Cinema’s Greatest Car Chases
Cinema as a medium has done so much to entertain us over the years. This fondest of art forms has the ability to delight, scare, and inspire like really nothing else. And perhaps no element has done more than the much adored car chase to excite and exhilarate audiences throughout movie history. There have been countless car chases in cinema, and a litany of fantastic examples can be put together. But what are the greatest cases of cinematic car chases? Which instances stand out as marvels of the craft above all others? Let us take a look.
The Bourne Identity - 2002
A no brainer when any list of this nature is assembled. Perhaps the one scene that cemented Jason as a new movie hero in the action adventure genre; launching a global franchise that continues to entertain to this day.
The scene in question is of course the famous Paris Mini chase in The Bourne Identity. Occurring at the height of the film’s tension and as Jason is truly being beaten down by his crippling amnesia. The scene sees Bourne and Marie dart and screech across town to evade pursuing police who are hot on their tail.
We spoke to Lisa-Marie Burrows, the Editor-In-Chief at Film and TV Now, who singled out this very scene for Cinema’s greatest car chase.
“One of the most standout car chases for me was from The Bourne Identity. Films like the Fast & Furious franchise boast such impressive machinery that can withstand so much, but who knew a little Mini Cooper could prove to be such a scene stealer in a movie? It survives dangerous car chases on the streets of Paris and then... the effortless plunge down a huge, steep, stone staircase. They are one of my favourite cars and seeing it in action like that in the film, made me proud to own one - although I have no plans to drive a Mini like that!”
The brutal style and furious gear changes that Bourne chases would become known for are all evident here in the first film of this franchise. And while we don’t recommend treating your Ford car like this, the collateral damage and relentless energy of this scene are indeed special, making this an easy addition to the list.
Drive - 2011
In a slightly different style to the manic chase described above, the opening scene of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is no less awesome. Starring Ryan Gosling as a calm and reserved getaway driver, the film opens with his nameless character trying to get out of an increasingly hairy situation as a job goes awry.
The chase is primarily filmed inside the vehicle, giving a unique look to the scene, attaching the audiences to Gosling’s character, showing them his perspective of events, and in turn creating a nerve racking and claustrophobic scenario.
The beautiful cinematography on display, Gosling’s effortless cool, and the 80’s inspired electric synth beats that score the scene, all make this once of the best opening moments in modern film history; and this a spellbinding chase that is unquestionably worthy of mention here.
Bullitt - 1968
Perhaps the most obvious inclusion to this list but as with most things of this nature, the chase scene in Bullitt is obvious for good reason. In what is largely considered to be the best car chase in movie history, at the least the most influential – the San Francisco pursuit of Steven McQueen by menacing hitmen is truly marvellous.
Easily the most imitated chase scene ever to grace the big screen, Lt Frank Bullitt, played by a prime McQueen, is chased in his now infamous 1968 Ford Mustang GT by a 1968 Dodge Charger in a high speed pursuit through the famous hilly streets that the city of the film’s local is known for.
The scene lasting an impressive ten minutes in length quickly became lauded and is now known as one of the all-time classics, and a scene that revolutionised Hollywood car chases. The film also made a star of McQueen’s previously mentioned Ford Mustang – an iconic symbol even today. You can check out this infographic for more info on Bullitt’s ride and other famous Mustang movie stars.
The Bourne Supremacy - 2004
The only franchise on this list to feature two films, the addition of The Bourne Supremacy is an easy one to this conversation. Surpassing the brilliance achieved in the Paris pursuit of Identity, the Moscow set chase scene delivers on all the goods, leaving viewers brutalised in their seats at the sheer physicality of this epic scene.
Bourne, in the pursuit of answers about his past, and trying to track down the daughter of parents that he once murdered, is caught up to by a relentless assassin hired to take him down once and for all. A chase quickly ensues after Jason is shot, causing him to hightail it across the city in a stolen taxi-cab while the menacing hitman follows close behind in a jeep; all while police interfere in the mayhem.
It is truly a spectacle, climaxing in a wondrously choreographed collision that leaves you every bit as bruised as Bourne when he finally limps away from the carnage wrought. All set to that signature relentless beat the Bourne films are known for, racking up the tension, never letting the viewer rest – this scene is one for the ages and a worthy successor to Identity’s Paris brilliance.
Bad Boys 2 - 2003
Showing that car chases don’t have to purely stem from the deadly serious, this addition from buddy cop action comedy sequel Bad Boys II holds its own entirely. The story of Martin Lawrence’s Detective Burnett and Will Smith’s Detective Lowrey is a barnstorming caper of drugs, gangsters, guns and adrenaline – essentially everything one desires in a film of this nature.
Sean Evans, CEO and Founder of the film site Back to the Movies, chose Bad Boys II as his all-time favourite and spoke to us about his adoration for the scene in question.
“I think my favourite car chase would be the Ferrari sequence from Bad Boys 2. Racing along a freeway, guns blazing, dodging cars and even a boat. I absolutely love the action and cinematography of the sequence and the comedy between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith during that sequence is just perfect”.
Two lane blacktop - 1971
Staring Dennis Wilson and singer song writer James Taylor, the tale of The Driver and The Mechanic as they drag-race across the United States is a favourite of many petrol heads.
We spoke to the Ford Owners Club’s Trevor Catt about Two Lane Blacktop who expressed to us his love for this 1971 movie.
“My favourite scene is when they are on the dragstrip, towards the end of the film. Once the Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) has 'adjusted the jets & the valves' and the Driver (James Taylor) selects first gear in the Muncie 'rock-crusher' gearbox and prepares for launch. The film then goes into slow motion and eventually the film burns out, leaving the viewer to interpret the end result...did he win, lose or crash?
For me, this film really got me passionate about cars and in particular, muscle cars which came from an era when power was everything and yet still affordable for most petrol heads”.
As Mr Catt suggests, films like this help to inspire a whole generation of future car enthusiasts, cultivating a passion that still burns bright many years later. For this reason alone Two Lane Blacktop is a welcome addition to this list.
Mad Max: Fury Road - 2015
So, this one is kind of a cheat… well actually… you can be the judge. While you could easily pick a chase from one of the original Mel Gibson Mad Max entries, the return of the series in 2015 really is the ultimate choice.
The Tom Hardy starring rework of the series essentially acts as one long chase scene from start to finish as Max escapes his imprisonment by a tyrant led community. He is soon forced, through events out of his control, to tag along and protect the escaped wives of the community’s diabolical leader. The craft and care on display in every facet of Fury Road is truly miraculous. In an age where everything in movies is computer animated, the practical effects used, and obvious attention to detail on the film’s cars, are a joy to see.
With characters jumping from trucks, to bikes, and to other insidious looking customised vehicles, the movie is a masterclass in staging. The film’s one long car chase taking us and our heroes from one set piece to the next, ramping up the speed and nightmarish quality of this most impressive of movies. Mad Max: Fury Road really is cinema’s ultimate car chase.