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The 50 Greatest Car Chases in Film: Part 1

The Fast and Furious movies aren't the only ones with great car chases. Join us as we take a look at the 50 best car chase scenes in film. This week, we’re looking at #50 through 26.

Like peanut butter and jelly, car chases and movies are two things that just go together perfectly. A chase is inherently interesting to watch - someone is trying their best to get away by any means possible, while the other party is trying to stop them from doing so. The danger involved, the threat of violence, and even the thrill of the hunt are all part of why we often can’t look away. A car chase is the next level of chase. They are fast - an embodiment of man and machine together. They are also dangerous - the stakes are incredibly high, and not just for the people involved in the chase.   

 

Movies too are supposed to capture your attention, and so it’s no surprise that car chase scenes have been in film for nearly as long as film itself has existed. This year, with movies like Cars 3, The Fate of the Furious, and even Baby Driver, we are expecting to see a fair share of great new car chase sequences. But before theater screens light up with all sorts of motoring mayhem this spring and summer, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to review the best car chase scenes of the past for comparison.

 

First, I had to lay some ground rules. Not every motor vehicle-related scene in a movie is eligible for consideration. To make it fair on all contenders, here is the criteria I used to determine what a car chase sequence actually is:   

 

Rules:

  • Sequence has to have at least one car

  • Only one chase sequence can be used from each film

  • A major protagonist has to be driving one of the cars in the chase

  • There is no limit or restriction to the length of a car chase sequence

 

For actually ranking the scenes; I considered not only how entertaining they are, but also the technical achievement of the sequence, and the historical impact of the film and the sequence. If the sequence is four decades old and is impressive still to this day, that is the definition of a great car chase sequence. I also gave consideration to the cars themselves, and how well revered they are to both cinematic and automotive lore. Similarly, the best car chase sequences will have to bring something new to the table that had not been attempted or seen before. They can’t just recycle old ideas - when I think of a great car chase sequence, I think of something that amazes me. And these are my picks for the car chases that amazed me the most:


 #50 -  Duel (1971)

 

The Scene: The entire movie

The Cars: 1971 Plymouth Valiant vs. 1955 Peterbilt 281

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

Spielberg’s first feature film also happens to be one that is basically one giant car chase scene. It’s miserable econocar vs. the ugliest evil semi truck you will ever see. It’s truly a minimalist chase, not always about speed or stunts, just a harrowing experience that feels real. The isolation and helpless feeling you get watching the poor Valiant is what makes this chase so memorable - a reason why there were a few rip-offs released in the following years.


 #49 - Death Race (2008)

 

The Scene: The first race

The Cars: BMW 735i vs. 2006 Chrysler 300 vs. 2002 Dodge Ram vs. 1978 Porsche 911 SC vs. 1989 Jaguar XJ-S va. 2006 Ford Mustang vs. Pontiac Firebird TransAm vs. 1967 Buick Riviera

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: Yes

Technically, a race is a car chase scene. They just happen to not always be that exciting. This is a race, and it is very exciting because it is a race of the highest stakes: death. Sure, it’s a shameless redux of a cult classic, but that cult classic had a minimal budget. With more money, faster cars, and higher caliber actors and production values - the first race of the new Death Race film has excitement (and car-related violence) in spades.   


 #48 - Drive (2011)

 

The Scene: Opening getaway scene

The Cars: 2006 Chevrolet Impala vs. 2001 Ford Crown Victoria police cars

Destruction Level: None

Jason Statham: No

Although Drive features a more traditional car chase later on, I decided to go with the opening number. This isn’t your typical car chase sequence. For one, there’s not a single crash or fender bender. How could it possibly have made this list then, you ask? It relies entirely on the skills of the driver and the filmmaker (not to mention the mighty powers of silence!). This is a smart car chase, where sneakiness is key to its success, not just outright speed and tricky driving.  


#47 - Need For Speed (2014)

 

The Scene: Koenigsegg showdown

The Cars: Koenigsegg Agera R vs. Koenigsegg Agera R vs. Koenigsegg Agera S

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

This sequence is salivating to us gearheads because it features three of the fastest street-legal cars on the planet, facing off against each other. Need For Speed gets its kicks from showcasing all sorts of fast automobiles, but this sequence is where it really earns its title. It’s one of the fastest chase sequences on this list and ends with one of the most insane (and drawn out) crash sequences we’ve seen.  


