Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Movie Car Chases

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.

Mike Attebery

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!

Shannon Nutt

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.

Bryan Kluger

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.

Brian Hoss

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 clich√©-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.

Josh Zyber

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.

55 comments

  1. Scott Hunvald

    Great choices but no one mentioned the chase scenes in the fifth element after leeloo falls through korbins roof or the chase in skyfall with the cars and then continuing on motor bikes over the roof tops of which ever city that was, can’t remember right now. The chase near the end of mr and mrs smith, and the one in mission impossible 2

  2. That chase in Live and Die in LA has two of my favorite things “Car Chase” and William Petersen. Great and hugely underrated movie, at least in the larger public opinion.

  3. Pedram

    I’ll get some flack for this but I don’t care. The chase scene in GI Joe: Rise of Cobra was a lot of fun.

    While not exactly your typical car chase scene in that they were not in cars but in “accelerator suits”, they were chasing a car so it could be labelled a “car chase”.

  4. Bruce Dern

    Awesome list of car chase scenes.

    But one GLARING omisson in my humble opinion is the magic that was “The Driver”, with Bruce Dern. I first saw this movie on Speedvision where it was introduced as one of the all time greats, and I had never heard of it.

    It is a must see movie, I feel that the driving in this movie is raw and real and head and shoulders above the new school drift-fests, and the driving in the movie is more technical and more laced into the move than even the gold standard that is Bullit.

    Although I am a sucker for the far away shot of McQueen tearing past, the same shot that was so awesome in Blues Borthers when we got the zoomed out cut away of the boys haulin ass out of lower wacker and into the daley plaza.

    For a great throwback car chase experience, Watch The Driver, then play the old Playstation video game loosely based on it.