Cinema's Great Chase Scenes

While researching my article on Car Crash King H.B. Hilicki, I looked at a lot of lists of cinema car chases. It made me want to post my own list, but I didn’t want to rank the great chases. Instead, I decided to create a list of 25 movies (sometimes not even good movies) that will be remembered for their high-speed contributions.

BAD BOYS II: During a lengthy bridge chase, the bad guys get a hold of a car carrier, and launch vehicles at our heroes. Cars spin down the freeway like tops, while another car attached to a thick chain slides back and forth like a vehicular wrecking ball.
THE BLUES BROTHERS: Two great moments here. Of course there’s the massive and very funny police car pile-up climax, but the car chase that everyone remembers is when Dan Aykroyd leads the police through a crowded shopping mall and makes the classic observation “There’s a lot of space in these malls.”
THE BOURNE IDENTITY and THE BOURNE SUPREMACY: All movie spies are experts with knives, guns and hand-to-hand combat. Jason Bourne stands out for being equally dangerous behind the wheel of any vehicle.
BULLITT: Generally regarded as the first modern car chase. It was far longer and faster than what had gone before, and placed cameras so that the audience felt as though they were inside the car. Even during the most calamitous scenes, Steve McQueen could be clearly seen at the wheel of the vehicle.
THE DRIVER: This little seen film debut by Walter Hill pioneered and explicitly made use of the front bumper point-of-view shot, now a hallmark to any good car chase.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: Car chases go TOP GUN when special effects free up the camera and turn a routine drag race into an exciting battle of speed. Hit the NOS.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION: Pure action cinema, as Gene Hackman, director William Friedkin and editor Jerry Greenberg (who all won deserved Oscars) had Hackman chasing a train and placed it in the middle of busy traffic and pedestrians.
GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974): see article

GONE IN 60 SECONDS (2000): Surprisingly, this big budget remake didn’t try to duplicate the length of the original film’s climactic chase, but it does a pretty good job tearing up the Long Beach docks. Bonus points for the out of control giant fuel tank.

THE ITALIAN JOB (1969, 2003): One’s actually set in Italy while the other takes place in Los Angeles. Neither chase is terrible exciting, but they’re both a lot of fun as mini-coopers drive where cars were never meant to tread (including a giant drain pipe.)
LETHAL WEAPON 2 and 4: The action scenes here follow the Indiana Jones model of being fight scenes that happen to take place at very high speeds. LW2 has two such scenes with the opening chase (“You’re right, you know…there wasn’t enough room.”) and the Mulholland pursuit halfway through the film (which includes some of the best chase music ever.)
LW4 has the fight inside the plastic covered house, and the terrific gag where Riggs sleds down the freeway on an upturned table.THE MATRIX: RELOADED: The film will always leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, but for about 15 minutes there’s a deliriously exciting freeway chase that uses cars, motorcycles, 18-wheelers, inside-the-car kung-fu, and a really bitchin’ samurai sword.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: The Gold Standard for action sequences set at high speed. Sure there’s good vehicular damage, but it’s the fight inside the truck, the clever use of the whip and the way the hood ornament bends away that make this chase scene so legendary.
RENDEZVOUS: This revered short film by Claude Lelouch is one 9-minute take of a high-speed death defying drive through the open streets of Paris. The soundtrack is just the wail of the engine, squealing tires and the roar of the exhaust. (Here’s a clip.)

THE ROAD WARRIOR: The climactic tanker truck chase made the film a box office smash and was imitated for years afterwards. Who can forget the heart-stopping moment when the child climb out onto the hood of the tanker to retrieve Max’s shotgun shells.
THE ROCK: While building to the lengthy assault on the title prison, director Michael Bay decided to pep up his film with a completely unnecessary car chase over the hills of San Francisco. The resulting scene has become a modern minor classic. To make the dialogue as exciting as the chase, screws bolting the cameras to the cars were kept loose creating a natural shakiness.
RONIN: 45 minutes into RONIN, DeNiro and his team chase a vehicle through the hills of France and hit it with a rocket launcher. And that’s the minor chase. The main chase builds itself up bit by bit. Piling one gag on top of another (and using very little music.) Too many great moments to mention, but I liked how director John Frankenheimer filmed his actors while they were in the actual stunt cars to get genuine expressions.
SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and SPEED: There’s no one chase in either film because the entire movie is a giant chase. Other films have tried making the non-stop action movie, but these two got it right, mixing character, comedy, story and exciting stunts. They also both made big stars out of their leading ladies (Sally Field and Sandra Bullock) and provided juicy late-career roles for their bad guys (Jackie Gleason and Dennis Hopper).

TERMINATOR 2 and 3: In TERMINATOR 2, old model faces off against new in a dazzling chase through the canals of Los Angeles. For Part 3, old and new square off again this time with a 10 ton crane, a fire truck and remote controlled cars.
THE TRANSPORTER: In the films best and smartest sequence, the title character shows how well he knows the mechanics of his car with an opening chase full of split-second timing and close maneuvers.
TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.: Like RONIN, this title would be a forgotten relic if not for its car chase where the major players proceed down a busy freeway going the wrong way.


Blogger stabler hsu said...

I loved To Lie and Die in LA

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Nicksta said...

M:I-2's motorcycle chase should be in here

7:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to admit that Dash's chase in Pixar's "The Incredibles" is a great chase scene.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry had a good chase scene, albeit not as great as French connection or Bullitt. But could be considered on this list. Personally, I enjoy the older chase scenes without the computer effects. They seem more real. You may also consider Steve M. in the motorcycle chase scene from the movie "The Great Escape". Short but fun.

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

online pharmacy

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Dante Mallet said...

These movies you've shared are all great! However, I found one which I consider the best: the scene from The Italian Job. It's absolutely one of my fave movies! In my opinion, it's storyline is somehow very different from other action-filled movies. It also has a story of life, which actually spiced it all up! The team exercised courage in order to avenge the loss of their leader. On the other hand, "small car" fans out there would probably be amazed with the movie's great car chase scene in the end. It's definitely a "Woo-hoo!!". :D

10:48 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home