Pop Culture at its Best

100 Essential Action Scenes: Foot Chases

Sound on Sight undertook a massive project, compiling ranked lists of the most influential, unforgettable, and exciting action scenes in all of cinema. There were hundreds of nominees spread across ten different categories and a multi-week voting process from 11 of our writers. The results: 100 essential set pieces, sequences, and scenes from blockbusters to cult classics to arthouse obscurities.

There’s nothing like the thrill of a chase. A bank robber pulls off an elaborate heist only to be pursued by a dogged detective on foot. A soldier escapes from enemy territory but must outrun the angry combatants on his tail. A man wrongly accused of murder has just his wits and his two legs to flee the authorities. It’s the immediacy that appeals: characters relying on their stamina, agility, and wit to stay alive, without the aid that a car, boat, or plane gives them. For filmmakers, all it requires is a chaser, a chasee, and a whole lot of running.

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Film Title: The Bourne Ultimatum

10. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) – Three to tango in Tangier

Kineticism is what director Paul Greengrass excels at, and no other action scene of his career may be more kinetic than the Tangier foot chase in the third outing of the superb Bourne series. Most chases involve two elements: the pursuer and the pursued. Here, Greengrass throws in a second pursuer just to make matters more chaotic. CIA analyst Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) flees for her life from assassin Desh (Joey Ansah), sent to execute both her and her guardian, Jason Bourne (played with measured intensity by Matt Damon), for their attempt to expose the CIA’s corrupt blackops programs. While Bourne races to save her (first by motorcycle, then on foot), he is pursued by Tangier police. Rushing through crowds then on rooftops then from apartment to apartment, Bourne acts fast and thinks faster, maximizing his surrounding geography to escape the police and ultimately save Nicky. It’s essentially two foot chases in one, culminating in one hell of a money shot: Bourne jumping threw a glass window to take down Desh. Though Greengrass’ handheld direction is frenzied, we never get lost among each segment of the action. It’s a balancing act of logistics and stakes, combined to create not just a visceral set piece, but an exhilarating centerpiece for the film. (Shane Ramirez)

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9. The Matrix (1999) – The One on the run

Spiraling in a frenzy of close-encountered exterior and interior locations, more is felt by the hysteria of this scene than what meets the eye. Up to this point in the film, Neo is relatively new to the Matrix universe and trickery of Agent Smith. Yet one thing becomes certain to Neo: You can’t escape the Matrix. The Wachowski’s choice of a foot chase gives off a sense of raw urgency that is just as tiring as it is inescapable. Whether it’s through the halls of an apartment complex, or in the tight corners of a garbage shoot and alleyway, Neo’s world becomes very much enclosed and smaller by the minute. From cut shot to cut shot, Agent Smith’s transformations like an elderly woman or passerby on a cell phone is a reminder that Neo’s fate is continuously doomed unless new actions present themselves. One can say that this scene transitions Neo from a naive man always on the run to the wise master grounded with answers that he is destined to become. The only difference now is that he isn’t the master yet. He’s still running, still figuring things out. And this scene is a testament of the film’s chaotic glory. Not only does it showcase the use of slow-motion action effects (as when Neo jumps off a multi-story banister into a garbage dumpster), but many other trends set forth by succeeding action films started with The Matrix, as emphasized by this scene alone. The use of shakey-cam when bouncing between rooms is reminiscent of the foot chase in 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum. From a technical level, The Matrix, with this foot chase at its helm, is the first of its kind and can’t be beat. (Christopher Clemente)

Quality: 2nd Generation. Film Title: Minority Report. For further information: please contact The Front Row Press Office on 020 7551 5966.

8. Minority Report (2002) – The future is out to get you

“Everybody runs.” When John Anderton (Tom Cruise) says these words in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, he knows exactly what the consequences are and why there’s nothing left to do but give chase. For the first hour, Spielberg develops the mechanics of his film’s scarily prescient future: virtual touch screens, predictive analytics, elaborate automation and even personalized advertising via eyeball recognition. But only when John finally runs does Spielberg make all these gizmos count. The nature of this future is that those chasing him know exactly where he is at all times, and as a result, John is forced to leap from his automated vehicle and improvise. Spielberg turns what would’ve been neat set dressing, i.e. cars travelling vertically, into an impeccable and economical action set piece. When Pre-Crime finally catches up to John, jet packs and all, Janusz Kaminski’s incredible camerawork takes over. The camera scurries up a fire escape ladder behind the climbing Cruise, flies backwards through a fiery tube as he hijacks a jetpack, and even captures a visual gag as the flames crisp up some juicy burgers. Why does everybody always run? Because it’s so much fun to chase them. (Brian Welk)

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7. Seven (1995) – Chasing John Doe

