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The 50 Greatest Car Chases in Film: Part 2

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 counting down from #25 to #1!

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:

 

For Part 1 of this article, #50-26, click here! 


#25 - The Transporter (2002)

 

The Scene: Robbery get away

The Cars: 1995 BMW 735i vs. Peugeot 307 police cars

Destruction Level: Minor

Jason Statham: Yes

 

Statham is the king of car chases, and this sequence signalled his arrival on the scene. As “The Transporter” he supposed to be the best in the business, and he proves in this sequence that he very well could be. Despite the chaotic situation of a car chase, Frank Martin is relaxed. It seems like he always knows what to do, improvising on the fly to some entertaining results.


#24 - Quantum of Solace (2008) 

The Scene: Opening sequence

The Cars: 2008 Aston Martin DBS vs. 2008 Alfa Romeo 159 and 2007 Land Rover Defender 90 Patrol

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No

 

Quantum of Solace may not be among the most revered Bond films, but it did try to do a few things differently, and one thing it did differently is a fast open right into a brutal, blistering car chase. This chase is intense, using quick cuts, sound, and high contrast to capture the audience’s attention and vault them into the film. This sequence was also a difficult one to make. 6 Aston Martins were destroyed during filming, one of them driven into the lake, Daniel Craig was injured, and two stuntmen were hospitalized. Thankfully, all the struggle was worth it.

 


#23 - Vanishing Point (1971)

 

The Scene: Most of the film

The Cars: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T vs. 1970 Dodge Polara police cars, 1968 Dodge Polara police cars, 1966 Jaguar XK-E, and several Harley Davidsons

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

 

This is the original, and perhaps quintessential American road trip film. There’s nothing else that can match the experience of seeing the classic white Dodge Challenger speeding across the beautiful panoramic vistas of Utah and Arizona (and facing off against that gorgeous Jaguar). This film would go a long way to establish the Challenger as the defacto car chase muscle car, and because of its iconic turn here, is found in several more of the chases on this list.


#22 - Wanted (2008) 

The Scene: Fleeing from the Pharmacy

The Cars: Dodge Viper SRT-10 vs. Grumman-Olson Kurbmaster “NIbblers” delivery van

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

 

There are crazy car chase scenes, and then there is this sequence from Wanted, which is crazy and then some. It’s not just a car driving the wrong way down a busy street. It’s a car driving the wrong way down a busy street in the midst of an intense shootout, with Angelina Jolie on the hood driving with her feet. It also has an eye-catching car, CGI-required stunts, and, perhaps the most memorable idea from this film: physics-defying gunfire.


#21 - The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) 

The Scene: Escape through Tokyo

The Cars: 2007 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and Mazda RX-7 vs. Two Nissan Fairlady Z’s

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: Yes (As we later learn...)

 

What’s one way to make race scenes more exciting? Have the cars racing sideways. Drifting is a driving technique that is technically challenging, while also fun to watch. Adding drifting to a chase scene has the same effect. It increases the difficulty of the stunts, which also makes the action that much more impressive and entertaining (even if some of it is CGI). More importantly, drifting is something unique that this sequence brings to the chase formula.

 


#20 - Bad Boys II (2003) 

The Scene: Ferrari freeway chase

The Cars: Ferrari 550 Maranello and several Chevrolet Caprice and Ford Crown Victoria police cars vs. Mack Vision car carrier and the cars it has onboard

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No

 

When Michael Bay does anything on film you can be sure that it includes lots of destruction. His car chase scenes are no exception, and this is his most impressive sequence. It pairs high speed with the automotive equivalent of Donkey Kong. Add in the charisma between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and some impressive special effects, and you have a memorable, unique, and entertaining car chase sequence.

 

 


#19 - Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

 

The Scene: London chase sequence

The Cars:  2010 BMW 5’s and 2006 International MXT-MVA vs. Flip cars, 2002 Land Rover Range, and 1971 Jensen Interceptor MkIII

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: Yes

 

While the Fast and Furious franchise would feature crazier stunts and more extreme car-based sequences than this one, the London chase sequence stands out as a highly technical and well executed chase. For one, it doesn’t rely on physics-defying action to be entertaining. It’s realistic (for a Fast and the Furious chase), which gives it that extra feeling of terror, and excitement. The flip cars add an additional element of originality, surprise, and (because they are supposedly based on a formula 1 race car) speed. Slick camera work and dark cinematography work well with the brutal and destructive nature that the franchise now revels in.


