Fast Five opens this weekend, and if you thought the franchise had impressive car chases before then get ready for a real doozy this time out. Actually, it got us thinking… What are the best car chases ever filmed? They're an almost uniquely cinematic convention, which depend on constant movement to be conveyed properly. Classics abound, from Bullitt to The French Connection, but surprise surprise… neither of those famous movies made our list. Hold your jeers until the end, please.
Our one rule: these car chases must be between actual cars, preventing the inclusion of such awesome films as Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (the best car chase is between the heroes and a helicopter) and Charley Varrick (which finds Joe Don Baker and Walter Matthau chasing each other in a car and airplane, respectively). We had to narrow it down somehow, and frankly we think it makes for a more unexpected list than usual.
Check it out, folks: Crave Online’s picks for The 10 Best Car Chases Ever Filmed!
10. The Corruptor (dir. James Foley, 1999)
The Corruptor is not what one you’d call a ‘great’ movie. In fact, ‘good’ is probably a bit of a stretch too. It’s one of the generic John Woo knockoffs Hollywood pumped out to capitalize the brief American Chow Yun Fat zeitgeist of the 1990’s, and featured the Chinese superstar as a corrupt New York cop who must contend with the bad guys and a rookie played by Mark Wahlberg to bring justice to the streets, and most of the film is so forgettable that recommending it would be like recommending Cheetos as an appetizer. (I mean, yeah, it’ll get the job done… but surely you can do better.) But then there’s the car chase. Smack dab in the middle of the film is one of the most stunningly choreographed and brutal car chases in film history, in which the criminals take the unusual but effective tactic of causing as much collateral damage as possible to shake their tails, opening fire on innocent civilians. The rest of The Corruptor’s mediocrity actually makes the thrilling sequence that much better, like the veritable the Golden Ticket in the otherwise generic Wonka Bar. Our recommendation: do a crossword puzzle until you hear the engines rev, and then sit back and enjoy the chaos.
9. The Man with the Golden Gun (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1974)
Director Guy Hamilton followed up his impressively silly speedboat chase from Live and Let Die with an equally outrageous car chase in The Man with the Golden Gun, a rather underrated James Bond film from the hokey Roger Moore era. In the film, Moore’s Bond must tangle with his most vicious enemy yet: the villainous three-nippled Scaramanga, played by Christopher Lee. Bond speeds through Bangkok in his AMC Hornet X trying to catch up to the supervillain, who has the Bond Girl of the day – Mary Goodnight, played by the meow-worthy Britt Ekland – trapped in his AMC Matador. After a series of impressive stunts and gags, the film ends in an absolutely insane car jump: Bond drives his car off a warped bridge, corkscrews in mid-air and lands perfectly on the other side. The stunt was 100% real and performed in one take by British stuntman ‘Bumps’ Willard, who received a hefty bonus for his trouble. He earned it. It’s a classic sequence, and possibly the most impressive car stunt ever performed on camera.
8. The Way of the Gun (dir. Christopher McQuarrie, 2000)
Here’s a novelty: a car chase that’s thrilling and unexpected because it’s slow. In the only movie that The Usual Suspects screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie ever directed, two lowly thugs named Parker and Longbaugh (the real last names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), played by Ryan Phillipe and Benicio Del Toro, get a little ambitious and kidnap a woman who’s carrying a rich man’s child. What they don’t realize is that the father has connections to organized crime, and that she’s protected by two professional hitmen, played by Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt. What follows is a most unusual car chase through an alleyway with the cars stuck in neutral, propelled only by slow footsteps outside the door. It’s all a cunning ruse, of course, to gradually gain the head start needed to lap the hired killers on Parker and Longbaugh’s tail. It’s an intensely suspenseful sequence, matched and then swiftly exceeded by the film’s bravura climactic shootout, which remains one of the best ever filmed.
7. Ronin (dir. John Frankenheimer, 1998)
A straight razor of a movie in which a group of former Cold War agents, now masterless (you know, kinda like Ronin), are brought together to steal a mysterious case. What’s in the case? It didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now: Ronin is little more than an excuse to get a small army of movie badasses (including Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Sean Bean and Stellan Skarsgard) into the same room to stare each other down and double-cross each other at every turn. When Natasha McElhone tears down the highways, byways and tunnels of Nice, legendary director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) pulls out all the stops for a thrillingly choreographed action sequence. You know what we like best about it though? McElhone’s character uses her blinkers. It sounds stupid, but come on… You’re already tearing the wrong way down a one-way street. You wouldn’t want to crash, would you? Safety first, people. Safety first.
6. Déjà vu (dir. Tony Scott, 2006)
The weirdest car chase on our list, by far, belongs to Déjà vu, an underrated sci-fi thriller from Crimson Tide director Tony Scott. After a terrorist attack on a ferry, ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) is brought on board a top secret project which allows a team of scientists to see the past: 4 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes, 45 seconds and 14.5 nanoseconds into the past, to be precise. Doug’s keen eye and intimate knowledge of the location gives them the edge they need to pick up on the tiny details that will lead them to the culprit. But when the bad guy drives out of the range of the device, they need Doug to follow him with a device that extends the coverage area. Doug ends up in a high-speed car chase with a vehicle that was driving away from him over four days ago, in entirely different traffic conditions, leading to – literally – unexpected twists and turns. It’s as trippy as it sounds, and twice as good.
