A great car chase involves high speeds and high stakes. We’ve created a list of the top 10 best car chases in movie history.
The car chase can have any number of purposes in a film. It can function as the in medias res, kicking off the movie with a pursuit and introducing us to at least some of the main characters. The car chase can function as part of the inciting incident that the while plot revolves around. Or it can be the movie’s climatic scene. Regardless of how they are used to tell the films larger, the best car chases usually feature really cool cars being driven to their limit in very exciting (and unsafe) ways through exotic locales.
Admittedly, it wasn’t easy to trim down the dozens of great car chase movies to find those worthy of comprising a definitive top 10. But the ones we chose are exhilarating in the moment, feature awesome cars, and have had stood the test of time to become highly influential for generations of filmmakers. Here’s our picks for the 10 best car chases in movie history.
We’ll start our best car chase list with the oldest featuring Steve McQueen in Bullitt. Released in 1968, the chase scene through the streets of San Francisco pit McQueen’s fastback Mustang and the cop killers’ Charger R/T set the benchmark by which all subsequent car chase scenes have been measured.
While it isn’t the first Fast & Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious set the tone for the franchise with this over-the-top chase scene. The police chase scene features a helicopter, countless cop cars, and a whole fleet of sick tuners. Add in the comically implausible ESD weapon and a wisecracking Ludacris and you’ve got the one of the most iconic chase scenes in a franchise built on them.
John Frankenheimer’s Ronin is a decent action thriller made great thanks to its two classic car chase scenes. Together, they’re widely considered second only to Bullitt’s. The first chase involves a Citroën XM pursued by an Audi S8 (principally) and races along mountain roads and through the urban streets of Nice, France. The second and perhaps more iconic chase involves a BMW E34 trying to outrun a Peugeot 406 and features the whole gamut of great car chase set pieces, including thick traffic, narrow streets, explosions, and some insane stunt driving.
The internet is as evenly divided as our office over which is the better choice, the original 1974 version or the 2000 remake. The original features a 34-minute chase scene that culminates in a 128-ft. jump that resulted in a great shot for the movie and a compressed spine for actor/director H.B. Halicki. The Nicolas Cage remake features “Eleanor,” the iconic ’67 Mustang GT500, crazy stunts, and Nic Cage at his Cagiest.
So many car chases on this list are located in California, France, or Italy, but The Bourne Identity features Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) running from the Moscow police in a shabby-looking Mini Cooper. The dramatic tension is heightened by having Maire (Franka Potente) in the passenger seat. So many chase scenes feature civilians leaping out of the way of speeding cars, invariably anonymous. But here, Marie is the civilian, a fully realized character in constant peril her only fault having a chance encounter with an amnesiac super soldier. Another thing that makes this scene great is driving a Mini down a flight of stairs is a direct homage to our next entry on the list.
Like Gone in 60 Seconds, we couldn’t quite decide whether the original or remake were better. The 1969 version of The Italian Job gets props as one of the most influential car chase scenes in movie history with all sorts of frantic urban driving from a trio of Mini Coopers. The traffic jams in Turin, Italy in the movie were real as the producers failed to get permits for the shoot and had to block roads off themselves. The remake saw the principle actors doing most of the stunt driving themselves. The traffic jams in this version take place in LA and had Angelenos dreaming of buying their own Minis just to finally evade gridlock by driving on the sidewalk.
All the Mad Max movies feature epic car chases. There’s the first film’s intense chase of Toecutter. In Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, the climactic chase is a perfect distillation of all that is great about the film series: hair-raising stunts, crazy vehicles, and even crazier villains. But George Miller’s magnum opus, Mad Max: Fury Road, tops them all. The movie is basically one long chase scene as Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Max (Tom Hardy) help four of Immortan Joe’s captive “wives” escape to safety. The production design, stunt work, and cinematography make this easily the best movie car chase of the last 10 years.
Another film series with some of the best car chases. The first film sets up chases to come as the indomitable terminator chases down Sarah Connor both on a motorcycle and then in a semi. The third film’s crane chase scene sees what seems like half of Los Angeles destroyed by a terminator driving crane. But our favorite Terminator car chases come from Terminator 2: Judgement Day. There’s the final one, featuring a tiny Chevy S-10 versus a huge semi-truck and which ends at the steel mill. But our favorite is the first chase scene, which has a John Connor on his dirt bike, the T-1000 commandeering, you guessed it, a semi, and Arnold’s T-100 making a spectacular jump on his “barrowed” Harley. The best part though is the emergence of the T-1000 out of the fiery wreckage of the semi.
They were on a mission from God, in The Blues Brothers Jake and Elwood Blues find themselves perpetually fleeing the police as they race across seemingly all of Illinois. Luckily, Elwood had purchased a retired police cruiser Dodge Monaco complete with “a cop motor…cop tires, cop suspension, [and] cop shocks.” Though it was only “106 miles to Chicago” there are a lot of chase scenes in the movie. For our money the chase through the mall is a close second to the final police car pile-up. The movie held the record for the number of stunt cars wrecked in a film at 103. That number was eventually eclipsed, appropriately, by the 2000 sequel with 104.
The car chase scene from The French Connection often runs neck-and-neck with Bullitt for the most iconic in film history. The story behind the filming is arguably more epic than the Best Picture winning thriller itself. First, there’s the fact that it was shot without a permit (the accompanying shots on the Brooklynn El-Train were the only permits the filmmakers secured). That means all that traffic stunt driver Bill Hickman is weaving through at 90 mph is the general public. The minor collision wasn’t planned, that happened by accident. In fact, the only staged part is the car narrowly missing the mother and baby. The sequence was shot by director William Friedkin from the back seat of the Pontiac LeMans. Friedkin says he shot it himself because the other two camera men had kids and he was single.
To Live and Die in L.A. – A thrilling climactic chase scene from William Friedkin, the director as The French Connection, that features two rather ponderous 80s sedans, a Chevy Impala and Mercury Grand Marquis.
Baby Driver – The opening chase scene features two nervous looking Jons (Ham and Bernthal) making their getaway in a flashy red Subaru WRX driven by the teenage Baby. Sick tunes and even sicker driving.
6 Underground – Turns out Michael Bay knows something about making action movies. In the opening chase scene of his recent 6 Underground Dave Franco rips through the streets of Florence in a neon green Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifolio. The run through the museum was especially tight stunt driving.
Drive – Speaking of getaway drivers, Ryan Gosling’s Driver is the epitome of cool under pressure in the opening scene to Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller. Unlike Baby, the Driver has the sense to choose a more low-key vehicle in the form of a Toyota Camry.