 #46 - The Master Touch / A Man to Respect (1972)

 

The Scene: Liquor store brawl escape

The Cars: 1958 Plymouth Belvedere vs. 1966 Opel Admiral

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

This German/Italian made film may be a bit obscure, but it stars a legend (Kirk Douglas), and features the type of plot you’ve seen countless times before: criminal attempts one last robbery before riding off into the sunset. That type of plot is ripe for excellent car chases, and this movie more than delivers on that potential. What makes this sequence so interesting is that the filmmakers pull the camera back during the chase, rather than keep it close to the action. This affords an excellent view of the activity and allows you to truly appreciate the stunt work.


#45 - Driven (2001)

 

The Scene: Chicago Indy car chase

The Cars: Reynard 2K1 vs. Lola B2K-00 (I think)

Destruction Level: Minor

Jason Statham: No

The faster the car chase, the better, right? How does 200 mph sound? This sequence checks off the uniqueness category by utilizing 2000 series Indy CART cars whizzing around the streets of Chicago at insane speeds. There are sight gags regarding such a preposition between these two battling race cars, and an impressive sequence underneath parked semi-truck trailers that no other car on this list save one (for the sake of spoilers - you find it) could pull off.  


 #44 - Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

 

The Scene: Basically the entire movie

The Cars: Pontiac Firebird Transam and Several Semis vs. Pontiac Lemans and Dodge Polara police cars

Destruction Level: Minor

Jason Statham: No

 

The 70’s were the heyday of car chases and car chase movies, they were also the heydey of trucker movies. Smokey and the Bandit is all of these things. With Burt Reynolds in his quintessential role, behind the wheel of the ultimate 70’s road trip movie car, how can this not make the list? The entire film is about escaping from the cops, which more than makes up for its lack of stand-out car chase moments.  


 #43 - McQ (1974)

 

The Scene: The beach chase

The Cars: 1971 Cadillac Sedan DeVille and 1973 Chevrolet Impala vs. 1969 Plymouth Belvedere

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

John Wayne is one of the most famous and beloved action stars of all time, so it is fitting that he makes this list. However, this chase isn’t just about John Wayne. It’s about a shootout between cars on a beautiful (and very wet) beach at high speed. It also features some great stunt work, including the first ever use of an air cannon to flip a car over. That makes this sequence memorable and groundbreaking.


#42 - The Expendables (2010)

 

The Scene: Old Ford ambush

The Cars: 1955 Ford F-100 vs. 2000 Nissan XTerra and 1987 Ford Bronco

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: Yes  

The Expendables franchise is all about putting action legends back into the action, and this sequence is no exception. It’s a shootout that is also a car chase - and each of those things are among the most exciting moments in many action movies by themselves. Together, they strike action movie gold. We’ll see more of these type of combinations later on.


#41 - Jack Reacher (2012)

 

The Scene: Avoiding the Police

The Cars: 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle vs. 2000 Ford Crown Victoria Police Car and 2005 Audi A6

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

This sequence makes my list not because it has a ton of destruction or speed, but because of the fascinating way that it is filmed. Director Christopher McQuarrie is at the top of his game, utilizing expert camerawork to deliver us a car chase sequence unlike we’ve ever seen before. Like Drive, this one is a bit low-key, but that’s exactly what makes it so cool. Also, it features Tom Cruise, who has made a career out of either chasing or being chased around at high speeds.  


#40 - The Italian Job (2003)

 

The Scene: Mini Cooper subway escape

The Cars:  3x 2003 Mini Cooper S vs. 2x 2001 BMW R 1150 RT and a helicopter

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: Yes

 

While this sequence is memorable, it can’t hold a stick to the automotive art created in the original 1968 film. Still, I’ll appreciate this chase for what it is; a modern, more-grounded attempt to capture the idea but not necessarily the feel of the original (kind of like the movie itself!). This one came out at the height of the “heist movie” craze of the early 2000’s and features a stellar cast, memorable cars, and some impressive stunts.