#18 - To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) 

The Scene: Robbery gone wrong

The Cars: 1985 Chevrolet Impala vs. 1985 Mercury Grand Marquise, 1981 Chevrolet Malibu, and 1979 Chevrolet Malibu

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

 

Director William Friedkin got a second opportunity to direct a car chase scene after The French Connection, and he took full advantage. Although the sequence from The French Connection would live on as one of the most memorable and unique in the history of film, this one from To Live and Die in L.A. is bigger, more complicated, and more varied. The loading dock is a moment of near misses and would be enough by itself to land this chase on this list, but the cherry on top is the ending - a last-resort run head-on against L.A. rush hour traffic.


#17 - Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) 

The Scene: Tanker chase

The Cars: 1982 Chevrolet S-10 vs. 1977 Freightliner FLC 120 64 T Tanker

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

 

James Cameron builds on the excellent car chase scene from the first Terminator movie by adding, among other things, a semi-truck. The Terminator films are successful as action movies because they are unrelenting - and what is more unrelenting than a big semi truck driving towards you as fast as it can. The main characters are running for their lives from a seemingly unstoppable menace, and this chase matches that feeling perfectly. John Conner and company don’t have a fast car, they’re injured, and the T1000 is not slowing down (it’s actually approaching with alarming speed). All those aspects help to ramp up the excitement and make this sequence impressive, even all these years later.

 


#16 - The Driver (1978) 

The Scene: Flee from the Police

The Cars: 1974 Ford Galaxie 500 vs. several 1974 Plymouth Fury Police Cars

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

 

Driver is a film with some great car chase sequences and top-notch stuntwork. I chose this extended chase scene because it does everything well. First, you have the main character who relies on his skills behind the wheel more than a fast car or lucky circumstance. Second, the way the sequence is filmed really makes it exciting to watch. The camera view switches from street level, to on the front or back of the car in the chase, to the driver’s perspective. This really helps you transport into the scene and you feel the excitement as if you were part of the chase yourself.


#15 - Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) 

The Scene: Stealing the second Eleanor

The Cars: 1971 Ford Mustang Mach I vs. 1970 Mercury Montego, and multiple Plymouth Belvedere Police Cars (1965’s, 1968’s, 1969’s)

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No

 

This is a 42 minute car chase. If that’s not convincing enough of a reason for this film to be on this list, also consider that 93 cars are destroyed during that time. That’s more than 2.2 per minute. It’s the ultimate old-school car chase, there are no explosions or fancy CGI to make it exciting. It doesn’t need that. Instead, it relies on the drivers behind the wheel and a lot of planning to pull off this impressive, and extensive sequence.


#14 - The Road Warrior (1981) 

The Scene: Defending the tanker

The Cars: Mack R-Series Tanker vs. Lonewolf, Humongous Truck, 1970 Ford F-100, 1974 Ford Fairlane, 1971 Holden Monaro, 1972 Ford Falcon, 1971 Chrysler Valiant Charger, and various motorcycles

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

 

This isn’t just another chase sequence. It’s a battle on wheels. Director George Miller took the road-bound action from the original Mad Max and ramped it up to the next level. With a bigger budget, he also was able to bring to life an original post-apocalyptic vision. Best of all, he coordinates it all together brilliantly, making a classic action movie that has stood the test of time.

 


#13 - The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

 

The Scene: Lotus underwater escape

The Cars: 1976 Lotus Esprit vs. 1976 Ford Taunus, a motorcycle with deadly sidecar, and a helicopter

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

 

James Bond is memorable for his cars, his girls, and his gadgets. This sequence has all three of those things, and are among the most memorable in the entire franchise. Here, Bond’s Q-provided Lotus steals the show when it converts from a deadly road vehicle into a submarine. That is a jaw-dropping moment in the history of automotive cinema, and one of the coolest moments in the James Bond franchise.

 


#12 - The Bourne Identity (2001) 

The Scene: Paris police evasion

The Cars: 1989 Mini Mayfair MkV vs. Pugeot 106 and Pugeot 306 Police Cars and a BMW K 75 RT Police motorcycle

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

 

The Jason Bourne franchise is known for putting its titular character in situations that are seemingly impossible to get out off. The ingenuity and brute force he uses to get out of those situations is what makes the films fun to watch. This car chase sequence follows the same formula. The Mini Cooper doesn’t seem like the best getaway car, it is slow and old. Yet, Bourne works with what he has, utilizing the car’s small size and agility, and in the process makes one of the most memorable car chases on film.  


#11 - The Raid 2 (2014) 

The Scene: Mobile captive escape

The Cars: Nissan Cefiro vs. 1998 Opel Blazer, 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer, 1997 SsandYong Musso, Toyota Camry, and a Minerva Megelli 250 RE

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

 

The idea of combining a fight scene and a car chase is a great one. When that fighting isn’t just shooting guns, that’s even more interesting and entertaining. Leave it up to the team behind some of the most insane martial arts stunts in modern film to bring us a great fighting car chase scene. I love how the sequence is split in two perspectives, one from inside the car trying to escape, and the other from the rescuer trying to fend off enemies on his own. The camerawork is clever, and the choreography even better. This is one of the most unique chase scenes you’ll ever see.

