The Most Filmed SUV of the past 30 years? The Reliable and Iconic Jeep Cherokee (XJ)

I stopped to take a photo of this 1990s Jeep Cherokee because it appears to be the doorless afterlife of one of the two I owned in the ’90s and early 2000s.

Then I remembered that a dark blue version of this SUV had a co starring role in Thandiwe Newton’s latest, “God’s Country,” which I reviewed yesterday.

Any guy watching a movie will recognize a former car he’s owned in a film. This one is so iconic that a week literally doesn’t go by when I don’t see one in a movie.

Cars are “cast” in films the way actors are. You are what you drive, and filmmakers are quick to put academics, Californians or enlightened family folk in Priuses.

Academics used to always drive Saabs in the movies because that reflected a large share of the real life owners of the quirky/sporty Swedish ride.

Detectives in the movies and on TV always drive a “car with character” — from Columbo’s ancient Volvo and Rockford’s Firebird to Magnum’s Ferrari, on down the line.

Any time you see a new Audi in a movie, however, that’s just “product placement.” They spend a lot of advertising money placing Audis in “Mission: Impossible” or “Confess, Fletch” and any movie where an upscale mechanic’s-best-friendmobile is called for.

Jeep XJs have an enduring Hollywood appeal thanks to the sense of security-against-the-terrain-and-the elements reputation they embody. Sure, we’re headed off to grandad’s cabin in the middle of nowhere. We’ve got Dad’s old Jeep! What could go wrong? “Jeep hubris.” Any Jeep owner knows what that is, and no, no SUV handles all that well on black ice.

Ski trips? Urban dweller who wants to look offroad capable? Working class woman or man, down on her or his luck and still needing old, reliable transport to the job site or diner?

There’s one used as a straight up MomWagon (Sport Maternity Vehicle) in the kiddie horror pic “Spirit Halloween: The Movie.”

In “Gods Country,” when college professor Cassandra (Newton), a Black woman in lily white rural America (British Columbia subbing for Montana, which is less filmable) wants to blend in and not have to rely on outside help getting around in winter or up mountainsides, naturally she buys an old XJ.

She even tows the offending old Ford pickup her antagonists drive off her property at one point.

“There is only one Jeep,” after all.

Want proof that this is the most filmed ride of the last 20 years? Look at the Internet Movie Car Database. There it is –– 100 pages of Jeep Cherokees, from “Buckaroo Bonzai” to “Bob’s Burgers,” “U.S. Marshalls” to “Eli Stone,” “Kill the Messenger,” “Mercy,” “The Goldbergs,” “Parks & Rec.” (Surely Nick Offerman drove a Jeep?) on down to “God’s Country.”

And the reason we keep seeing them is that they’re too valuable to let fall to complete rust, and they ran forever in their ’80s-early 2000s incarnation. I drove two of them for over 200,000 miles, hauling a two ton sailboat on a trailer a good part of the time, toting skis, dogs or bikes the rest of the time.

Every time I think Hollywood will have to move on, find something newer to send the same casting message that XJs do, here come five more movies that put this old Jeep in the spotlight.

When it comes to movies, it turns out there really “is only one Jeep.”

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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