Most weeks, I try to draw inspiration for our Roundtable topics from whatever new movie releases are playing in theaters. Since something tells me that a whole article about favorite movies featuring boy bands would go over like a lead balloon with both the staff (except possibly Mike, who’d probably sing the praises of ‘That Thing You Do!‘) and readers, let’s look instead toward the new car chase flick ‘Getaway’. Even if this one doesn’t turn out to be very memorable, we’ll use it as a springboard to highlight some of our favorite movie car chases.
Best movie car chase? ‘Ronin‘, hands down. It actually has two of them. If like to drive stick, watch this movie. If you think you’re happy with your automatic, watch the chase scenes in ‘Ronin’ and you’ll want to learn stick ASAP. The movie is perfectly paced, perfectly filmed and has exceptional sound. Simply for the ability to know where you are and what’s happening at all times, these are the best chases you’ll find anywhere. If you’ve never seen it, check it out!
For many, the definitive movie car chase takes place in ‘Bullitt‘, where Steve McQueen chases a black Dodge Charger in his green Ford Mustang through the streets of San Francisco. My pick, however, is the wonderfully entertaining homage to that scene showcased in the fifth and final ‘Dirty Harry’ movie, ‘The Dead Pool‘. Here, Det. Callahan is chased up and down the hills of San Francisco by a miniature car armed with an explosive. The scene is both funny and tense at the same time. It’s worth a look if you’ve never seen the movie.
Sure, ‘Death Proof‘ might rate at the bottom of Quentin Tarantino’s filmography, but it’s still a solid movie with one of the best and most fun car chase scenes ever filmed. One thing about this particular chase scene is that it has virtually no CGI effects, which so many movies today rely on for chases and crashes. Instead, Tarantino filmed the scene old school, with real drivers, real cars and real crashes. When Zoe Bell is on the hood of the car holding on for dear life as Kurt Russell tries to ram her and her girlfriends off the road, it sent me to the edge of my seat. This is one of the most entertaining car chase sequences to be shown on the big screen.
Michael Spike Steinbacher
I’m not what you would call a huge fan of the kind of action movies in which car chases are a pivotal plot device. Sure, I loved ‘The French Connection’, ‘Ronin’, ‘Goldfinger’ and a multitude of classics featuring car chases, but I always find myself anxious for the chase to end so I can get back to the story and the characters.
I’m going all the way back to Steven Spielberg’s 1971 classic ‘Duel‘. Really, the chase is the movie’s narrative, and the massive diesel truck chasing down the terrified, mild-mannered Dennis Weaver is a villainous character. Why is the diesel trying to annihilate Weaver? The answers aren’t terribly gratifying, but the horror of the prolonged chase is unsettling and disturbing. The movie kind of did for long, lonely stretches of highway what ‘Psycho’ did for shower curtains.
Standing above various action movies is an all-time perfect car chase smack dab in the middle of the comedy spoof ‘The Naked Gun‘. When Frank Drebin is compelled to commandeer a civilian car in order to pursue a would-be bad guy, he mistakenly picks a “Teen Driving School” Chevy Cavalier. The car is driven by a timid young woman whose instructor refuses to become excited by the action cliché-filled chase. The scene even includes a ‘Ben-Hur’ like axle attack before ending in an escalating set of explosions and a firework factory.
A close second is the student driving sequence from the recent ’21 Jump Street’.
M. Enois Duarte
In the history of movie car chases, ‘Bullit’ certainly paved the way, but it was three years later that director William Friedkin and editor Gerald B. Greenberg set the standard in ‘The French Connection‘. Whereas other action movies show car-versus-car or cop pursuing villain through busy, congested streets, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman in one of his finest performances) frantically chases after an elevated train right in the middle of midday traffic. The real beauty behind the sequence lies in the editing. Greenberg mixes very short, sporadic cuts, like the Pontiac LeMans weaving in and out of traffic, with stunning, rapid precision to increase the danger and intensity while also allowing slightly longer sequences, such as Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi) running towards the front of the train, to prolong the suspense. According to legend, it was Howard Hawks who inspired Friedkin to do something really spectacular after hearing the legendary filmmaker disparage Friedkin’s other works. I would say he definitely accomplished that. Over 40 years later, this car chase remains one of the very best in movie history.
