The Best Car Chases in Movie History

9 minute read

By Jack Sackman

Few great action movies are complete without at least one thrilling car chase in them. Think of some of your favorite movies. Chances are that you vividly remember the car chases in them.

As action movies have gotten progressively higher octane, so too have the car chases in them. It is no longer enough to simply feature cars traveling at high speeds. Today’s movies have dropped cars out of airplanes, launched them off bridges, and even run them headlong down railroad tracks.

So, we have listed some of the best car chases in cinema history.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Each Bourne movie has at least one great car chase in it.

In 2002’s The Bourne Identity, this car chase takes place in Paris near the end of the film. In the scene, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) outruns seemingly every police car in the city in a beat-up old Mini Cooper. The chase features lots of great camera work that keeps the action close and makes the audience feel as though they are in the car with Jason Bourne. Plus, moments like Bourne driving the car down a flight and plenty of smash-ups make this a truly great car chase.

Source: Screenshot via Universal Pictures

The Blues Brothers (1980)

For sheer chaos and hilarity, you can’t beat the car chase from The Blues Brothers, starring Saturday Night Live alums John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

What’s great about this chase is that it takes place inside a shopping mall — complete with real shoppers, hall displays, and stores. The Blues Brothers and the police literally destroy the shopping mall. They crash through glass storefronts, drive through clothes racks and food stands, and race down the aisles of department stores.

The whole scene is set to hilarious music and goes on for more than 10 minutes. It is sheer mayhem, a lot of fun to watch, and impossible to forget.

Source: Screenshot via Universal Pictures

Raising Arizona (1987)

Probably the only movie with a car chase funnier than the one in The Blues Brothers is  Raising Arizona.

This chase happens after Herbert I. “Hi” McDunnough (Nicholas Cage) robs a convenience store to get some Huggies diapers for his new baby. It involves Hi running on foot while being pursued by gun-shooting police and his furious wife (Holly Hunter). When Hi’s wife catches him, the two do the natural thing and head back for the Huggies diapers that Hi dropped while running from the cops.

For sheer silliness and strangeness, there is not really a better car chase than the one in Raising Arizona.

Source: Screenshot via 20th Century Studios

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

There have been so many great car chases in the James Bond franchise over its 50-plus year history that it can be difficult to single out one memorable one.

For sheer inventiveness, we like the car chase in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. As a truly unique chase, it features one of the coolest uses of gadgetry in the Bond franchise. This chase had James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) remotely driving a BMW through a cark park from the back seat — all while being shot at by bad guys.

Source: Screenshot via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Although The Matrix Reloaded doesn’t hold a candle its predecessor, it does feature one truly impressive car chase as its centerpiece.

From cop cars in hot pursuit and motorcycles flying off bridges to a fistfight on top of a semitrailer to a Samurai Sword and a back seat knife fight, the Wachowskis throw everything and the kitchen sink into this chase scene. Even at close to 20 minutes long, the chase keeps viewers engaged throughout. Plus, the techno music thumping in the background adds a cool undercurrent to the whole scene.

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros. Pictures

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

To be frank, Mad Max: Fury Road is essentially one long car chase. However, it is the chase at the end of the movie where Max and Furiosa finally bring an end to Immortan Joe that’s the most exciting and action-packed. The vehicles, violence, and stunts are completely mind-blowing. Plus, the whole thing culminates in a spectacular fashion.

A truly great car chase for a truly great movie.

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros. Pictures

The Fast and The Furious Franchise

From the drag races of the first film, to dragging cement bank safes through the streets of Rio De Janeiro in Fast Five, to dropping cars out of airplanes in Furious 7, this movie franchise has done it all and more with cars. The challenge for filmmakers is coming up with new stunts and topping each previous one.

As the franchise grows in terms of its cast and box office haul, the car chases have only gotten bigger and more outrageous. What will they think of next?

Source: Screenshot via Universal Pictures

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Say what you want about this movie and its star Burt Reynolds, but for a fun time, there are few car chase movies that can equal it.

Smokey and the Bandit is about a trucker named Bandit (Burt Reynolds), who agrees to transport a load of beer across county lines. Bandit ends up over his head as he’s being chased by Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) and carrying a runaway bride (Sally Field). All these wild elements come together for a silly good time.

Basically one long car chase, the movie is lighthearted and played for easy laughs. With plenty of one-liners and silly gags, Smokey and the Bandit features plenty of exciting chase sequences involving Burt Reynolds’ signature Trans Am, transport trucks, and police cruisers.

This movie was hugely influential. As such, it spawned a whole genre of fun-loving car chase movies and television shows, including The Dukes of Hazard.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

All of the films in the recent Jason Bourne franchise feature cool car chases. The Bourne Identity had a cool car chase around the streets of Paris, while The Bourne Ultimatum concluded with a car chase through New York.

