The car world and the film industry have always had a good relationship. Whether it’s a car chase action movie or a romantic comedy about the fashion world, there’s always a vehicle or two on hand.
In the early days of cinema, directors were still experimenting with what they could do. The first commercially available movie – more of a clip – in which a train drove towards the camera, scaring most of the audience. As filming progressed, so did the car. The two became so intertwined that Charlie Chaplin even added a car to some of his films for comedic effect. Since then, the film industry has shot some of the best scenes with vehicles, with entire franchises around cars† Some movies have intricately choreographed chase sequences between the hero and the villain, while others feature a medley of cars – all doing something, leading to amazing and award-winning cinematography.
While many films use CGI and VFX to create car chases and eventual crashes, many directors resort to practical effects to give the film a more authentic feel. Here are 10 of the movie industry’s best car chases – excluding the Fast and the Furious franchisee.
10 Bullit (1968)
bullitt has a great chase scene including over 10 minutes of screen time with no dialogue. Even the music stops as soon as the bad guys accelerate away. The scene opens with our hero immediately noticing that the bad guys are chasing him – before rampaging into the streets of San Francisco. The pair drive too fast on the hilly streets that the city is known for, with the main character having to reverse at one point, resulting in a serious wobble of the rear axle.
The chase continues until they reach the outskirts of San Francisco, before joining a canyon road where the bad guys’ black Dodge Charger R/T and the hero’s green Ford Mustang Fastback can open the taps. There is a bit of a fight with a man on a motorcycle, but the scene eventually ends in a fireball when the bad guys have an accident and Lt. Bullitt nearly parks the ‘Stang’ in a ditch. The scene has become iconic and has been recreated many times.
9 The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
The scene opens with James Bond driving through an Italian town with a motorcycle chasing him. mr. Bond speeds up but gets stuck behind a truck. The motorcyclist sends an exploding sidecar to take care of the white Lotus Esprit, but instead blows up the truck, sending the motorcyclist flying off the road into the sea – with 007 making a funny joke. Jaws appears in a black Audi sedan and starts firing. They corner a bit more and Bond activates a gadget in the car that shoots a dust at the Audi, causing it to drive off a cliff. A helicopter shows up and briefly shoots the car, but Bond drives it into the water and the car turns into a submarine. He then uses a roof-mounted rocket to blast the helicopter out of the sky.
This is a great scene that had an interesting story. The stuntman allegedly driving the car during the helicopter chase was unavailable at the time of filming, so the production crew asked Lotus’ man Roger Becker to do it. He rammed the car up the hill and did so well that he remained the driver throughout production.
8 The Italian Job (1969)
The original Italian work movie had a hilariously ridiculous chase scene between three minis and some police cars. The scene started with the three Minis – full of gold – driving through Turin, using shopping malls, restaurants and entrances to buildings as roads. At one point, the cars drive down a flight of stairs where a wedding party is just leaving a church.
The chase continues on a building roof, where the Minis outsmart the police car that followed them. They make their way to a stormwater drain and get rid of all the cars following them. Then they meet a bus – which they entered via a ramp. While the 2003 remake followed many of the same basic ideas as the 1969 version, it failed to capture the sheer absurdity of the scene. Truly one of the best car chases in cinema.
7 The Man with the Golden Rifle (1974)
The Man with the Golden Gun is on this list not because the chase scene was great, but rather because it featured one of the greatest stunts in action movies† While James Bond was chasing Mr. Scaramanga, they ended up on opposite sides of a river. Scaramanga then drove away from the river on his side, so Bond had to find a way to keep up.
Bond passes a broken bridge, sets up the AMC AMX and jumps across the river doing a barrel roll. It was a great piece of cinema. The most amazing thing about the stunt was that it was done in one take, with a brand new stunt driver who had never done anything like it before. One of the best practical effects ever.
6 The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
The Matrix movies are not known for their car chases but one scene in the second movie stands out† After rescuing the Key Maker, Morpheus and Trinity venture onto the highway and the viewer is entertained with one of the best sequences in the movies.
From the shooting between Trinity, the Twins and the Agents to Morpheus having a fistfight with an Agent on top of a truck – this scene is simply brilliant. The music and slow-motion images of crashing cars give a real video game impression – almost as if they were in some kind of simulation (wink).
5 Mad Max: Rage Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road is filled to the brim with awesome vehicle scenes. From the opening scene where the Warboys capture Max, to the end where the War Rig flips over. One scene that stands out in particular is the race back to the Citadel where all the parties that initially gave chase reunite when they see the War Rig driving back.
In this scene, people jump to the War Rig and even Max ends up on the Mercedes-Benz tanker – before it explodes spectacularly. The chase continues until all the main characters reach the Gigahorse (the Cadillac sandwich). Thanks to the director’s insistence on practical effects, almost all scenes happened physically.
4 Die Another Day (2002)
Die another day is considered by many to be one of the worst – if not the worst – James Bond film ever made. While extremely far-fetched and ridiculous in many ways, it remains quite entertaining. Towards the end of the movie, James Bond and one of the villain’s henchmen – who had an unfortunate run-in with some diamonds – engaged in a chase on a frozen lake†
The scene included Bond’s Aston Martin “Vanish” (Vanquish) and Mr. Zao’s Jaguar XKR Convertible, each trying to beat the other with weapons – from grille-mounted missiles and hood-mounted shotguns to mortars hidden in the trunk and an automated mini-gun. Bond even uses his car’s ejection seat to flip back onto his wheels – which was pretty cool.
3 Ronin (1998)
The chase scene in Ronin is just brilliant. It takes our characters at breakneck speed through the streets of Paris – and its tunnels. The scene includes a Peugeot 406 chasing a BMW M5 E34† The scene included excellent driving with minimal damage to the cars for most of the chase. Robert De Niro’s character even makes an impromptu 270-degree turn when a bus blocks his way.
The way the scene was shot was different from most other car chases as the actors were dragged behind a car traveling at 100mph. This was because the stunt coordinator insisted that the speed was true to real life and not cheated when editing. The chase scene with about 300 stunt drivers and different versions of the two main cars for different shots.
2 Golden Eye (1995)
Golden Eye was Pierce Brosnan’s first appearance as British secret agent James Bond. One of the scenes where Bond was chasing Colonel Ourumov, who had just kidnapped Natalya, who survived the destruction of the Russian research facility at the beginning of the film.
While the Colonel and the captured Natalya took off in a GAZ Volga, Bond did the right 007 thing and gave chase to a tank. The ensuing chase is entertaining and many of Lada Riva’s police cars are crushed under the tracks of the tank. There’s a bit where Bond’s tank has a horse statue and Bond drives through a few buildings – just because you can. The best part of the whole chase is near the start when Bond shoves the tank around a corner. How cool is that?
1 Vanishing Point (1971)
vanishing point can be thought of as one big chase scene that was made into a movie. It follows Kowalski, a car delivery man, who made a bet with a co-worker that he would deliver a white Dodge Charger R/T at a specified time the next day. What follows is a series of events with great driving – both on and off the road.
The story eventually ends with the police setting up a roadblock using two bulldozers. Because Kowalski is “the last American hero,” he refuses to give in to what the world wants, so he plows the Charger into the roadblock at full speed, causing the car to explode in true 1970s car crash fashion. It must be said that while the driving is great to watch, the movie as a whole is quite depressing – fitting for the time.
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