How Come Movie Villains Drive German Cars?

September 16, 2021

Why is it that in every action-packed movie that involves a good chase scene, more often than not, the villains drive German cars? Are these vehicles just easier to obtain during film production? Is there some sinister mind game on behalf of the studios where they mine our collective subconscious for psychological stereotypes? Does it have something to do with that prestigious German engineering we’re always hearing about? Or do the “evil Russians” simply not make good enough cars?

They Have Amazing Performance

Well, to be honest, it’s a little bit of all of the above. The Germans really do make fantastic cars and they’ve been doing it longer than the rest of us. Karl Benz received a patent for his first automobile in 1886. German vehicles are precise, performance-capable, luxurious, and damn good-looking. They’re built with what Fortune calls “arrogance with a purpose,” a trait that undoubtedly would appeal to those who share unchecked self-confidence. They’re exclusive. Eye-catching. Expensive.

Of course, movie villains drive German cars! Would you take an underground crime lord seriously if he zipped around in a Ford Escape? No way! No one’s outrunning an ex-jewel thief, who gets strong-armed into doing one last job because his stripper-girlfriend with a heart of gold is being held hostage by some enterprising thugs, in a “versatile and efficient” compact SUV. But a Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series packing a twin-turbocharged V12 shooting out 661-hp? Well, now that’s a villain car chase people want to watch.

They Look the Part

While it’s true that German cars are significantly easier to obtain from movie vehicle rental lots than some more rare and exotic models, simply put, these popular imports give off the vibe we expect to see in our on-screen bad guys: Focused. Calculated. Suave. Successful. And this is where some of that cinema brain hijacking comes into play. The average movie-goer enjoys tried-and-true studio formulas. We definitely want the good guy to win. But only after he

  1. loses someone he holds dear,
  2. crafts a plan of revenge, and
  3. endures an epic chase scene worth seven minutes of screen time.

But for movie magic to really shine, the whole package has to be complete. And that means manipulating preconceived notions we may have about who a bad guy is.

The Appeal to Stereotypes

Everything you see in a movie has been placed there for a reason. Each item has been carefully and consciously chosen by set directors, costume designers, and prop artists. Simply put, the cast and crew are world-building. And for that fantasy world to be convincing, it needs to play off our own psychological stereotypes, i.e. villains drive German cars. Or at least—villains drive a specific type of car, that exudes a specific type of attitude, and that just happens to be the same attitude you interpret a German vehicle gives.

Can you imagine Steve McQueen in anything other than a 1968 Mustang GT in Bullitt? What about Burt Reynolds’ 1977 Pontiac Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit? Likewise, it’s hard to imagine our old school Bond villains’ henchmen in anything other than Mercedes-Benz luxury sedans, right? And for that matter, given dictators’ love of them, can we picture a real-life villain in anything other than a Mercedes-Benz 600 Grosser?

It’s also worth addressing the elephant in the room: Nazis. Despite America’s current relationship with Deutschland, and the Germans applaudable effort to both learn from the past and put it squarely behind them, those resentments run deep. And if the typical movie-goer’s brain is going to equate ‘German engineering’ with ‘Nazi efficiency’, you can be damn sure Hollywood studios are going to exploit that stereotype for profit.

Their Real-Life Drivers Often Give Them a Bad Reputation

While the average person today may no longer jump to equate German people with classic movie villains, research shows that even among younger age groups, there remains a healthy bias toward German vehicles. Apparently, many major German car brands are associated with—oddly enough—terrible drivers. Despite these models originating in a country with some of the strictest license qualifications and inspection requirements, as well as one of the best road systems in the world, a quick Google search of “worst drivers by car brand” delivers an incredible amount of pure hatred toward BMW owners—with plenty of sass reserved for Porsche, Mercedes, and Audi.

In fact, in a recent poll by British television channel “Dave”, BMW took the #1 spot for worst drivers. And in an actual scientific study on driving personalities “research supports the unwritten and broadly circulated theory that people in BMWs are lacking in road manners,” according to the New York Times.

New Times, New Villains

The fact that distaste for BMW drivers is a universal gripe is pretty impressive. And it helps support our theory that villains drive German cars simply because we expect them to. If our movie bad guys are being portrayed as one-dimensional wealthy jerks, why not put them in a vehicle that a lot of people associate with one-dimensional wealthy jerks? If the shoe fits…right?

But perceptions can change. Bond villain, Mr Hinx, drove a sexy but terrifying orange Jaguar C-X75 in Spectre, and the British auto company’s 2014 Super Bowl ad thoroughly embraced the role of evil genius. As environmentalists and industry regulations push for greener alternatives, maybe in 25 years movie villains will drive gas-guzzling three-row SUVs, while the rest of us putter around in our plug-in hybrids. And who knows? With all this talk of Russian collusion and Russian movie villains on the rise, maybe we’ll see some zippy LADAs chasing our hero up and down the hills of San Francisco.

In our opinion, German automakers should welcome the role of movie villain’s favourite ride. As one online commenter summed things up so well: “How many times have you seen the hero jump into a car and then it wouldn’t start? Thousands. How many times have you seen the villain jump into a German car and then it wouldn’t start? Zero. Now guess why!”

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