Car chases and car stunts are part of the movies that we all know and love. 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. And 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 towards speeding trains. Here is a list of 16 of the best car chases in cinema history.
16. The Bourne Identity (2002)
Each Bourne movie has featured 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 (actor Matt Damon) out runs 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. There is also a great scene where the car drives down a flight of stairs at an accelerated speed, as well as plenty of smash-ups involving the police cars that makes this a truly great car chase. It is one of the most memorable parts of the movie and franchise.
15. The Blues Brothers (1980)
For sheer chaos and hilariousness, you can’t beat the car chase in the middle of the classic 1980 movie The Blues Brothers, starring Saturday Night Live alums John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. What’s great about this car chase is that it takes place inside a shopping mall—complete with real shoppers, hall displays and stores. The Blues Brothers and the police chasing them literally destroy the shopping mall—crashing through glass store fronts, driving through clothes racks and food stands, racing down the aisle 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. The fact that the Blues Brothers themselves are driving a second-hand cop car in the scene makes it that much more ironic and funny. A classic chase.
14. Raising Arizona (1987)
Probably the only movie car chase funnier than the one in The Blues Brothers is the chase featured in the 1987 Coen Brothers classic Raising Arizona. This is the chase that ensues when actor Nicholas Cage’s character robs a convenience store to get some Huggies diapers for his new baby. It involves Nicholas Cage running on foot while being pursued by gun-shooting police and his furious wife, played by actress Holly Hunter. During the chase, Nicholas Cage runs seemingly all over the city while being chased by a cop car that features a police officer hanging out the window and shooting what seems like a canon. When Holly Hunter finally picks up Nicholas Cage in her car, the two do the natural thing and head back for the Huggies diapers that Nicholas Cage 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.
13. 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. But for sheer inventiveness, we like the car chase in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies that had James Bond (actor Pierce Brosnan) remotely driving a BMW from the back seat through a twisty cark park in Hamburg, Germany, as he is being shot at by bad guys. The scene features some of the best Bond gadgetry, and a truly unique car chase. The chase itself is a lot of fun as James Bond navigates the vehicle through the spiraling car park as it is being pelted with bullets. This chase also features an impressive ending as agent 007 jumps out of the car and then crashes it off the roof and into a car rental store on the other side of the street. Definitely memorable.
12. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
The first sequel to 1999’s ground breaking movie The Matrix, the 2003 movie The Matrix Reloaded does not equal its predecessor. However, it does feature one truly impressive car chase as its centerpiece. The car chase takes place on a freeway and involves seemingly everything—from cop cars in hot pursuit to motorcycles flying off bridges, to a fist fight on top of a semitrailer to a Samurai Sword and a back seat knife fight. The filmmakers actually constructed a freeway in Australia to film the scene, which involved more than a 100 stunt drivers and extras. The chase is exciting and thrilling in the best way, and it redeems an otherwise lackluster sequel that, in hindsight, did not live up to its hype. The car chase is also pretty long at nearly 20 minutes, and the techno music thumping in the background adds a cool undercurrent to the whole scene.
11. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Although the newest movie on this list, it is impossible not to include Mad Max: Fury Road given its incredible car chases and stunts. Really, this movie is essentially one long car chase. However, it is the chase at the end of the movie when Mad Max decides to turn around and head back where he and Immortan Joe’s wives, whom he is protecting, had come from that is the most exciting and action packed. The vehicles, the violence, the carnage and the stunts are completely mind blowing and awesome. The whole thing culminates with a spectacular explosion and satisfying ending. A truly great car chase for a truly great movie.
10. The Fast and The Furious Franchise (2001-2015)
Take your pick from this high-octane franchise. From the drag races in the first film, to scenes where cement bank safes are being dragged through the streets of Rio De Janeiro in 2011’s Fast Five, to cars being dropped out of airplanes in Furious 7 (2015), this movie franchise has done it all and more with cars. The challenge for filmmakers is coming up with new stunts featuring cars that have not yet been done, and topping each previous stunt. And 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?
