By David Nusair
There’s really nothing better than a good car chase; with the high speeds and potential for crashes, car chases are a sure-fire way to liven up even the dullest of action pictures – with the following 10 standing as the best of the best:
Bullitt contains what is largely thought of as the granddaddy of all car chases and with good reason, as the pursuit between Steve McQueen’s iconic character and a pair of deadly assassins remains just as exciting and riveting today as it must have seemed back in 1968. The chase starts out on the mountainous streets of San Francisco and eventually winds up on a desolate highway, with the 10-minute scene’s success due primarily to its authenticity and hair-raising maneuvers. (The stunt drivers were reportedly hitting speeds of over 100 mph and it shows.)
When it was released as part of the Grindhouse compilation movie, Death Proof was quickly dismissed as a rare failure from Quentin Tarantino. In the years since its release, however, Death Proof has become a modern cult classic – with its magnificent third-act car chase playing a pivotal role in its success. The sequence follows ruthless villain Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) as he terrorizes a car holding three women (Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, and Zoe Bell), with the twist being that the ladies eventually turn the tables on Mike and start their own pursuit (which ultimately concludes as the girls capture Mike and subject him to an epically brutal beating).
Arriving in theaters just a few years after Bullitt, The French Connection clearly set out to top the white-knuckle car chase in that Steve McQueen thriller – as the film boasts one of the grittiest pursuit scenes ever committed to celluloid. After a hitman boards an elevated train in New York City, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) begins his furious chase from below in a beat-up Pontiac that takes more and more damage as the enthralling scene unfolds. The sequence proved that you don’t necessarily need more than one car to create a successful car chase.
Though it features several car chases, it’s the pursuit near the end of Ronin that stands as its best. Robert De Niro and a couple of other characters begin tailing another car through the streets of Paris, with the high-speed chase eventually making its way through side roads and tunnels – while at the same time wreaking all sorts of damage to other cars and landmarks. It’s a phenomenal sequence that relies primarily on old-fashioned stuntwork rather than computer-generated effects, with filmmaker John Frankenheimer’s decision to place the actual actors in the fast-moving cars heightening the suspense and excitement.
With somber films like The Yards and Two Lovers under his belt, James Gray is hardly the sort of filmmaker from whom one would expect a top-notch car chase. But in his 2007 effort We Own the Night, Gray offers up one of the most inventive and gripping chase sequences of the 21st century – as Joaquin Phoenix’s Bobby Green, along with Robert Duvall’s Burt and Eva Mendes’ Amada, must outrun several armed men during a torrential downpour. The rainy atmosphere heightens what is already an extremely suspenseful scene, and it seems awfully strange that more car chases haven’t transpired during similarly poor weather conditions.
The Matrix series became infamous for its exhilarating, larger-than-life action sequences, with the car chase that crops up in the franchise’s second installment, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, certainly as exciting as anything else within the trilogy. The chase transpires on an ordinary freeway and follows Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) as they attempt to transport another character to safety, with complications ensuing as the trio is pursued by a variety of vicious, gravity-defying villains. The sequence was so complicated that the Wachowski brothers actually had a 1.5-mile-long stretch of highway built specifically for the production.
After the success of The French Connection, William Friedkin seemed determined to top that film’s justifiably legendary car chase. And although he never quite got there, the exhilarating pursuit in 1985’s To Live and Die in L.A. comes awfully close. The chase starts out like any other, as William Petersen attempts to outrun machine-gun-toting bad guys, but eventually becomes crazier and more over-the-top as it goes on – with Petersen’s character finally driving against traffic on a busy Los Angeles freeway!
There have been plenty of car chases in the venerable James Bond series, but it’s the pursuit in Tomorrow Never Dies that stands as the franchise’s vehicular high point. Bond (Pierce Brosnan) finds himself forced to outrun several baddies in a BMW that’s been outfitted with gadgets by Q, with the twist being that 007 is actually reclining in the back seat operating the car with a special remote. The pursuit winds its way through a crowded parking garage and eventually ends up on the roof, where Bond, having already jumped out of the car, sends the BMW careening off the side of the building and into a glass storefront below.
James Cameron has never exactly shied away from over-the-top action sequences, with the first and second Terminator movies packed virtually from start to finish with white-knuckle set pieces. Terminator 2: Judgment Day contains what is probably the most exciting car chase ever attempted by Cameron, as John Connor (Edward Furlong), riding a dirt bike, attempts to escape from the relentless Terminator (Robert Patrick) that’s pursuing him in a truck – with Connor’s life saved after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s friendly Terminator swoops in at the last minute and pulls the teenager aboard his powerful motorcycle.
Though the 1974 original is notable for containing one of the longest car chases ever committed to film, Gone in 60 Seconds, the 2000 remake, emerges a clear winner in terms of generating excitement and thrills. The climax of the film follows Nicolas Cage’s Memphis Raines as he steals an extremely valuable Shelby Mustang and attempts to drive it to a prearranged destination, with his efforts confounded by a pair of dogged cops (Delroy Lindo and Timothy Olyphant) who pursue him through the streets and highways of Los Angeles. (A helicopter even makes an appearance at one point!)