No matter how much the movie industry may change, some rules will never be broken: the hero gets the girl, good triumphs over evil, and nothing guarantees big screen tension and over-the-top stunts like a car chase. And as proof that pulse-pounding vehicular pursuits and stunts are still enticing enough to drive hordes of people to the theaters, they’re expected to re-launch a film series with The Transporter Refueled.
Burning rubber down an airport runway and taking flying leaps may check all the boxes of modern CGI/practical car chases (check out the clip above), but if Refueled hopes to truly make its mark on movie fans, it has some stiff competition.Thrilling audiences since the first time a movie character put the pedal to the metal, there are too many memorable chase scenes to name – but some stand out above the rest.
Here is our list of the 10 Most Epic Car Chases in Movies.
[See below for written entries]
The French Connection
You can’t mention classic car chases without bringing up Steve McQueen’s Bullitt. But when that chase was hailed as the greatest ever seen, producer Philip D’Antoni set out to top it just three years later, in The French Connection. With star Gene Hackman in pursuit of a suspect on an elevated New York train, the filmmakers determined that the only way to raise the stakes was to do it for real. That meant no police, no permits, and most importantly, no warning to the public. Knowing they had just one shot, director William Friedkin took a camera into the backseat, and stunt driver Bill Hickman hit the gas, careening through traffic for over 20 city blocks. Their efforts paid off, with every close-call just dangerous as it seemed, and even an unaware driver smashing into Hackman’s car. On lunacy alone, that guarantees it a spot on our list.
Named for Ian Fleming’s Jamaican Beach house, 1995’s GoldenEye marked Pierce Brosnan’s first appearance as James Bond. And to celebrate, director Martin Campbell had one heck of a chase up his sleeve. Forget Aston Martins, this version of 007 would take an armored tank into hot pursuit. The idea of a stealthy spy went out the window, as Bond went smashing through buildings, traffic, police, military, statues, and even a trailer full of Perrier in search of his kidnapped cyber-genius wing-woman, Natalya.
As insane as the action may be, it was wisely set to the original 007 theme, telling viewers that even if a new age of Bond was dawning, it did so in the spirit of those that came before it. There are more than a few chases in GoldenEye, but this is the only one deemed entertaining enough for the wildly successful video game released with the film. And as serious or slick as Brosnan’s films would become, this chase proved Bond just isn’t Bond without a little over-the-top action.
Another film that must be mentioned when talking big screen car chases, Ronin has become more famous for its climactic car scenes than its twisting tale of espionage and international intrigue. And it’s not surprising: to give the film’s extensive chase added drama, the studio employed over 300 stunt drivers, piloting not just the starring vehicles, but the rest of the cars on the road. Set on the actual streets of Paris, France, the final chase is a showcase for driving skills over special effects. But when the chase has already left other European pursuits in the dust, the real action begins, as the two cars dive into oncoming traffic. It may still be movie magic at work, but showing what two skilled drivers could really do on any city street results in a chase that’s impossible to forget.
Fast & Furious 6
It would be impossible to ignore the current blockbuster juggernaut that is The Fast & Furious for our list, even though recent films have strayed more into superhero territory than classic car movies. But in the series’ sixth installment, fans got a bit of both. When Dominic Toretto’s crew is sent to hunt down villain Owen Shaw, he escapes police and takes to the streets – with the film’s stars in pursuit. They’re soon introduced to Shaw’s own team, fighting them with tech, speed, gunfire, and even open-wheeled racers able to send cars flying through the air. The film and sequels would go on to embrace CG on entirely new levels, but this chase delivers practical thrills fans expect, and reminds us that it was a passion for the chase that turned these racers into a family.
Of all the films Michael Bay has made, he names The Rock as his favorite. It’s not hard to see why, since it features one of the most satisfying car cases in his entire filmography. It’s as if the director woke up one morning and wondered how much destruction could fit into the six-minute section of the movie, sending Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage (along with what appears to be the ENTIRE San Francisco police force) ripping through the city’s streets on a multi-million dollar chase, destroying everything they pass. Connery shows the worst regard for property, smashing through trucks, taxis, power lines, and even one of the city’s historic streetcars.
When Cage’s pursuit is cut short, he simply swaps one stolen vehicle for another and continues the destruction. The sequence’s many quick cuts and energetic shaky-cam would be used in nearly every one of Bay’s films, including the cherry on top of this destructive sundae: Bay’s trademark hero shot, making Connery and Cage seem as cool as humanly possible – although the cars’ owners would probably disagree.