Out of them all, the car chase around Moscow in The Bourne Supremacy is the best in the series. It features some impressive filming through tunnels and crowded streets. The camera work by Director Paul Greengrass is so incredible that audiences feel they are in the car with Jason Bourne as he tries to outrun both an assassin and the Russian police. The crash at the end is especially gripping.

Source: Screenshot via Universal Pictures

Duel (1971)

Not only is Duel credited as Steven Spielberg’s feature film debut, but it is also one of the best car chase movies ever. In fact, it is arguably the purest form of a car chase ever committed to film.

The plot centers around businessman David Mann (Dennis Weaver), who is driving through the desert and pursued by a massive diesel transport truck that is bent on destroying him. The driver of the truck is never revealed and neither is the motive for pursuing the hapless businessman.

The movie is literally an extended chase through the desert. With the exception of some patrons at a local café where Mann briefly stops, there are no other people in the film. Scary and relentless, the scenes involving Man’s car and the truck are breathtaking. As the movie’s tagline says “Fear is the Driving Force.”

Source: Screenshot via Universal Pictures

Death Proof (2007)

When making Death Proof, director Quentin Tarantino wanted to pay homage to slasher films, exploitation films, and car chase movies. Well, mission accomplished.

Featuring Kurt Russell as an evil stunt car driver who gets what’s coming to him, Death Proof has an extended car chase scene that’s close to 30 minutes long. It also features cool muscle cars, hot chicks and crackling dialogue. The spin on the closing chase sequence is that the entire event takes place with stuntwoman Zoe Bell holding onto the hood of a car. She is literally holding onto the car’s hood for the entire chase scene, which makes it feel more dangerous and death-defying in the process.

Source: Screenshot via Dimension Films

Ronin (1998)

Starring Robert De Niro as the leader of a group of thieves and directed by John Frankenheimer, Ronin features several incredible car chase scenes through various European locations. However, the final chase in Paris is one of the best.

What makes the car chase scenes so great is that Frankenheimer places the camera on the hood of the car so that audiences see the road directly in front of them. This is a similar effect to video games, where players can choose to view only the road ahead of them.

Source: Screenshot via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981)

Of course, all of the Mad Max films feature incredible car chases and stunt work. From the first Mad Max in 1979 right through to 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. However, Mad Max: The Road Warrior gets singled out for sheer thrills and excitement.

The chase scene at the end of the movie is harrowing and truly scary. It has Max (Mel Gibson) driving a tanker truck full of fuel while pursued by the hockey mask-wearing Humungus and his army of punk rock mutant bikers. It also features remarkable stunt work and driving.

The Road Warrior was the first time audiences had seen a car chase like this one. While replicated countless times since — including in Mad Max: Fury Road — The Road Warrior gets kudos for being the first of its kind.

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros. Pictures

Bullitt (1968)

The definitive Steve McQueen movie, Bullitt is about a cop assigned to protect a gangster in the witness protection program. The movie features an incredible car chase sequence through the rolling hills of San Francisco. Featuring two 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback muscle cars, the chase lasts more than 10 minutes and meanders all over San Francisco before ending with a stunning crash. Steve McQueen and Ford Mustang have never been cooler.

In fact, Frank P. Keller won an Academy Award for Best Editing for the way he pieced together the car chase. Plus, movie critics universally regard it as one of the best ever committed to celluloid.

Shown and studied in film schools around the world, this movie’s car chase inspired everyone that came after it.

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros. Pictures

The French Connection (1971)

The scene where Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) chases an elevated train through the streets of New York is exciting, gripping, and scary. Audiences understandably close one eye as Doyle weaves around parked cars, pedestrians, and even a woman pushing a baby stroller. The futility of chasing a train only adds to the tension of the scene. The editing and Hackman’s acting reinforce the danger of the chase.

This scene is rightly viewed as one of the best and most original car chases in movie history. In fact, it is one of the many reasons that The French Connection won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Ask filmgoers what they remember about The French Connection and they will say this car chase.

Source: Screenshot via 20th Century Studios

Vanishing Point (1971)

Widely regarded by film critics and movie aficionados as the best car chase movie ever, Vanishing Point set the template for any and all car chase movies. The plot has car delivery driver Kowalski (Barry Newman) driving a white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum from Denver, Colorado to San Francisco, California over the course of a weekend. Along the way, Kowalski is chased by police, bikers, hippies, and thugs.

With a cool, dispassionate tone, great dialogue, and astonishing chases, Vanishing Point manages to provide wry social commentary and capture the post-Woodstock mood in America at the time. Although the film was not a big hit upon its original release, Vanishing Point has grown in esteem over the years. Even proving to be extremely influential on future generations of filmmakers.

Source: Screenshot via 20th Century Studios

Jack Sackman


Jack Sackman has been writing about movies and TV for Goliath since 2013.