An action movie without a car chase is like a Western without a gun duel in the town center; a horror movie without the dreaded shower scene; a Michael Bay film without at least 10 gratuitous explosions. High speed, vehicular hot pursuits have adrenalized and enthralled audiences since their inception (not that inception). They’re what make thrillers thrilling.
The staple scenes of many action movies, car chases have electrified the silver screen for 50 years strong, since the reputed first chase scene made its theatrical debut in 1968 (though sticklers might suggest that the actual first chase scene took place in 1903 in the film Marriage By Motor – a lower speed affair than OJ’s White Bronco parade). Since then, car chases have evolved. Crashes became more frequent. Evel Knievel-esque leaps became commonplace. New maneuvers have been added: Tokyo drifts, powerslides, the first “cannon rollover” pioneered by the 1974 movie McQ. Alongside the tried and true trope of the unfortunate fruit vendor who gets caught in the fray, gunfire and towering explosions are now par for the course. Hollywood’s uncurbed penchant for car chases has caused the number of these scenes to pile up. At this point, we may be so desensitized to them, that many of the car chases from the movies of old might seem modest. But we’ve weaved through the wreckage and found those scenes that stood the test of time, with this list of the 15 Best Car Chases In Movie History.
15. The Blues Brothers
The legendary duo of John Belushi and Dan Akroyd – AKA Jake and Elwood Blues – incur the ire of the Chicago PD in this cult classic. The car chase winds through the streets of Chicago, culminating in the mountainous pileup of police squad cars beneath an overpass, and Jake and Elwood characteristically squeaking by, unscathed. One of many car chases in the film – including one that took place inside a fashion mall – The Blues Brothers exceeded its budget $3 million, owing in large part to the expansive fleet of cars, stunt drivers, and mechanics they brought on. The “Bluesmobile” is still a legendary car from movie history.
Cars: 1974 Dodge Monaco (Bluesmobile)
14. The Fast And Furious
The one that started it all. Before the numerical puns, the original installment in the epic franchise to rival some of the greats was The Fast And Furious, and it was souped-up fast cars, street racing motorcycles, and soap-operatic storylines. It would be a stretch to call the first F & F stripped down – though compared to its outlandish successors, it is far more realistic, but still a good bit of fun. Filled with campy dialogue, ancient phrases like referring to the Internet as “the web,” and Paul Walker’s bedazzled and overly-decaled Supra that looked like a tramp-stamp on wheels, one thing that does stand the test of time is the epic car chases on which The Fast and Furious is predicated.
Cars: 1970 Dodge Charger, 1995 Toyota Supra
Director John Frankenheimer was no stranger to constructing scenes of speed when he helmed Ronin in 1998. He had previously directed the 1966 race film Grand Prix, which was a story set at the illustrious Formula One venue at Monaco. The epic scene follows Robert De Niro racing through the streets of Paris in a Peugeot 406, giving chase to an E34 BMW 535i. The two cars wind up careening down a highway the wrong way – a moment that made use of a mind-blowing 300 stunt drivers.
Cars: Peugeot 406, E34 BMW 535i
12. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver captivated moviegoers in 2017 with its incredibly orchestrated and fine-tuned chase scenes. Unlike the herky-jerky style of other car chases, Wright’s scenes showcased a fluid style that matched the smooth soundtrack that playing in the headphones of the protagonist, Baby (Ansel Elgort). The young getaway driver escorts bank robbers to safety with elegance and ease, as he plays his vehicle like a jazz musician.
Cars: 2006 Subaru Impreza WRX, 2009 Ford Crown Victoria, 2002 Ford Explorer
11. The French Connection
The car chase from 1971’s The French Connection is harrowing to watch – and apparently, it was just as frightening to film. Filmmakers shot the epic scene, which follows Detective Jimmy Doyle (Gene Hackman) chasing a subway car above him, was shot without permits. Meaning, the streets were not swept clear in anticipation of an action film crew throttling through. The scene spilled over from the original five block radius they had sort of secured (meaning, they had gotten a few officers’ permission), and into areas with a flow of unaware drivers, resulting in some heftly damage, and at least one recorded wreck. The result, director William Friedkin would probably say, was worth it. Keep an eye out – the unplanned crash occurs at the 2:41 mark.
Cars: 1971 Pontiac LeMans
10. Mad Max: Fury Road
With Mad Max (Tom Hardy) strapped to the mast, the War Boys chase after Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) through the post-apocalyptic deathscape that is definitively off-road. The armada of fire-spewing, spike-driven vehicles was as vital to the film as the characters themselves. Beating drums and heavy electric guitar intensify this scene with life-or-death stakes, and the audience is chained to an adrenaline-infused spectacle that is unrivaled in sheer breadth. This film, where survival is always in question, was madness at its finest.
Cars: Tatra T815 (War-Rig), Mercedes-Benz Lang custom, 1960 Holden, 1947 Buick Special, Chrysler Valiant Charger, +more
9. Matrix Reloaded
Though according to most, Matrix Reloaded was not the best of the matrices, it has one distinguishing feature – an awesome car chase scene. Some epic dialogue (Trinity: “You always told me to stay off the freeway…You said it was suicide.” Morpheus: “Then let us hope I was wrong.”) precedes the sci-fi infused firefight on the freeway. Machine gunners on motorcycles, hand to hand combat on top of moving semi trucks – what more can you ask for?
