Sometimes we watch action movies for the sheer thrill—the insane fight choreography, fast-paced action, and death-defying stunts. Maybe we also watch them because they feature one of our favorite actors or actresses, or perhaps they’re directed by one of our favorite filmmakers. If you’re like me, however, you also judge the quality of an action movie by its automotive stars—whether it’s a white-knuckle car chase or something parked in the background of one frame.
BMW is no stranger to the entertainment industry, with hundreds of national and international cameos in TV and film, spanning a menagerie of genres and featuring a healthy variety of BMW steel. Let’s also not forget about the hundreds of virtual iterations of our favorite bimmers in video games like Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) and the famous E46 M3 GTR from Need For Speed: Most Wanted.
While I’ll never object to any sort of BMW cameo on the big screen, the brand’s entertainment bread and butter has and will always be action movies. The accelerated action sequences, adrenaline-filled car chases, and lack of mechanical sympathy for the stunt vehicles create a perfect proving ground to showcase the performance capabilities of what we consider to be the ultimate driving machines. Being an action movie fan and a BMW enthusiast makes it almost impossible to narrow down my favorite on-screen bimmers, but I managed to select a few stand-out cases.
You can’t have a Transporter movie without a stand-out car—and when essentially the entire plot revolves around driving, you’d better pick a solid one. This specific flick saw mercenary Jason Statham behind the wheel of a euro-spec 1998 750iL, which was actually referred to as a 735i, because BMW knew the latter was more affordable and easier to market to the masses. It’s reported that the location director for the film optioned the suave 7-series with the original 322 horsepower V12, the same engine that was also sold to Rolls-Royce at the time. Foregoing the automatic transmission, the director insisted that this 7 be fitted with a six-speed manual from an 850ci, for proper action, of course. Jason Statham’s character even makes a remark about the dampening capabilities of the 7-series shocks mid-car chase, a clever piece of marketing that was written into the script.
Look even closer, and you’ll notice that the shiny shoes on each of the three stunt vehicles are ADR M-Classic Silvers, a now highly-sought after wheel design that owes its notoriety to the film. It’s also worth mentioning that the Transporter series may have been inspired by BMW’s 2001 and 2002 mini-film series, The Hire, in which actor Clive Owen acts as a professional wheelman for nefarious people, clandestine goods, and more. The films ended up being a highly successful marketing campaign for BMW, with impeccable stunt driving and celebrity cameos responsible for bringing in over a million collective views over the years.
The Bourne Supremacy, like lead actor Matt Damon’s amnesiac-assassin character, takes a stealthier approach when it comes to BMW appearances in the film. While there are certainly many car chases, the only time a BMW makes a definitive debut is in a transition scene, where Jason Bourne steals a 1985 E28 5-Series to make a getaway. But, just like Jason Bourne himself, the production team was resourceful in developing their stunt cars. Its rumored that the 131-horsepower GAZ Volga 3110—a russian-made vehicle that Jason Bourne uses in his infamous Moscow car chase—was actually outfitted with a more potent BMW 3.0 inline six for filming.
The James Bond film franchise has quite possibly earned the title of the quintessential action movie. With a prominent legacy dating back to the 60s, James Bond is the martini-sipping super-spy that the world never tires of seeing. Even if you’re not a fan of the plot in the newer movies, you can’t argue that the stunts, beautiful locations, and car chases aren’t up to par. Although the first movie debuted around the same time as the Mission:Impossible television series, James Bond was perhaps the first action film character we’d ever seen boast such a strong affinity to BMW.
In three consecutive films spanning from 1995–1999, Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond acquired quite the collection of MI-6 ordered, gadget-imbued Bimmers. In GoldenEye, it was a 1995 E36/7 Z3, and in Tomorrow Never Dies, it was a 1997 E38 750iL, an older version of the same car used in The Transporter. But perhaps the most intriguing BMW debut was James Bond’s 1998 Z8 in The World is Not Enough, an attractive, M V8-powered roadster that needs no further introduction. While BMW wasn’t exactly the brand author Ian Fleming had in mind when writing the James Bond series, it ended up being a huge success, and the Z8 does share some rather uncanny design similarities with period Jaguar and Aston Martin models.
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Mission:Impossible film franchise. In 2011, the BMW Group announced in that it would be the exclusive automotive partner for the Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol film, and that relationship has only continued to blossom over the years. The first time we ever saw Ethan Hunt behind the wheel of a BMW was during Ghost Protocol, where he drove the sleek and futuristic Vision Efficient Dynamics concept up the driveway of a lavish hotel in Mumbai, stealing the thunder from the Bugattis, Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, and other supercars parked in the valet. This scene was only a taste of what was to come however, as Tom Cruise is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to stunts—he’d need to take the BMW partnership to the next level, and did exactly that. In Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Tom Cruise, or rather, Ethan Hunt (although it’s hard to tell them apart at this point), chose an F80 M3 as his getaway car of choice. Cruise, who insisted on doing his own driving as well, showed absolutely no mechanical sympathy for the car. Both M3 stunt vehicles were embedded with bullets, torn up from launching down a flight of cement stairs, and essentially totaled by the end of filming—but they still turned over and drove, an incomprehensible feat that is nothing short of a testament to BMW’s engineering and durability. Director Christopher Quarrie said that “much to BMW’s credit, we couldn’t kill their cars, no matter how many times we did the gag. And we did it a lot”—cool.
But the surprises didn’t stop there—BMW Motorrad also made their debut in the film, with an assortment of S1000 RR sport bikes featuring an aggressive paint color and design by Swedish artist Håkan Lindberg that complemented the bike’s mechanical prowess. A F30 3-Series and F15 X5 xDrive40e also made on-screen appearances, with the latter being driven furiously through the desert dunes by Tom Cruise himself. The franchise’s latest film installment, Mission Impossible: Fallout made use of a 7-Series, E28 5-Series and an F90 M5 Competition, the last two being a highlight of the film, blending a vintage classic with its modern iteration to create a perfect homage to the German brand. BMW motorrad also made a brief appearance, with Ethan Hunt seen riding a 1,170cc BMW R nineT Scrambler in an attempt to evade the police, some of which were riding R1200 GS motorcycles.
With many of these long-running action film franchises still producing new series intallments, it is no doubt that BMWs will continue to grace the big screen, as the brand’s involvement with the entertainment industry continues to be a symbiotic relationship for both marketing and entertainment trades. As electrified vehicle demand increases, we may even see some hybrid models in the next Mission Impossible film. Either way, I know I’ll look forward to the next time I see Ethan Hunt and the IMF team jump a Bimmer over a causeway.—Malia Murphy
[Photos via BMW AG, screen captures are property of their respective publishers.]