I think it says a lot that all of the car chases mentioned above were staged and filmed the old-fashioned way, with real cars and real stuntmen driving really fast. Action scenes made that way feel so much more authentic and exciting than the CGI bullshit we get in most movies today. (If I felt like it, I could make an argument in defense of the CG-enhanced highway chase in ‘The Matrix Reloaded’, but I’ll save that for another day.)
William Friedkin’s ‘The French Connection’ (the source of the banner image on this post) is justifiably famous for its incredibly suspenseful action sequence in which Gene Hackman tries to outrun an elevated train through the streets of New York City. As much as I was tempted to pick that one, I personally think that Friedkin outdid himself a decade later with ‘To Live and Die in L.A.‘, which climaxes with a balls-out insane chase veering the wrong way down the L.A. freeway at top speeds. The longer the scene goes on, the crazier and more surreal it gets. It’s amazing.
Honorable mentions to ‘The Blues Brothers‘ (a car chase parody more elaborate and exciting than most of the movies it spoofs) , ‘Vanishing Point‘ (the whole movie is one long car chase!), ‘The Bourne Supremacy‘ (not even the overdone shaky-cam can dull the impact of its grisly climax) and ‘Terminator 2‘ (nobody choreographs big action sequences like James Cameron), plus all of those mentioned earlier.
What are your favorite movie car chases? Tell us in the Comments.
Have a great long weekend, everyone! I’m toying with the idea of running next week’s contest on Monday, since it will tie in with the Labor Day theme. Be sure to keep an eye out for that.
I’m glad to see ‘Duel’ mentioned!
Other than that, I always liked ‘The Chase’ with Charlie Sheen. Especially Flea and Anthony (from RHCP) in a big, green, monster truck!
Why the That Thing You Do potshot? Now I have that damn song in my head again!
Glad someone, sort-of, kind-of, mentioned the highway chase in ‘The Matrix Reloaded’.
Though it didn’t have any real chase scenes, I get a kick out of Hugh Grant’s reaction to driving behind an ambulance in About a Boy.
No mentioned “The Rock”??!! Wow! It’s a marvelous chase scene with all of the bombast that Michael Bay can throw at the screen, along with a couple of fun Bullitt homages.
You can’t see a damn thing that’s happening in tha scene.
Dang it Brian! You beat me to it…I was gonna say “Naked Gun”!!!!
Yes, but of course there is a reason it is a classic.
“All right then, you’re outta here!”
Love the car chase in The Bourne Supremacy, the tunnel chase in The Dark Knight and the over the top big finale of Fast Five.
The difficulty is not in choosing the film, which is The Blues Brothers. The difficulty is in choosing which chase from The Blues Brothers. I think my sentimental favorite is the silliest car chase in the film, the one which plows through a shopping mall. Sometimes I’d like to smash my way through one of those frustrating monuments to mindless consumerism too.
I’m gonna go for The Hitcher (The original, obviously!) that cop chase that results in the crashed cop cars and the helicopter crash is great, and you really feel the leads are in out of their depth and in danger. (Rather than most modern car chases that are all flash, but no real sense of danger or excitement)
The insane shaky cam definitely ruined The Bourne Supremacy. I remember sitting in the theater and trying to figure what the hell was happening, I guess i could say the same thing about the fight with the magazine in the house. Greengrass definitely went a little crazy in that film.
The slo-mo car chase at the beginning of *Drive* blows me away.
Josh, The French Connection is set in NYC, NOT Chicago.
Argh… Of course you’re right, and I have no excuse for typing that wrong. Fixed now, thanks.
Not exactly a car chase. But as a kid, those speed bikes on the Endor moon in Return of the Jedi, nothing could top that.
Fast & flying through the forest trees, Luke and Leia chased by stormtroopers, that was the coolest thing ever!
I’m going to go with Ronin and also add The Italian Job
Which version of The Italian Job? They both have pretty memorable car chases.
I’ll go with the original, since the original is always better =)
Mad Max, Road Warrior, and Quantum of Solace.
Oh, and Beverly Hills Cop and A Good Day to Die Hard.
When I saw Quantum of Solace in the theater, I was fairly close to the screen, and the choppy editing and close-up photography of the car chase scene in the beginning made me horribly nauseous, and I rarely get that way. All I could see was car*blur*road*blur*tunnel*blur*gun*blur*tire*blur*eye*blur*nose*blur*fire*blur*explosion*blur*car, etc.
Not much of a fan of that scene or its construction.
