With Baby Driver about to rev up in cinemas, what are the best car chases in movie history?
Please strike back below with your choices.
10. Death Proof (2007)
Some will disagree with me on this one, but the chase that closes Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse was well worth sitting through the shit for. He will likely admit that this purposely schlocky B-movie is his weakest film, but when your story relies on a vicious ex-stuntman, Mike (Kurt Russell), whose death-proofed super car is his weapon, you better deliver on an amazing chase. I believe Q.T. did just that.
Beginning with the sight of stunt lady Zoë Bell clinging to the bonnet of a speeding Challenger just for kicks, this scene reverses itself several times as Mike’s penchant for terrifying young ladies backfires on him in the most tremendous way possible. There’s a lot to love here, including the performance of Russell, who turns from the film’s feared antagonist to a one-upped crybaby in seconds. Combining effective high-speed thrills with the genuine tone of a 70s classic – say, Vanishing Point – the climax of Death Proof is sheer joy and assures that a mediocre film almost deserves its cult following.
9. Bullitt (1968)
Let’s give Bullitt its due, shall we?
While I don’t subscribe to the notion that this is the Greatest of All Time as some critics would suggest, there’s no denying that Steve McQueen chasing someone down across the hilly environs of San Francisco is great cinema. It also directly inspired every automobile chase after it, so a placement on the list is all but mandatory. Entirely commendable for the 60s, it is chock-full of memorable images, McQueen doing his own driving (badass), and a sense of realism that goes a long way. The iconoclastic nature of this sequence speaks for itself… would the video game franchise Driver exist without it?
8. The Rock (1995)
Yes, that’s right. I’m putting a Michael Bay film on this list!
Far and away the blockbuster merchant’s finest film, The Rock should make any list of all-time great action flicks, but I want to single-out the fantastic car chase that leaves Bullitt’s San Francisco in total disarray. Besides the fact that this is a chase which features Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage – and Connery may as well be playing 007 – it is surely one of Bay’s best set-pieces from a cinematic standpoint, putting his hyper-stylised photography and flashy editing to work on a sequence that’s actually coherent. Imagine that. The closing joke isn’t too bad either.
7. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
The Matrix Reloaded is a piece of crap. Everyone knows this, and we even took the piss out of it in a video, but it would be foolhardy not to recognise the final act’s superb chase sequence. I almost left it off the list due to the inevitable overindulgence on CGI, but it seems like a good many people rate this one highly and it isn’t hard to see why. This sequence even necessitated the construction of an entire motorway… how often does that happen?
Pursued by evil Agents, our heroes Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) attempt to find an exit point via the freeway, which, as Trinity points out, is practically suicide when you’re logged into the Matrix. By the time Neo (Keanu Reeves) flies in to save the day, we’ve already had stunts with flying cars, Trinity swerving through traffic on a motorbike, and Morpheus duelling an Agent on top of a truck. Epic is the word here, and if it wasn’t for the already-dated computer shots, it would have ranked a lot higher.
6. GoldenEye (1995)
It wouldn’t be me without a Bond film making the list, would it? Though technically not a car, the tank chase in Martin Campbell’s GoldenEye is just too cool and too fucking awesome to leave out. When a dastardly Russian villain has his girl, 007 (Pierce Brosnan) is going to demolish St. Petersburg to get her back, all to the thunder of Monte Norman’s signature theme music. Over half a century since he first made it a habit of getting into car chases, this is by far Bond’s best for me, complete with police cruisers being tossed aside or driven over, and national monuments being desecrated left and right. It’s also reflective of the famous 007 comedy, coming to an end when Brosnan casually corrects his tie. Classic.
5. Drive (2011)
In what could very well be the ultimate instance of “car chase as character development,” Nicholas Winding Refn’s open love-letter to Walter Hill’s The Driver has justifiably become a cult classic. The film opens with our main and nameless character (Ryan Gosling) living up to his reputation as a fearless getaway driver, providing a tension-filled close call with the cops that might not feature extended high-speed action but is nonetheless stylish, suspenseful and unforgettable.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The whole fucking film. Am I right?!
3. The French Connection (1971)
It’s impossible to think about 70s car chases without thinking about William Friedkin’s peerless French Connection and its breathless New York pursuit. This has one of the best set-ups ever conceived, wherein abrasive cop Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) is running down a hood travelling above him on an elevated train. Fraught with palpable danger, a suitably frantic Hackman, and at least one accidental collision left in the final cut, this is made all the better by the fact that they had no permits and even bribed the metro captain to make it all possible. Ah, Friedkin.
2. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
After redefining the cinematic car chase with the above French Connection, Friedkin was truly testing himself when attempting another. In fact, this would have only made it in the movie if it was superior according to the esteemed director. His underrated and reassuringly cheesy To Live and Die in L.A. isn’t in the same class as the former film, of course, but this is without a doubt the greatest car chase of the 1980s!
After things go awry in a counterfeiting case, Secret Service agents Richard Chance (William Petersen) and John Vukovich (John Pankow) are quite literally driving for their lives in a classic case of screen suspense. This bad boy took six weeks to film and has that warm stamp of authenticity in every frame. Filled with creative photography, amazing editing, a pulsating score, and the requisite tension that you only get from doing it for real, Friedkin can rest easy in the knowledge that he truly did top himself.
1. Ronin (1998)
John Frankenheimer’s Ronin has sadly been forgotten by most, when, realistically, it was one of the best spy/action movies of the 1990s and had an amazing cast to boot. Headed by Robert De Niro’s enigmatic lead, the ensemble included Jean Reno, Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce. Frankenheimer also had experience in chases, having helmed the underrated sequel French Connection II. The final act of that film had a brilliant foot chase in which Popeye Doyle doggedly pursues his target, eventually firing a fateful shot and allowing you to unstick your fingers from the armrests. Frankenheimer finally applied that tension to the open road with Ronin, and for my money, easily surpassed Friedkin with the most hair-raising chase I’ve ever seen. And it went largely unnoticed.
Burning through the streets of Paris at remarkably dangerous speeds, the action here is highly credible stuff whilst also managing to be exciting, intricate, daring, and relateable; it’s always amazing to see people in perilous car chases actually looking terrified! Apparently, up to 300 stunt drivers were used for this sequence, and almost eighty cars perished. Under a master’s hand, the scene never disobeys the laws of physics, throws in reliable standards like weaving through oncoming traffic and pile-ups, and has the common sense to omit music so that you can take in the beautiful splendour of it all. I know this was a hard list to compile and everyone has their favourites, but this is surely… surely… the number one spot.
Honourable mentions: The Driver, The Raid 2, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Vanishing Point.