9. 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. About a trucker named Bandit (Burt Reynolds) who agrees to transport a load of beer across county lines while chased by Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), and carrying a bride (Sally Field) who left the guy she was supposed to marry at the altar, this movie is 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 decent chase sequences involving Burt Reynolds’ signature Trans Am, transport trucks and police cruisers. This movie was also hugely influential and spawned a whole genre of fun-loving car chase movies and television shows, including The Dukes of Hazard.
8. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
All of the films in the recent Jason Bourne franchise feature cool car chases. The Bourne Identity (2002) had a cool car chase around the streets of Paris, while The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) concluded with a car chase through New York. However, the car chase in Moscow in The Bourne Supremacy is the best in the series and features some amazing 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 of the movie is especially gripping. No surprise if audiences leave this movie sweating.
7. Duel (1971)
Not only is the 1971 movie 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 is about a businessman, played by actor Dennis Weaver, who is driving through the dessert 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, and with the exception of some patrons at a local café where Dennis Weaver’s character briefly stops, there are no other humans in the film. Scary and relentless, the chase scenes involving Dennis Weaver’s car and the truck are breathtaking. As the movie’s tagline says “Fear is the Driving Force.”
6. Death Proof (2007)
When making the 2007 movie Death Proof, director Quentin Tarantino stated that he wanted to recreate the great car chase movies he watched at the drive-in during the 1970s. 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 is close to 30 minutes long. It also features cool muscle cars, hot chicks and crackling dialogue. And 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—making it seem more dangerous and death defying in the process. The direction in the movie is also stellar, with Tarantino pulling the camera in tight so audiences can feel the tires grip the corners and spin out on several occasions.
5. 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. But the final chase in Paris is one of the best. What makes the car chase scenes so great is that director 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 of race car games can choose to view only the road ahead of them and not the car they are controlling. With an international cast that also includes actors Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard and Sean Bean, Ronin is a great action movie that has several amazing car chases as its anchor. The plot, which centres on a chase for a mysterious package, is also intriguing.
4. 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 this year’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 featuring Mad Max (played by actor Mel Gibson) driving a tanker truck full of fuel and being pursued by the hockey mask wearing character known as “The Humungus,” and his army of punk rock mutant bikers and misfits, is harrowing and truly scary. It also features awesome stunt work and driving sequences. And this was really the first time audiences had seen a car chase like this one. While replicated countless times since, including in Mad Max: Fury Road, the movie The Road Warrior gets kudos for being original, the first of its kind, and for inspiring endless copycats. Director George Miller really is a visionary.
3. Bullitt (1968)
The definitive Steve McQueen movie, this 1968 classic about a cop assigned to protect a gangster in the witness protection program, Bullitt features an incredible car chase sequence through the rolling hills of San Francisco. Featuring two 1968 390 V8 Ford Mustang GT fastback muscle cars, the car chase scene lasts more than 10 minutes and meanders all over San Francisco before ending with a stunning crash. Steve McQueen has never been cooler, and neither has the Ford Mustang. Frank P. Keller won an Academy Award for Best Editing for the way he pieced together the car chase, and 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 every one that came after it.
2. The French Connection (1971)
The scene where Gene Hackman’s character Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle commandeers a car and chases an elevated train through the streets of New York is exciting, gripping and scary. Audiences understandably close one eye as Hackman 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. And the car being driven by Hackman legitimately seems to be out of control, careening from one side of the street to another. The editing and Hackman’s acting reinforce the danger of the chase and it is rightly viewed as one of the best and most original car chases in movie history. And 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 most will say the car chase.
1. 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 involves a car delivery driver named Kowalski (played by actor Barry Newman) who is bent on 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 awesome chase sequences, Vanishing Point also manages to provide wry social commentary and capture the post-Woodstock mood in America at the time. And although the film was not a big hit upon its original release, and actor Barry Newman never achieved mainstream stardom, Vanishing Point has nevertheless grown in esteem over the years and has proven to be extremely influential on future generations of filmmakers.