career in television. The movie was also the debut of actors Dennis Farina, William Petersen, and James Belushi. A several-minute monologue in a coffee shop is often pointed to by critics as the film’s peak; Caan also long considered the scene his favorite throughout his career.
Repo Man (1984)
This cult classic follows a supermarket clerk who takes a job repossessing cars when the owners fall behind on payment. The film has a constant hard-rock soundtrack, orchestrating the several car lots seen throughout the movie. It also involves a subplot involving aliens pursuing the protagonist. The less said about the confusing script, the better.
Repo Man was also a case of art bleeding into reality: for the film’s 25th anniversary, an Atlanta ad agency specializing in auto-dealer support service put together a promotion package called “Dan the Repo Man.” The marketing campaign promised “repos, lease release, pre-auction vehicles, demos, and more.” As a result, the dealership sold nearly 100 cars in four days, proving that off-beat promotions could still catch the attention of ardent pop culture fans.
Arizona Dream (1993)
The surrealist comedy starred Johnny Depp as a drifter attending his uncle’s wedding to a much younger woman. His uncle happens to be an incredibly wealthy Arizona car dealer, bringing his nephew home to keep the business in the family. As a result, the state turns into a funhouse of absurdity, with funky set pieces and bizarre details. And for some reason, the late Jerry Lewis is a co-star.
Though Depp already had Cry Baby and Edward Scissorhands in his filmography, Arizona Dream was the true signpost pointing to where the actor’s career would eventually go. He’s had one of the strangest IMDB’s of any A-list actor, going off the beaten path rather than selling out his art. He’s always chosen eccentricities over mainstream.
In the best movie on this list, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) works for his domineering father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell) as a car salesman at Gustafson Motors. What follows is midwestern earnestness disguising a sociopathic plot. Jerry is in deep with debt and becomes so desperate, that he hires two thugs to kidnap and ransom his wife. The price: a new Ciera fresh off the lot and $40k. The scheme goes to hell when the thugs shoot a state trooper.
The unforgettable dark comedy put the Coen Brothers on the map as a recognizable voice of nihilistic humor in American cinema. The cast was filled with career-defining roles, including Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, and generational talent Frances McDormand. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning in the Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay categories.
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009)
This clumsily titled comedy was directed by Chappelle Show co-creator Neal Brennan. Starring Jeremy Piven, who portrays a car sales guru for hire, he and his team are hired to help a struggling auto dealership. The team must sell 211 cars by the 4th of July weekend.
Most of the movie is actually set on a lot, unlike the others on this list. Each day leading up to the holiday portrays the dysfunctional team trying to get rid of their inventory, hounded by a rival dealership that continuously pressures them to purchase the lot. The movie was inspired by the aforementioned Used Cars.
Solitary Man (2009)
The Michael Douglas fronted feature revolved around a successful car dealer in the New York area. A sudden illness causes him to partake in self-destructive behavior, embarking on an immoral binge. Ignoring his heart conditions, he abruptly has a serial sexual appetite, which obviously doesn’t help his cardiovascular health.
Mainly focused on Douglas’ central performance, the flick was a hit with critics, but made little impact at the box office, and was entirely ignored during award season.
The car business, its salespeople, and auto dealerships in general often get a bad rap. But we revel in the fun, comedic elements brought forth in these amazing classic car sales films because we know that most in the industry now are serious professionals with good hearts, doing good by their customers. We also love good humor, even at our own industry’s expense.
What are your car business movies?