5. The Italian Job (dir. Peter Collinson, 1969)
We kinda like the remake, but it can’t hold a candle to Peter Collinson’s original hilarious heist caper The Italian Job. Michael Caine stars as Charlie Croker, a dashing thief (well, Caine’s always dashing, but that’s just digressing) who takes a job stealing a whole shipment of gold on the streets of Italy. The bulk of the film is spent planning the outrageous job – “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” is still funny, damn it – but the last act is essentially one enormous, and enormously hilarious car chase featuring a gaggle of spritely Mini-Coopers zooming up onto the roof of the Fiat Lingotto factory, through a series of sewer tunnels and down the steps of the Gran Madre di Dio church in the middle of a posh wedding. Not the most dramatic car chase on our list, but easily the most adorable.
4. To Live and Die in L.A. (dir. William Friedkin, 1985)
With Friedkin’s The French Connection disqualified from our list by a technicality (Gene Hackman’s chasing a train, not a car; we make up the rules, but at least we stick to them) it falls to his own To Live and Die in L.A. to take a spot in our top five instead. That’s okay. We think it’s a better car chase anyway. C.S.I.’s William Peterson stars as a U.S. Secret Service agent working to take down a counterfeiter played (gloriously) by Willem Dafoe, but in order to bring him out of hiding he needs to procure $30,000… which is $20,000 more than he’s legally allowed to obtain for the sting. Being highly motivated and more than a little corrupt, he conspires with his partner, played by Morning Glory’s John Pankow, to steal the cash from a criminal looking to buy stolen jewelry. But he doesn’t have the cash, and he’s more protected than they could have possibly imagined. After the heist goes awry the ensuing chase takes them through the streets of L.A., right through the basin, past a speeding train and finally down the wrong way of a freeway in the middle of rush hour. It’s a crazy, beautifully choreographed action sequence, and the twist is a doozy.
3. Death Proof (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2007)
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez took completely different approaches to Grindhouse, their homage to 1970’s schlock cinema. Rodriguez made Planet Terror, a special effects heavy camp-fest far beyond the scope of anything that actual grindhouse films were capable of, while Tarantino made an actual, low-budget grindhouse classic in Death Proof. While Planet Terror is generally considered the audience favorite, Death Proof is in many ways the more intriguing film, capturing the bizarre pacing of 1970’s action flicks, which often only had the money to pull off a few big action sequences and were forced to pad the rest of the film with dialogue heavy – and arguably kinda dull – character-driven scenes. Death Proof stars Kurt Russell as ‘Stuntman’ Mike, a former Hollywood stunt double who kills people in automobile accidents, using his own ‘deathproofed’ car to keep him alive after the horrific crash. He gets more than he bargained for when stuntwoman Zoe Bell (playing herself) comes to town because she wants to perform an outlandish stunt of her own, tying herself onto the hood of a speeding 1970 Dodge Challenger (because it’s the same car used in Vanishing Point, a film which almost made this list itself). Mike attacks in the middle of her wild ride, resulting in a series of car chases as exhilarating as they are death defying. Tarantino’s movie has been accused of being too slow, but once the climactic action sequence begins it’s one of the fastest and most furious car chases in history.
2. The Blues Brothers (dir. John Landis, 1980)
Jon Belushi and Dan Akroyd play Jake and Elwood Blues, two small time hoods and big time music stars who find themselves on an unexpected mission from God. They need to procure $5,000 – legally – in order to save the orphanage where they grew up. Why, exactly, the Saturday Night Live spinoff needed to have ridiculous car chases is anybody’s guess, but it turned out to be a wise move: The Blues Brothers offers not one but two of the greatest car chases in history. The first finds Jake and Elwood tearing through a shopping mall trailed by several police cars. As they fly through each shop they find themselves curiously entranced by the quality of the outlet. “This mall has everything.” And of course the film ends with a frantic chase through Chicago as The Blues Brothers race against time to pay the tax assessor (played by a young Steven Spielberg) before he can foreclose the orphanage. This time they have to contend with dozens of police cars (all of which crash spectacularly), a country band, tanks, a SWAT team and of course the Illinois Nazis, who somehow jump a freeway ramp and end up thousands of feet in the air, plummeting to their comical doom. Is their victory unbelievable? Certainly, but they can’t get caught. They’re on a mission from God.
1. The Road Warrior (dir. George Miller, 1981)
Some movies never age, like The Road Warrior, in which life revolves around finding oil… much like today. (Oooh… topical.) Mel Gibson, decades before the unpleasantness, plays Max Rockatansky, a drifter who finds himself in the middle of a conflict between a peaceful settlement and an army of thugs whose attire can only be described as Road Warrior-esque. Max offers to drive the convoy for the settlers in exchange for his freedom, and his share of the gas of course. The film ends with a bravura action sequence as Max drives a tanker besieged by seemingly endless waves of punks with nothing to lose but their lives. (Max kindly obliges on the latter part.) Miller staged the sequence without a single stationary camera, capturing the action entirely on the vehicles used to film it. The stakes have never been higher, the villains never so motivated, and the action never so breathless as in the car chase from The Road Warrior, which we maintain is the best ever filmed.
What are your favorite movie car chases?