Cars: 2003 Cadillac CTS, 2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT, Ducati 996
8. The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne movies represent one of the greatest action franchises in movie history. Having been framed for a major crime, Jason Bourne once again finds himself on the run from deadly intelligence operatives. Definitely a step up in terms of sheer skin-tautening excitement from the typical spy film, Goldfinger, director Paul Greengrass ups the ante with this thrilling car chase through the heart of Moscow. At a time when other films were being criticized for their obtrusive use of CGI in their car chases, Bourne sticks to its guns, employing meticulous choreography and stunts to produce an enrapturing chase scene.
Cars: Mercedes-Benz G-Klasse, 2002 GAZ 3110 Volga
7. Gone in Sixty Seconds
This film is a car-lover’s classic (not the Nicholas Cage version). Loaded with ’70s muscle cars, Gone In Sixty Seconds boasted one of the longest car chase scenes ever, at around 40 minutes – interspersed with cutaways. The police chase the protagonist in a Mustang Fastback as he drives constantly, and speedily, and traverses five cities trying to escape.
Cars: 1971 Ford Mustang Fastback, 1970 Mercury Montego, 1965 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, 1965 Cadillac Coupe DeVille + more
6. John Wick: Chapter 2
In 2014, John Wick took the Internet by storm, with a simple story. Man loses dog. Man loses car. Man loses it, killing everyone to get his vengeance. In John Wick 2, he was back, yet again with a vengeance, with knives, guns – and his trusty Mustang. This film offers the same kind of straightforward storytelling. One of the crucial differences, though, was that the second chapter included a car chase scene that had the badassery worthy of a man of Keanu Reeves’s stature. John Wick shows us what the loss of a man’s car will drive him to do.
Cars: 1969 Ford Mustang, 2007 Nissan Maxima, 2006 Ford Crown Victoria
The debut Bond film – and still acclaimed as the greatest installment in the series to date – Goldfinger marked a number of firsts, one of which was the first Aston Martin ever driven by James Bond on the big screen. Though not as enthralling as a certain other film’s epic chase scene that would change movie history four years later, Sean Connery’s escape from Goldfinger’s minions in his bullet-riddled Aston Martin is still an historic moment in film history, that involves some of the trademark Bond-gadgetry that we know and love.
Cars: 1964 Aston Martin DB5, 1956 Mercedes-Benz 190
4. The Italian Job
Any film that has its car chase scene memorialized in the form of a Paramount Parks ride deserves a place on this list. Such is the case with The Italian Job, which was given a stunt track roller coaster ride at King’s Dominion Park in Virginia, and King’s Island in Ohio. Those multi-colored mini-coopers were the vehicles of choice for F. Gary Gray’s 2003 film in emulation of the 1969 original film, and though diminutive, they made for plenty of heavy-duty chase scenes – none more cinematically spectacular than a race through the underground subway.
Cars: 2003 Mini Cooper S
3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator 2: Judgement Day is essentially a 90 minute chase scene – though a slow one. The film follows the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as they try to escape the clutches of the malleable T-1000, who is chasing a young John Connor. The pursuit takes high speed early on in the film, as Connor tries to escape the killing machine through the canals of LA, leading to an epic collision of metal men. Schwarzenegger’s Terminator leaps from above in his military-grade chopper to save the young savior from being crushed by the T-1000, piloting a massive 18-wheeler. Ending in explosive fashion, Terminator 2’s awesome chase – though not technically involving any cars – has its place blazed in movie history.
Cars: 1979 Buick LeSabre, 2011 Chrysler 300C
Director Nicholas Winding Refn’s style is not for everyone, but the incredible car chase sequence from his 2011 movie Drive is right up action lovers’ alley. The film follows stunt driver Ryan Gosling pursuing his alternate gig, ferrying robbers away from the scene, and dodging police cars (and helicopters) along the way. The opening chase is great, but the truly invigorating scene comes halfway through the movie, when Gosling does battle along the highways of the California desert with an insidious Chrysler 300, employed by some gangsters looking to get even.
Cars: Freightliner FLA, Kawasaki ZZR 600, 1991 Harley-Davidson FLSTF Fat Boy,
Often referenced as the first modern car chase, we would be remiss if we didn’t have the King of Cool, Steve McQueen, and his legendary Fastback at the top of the list. The scene revolutionized Hollywood’s standards for vehicle scenes, if only for sheer length – the iconic scene lasted for 10 minutes and 53 seconds. It offers a veritable tour of San Francisco, beginning at the Fisherman’s Wharf, through midtown, and eventually coming to a screeching – and fiery – halt at Guadalupe Canyon Parkway in the Brisbane area. At times, McQueen’s Fastback reached speeds of 110 mph during the scene. POV shots from the driver’s side gave the audience the thrill of being in the cockpit, as the cars literally leapt over the hills of San Fran. The scene blew critics and audiences away when the film debuted in 1968, and it still stands tall today as the greatest car chase scene in movie history.
Cars: 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT Fastback
Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby
“There’s a kilo of Colombian bam-bam underneath the car! Time to be a man! You got hair on your peaches or what?” The great NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby, played by Will Ferrell, has lost his nerve. So his father does the only thing a father can do – tells Ricky that he has taped a kilo of cocaine to his bumper and called the cops. Ricky is faced with a choice – speed, or jail. There’s also a mountain lion in the backseat, just for fun. The chase scene in this American classic is worth an honorable mention.
Cars: 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu
FEATURE FOUR-WHEELERS: 20 BEST MOVIE CARS
The best car chase scenes are nothing without the legendary cars that drove them. Look back on automotive and film historty with this list of 20 Best Movie Cars, and see how they stack up.
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