Car chases have thrilled audiences throughout the history of film. But which ones stand out as the best? Olan Ahern takes a look at some of his favourites…
When we talk about films and car chases we need to ask ourselves a number of questions. What does it add to the film? Does it break down boundaries? Does it fit in with the plot, sub plot, characters and characteristics of the film?
I asked myself these questions and here is the list one to ten…
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10. The Matrix Reloaded
In 2003, The Wachowski brothers fused the real and imaginary in The Matrix Reloaded. This is particularly evident in the freeway chase, where real-life stunts and cutting edge CGI work are combined to astonishing effect. All the classic characteristics of a car chase ensue. Cars crash, bullets fly and cars turn into holographic images; combined with Morpheus coming head to head with the ghostly twins, these elements make up an epic car chase.
9. Death Proof
This movie showcases Quentin Tarantino’s use of violence to empower his characters; it delivers a movie of gory and tactile imagery created perfectly by the car chase. Kurt Russell as stunt man Mike and his black 1971 Chevy Nova deliver a reign of terror, blurring chase scenes with destruction derbies. The words “road rage” come to mind throughout. However, each chase does deliver in some shape or form, even if a limb or two are the casualties for the chase’s success.
8. Terminator 2
A true classic, James Cameron’s Terminator 2 delivers on all counts, no more so than the epic car chase scene. This chase makes the list for its pure dramatic importance to the movie; it’s the initial connection for both Connor and the Terminator. Connor is on the run from T-1000 who is smashing through everything in sight, climaxing when its truck gets chopped in half. The iconic Terminator on his Harley Davidson motorcycle joins the fray and saves the day, the first of his many heroics throughout the film and the first interaction between the three characters.
7. Gone in 60 seconds (1974)
Unfortunately many people are unfamiliar with the original movie Gone in Sixty Seconds and only think of Angelina Jolie and Nicolas Cage parading through the streets of Los Angeles in souped up cars. Alas, this is in fact a remake, while I have to admit it’s enjoyable, it will forever stay in my cloak and daggers file – where flash cars and exciting stunts hide a mediocre plot.
In 1974 the original Gone in 60 seconds was directed, produced and starred H.B. Halicki – including all stunts. While the dialogue is flimsy, storyline suspect and acting questionable at best, it’s still remembered to this day for Halicki’s 40 minute car chase scene where 93 cars are destroyed. The movie will remain as a poster boy for questionable 1970’s indie flicks era. However, the car chase will be remembered forever.
6. The French Connection
In 1971, director William Fridekin delivered five Oscars for the film The French Connection. This included best picture and best director – along with one of the most epic car chases in cinematic history. The rough-and-tumble ride where detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle drives a 1971 Pontiac Le Mans to pursue a hit man hired to kill him on the streets of New York, takes place across 26 city blocks under the N subway, from the Bay 50th street station to 62nd street station.
The car chase sequence was cut to the tempo of Carlos Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” and was filmed without obtaining the proper permits from the city. Every scene was filmed in one take without closing the streets; this resulted in 3 crashes, two with the stunt cars and one actual crash.
5. The Fast and The Furious
In 2001, Rob Cohen decided to take car chasing to the next level and created more chases in one film than any other in the history of cinema. Each chase aims to add a new layer to the story, and a lot of the movie relies on the chases to carry the narrative. However, the cars in fact are at times more interesting than the story. The Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by Paul Walker in the opening scene weaving through the L.A streets sets the tone of the movie and sets the bench mark for what is to come. While the Dodge Charger driven by Vin Diesel powering away from the city in the final face-off aptly shows the simplicity throughout. It may lack the elegance or complexity, say, of Drive’s chases but, as a white-knuckle ride, it’s hard to beat.
The film Ronin is memorable for one reason and one reason only; the car chase. Director John Frankenheimer employed formula one pilots to drive Audi S8’s, BMW M5’s and Mercedes-Benz 6.9’s to battle each other on the narrow city streets of Paris. The thunderous chase takes place, through streets south of Les Invalides, along avenue Duquesne, avenue de Ségur and avenue de Breteuil; through the Champerret Tunnel, toward the great modernistic arch at La Defense, driving the wrong way against 300 stunt drivers along the Périphérique, ring road. The scene is masterfully shot and the driving on show is breathtaking at times.
This independent film noir is a modern day throwback to classics such as Bullitt, Ronin, and The French Connection. Director Nicolas Winding Refn takes a different approach to the smash and grab job of your stereotypical car chase. In Drive the chases are articulate, suspenseful and somewhat elegant giving true meaning to the saying style over substance. The number of cars used in the chases is relatively small, putting emphasis on the driving instead of the carnage. This is epitomised in the best chase scene of the movie when the Mustang GT 5.0 goes head to head with the Chrysler 300. Darrin Prescott, stunt coordinator, stated only one car was destroyed in the movie – The Chrysler 300. The movie was made on a $13 million budget and the chases and cars reflect the complexity and intensity of each character and the story.
Read our full review of Drive here.
The car chase in Bullitt is the benchmark by which all other car chases are measured. Star of the movie Steve McQueen and director Peter Yates brought the best names in cinema to collaborate on creating the perfect chase scenes. Carey Loftin, stunt coordinator, stated; “McQueen wanted the best chase scene ever created”. The chases were the first of its kind filmed with live sound creating the realistic feel and setting the tone of the scene.
The enduring scenes of the forboding Charger and the powerful Mustang have etched themselves in film making history. The sequences were the brain child of Steve McQueen; he knew what he wanted and how he wanted it to appear on film. No one has duplicated the electricity or the savage ferocity that manifested itself in Bullitt chase scenes, and it’s doubtful any one ever will.
1. To Live and Die in LA
In 1985, William Friedkin comes up trumps in this directorial masterpiece. Leaving no stone unturned he creates car chase sequences that still remain unrivaled. The only director to appear twice on the list, we first saw his skills on the set of The French Connection. However, To Live and Die in LA goes one step further and somehow tops it. He manages to fit every man-made object ever created into the mix; from conventional to the unconventional, from cars to trains to briefcases banging against cement pillars. At one point he throws a one-way highway trip into the mix, where a car is facing oncoming unsuspecting motorists – with a compilation of Wang Chung resonating with every movement.
Editor’s Comment: “William Friedkin, the man behind one of cinema’s most iconic car chase sequences in The French Connection, outdoes his own blistering work with 1985’s To Live and Die in L.A. Secret Service agents William Peterson and John Pankow endure a relentless pursuit through the city of Los Angeles as it seemingly awakens with the single intention of shooting them dead. The sequence, which mixes some wonderfully choreographed photography including Friedkin’s use of front-bumper point of view, is brilliantly realised, wildly unpredictable, and breathlessly paced.” – Daniel Stephens, Editor
I hope these don’t make you feel the need for speed or you may be looking for a personal injury solicitor sooner rather than later!
What are your favourite car chases in the movies?
Written and compiled by Olan Ahern.
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