 

Unfortunately I could not find a video of the entire chase scene online (the whole thing needs to be seen, not just a minute or two of it). Here’s a reaction video showing it, start the video at about the 2 minute mark.

 


#10 - The Blues Brothers (1980)

 

The Scene: Run from the Police

The Cars: 1974 Dodge Monaco vs. Dodge Monaco Police Cars (1974’s, 1975’s, 1977’s) and 1975 Chevrolet Bel Aire Police Cars

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No

 

To make the top ten of this list, the car chase sequence has to be the most memorable action sequence of the film, at a minimum. In Blues Brothers, it’s more than just a memorable scene, it’s a benchmark in automotive onscreen mayhem, something that many other films afterwards have tried to replicate. There’s a lot of destruction, and I mean a lot, but like the rest of the film there’s also a comedy element. The lighter tone somehow makes all the chaos and crashing more enjoyable. It’s a big screen romp, among the biggest ever (including #3 on this list).

 

 


#9 - Deathproof (2007)

 

The Scene: Ship’s mast stunt and then chasing Mike

The Cars: 1969 “Deathproof” Dodge Charger vs. 1970 Dodge Challenger

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

 

Tarantino is known for emulating scenes, images, and styles of past movies that he likes. For his grindhouse feature he made an exploitive road film, and the second half of that film is basically one long fantastic car chase scene. That scene starts with an incredible stunt piece where a game of “ship’s mast” turns potentially deadly. The danger and horror of being helplessly tossed about on the hood of a car at high speeds is a great twist on a classic movie tradition. Another nod by Tarantino to classic car chases of the past is his choice of vehicles, a 1970 Challenger just like the one from Vanishing point, and Mike’s “Deathproof” stunt car, a Charger which has been seen in everything from Bullitt to The Dukes of Hazzard.

 


#8 - Fast Five (2011)

 

The Scene: Bank vault escape

The Cars: 2x 2010 Dodge Charger SRT-8, vs. 1995 Ford Explorer Police Cars, 1999 Volkswagen Passat Wagon Police Car, 1993 Volkswagen Jetta Police Car, 2000 Ford Focus Police Car, 2000 Mazda 626 Police Car, 2000 Chevrolet Blazer Police Car, 2006 Dodge Charger Police Cars, 2011 Dodge Charger Police Cars, and two 2001 Volkswagen Touaregs

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No

 

On the hierarchy of most ridiculous car chase sequences, this one is top dog. Although the Fast and Furious series would go on to do arguably more outrageous stunts featuring cars, none of them are featured in a true car chase sequence. It is the brashness that this sequence exudes, the impossible-in-real-life foundation which makes it so fun. While I celebrate car chase sequences that feature incredible driving and choreography, I also have to tip my hat to those that use CGI to give us something we’ve never seen before while maintaining that classic adrenaline-boosting chase mentality. (Also, have you ever seen this much variation of Police cars in one scene?


#7 - Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 

The Scene: Final battle

The Cars: Tatra 815-7 Tanker vs. 1973 Ford Falcon, 1968 Plymouth Barracuda, 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, 1980 Ford F-350, Mercedes-Benz Lang, 1960 Holden, 1978 Mack R-600, and many other indistinguishable cars and motorcycles

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

 

For the newest Mad Max film, George Miller took what made the original films memorable, but added more to it. More cars, more characters, more crazy stunts, more visual punch, higher production, and yes, more action. The most action-packed moment of this film is a final battle scene lasting almost 15 minutes. But it’s more than just any climactic action scene, it was on wheels - and so it counts as a car chase. An insane, bloody, and awesome car chase scene that builds on what we have seen before, not just re-gifting it in a fancy new wrapper.


#6 - Matrix Reloaded (2003) 

The Scene: Highway fight scene

The Cars: 2003 Cadillac CTS, 1967 Pontiac Firebird, and Ducati 996 vs. 2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT, various Chevrolet Capris and Impala Police Cars

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No

 

So the follow-up to one of the most groundbreaking and monumental action movies of all times didn’t really live up to expectations, except for one thing: a brilliant car chase sequence. As we’ve seen, fighting scenes that double as car chase sequences work really well. Here, we have the cool special-effects fueled, gravity-defying, mind-blowing fighting of the Matrix, but combined with a car chase scene for the ages. Slow motion may have become somewhat redundant in action films these days, but it’ll always be cool in the Matrix films - especially here. Destruction always looks cool in slomo.   

