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10 Best Movie Car Chases of All Time (Epic Scenes)

10 Best Movie Car Chases of All Time (Epic Scenes)

A good car chase works for completely different reasons than its bipedal counterpart. Where a foot chase is more intimate, desperate, and rough, car chases are cool, exciting, almost romantic. Here the journey overwhelms destination: tough guys (and girls) driving sleek machines at impossible speeds. And unlike foot chases, there are no real limitations on where they can go or what they can do—sometimes cars can even fly.



10. Death Proof (2007) – Girl power vs. horsepower

The obvious reference points of Death Proof are such movies as Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and even Steven Spielberg’s Duel, but Proof is influenced by more than just vehicular horror. It’s a grim stalker picture, a slasher film, and a blaring anthem to female empowerment. Kurt Russell turns in a tour-de-force performance as the smooth-talking tough guy who gets his kicks from vehicular homicide in two incredible scenes. The car crash that ends the first half of the film is a breathtaking slice of gory mayhem shown four times from various points of view, but if that wasn’t enough, the inner fan-boy is treated to a climax that is more shocking, vicious, and hysterically satisfying. The extended car chase in the final reel is a bona fide old-school tour de force; a brutal and primal statement on the new power balance of the sexes. Jammed with astonishing stunt work (absent of CGI), the climax will leave you digging your nails into your arm rest. Tarantino’s sadistic ode to muscle cars and movie stunt work is sheer genius. (Ricky D)


9. Drive (2011) – The perfect getaway

Nicolas Winding Refn did not set out to make any old genre movie for gearheads. Drive is ruthless bloodshed hidden within an underplayed art gloss. So it is no surprise that the opening chase of the film is no cookie-cutter affair. More of a cat and mouse game than a traditional chase, the Driver (Ryan Gosling) is driving getaway for a robbery and spends a good five minutes of screen time in a wordless trance, focusing all of his particular set of skills on not getting caught. The only dialogue in the scene comes from the radio broadcast of a LA Clippers game and from the driver’s police scanner, giving the driver a clue when the fuzz is about to close in and giving the audience a small dramatic thread to latch onto. The use of sound in the whole sequence is masterful, as the frightening roar of cylinders break long stretches of silence and muted police chatter as the driver evades police cruisers. Anyone who may have been unaware of what movie they were walking into would know by the time the credits rolled that this film wasn’t just driven off the lot, but that it had been tinkered with to create a distinct piece of machinery custom-built to offer the user visceral thrills. (JJ Perkins)


8. The Bourne Supremacy (2004) – Moscow demolition derby

Here’s one thing most actions scenes don’t contain: desperation. Whereas writers often compose their action around cool, professional characters doing what they do best, Paul Greengrass’ first foray into genre filmmaking takes its dogged, battered protagonist and asks him to think fast or die trying. That the character is in two thousand pounds of twisted metal only ups the ante. Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is looking to atone for his first killings by visiting the girl he orphaned. That is until he finds himself fleeing Moscow authorities and the corrupt SS agent that killed his girlfriend (Karl Urban, perfecting the stoic badass). To make matters worse, Bourne is bleeding from a gunshot wound and using cheap vodka to stave an infection. It’s a dire setup for a scene that pits Bourne’s crummy taxi against convoys of police cruisers and the congested, rain-soaked Moscow streets. Drivers in most car chases try to avoid smashing pedestrian vehicles but not here. Cars slam against each other, scrape railings, and cause pile ups. Metal shreds and glass flies. As our outmatched hero faces off against his nemesis, Greengrass stages the whole scene like a classic duel, except with vehicles as the weapons. John Powell, the film’s composer, probably sums up the scene best. His album track is entitled “Bim Bim Smash.” (Shane Ramirez)


7. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Going after the ark truck

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the all time great action movies, stuffed with one fantastic action sequence after another. Near the end of the film, Indiana Jones’ (Harrison Ford) attempt to retrieve the ark from a Nazi truck may not be as iconic as the opening boulder chase or Indy casually dispatching a swordsman with a single bullet, but it does represent the final big action piece of the film, and it’s as exciting as anything else in the film. It works because it’s actually several chase sequences blended into one: it begins as Indy, literally riding a white horse, takes off in pursuit of the mechanized might of the Nazis, and in the course of the ensuing chase, the exact circumstances of who is chasing who goes back and forth. First, Indy is chasing after the Nazis. Then, after he takes control of the truck, it’s the Nazis who are suddenly chasing him. Then, after getting shot in the arm and tossed out the truck’s window, Indy is back to trying to take control of the truck for himself with only his trusty whip to spare him from the unforgiving dirt roadway. Once this sequence is complete, there still remains several big, iconic moments to come in the film, but none of them match the sheer energy and craft on display in the last big action sequence of one of cinema’s best action films. (Austin Gorton)


6. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) – Freeway frenzy

In terms of action sequences in the hotly divided sequel to The Matrix, the majority are Neo (Keanu Reeves)-centric. When it comes to showcasing the film’s other protagonists, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), as well as introduce new characters the Twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment), the freeway chase perfectly captures their individual physicality via cleverly choreographed car jumping, phasing, and fighting. Additionally, the chase maximizes the amount of possible carnage while bringing together old and new adversaries (Agents, ghosts) and allies (The Keymaker, Niobe) in one setting. The ambitious set piece not only took a long time to shoot but also required a specially constructed 1.5-mile freeway and some 300 cars donated by GM. Given the fact that all the cars and the freeway were destroyed, it highlighted the ambition of the Wachowskis and their need to top the film’s earlier ‘Burly Brawl’, while ensuring that Neo isn’t the only one to see some action. (Katie Wong)

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5. The Road Warrior (1981) – Open road rage 