When she’s not busy filling in as a body double for the likes of Lucy Lawless, Uma Thurman or Sharon Stone, Zoe Bell takes the spotlight in her own way, performing death-defying, manual stunts in an age heavily dominated by CG effects. Quentin Tarantino has a passion for old-school cinema, and an obsession with badass ladies; both go to work in this extended car chase featured in Deathproof. The chase picks up when a leather-clad Tracie Thoms uses her Dodge Challenger to get the drop on Kurt Russell’s murderous “Stuntman Mike”.
Real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell adds even more drama to this cat and mouse chase, spending most of the scene slipping and sliding on the car’s hood while the drivers play high-stakes bumper cars. Just as it appears to wind down it’s the girls who take over the pursuit. Tarantino’s ability to step back and let the professionals do what they do best sets him apart from other directors; in this case trusting Bell to take point on all her own stunts, with the audience enjoying the result.
The Fifth Element
Bruce Willis steals the show as a renegade cab driver in this flying car chase set on a future Earth. The chase begins when Leeloo, played by Milla Jovovich, crash-lands in his back seat. Audiences see what gridlock will look like in the future as Willis races along at breakneck speeds, weaving through traffic in every direction. Every roadblock, metaphorical or otherwise, is met with an angry one-liner from Willis, many of them ad-libbed on the spot. Endlessly entertaining, the flying cars add a novel elements to the tried and true car chase formula. Including a futuristic McDonalds drive-thru, and too many gags and impressive stunts to count. The film is a cult classic, and this chase is one of the main reasons why it entertains to this day.
This novel adaptation placed most of its spotlight on its star, Tom Cruise. It’s a shame, since the action and attitude of Jack Reacher was criminally underrated. But buried deep within this murder mystery was one of our favorite throwbacks to the classic road movie. When Jack discovers he’s being framed for a murder, he peels out to track down the men responsible, with the police hot on his tail. Once the chase is one, not a single line of dialogue or musical note interrupts, letting the sirens, scraped metal, squealing tires and relentless throttle of Reacher’s Chevelle tell the story. Easily the most underrated on our list, this chase is a perfect example of how classic car films can be made new again – and deliver more attitude and excitement than CG-filled action.
Despite not having a drivers license or an interest in cars, Nicolas Winding Refn was handpicked by Ryan Gosling to direct 2011’s Drive. True to its title, the film opens with a silent, unemotional Gosling playing it cool as the toothpick-chewing stuntman-turned-mechanic-turned-getaway driver. As a professional with knowledge of every corner of his city, the dashboard-lit “Driver” maintains the upper hand throughout his entire getaway.
Anticipating their every move, he dodges police cars and helicopters as quickly as they spot him, melting into the shadows of Downtown L.A.. With nothing but the radio and police scanners to listen to, the audience sits alongside Gosling in his Chevy, trusting he knows what he’s doing. The beauty of this chase is its simplicity; the police come close to catching their target, but by keeping a cool head, the “Driver” is able to disappear completely. Proving that you don’t need music, dialogue, or even traditional action to put audiences on the edges of their seats.
The Matrix Reloaded
To make the extended car chase of The Matrix Reloaded a reality, the filmmakers spent 48 days filming on a freeway they constructed specifically for the shoot. Its ambition is its biggest trademark. As the film’s ghostly villain twins float from vehicle to vehicle, The Wachowskis perfectly blend car chases, knife fights, and more to create one of the most memorable scenes in the entire sci-fi franchise. Despite the story’s hero being absent for most of the chase, the audience can’t look away once the chase begins.
Any void left by Neo is forgotten as Morpheus cuts a car in half with a sword, and the movie’s most memorable song pounds in our ears. Keeping track of Trinity becomes a game in itself, switching directions, weaving in and out of traffic, and swapping vehicles with ease. Because every obstacle is the result of a computer program, there is no limit to the amount of carnage. The result is a flashy, tense, thirteen minute saga in which every car is expendable, and every explosion is guilt-free. When Neo finally arrives, he does so in a spectacular fashion; manipulating the rules of gravity to save the day.
That’s it for our picks of the Most Epic Movie Car Chases, are there any we missed? Which pursuits are your favorite? Sound off in the comments below and make sure to subscribe for more great videos like this one!