Michael Cunningham is the father of Arnie Cunningham and a minor character in the novel "Christine" and it's film adaptation. He is also the husband of Arnie's mother, Regina Cunningham. Unlike his wife who tended to be more dominant and strict on Arnie, Michael was more patient and compromising towards his son. His role in the film is considerably smaller than his role in the novel.
Michael Cunningham, like his wife Regina, is a member of the Horlicks University faculty. He is a repeat "reject in the game of university faculty politics," having again failed to get promoted to head of the History Department at Horlicks University just before the start of the novel. Michael is outwardly a soft-spoken and gentle man (in sharp contrast to his stern and domineering wife), but Dennis Guilder notes that Michael's specialty is military history and as such he has a devious side to him that remains well-hidden most of the time. Arnie briefly becomes convinced Michael sent someone over to buy Christine out from under him, something that Dennis concedes could have happened. Dennis also notes that for all of Michael and Regina's lifelong devotion to leftist political activism and advocacy of self-determination and freedom, "they pretty well managed Arnie," controlling and restricting virtually his entire life well into high school.
Unlike Regina Cunningham, Michael is generally more willing to try to reach a compromise with Arnie over the car, and sympathizes more with his son's opinions, but is partly unable and unwilling to actually override his intimidating wife. Michael's middle-of-the-road stance leaves him helplessly stuck between his wife on one side and his son on the other, meaning he is forced to endure arguments of ever-increasing bitterness despite constantly trying to work something out. After one of those arguments, Arnie says, "You sound just like her," to which Michael cynically retorts, "No, you sound just like her and she sounds just like her; what I sound like is the man in charge of some dumb U.N. peacekeeping force that's about to get it's collective ass shot off."
Arnie eventually agrees to drive Michael to the local airport, where Michael offers to pay for a parking space. The ride there educates Michael a great deal; he is unnerved by how petulant and bitterly-furious Arnie sounds about nearly everything, greatly impressed by his son's knowledge of the historical background of the 1958 Plymouth Fury and of the car's mechanical traits, startled by the fact that the odometer runs backwards on Christine, and generally unable to shake a feeling of unease about Christine. Arnie and Michael briefly reconnect when Arnie agrees that "everything will be fine as long as we do it [my] way," leading the two to laugh together before Christine- likely envious and displeased by this moment between father and son- stalls out to get Arnie to pay attention to her again.
After Buddy Repperton and his gang destroy Christine at the airport, Arnie disconnects from his parents completely. As he spends all his time working on the car, Michael grows bitter about the treatment Arnie has given his parents. Michael concedes that Regina has indeed been harsh, even cruel many times over the years, but in the span of just one, Arnie has retaliated far beyond any acceptable limit, causing immense emotional hurt for Regina. Michael coldly brushes Arnie off when Arnie does hesitantly try to reconcile. Eventually, Arnie's arrest at the hands of the New York State Police reunites the family. Michael goes in to talk to Arnie and comes out looking shell-shocked, but some degree of normality is restored nonetheless as Arnie goes out of town with his parents for the holidays.
Michael eventually appears at the showdown in Darnell's Garage, where he flies through the windshield as Christine rams a shop office wall, trying to get at Leigh Cabot. Dennis quickly realizes that Michael was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, and draws a mental picture of how it could have happened: Michael was most likely alone at home, found Christine in the garage, and was inexplicably drawn to get inside the car and sit down. Christine, then, immediately started up, locked her doors and prevented Michael from getting out.
Michael Cunningham's role in the story is drastically cut back in the film adaptation, to the point where he only appears a handful of times, and what he does for a living and his views and opinions are rarely, if ever mentioned. Michael's main appearance is early on, when he says, "Arnie, what kind of language is that?" when his son swears while arguing with his mother just after buying Roland LeBay's 1958 Plymouth Fury.
Originally, Michael Cunningham was to be found dead in Christine during the showdown at Darnell's Garage, but this was cut after being filmed.