Before we get going, a brief disclosure: every scene on this list will be obsolete once we all watch the glory that will be Mad Max: Fury Road. Until then, we celebrate director George Miller’s historic car chase from everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic badass. The Road Warrior has spent its whole runtime leading to its epic car showdown. The sheer coordination and filming logistics is mind-blowing on its own, a mark of Miller’s inventiveness behind the camera, but there is so much insanity going on at once in this scene. Armored cars and souped-up buggies are lit on fire. Drivers and marauders are lit on fire. Car after car turns to scraps of metal. Max (Mel Gibson), hauling a coveted tanker full of oil, takes out baddies with his reliable sawed-off shotgun. As amazing as it is, the best part is some old fashioned screenwriting trickery. The oil that The Humungus and his psychotic gang were after isn’t even there! This scene would become a hallmark among car chases. From then on, any filmmakers constructing their own sequence would have to stand next to it as a symbol of vehicular perfection. (Dylan Griffin)


4. Ronin (1998) – Paris windup

1998 proved to be a great year for thrills and high-adrenaline action films like Mercury Rising, The Siege, and Out of Sight, among many others. Ronin was no exception. In an age where CGI was still in its infancy, practical effects and pyrotechnics satisfied our visual appetites with tremendous delight. This scene is a perfect example of how practicality can beat animation and still be relevant and refreshing in the 21st century. What makes this scene a true spectacle is that the cars themselves become characters. Although equipped with powerhouse performances by Robert DeNiro and Natascha McElhone, they only contribute as fillers between stunts. Reminiscent of the Turin streets of 1969’s The Italian Job, Paris is just as cramped and crowded. Between each sharp turn down a narrow street, or with every spark that grinds off the walls of underground tunnels, the scene suffocates and exhilarates at the same time. It’s smart, realistic, and subtly non-sexist. In a genre dominated by male egotism, the fact that McElhone’s Deirdre is a genius behind the wheel goes virtually unnoticed. This would later carve a staple for female camaraderie in such films as 2003’s The Italian Job with Charlize Theron or 2000’s Gone In 60 Seconds with Angelina Jolie. Not only did it place women in a male-driven role, it reprised the whole genre for years to come. And yet the biggest subtlety comes from the scene’s score, or lack thereof. Only in the last two minutes of this intense car chase do we get drawn in by Elia Cmiral’s atmospheric score. Instead it’s the rough sounds of clutches dropping, engines revving, and metal shredding that keeps the audience engaged and gasping for the lives of our heroes. (Christopher Clemente)

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3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Big gun, bigger truck

The epic chase through the Los Angeles drainage canals is the first big action set-piece of James Camerson’s Terminator 2, at least the first one featuring the principal characters of the film, and starts off Cameron’s action opus with a bang. The scene is interesting for several reasons; the first being that it cements that Arnie’s role in T2 is very different from his role in the previous film. While once the governator was the proverbial unstoppable force, here he’s in the other seat, up against a force even more unstoppable than he was before. This time around, he’s the pursuee rather than the pursuer. The image of the T-1000’s truck vs. Arnold’s much smaller Harley illustrates the sudden shift in the power dynamic of the film nicely, while still letting Arnold come across as the action movie badass we all know and love. But beyond its thematic weight, T2‘s iconic chase scene gets points for just plain kickin’ ass. Images like the T-1000’s truck crashing over the overpass, Arnold flip-cocking his trusty shotgun and the scene’s fiery climax are among some of the most iconic visuals of the film. And all of the stunts, crashes, and pyrotechnics in the scene were done with good old fashioned practical effects. Up until the reveal of the T-1000’s metal form, everything in the scene is done in-camera. When you consider the vehicular carnage and death-defying stunts it contains, that’s pretty impressive. (Thomas O’Connor)


2. The French Connection (1971) – Racing the L train

Jean-Luc Godard may have been the first to strap the camera to the front of a bicycle, but William Friedkin was the first to strap the camera to the hood of a car and send it hurtling down busy New York City streets. The French Connection is all about motion and noise. The movement never stops as Gene Hackman’s Jimmy Doyle, a character constantly on edge, relentlessly pursues his foes no matter what. When the film reaches its famous car chase beneath the El tracks, Doyle’s pursuit is pure reckless abandon. Friedkin was the first to assault the viewer with shaky cam POV perspectives, and here he plays with aggressive changes of direction in the motion, with the camera either barreling toward another car, staring down at the tracks, or tracking furiously alongside the both the speeding car and train in the same shot. The scene is damn near violent to watch, but then there was never anything pretty about this movie. (Brian Welk)


1. Bullitt (1968) – Streets of San Francisco

Bullitt is the quintessential car chase scene cinema has to offer, and nearly fifty years after its debut, no film has stolen the throne from Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang. McQueen, playing the titular detective, chases and is chased by gangsters over the hills of San Francisco, incurring lots of vehicular damage along the way. The green Mustang and black Dodge Charger race through intersections, sideswiping each other at 90 mph, and fly over hills, leaving viewers’ stomachs in their throats. At a little over 10 minutes, the scene is made all the more impressive by director Peter Yates’ decision to place the camera inside the car, revolutionizing forever how chase scenes would be shot. Bullitt broke the mold back in 1968, and the films it has inspired can still be seen racing fast and furiously through cineplexes today. (Colin Biggs)

Top Choices from our Writers

  • Colin Biggs – Bullitt
  • Christopher Clemente – Ronin
  • Ricky D – Death Proof
  • Austin Gorton – Star Wars
  • Dylan Griffin – The General
  • Thomas O’Connor – The Road Warrior
  • JJ Perkins – Bullitt
  • Shane Ramirez – The Bourne Supremacy
  • Christopher Saunders – Bullitt
  • Brian Welk – The French Connection
  • Katie Wong – The Blues Brothers