Farewell to the Beetle: Our Favorite TV and Film Appearances the Car Made
As production on this iconic car winds down, we look at the mark it has made on American pop culture.
The End of an Era
The beloved Volkswagen Beetle eclipsed its mid-20th century origins within the Nazi regime (tied to Hitler’s pre-war dream of producing a car that all Germans could afford), and became a Baby Boomer fave, evolving into a cornerstone of pop culture.
Originally conceived in the halls of Mercedes-Benz, and with final engineering handled by Ferdinand Porsche. In total, more than 20 million VW Beetles rolled off assembly lines from 1938 on, making it easily the longest-running production model ever made.
We have assembled a collection of notable appearances in movies and television by the Beetle to mark Volkswagen’s recent announcement that production of the car has finally run its course.
Herbie: The Love Bug (1968)
It has to start here: Disney released Herbie: The Love Bug in 1968 and America quickly fell for the quirky VW Beetle, making it the third-highest-grossing film of the year. It’s popularity spawned three motion picture sequels, a made-for-TV sequel and a TV mini-series, establishing Herbie as one of the most recognizable cars in Hollywood.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Herbie wasn’t co-star Buddy Hackett’s first go-round in a VW Beetle, however. The 1963 comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World found Hackett in a red Beetle, racing cross-country to recover the missing loot from a robbery. In the opening scenes, the recently released thief dies in a car accident on the way to recover his spoils. Four drivers stop to aid the injured thief, who gives them the location of his treasure with his last breath. Rather than share the money, they all try to get to the money first.
In this classic story of teenage rebellion, Ren McCormack (played by Kevin Bacon) battles a repressive rural minister over local ordinances banning rock music and dance. As a bonus, he drives a VW Beetle, which leads to a moment of levity: On his way to the prom, he escorts his date to the car and finds the passenger door locked as he tries to open it for her.
Boyz N the Hood (1991)
Boyz N the Hood marked the feature-film debut of Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut, in an iconic work of social commentary by John Singleton. The film netted Singleton Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Writing. Although Ice Cube’s (Doughboy) choice in the film is a gold Impala convertible, Cuba Gooding Jr. (Tre) drives a dark-blue 1971 convertible VW Beetle.
Happy Gilmore (1996)
Happy Gilmore, the hockey player wannabe, frequently manages to bring out the worst in people. In a memorable scene, the Beetle we spied in this movie breaks through a crowd onto a fairway, where a rampaging driver runs Happy down.
20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock
Fight Club (1999)
The script in this film called for characters played by Brad Pitt and Edward Norton to vandalize a row of cars with baseball bats. Rumors say Pitt insisted that one of the cars be the modern Beetle re-release. Why? He wanted to make a statement about Baby Boomers’ habit of cannibalizing the symbols of their rebellious, idealistic youth to profit from the younger generations.
It seems that the creators of the Simpsons have a long-standing love for the Beetle. Maybe it’s just easier to draw? Either way, Beetles appear frequently in the series. One favorite scene depicts Bart and Lisa on a school bus, where they see a red Beetle pass. Bart yells, “Punch buggy, red!” And slugs her shoulder. Just as they finish explaining the game to the other kids and a not-so-impressed teacher, the bus passes a lot filled with new Beetles …
The Shining (1980)
A yellow Beetle plays a key role in the opening credits of Stanley Kubrick’s landmark thriller. The sequence is shown in widescreen, a yellow dot moving endlessly through a towering, isolated landscape, while the underlying music becomes more and more sinister. By the end of the credits, there is no question that something horrific is about to unfold.
The Cars that Ate Paris (1974)
As an earlier entry into the horror genre, The Cars that Ate Paris features a particularly grizzly looking Beetle, bristling with razor-sharp blades. The mere sight of this macabre machination gave us goosebumps!
Double Trouble (1967)
Elvis Presley in an all-Beetle car chase through narrow German streets? ‘Nuff said!
Bonus: The Big Lebowski (1998)
OK, this is actually 11, but how could you leave out The Big Lebowski? A long-running Volkswagen campaign in the ’90s promoted the joy of driving, or “Fahrvergnügen.” No scene better captures this sentiment than watching The Dude rock out to Credence while pounding on the headliner and sipping something cold—that is, until he realizes he is being tailed by someone in a Beetle.