#39 - Cobra (1986)

 

The Scene: The New Order tries to kill Ingrid

The Cars:  1950 Mercury Coupe vs. 1979 Plymouth Volare

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

In no movie is Stallone cooler than he is in Cobra. The sunglasses, and that car make this sequence good, and then the stunts and explosions make it great. This is over-the-top action at its most over-the-top - think the more ridiculous Fast and the Furious films, but made in the 1980’s. The highlight is at the end of the sequence, with the cars getting some serious air (in glorious slow motion!) on the street equivalent of an automotive bouncy castle.   


#38 - The Rock (1996)

 

The Scene: Mason’s San Francisco escape

The Cars: 1996 Ferrari F355 Spider vs. 1992 Hummer

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No

Think of it as Michael Bay’s version of the infamous 1968 Bullitt movie car chase sequence (there’s just something cool about car chases in San Francisco…). He plays up the ridiculousness his films are known for by pitting two unlikely cars against each other, a fast Ferrari vs. an unstoppable (and oddly unbreakable) Hummer. But this sequence didn’t make it on my list just because of the cars and its (overly) destructive nature. No, this chase made my list because of the people behind the wheel of those two main cars: action legends Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. 


#37 - The Dark Knight (2008)

 

The Scene: The Joker’s car chase

The Cars: Tumbler Batmobile, 1991 International 4700 armored truck, 2003 Ford Crown Vic patrol cars vs. GMC Expeditor Garbage Truck and Peterbilt 359 semi truck

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

The Batmobile is one of the most famous movie cars of all time. It has taken part in all sorts of different chases. This one happens to be the best of them all. I’m not sure if Nolan’s Tumbler batmobile counts as a car (it’s closer to a tank), but I’m going to let it pass. This one has an armored truck which the Joker and his men are trying to get into in order to get at Harvey Dent. Armored truck + Joker’s shenanigans + Nolan’s incredible filmmaking + the Batmobile = a winner of a chase sequence.  


#36 -  Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

 

The Scene: Bourne’s New York escape

The Cars: 1998 Audi A6 C5 and 2001 Chevrolet Impala Police Car vs. 2001 Ford Crown Victoria and 2007 Volkswagen Touareg

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

The movie franchise that is the most consistent with its car chases is the Jason Bourne franchise. This one may be the weakest of the bunch, but that doesn’t mean it's a slouch. Taking place in crowded New York City is a great start - the crowded and dark setting is unsettling and adds to the sense of panic. Bourne’s ability to improvise is on full display as he tries to evade multiple adversaries before the sequence evolves into an automotive slugfest. The only reason it doesn’t rank higher is that it isn’t as extensive as the other Bourne chase sequences.

 


 

 #35 - Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

 

The Scene: Crane chase

The Cars: 2003 Toyota Tundra and 1980 Crown Firecoach vs. Terex-Demag AC 160

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No

The Terminator franchise is another franchise with excellent car chases. Here we have two robots from the future going at eachother, and so we needed a chase sequence to match these dangerous juggernauts. This one delivers, utilizing a vehicle we’ve never seen before in a car chase, the crane. Not only is it huge, but the boom becomes another weapon and opportunity to smash things. Everybody likes watching things get smashed, right?


 #34 - GoldenEye (1995)

 

The Scene: Moscow tank chase

The Cars: KhPZ T-54 tank vs. Gaz 31029 Volga, Uaz 469, Uaz 3151, and VAZ 2106 Zhiguli

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No 

Speaking of smashing things...Our first entry from the James Bond franchise technically doesn’t meet all the rules, but it is such an impressive action sequence that I’m letting it slide. Bond isn’t driving a car here, he’s driving a tank and crushing literally everything in his way. This is Bond as the unstoppable action hero. The amount of destruction alone in this sequence is so impressive I couldn’t leave it off.


 #33 - Short Time (1990)

 

The Scene: Arms smuggler chase

The Cars: 1984 Dodge Diplomat and 1982 Plymouth Caravelle police cars vs. 1976 Pontiac Catalina

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No 

Comedy is a great tool that films can use with car chase scenes. In this film, a police officer thinks he only has two weeks to live, and because his family will receive more money if he dies in the line of duty rather than of natural causes, he is continuously trying to put himself in dangerous situations. A high-speed car chase with an arms smuggler is one such dangerous situation. The absurd desperation by the officer to try and kill himself in heroic fashion makes this a classic chase.  