You have to sit further away for today’s movies. This is why with most movies today if I go to the theater I now sit 3/4 of the way back to the very back. In actions scenes if you sit too close you will miss everything and it can make you nauseous.
Josh which car chase in T2 got the honorable mention? The early chase between a motorbike a Big Rig sans trailer, and a hog is incredibly intense, but I’m guessing you’re referencing the one near the climax of the film with the loquid nitrogen truck. In T3, one of the few enjoyable scenes is the giant vehicle chase, where the Governator flips that (truck?).
I’m not sure which Josh meant either, but I think the motorcycle/rig chase at the beginning of the movie is immeasurably better than the one during the climax.
They’re both good, but I was thinking specifically of the dirtbike/motorcycle/big race chase.
I like both but thought the 18 wheeler chase with the little pickup was much better.
The first Terminator had some good one but Cameron use some film speed tricks to make the car chases have an odd look to them. But could have been a budget issue, as I know that movie was pretty cheap in retrospect.
The 7-Ups and the first Gone in 60 seconds
Brits. Guns. 007 chewing scenery. Swan. ‘Nough said.
The new Oldsmobiles are in early this year!
Some have already been mentioned; Death Proof in particular.
I’d maybe mention the chase through London in FaF6 – the armoured buggy was the star of the piece. Cant imagine how much it cost in permits to film.
Ronin and Bullitt often crop up, but from a driving point of view, I was as impressed by the car park chase in Tomorrow Never Dies.
The stunt driver sat on the floor where the back seat would be, and drove via 3 small screens linked the lipstick cameras in the wing mirrors and front grill. Clocked at North of 80mph in a real multi-story car park in London (doubling for Hamberg IIRC).
QoS I found to be an incoherent mess, despite the driving being top notch – I believe the remit for the drivers was ‘flat out, don’t faff about on screen’, hence a few dead DBS’.
The chase scenes in each of films composing The Dark Knight Trilogy are also favourites of mine. The chase in TDKR being one of those ‘set everything to 11’ ones.
I can’t believe that I forgot to give the parking garage scene in Tomorrow Never Dies an honorable mention. Or the tank chase through St. Petersburg in GoldenEye for that matter!
I love that scene and it’s one of the reasons that movie is in my top 5 bond flicks.
Hahaha you’ve gotta be kidding me! Not one mention of either Mad Max or the Road Warrior until the comments list? I’m sorry gentlemen, but your opinions are just a little suspect. I’m not here to intentionally make anyone feel bad or even be a one eyed Aussie film geek, but a list of greatest cinematic car chasers WITHOUT mention of AT LEAST the Road Warrior….sorry but that’s just completely insane haha. French Connection, Blues Brothers, Bullit, Duel and The Road Warrior….all equal, for different reasons.
Lots of great ones here. I will echo Josh’s comments about the older movies had a MUCH more authentic feel to them. Some of my favorites
Transporter(maybe 2 as well?)
Quantum of Solace, that opening scene is awesome
To Live and Die in LA
First Blood !!!
Don’t remember a car chase in First Blood, am I wrong, it has been a while since I have watched it the whole way through.
I’ve always loved the chase in The Seven-Ups.
Great Roy Scheider film, really miss that guy.
No love for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry?
Hmmm… I Gruesse it may just be my guilty pleasure, but what about the Race inte Showdown of Bad Boys I?
the ridiculous chase at the end of the blue brothers… like wow.
car chase in “Short Time” (dabney Coleman)… hilarious and almost as wild as the blues brothers, albeit with less cars.
Props to you my friend for mentioning “Short Time”. Top notch chase scene.
I also have to mention a super guilty pleasure of mine from the 80’s. EVERYTHING about the film is cheese, yet the brilliant chase scene of “Cobra” is truly a sight to be seen.
My problem with the Ronin car chase was Robert De Niro, he looked as he was in the middle of a bowel movement. I always liked the slow moving car chase in The Way of the Gun
The bridge chase in bad Boys 2 and the Shantytown chase in Cuba for Bad Boys 2. They’re not my all time favorite but i remember how exhilariting it was at the theatre. The Terminator car chase scenes are still impressive for me to this day.
So glad that there was love shown to Bullit, French Connection, Blues Brothers, and To Live and Die In LA. I also love Road Warrior, and want to second the original Gone in 60 Seconds
I like the chase scene in Striking Distance, looked really painful.
Good one! Forgot about that one.