Top List Thursdays – 10 Greatest Movie Car Chases

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Now I may not be what you would call a petrolhead, but boy I do love me some on-screen vehicular mayhem. There’s something about a well choreographed car chase that just, pardon the brain cell destroying pun, revs my engines.

And today I’m giving you my 10 favourite bits of cinematic driving destruction!

The Master Touch

This is a film that that may not be as widely known as the others on this list, and while most of the 112 min running time of the Kirk Douglas drama is not all that memorable, this 6 minute car chase certainly is. It begins pretty standard, just guys driving after each other real fast, but as the chase goes on it just keeps getting more extreme, eventually reaching a stunt that would probably only have been attempted with CGI today. Unluckily for the stunt drivers back in 1972, they had to do it for real!

The Matrix Reloaded

The converse of the previous entry, this second installment in the Wachowski’s science fiction trilogy uses every computer generated trick in the digital created book to pull off this chase scene. But just because most of it only exists on a hard drive somewhere (well, you know, except for that entire freaking highway that they built for it!), it doesn’t make it any less exhilarating. Also, this may be the greatest Chrysler commercial ever made.

Mad Max II: The Road Warrior

When it comes to pure crazy visual aesthetic, there aren’t many chase scenes that can match up to Mel Gibson’s Mad Max. Featuring a plethora of various stunts, this final scene in the film is more of a battle than a chase, with action happening behind, beside, on top of and even in front of the tanker that Max is driving.

*Unfortunately I have been unable to find a clip of the entire scene online, but here’s the first 4.5 minutes

The Blues Brothers

Holding the record at the time of its release for the most police cars destroyed in a film, this chase from Dan Ackroyd and the late John Belushi’s Blues Brothers is a study in absurd, high speed carnage. And director John Landis’ great use of the bumper and bonnet cam takes the view right into the centre of all that chaos, to great effect.

The film’s record would eventually be broken in 2000 though. But by none other it’s own sequel.

*I know this rubbish pirated cam clip, but it’s the only complete one I could find online

Gone in 60 Seconds

I know some purists would have you think otherwise, but this original 1974 movie, upon which the 2000 Nicolas Cage and Angeline Jolie remake is based, is actually pretty crap. Written, directed, produced and starred in by stunt driver H.B. Halicki, the first hour of this film is filled with horrendous dialogue and a laughable script. Halicki and his co-stars (who are actually his real life friends and family) turn in performances more wooden than what you would see at a marionnete show.

But then you get to that nearly 40 minute long chase scene, the longest ever put on film, and all that amateurish rubbish is suddenly forgotten.

*Because it’s so long, the scene has been broken up into 4 pieces

Duel

This is actually a bit of cheating, as this is not a chase scene, but rather a chase movie. But hey, I make the rules around here! Steven Spielberg’s very first feature film has one of the simplest plots you could think of: Guy cuts off a trucker on a mountain pass, trucker then spends the next 90 mins trying to catch up to him and drive him off the road to his death. There are no fancy pyrotechnics, no big budget spectacle, hell, sometimes they’re not even driving all that fast. But what Spielberg does manage to do though is give you some of the most tense sequences, in or out of a car, that you will ever experience!

And nobody has any excuse not to experience what is easily one of the greatest works from one greatest living directors, as the entire film is now available for viewing online.

Bourne Supremacy

That title above should actually read “The Bourne Trilogy” as every single one of the movies featured incredible car chases, from the nimble acrobatics of the Mini in The Bourne Identity, to having us realize that the boot of a car made a perfect battering ram and that seatbelts really do save lives in The Bourne Ultimatum. But it’s this chase in the second film that really stands out for me. Never was director Paul Greengrass’ frenetic direction style better suited, and I also just loved how they eschewed the standard gun or fist fight finale and instead went for an explosive car chase to end the movie.

Bullit

Arguably the first of the great modern car chase scenes, this 9 minute entry (split in 2 below) in Steve McQueen’s Bullit would long be considered the benchmark against which all future car chases would be measured. Taking three weeks to film and featuring pinpoint precision driving from not only the stunt drivers, but also the racing enthusiast actor himself, the scene would go on to immortalize the hilly streets of San Francisco and spawn a multitude of copycats.

Ronin

Veteran director John Frankenheimer may have let the unnecessarily convoluted plot of Ronin mar the film a bit, but there was certainly not a single thing out of place on what is easily the movie’s highlight. Utilizing all the skills he honed on his 1968 film Grand Prix, Frankenheimer set about creating a modern car chase that incorporated elements from all of the greats: incredible stunt driving, tense set pieces, narrow and winding roads, busy freeways, and even a bazooka (hey,why not?). All of which resulted in a complex, high speed, game of steel and death that had you gripping your seat in white knuckled fervour.

The French Connection

The French Connection is an impressive movie in many regards. Garnering a whole host of awards upon its release, including 5 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Direct, Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Screenplay), and launching the career of Gene Hackman, it will also go down in cinema history as boasting one of, if not the most impressive car chase sequences ever captured. And what makes this scene so special is not fancy explosions or high wire stunts (of which there really isn’t any), but rather the fact that it was completely real.

Director William Friedkin received no permission from the city, nobody in the neighbourhood was notified about the scene, and the only preparation was a police siren placed in the car. The entire thing was shot in a single take, as they were literally trying to outrace the police who were probably on their way to arrest them. None of the driving is scripted at all, and as the car narrowly misses pedestrians, you can see the stunt driver clenching his steering-wheels with bone-white knuckles.

That’s because those really are real life pedestrians! That part where Gene Hackman hits another car and careens off? That was just some innocent guy on his way to work that morning!

Crazy, I tell ya!

*Unfortunately it seems almost impossible to find this clip online, much less an embeddable version of it, so click the image below to take you to the best I could do

Last Updated: June 14, 2012

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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