 #32 - For Your Eyes Only (1981)

 

The Scene: Escape from Gonzales’ Villa

The Cars: Citroen 2CV 6 vs. 1969 Peugeot 504

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

If there’s anyone who can make a boring car exciting, it’s James Bond, and that’s exactly what he does. In arguably the most creative, intricate, and strange car chase sequence in the entire Bond franchise, Bond doesn’t have a gadget-filled Aston Martin or Lotus in which to evade his enemies. Instead, he uses what he is given, a lowly Citroen and some good ol’ fashioned ingenuity (and luck) to get away and give us one of the most memorable (and entertaining) Bond car chases.  


 #31 - John Wick (2014)

 

The Scene: Confrontation at the docks

The Cars: 2011 Dodge Charger vs. 2007 Chevy Tahoe

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

John Wick is a revenge movie, and it is this car chase scene in which he (just about) accomplishes that revenge. Nothing is going to stop John Wick from getting his target, including a protective motorcade and a team of armed men. It’s an edgy, stunt-filled sequence full of gunfire, broken glass, and a dark dark tone. The best part? Wick accomplishes all this without setting foot outside of his car (until he has no other choice), which becomes another weapon in his deadly arsenal.  


 #30 - Who Am I? (1998)

 

The Scene: Escape from Morgan’s hitmen in a rally car.

The Cars: 1998 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV vs. several 1997 BMW M3’s

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

 

Jackie Chan’s unique action choreography + fast cars should be a naturally entertaining fit, and this one proves that to be the case. That combination of incredible choreography with insane stunts leads to one wild moment when the car is flipped onto its passenger door and drives around sideways, and then another moment when the car almost becomes an extension of Chan’s martial arts skills, spinning around to take out bad guys before a memorable “cliffhanger” ending.  

 


 

  #29 - A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

 

The Scene: Moscow chase

The Cars: 2011 Mercedes G-class vs. MRAP

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No 

For a successful action franchise, the Die Hard films are lacking in one area in particular: car chase scenes. With the fifth, and latest, installment, that changes in a big way. Not only is this one of the most intense sequences of the Die Hard film series, it has to go down as one of the most destructive car chase sequences ever made (indeed, it currently has the record for most cars destroyed - 132, and buildings damaged - 518).


#28 - Jason Bourne (2016)

 

The Scene: Las Vegas Blvd. escape

The Cars: 2012 Dodge Charger vs. Lenco BearCat armored truck

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No 

The most destructive car chase ever made is followed by another one that is incredibly destructive. The reason I ranked this one higher is that it is a Bourne car chase, which are always impeccably executed and feature a lot of precise stunt work and driving more than just blunt force. However, this is one Bourne chase that adds blunt force to its repertoire. I’m not complaining.  


 #27 - Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

 

The Scene: Stealing Eleanor

The Cars: 1967 Shelby GT-500 vs. various Ford Crown Victoria police cars, a 1997 BMW 540i, a 1995 Jeep Cherokee, and a police helicopter.

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No 

While the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds is not a great film overall, it gets one thing right, the final car chase. It’s a fun and long chase through several different locations, feeling not unlike something Michael Bay would dream up, although there is that a cringe-worthy high speed jump at the end. It also got the final car right too - Eleanor the silver Shelby GT-500 is one of the most impressive looking cars to ever grace the big screen.


 #26 - Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) 

The Scene: Drive-by-remote parking garage chase

The Cars: 1997 BMW 750iL vs. 1986 Mercedes Benz S-Class and 1988 Opel Senator

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

Isn’t it always odd how Q’s gadgets don’t always seem to be that useful at first, but it later ends up that they are exactly what Bond requires? While we can debate the foresight ability of MI6’s head of research, what can’t be debated is that his gadgets sure do make car chase sequences interesting. This one in particular is creative, with a nearly indestructible missile-armed BMW being piloted expertly by Bond via a remote. Too bad the car doesn’t last very long.   


Movie cars determined using IMCDb.org

Click here for my picks for the top 25! 

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