The Ten Spot: Best Movie Car Chase Scenes (Video Edition)
With the recent release of the trailer for the upcoming videogame GRAND THEFT AUTO V (coming out in Spring 2013), we decided that we'd put together a car-oriented Ten Spot and from that sprang: the best movie car chases! Some are classics and some are recent, but all are badass. Let me know if you agree or disagree and share your picks in the talk back below. Otherwise, grab a Fresca and buckle your seat belts because here comes some burnt rubber!
Not a traditional car chase, but THE CANNONBALL RUN is one of the craziest car movies you will ever see. Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Jackie Chan, Dom DeLuise, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Terry Bradshaw, and the incredibly sexy Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau made this all-star cast the gold standard for celebrity ensembles back in 1981. Check out the opening car chase from the scene above and tell me it doesn't make you want to get out there and race.
If anybody told you DRIVE sucked because of the lack of car chase action, that person is an idiot. First of all, DRIVE was one of the best films of 2011. Secondly, the fact that the main character was a getaway driver does not automatically mean that you are going to get an indie version of THE FAST & THE FURIOUS. Lastly, the scene above is one of the two major car chase sequences and it is beautifully shot. That final image of Christina Hendricks' face as the car crashes behind her is perfection.
While I was not a big fan of the movie, I cannot argue that this scene was badass. The spinning car opening and scooping up James McAvoy was enough to get me to watch the entire movie. Alas, there was nothing else in this movie that really grabbed me. Timur Bekmambetov has a distinct visual style that I think would be pretty cool for chase sequences but tiresome in most other contexts. So, if you can squeeze these ten minutes out and play it on repeat, you could spend a few hours being entertained. Plus, it is a Dodge Viper, which was my dream car for a few years.
Quentin Tarantino's GRINDHOUSE entry owes a lot to the car films that inspired it, but even those films are hard-pressed to match the final sequence of this movie. The entire Stuntman Mike scene as he attacks the girls while Zoe Bell car surfs is a brilliant achievement in traditional stunt work. No CGI on this project folks. Hiring a professional to act for the scene gives the viewed an even bigger "holy shit" factor what watching it. When the tables turn and the girls go after Stuntman Mike, the chase changes momentum, essentially giving us two awesome chases or one incredibly long one, depending on how you look at it. Either way, completely badass.
Living in the Chicago area, I have spent many visits to the city retracing moments from this iconic movie chase. Unlike a lot of films, Christopher Nolan staged everything at real locations around the city. As much as he tried to hide the Chicago in the movie, you can still easily spot where everything was filmed. I am including this movie because being able to stand where the truck flip scene took place or where The Joker shouted "hit me!" ups the awesome factor for me quite a bit. I have always heard complaints that Nolan's action set-pieces were too shaky to follow on screen, but this chase is clearly one to beat.
I still feel bitter towards the two MATRIX sequels for not living up to the potential set forth in the first movie. I still think there is a hell of a lot that can be mined in THE MATRIX universe, but who knows if we will ever see another movie set there. Despite my disappointment, I can still say the highway chase/truck fight from THE MATRIX RELOADED blows me away every time. The slow motion is used perfectly and while some of the special effects have not aged well, it is still a damn fine sequence. Sure, the highway is essentially a video game environment with endless cars and repeated background, but it adds to the virtual world. You know that there are not real people driving the cars, so any over the top violence and destruction is pure eye candy.
"Lots of space in this mall!" Do I even need to explain this one? They drive through a shopping mall. They jump a drawbridge. Everything about this movie centers on the Bluesmobile, so there was no way that director John Landis could avoid making a car chase the centerpiece of the film. The patrons jumping out of the way as the cops chase Elwood and Jake as the brothers calmly point out the shops they see as they careen along makes this the funniest car chase ever filmed. This is another Chicago-centric film that didn't mean much to me when I lived on the East Coast as a kid. But, when I moved to Illinois, spotting the locations from the film made it extra special.
Probably Robert De Niro's last truly great movie, RONIN has some of the best car scenes in any movie. Director John Frankenheimer, who also directed the movie GRAND PRIX, used over 300 stunt drivers and filmed all of the chases with the actual actors in the vehicles. What makes the chase scenes in RONIN so good is that you never feel that there is a Bobby De Niro stunt double in the car. The extended chase through the tunnels of Paris is breathtaking. In a day and age where CGI trumps traditional stuntwork, RONIN stands out as a massive achievement.
If you look at the history of cinema, two movies always rank at the top of every list of best car chases. You cannot argue that THE FRENCH CONNECTION is one of those. Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) chasing down an elevated train in a commandeered 1971 Pontiac LeMans is absolutely stunning. I won't ruin the amazing scene by clipping it above, but check out the extensive behind the scenes on the Blu-ray that shows all of the details and technical innovation that went into making this chase happen. Also, if you listen to Santana's "Black Magic Woman" as you watch it, you will notice they share a similar rhythm. Director William Friedkin used that song as they edited this awesome sequence.
BULLITT is the other film that often tops car chase lists. There is a distinct difference between this one and THE FRENCH CONNECTION. While THE FRENCH CONNECTION uses New York City as the landscape, BULLITT takes place in San Francisco. The hilly roads and steep inclines gave this chase the crazy jumps and turns that you don't get in New York. Steve McQueen did use a stuntman for some of the more complex shots, but you can also see him doing quite a bit of his own driving throughout the film. This movie made me want to have a Dodge Charger so bad, but no one but McQueen would look as cool driving it. This movie is the reason we play racing video games: we want to feel that rush of jumping hills and catching bad guys or evading the cops. Total and pure cool.