 


#5 - The French Connection (1971)

 

The Scene: Subway chase

The Cars: 1971 Pontiac LeMans vs. The Chicago L

Destruction Level: Moderate

Jason Statham: No

 

The only thing holding this car chase back from landing higher on my list is that it is basically just a race against time, rather than other cars. But besides that very minor drawback, this is a very excellent car chase. It is easily the most exciting moment of this classic crime drama. There’s a desperation element to it, taken from the way that the sequence is filmed. By focusing on the car closely, with the scenery so close while it is speeding along, it feels dangerous. The prospect of the perp getting away adds a pressure (thanks to expertly edited clips flashing in), plus the claustrophobic filmmaking methods make it overwhelming (in a good way). By transferring the stress of the main character to the audience, we feel like we’re part of the scene, not just watching it. This one has all the elements of a great car chase.

 


#4 - The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

 

The Scene: Moscow escape

The Cars: 2002 GAZ 3110 Volga vs. Mercedes-Benz G-Class, 1993 VAZ 2109 Samara Police Car, 1993 VAZ 2106 Zhiguli Police Car, and several Mercedes-Benz 190 Police Cars.

Destruction Level: Heavy

Jason Statham: No

 

The greatest car chase of the 21st century so far earns its lofty spot because it features a bunch of everything that makes car chases great. As in all the Bourne car chase sequences, our hero seems to be in an impossible spot (also injured), and he manages to get out of it with a lot of improvisation and skill. Second, the chase has lots of destruction (and so many spin-outs!) - it gives the sequence a gritty, hard-hitting feel. Third, the primary antagonist is involved (played by Karl Urban) giving Bourne a real run for his money. Most importantly, it’s a lengthy sequence. Not just a minute or two of action. It’s continuous and the quality is sustained throughout.


#3 - The Italian Job (1969) 

The Scene: Heist escape

The Cars: A red, white, and blue 1967 Austin Mini Cooper S 1275 vs. several 1963 Aston Martin Guilia Police cars, and several Police motorcycles

Destruction Level: Minor (until the end!)

Jason Statham: No

 

Hands down, this is the most entertaining, enjoyable, fun car chase sequence ever made. It’s also quite extensive, with some elaborate and large scale stunts that could never be repeated today. It’s also incredibly artistic. I love the pop of the bright, cheery Mini Coopers against the greys and tans of historic Turin, Italy. It also has a classic, timeless look. Every shot is incredibly detailed and interesting to look at, even if you’re not looking at the cars and the crazy things they are doing. This is an incredibly unique and impressive sequence, the likes of which will never be seen in film again.


#2 - Ronin (1998) 

The Scene: Paris chase

The Cars: 1996 Peugeot 406 vs. 1991 BMW 535i, 1995 Citroen ZX Police Car

Destruction Level: Extreme

Jason Statham: No

 

This isn’t your grandfather’s car chase scene. This is 10 minutes of flat-out pursuit through crowded narrow city streets, constraining underground tunnels, spinning through roundabouts, and against traffic. It builds on what has come before, not just copying those ideas - racing under a narrow tresses of a bridge (not unlike The French Connection), or against oncoming heavy traffic the wrong way (not unlike To Live and Die in L.A.). It has an all-star cast, the cars are 90’s classics, and the Paris scenery is gorgeous. What more could you ask for?


#1 - Bullitt (1968)

 

The Scene: San Francisco chase

The Cars: 1968 Ford Mustang vs. 1968 Dodge Charger R/T

Destruction Level:

Jason Statham: No

 

This chase scene is so well revered in both film and automotive lore that Ford actually made a special edition version of the Mustang commemorating this film, and particularly this chase. How many other movies on this list have an actual car designed after one of the cars featured? That’s right, none. None because no other sequence on this list was as responsible for fundamentally changing action movies to being more exciting and entertaining. This sequence started the efforts of action films to try and outdo each other in competition to make a more exciting and entertaining film. It began the push for more extreme stunts, action choreography, destruction, and excitement in film. This was a New Hollywood masterpiece, showing that the future of entertaining cinema would be fast, and violent action films, rather than the old fashioned musicals or epic films of the 50’s and 60’s. Best of all, it does all of this with a downright classic chase scene. For one, it takes place in San Francisco, the mecca of car chase settings with its sharply angled streets that are excellent for jumping off of. Next, it gave us a rivalry between two really cool cars (one of them driven by the King of Cool himself) - proof that exciting car chases need exciting cars. Finally, the stunt work is phenomenal. Even all these years later it is an impressive piece of filmmaking, one that feels just as entertaining and well-made today as it would have 49 YEARS AGO!


Movie cars determined using IMCDb.org 

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