David Fincher’s Seven is considered a lot of things, but an action movie is rarely one of them. However, it does feature a fantastic chase sequence at roughly the halfway point of the film, as Detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) track down the apartment of John Doe (Kevin Spacey), a man they believe is the killer they’ve been hunting. Doe flees, and the ensuing chase is wonderfully twisted and claustrophobic, as Fincher shoots most of it in medium or close shots (save for the moments when the apartment hallways stretch out seemingly for miles behind Mills). As a result, the choreography is chaotic with the focus tight on Mills, Somerset, or Doe’s shadowy figure. The audience never knows why Mills is running where he is, as the pursuit spills out of the apartment building and into rain-soaked alleys. It’s a pulse-pounding scene nonetheless, and represents the first significant confrontation between the two detectives and the man they’ve been pursuing for the entirety of the film. When Doe ends the chase by getting the drop on Mills but sparing his life, it is, in hindsight, a grim piece of foreshadowing for the role the detective will play in the completion of Doe’s work. (Austin Gorton)

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6. Hot Fuzz (2007) – To catch a shoplifter

Edgar Wright studied Point Break and Bad Boys II before making Hot Fuzz, and it shows in every scene. Take the chase where Officers Angel (Simon Pegg) and Butterman (Nick Frost) track down a shoplifter on foot. Despite the conscious stylized choices to echo Michael Bay (whip pans, quick cuts, and plenty of whooshes), Wright’s trademark wit is on display. There’s no better sight gag than Angel running around a corner and stopping to grumble, “Oh you mothers,” only to reveal (you guessed it…) several mothers blocking the alley with their strollers. As much fun as that is, the real highlight of this scene is watching Simon Pegg leap over fences in a call-back to Wright’s last collaboration with Pegg and Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead. (Colin Biggs)

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5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – T-800 to the rescue

When it comes to superior sequels, James Cameron’s follow-up to his 1984 sci-fi action classic is a worthy contender, and the initial chase between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), and young John Connor (Edward Furlong) shows the audience who is the real hero of the film. As Connor is caught in the middle between the two cyborgs, the slow-mo captures the dread of his impending death. With the initial fears of cinematic history repeating itself, the T-800 unexpectedly warns Connor and shoots the T-1000, unveiling his mimetic poly-alloy for the first time. The subsequent chase, which starts on foot and then on wheels, shows off Patrick’s athletic running prowess but also sets the sleeker, colder and more agile T-1000 apart from the bulkier, less advanced T-800. Stan Winston’s Oscar-winning special effects and the decision to disguise the presumed protector as a cop, a would-be wolf in sheep’s clothing, allows Terminator 2 to introduce the T-800 as a born-again hero while opening up the possibilities for future developments in what has become an enduring franchise. (Katie Wong)

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4. Blade Runner (1982) – Batty gone batty

Blade Runner has one of the greatest third acts in film history, and a significant part of that is due to the climactic chase sequence between Aryan wet-dream/android/villain Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Out of the selections on this list, this chase is by far the most terrifying because it envisions what happens when the chaser finally catches his victim. Batty torments Deckard in a rundown building, howling ominous statements like “I can see you!” at the detective sent to “retire” him. Impervious to any blow that Deckard throws at him, Batty straight up busts through walls like a hunter having a ball toying with his prey. Deckard approaches defeat after he has his fingers broken by the replicant and finds himself dangling from the building. At this point, the scene achieves peak terror because you honestly believe that our hero won’t make it through. It ends when Batty decides to spare Deckard from his fate and deliver one of the greatest monologues in film history. Before that though, director Ridley Scott constructs one of sci-fi’s most terrifying and anxiety-inducing chase sequences. (Dylan Griffin)

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3. The Third Man (1949) – Lyme’s labyrinth

The other foot chases on this list have, for the most part, earned their places for being exciting, intricately crafted, and expertly staged. They get your pulse pounding and grip you in suspense the whole way through, like any good action scene should. The climactic final chase from Carol Reed’s The Third Man is and does all of these things. However, this scene has earned its place on this list for being beautiful, more than anything else. As Orson Welles’ Harry Lyme flees from the Vienna police, Reed’s already deeply noir film dials the expressionistic elements up to eleven. Shadows play across the grimy sewer walls, back lighting catches figures in dramatic poses, the use of perspective creates striking compositions, and Dutch angles create an air of the otherworldly. The sequence is almost nightmarish as voices in four languages echo from tunnels and Harry’s frantic escape through the increasingly oppressive labyrinth becomes reminiscent of impressionistic classics like The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. The crisp black-and-white cinematography makes every tunnel mouth an abyss and the searchlights of the police playing off the damp brick walls create an almost disorienting effect of perspective. No wonder, then, that this is the most visually quoted sequence in the entire film, appearing on posters, movie boxes, and the desktop background of classy film students. Though the sequence is laced with drama and suspense, its visual mastery is what makes it stand out and makes it one of the most striking sequences in all of cinema to this day. (Thomas O’Connor)

Point-Break

2. Point Break (1991) – 100% pure adrenaline

Point Break is known for huge amounts of action-packed scenes, but the most memorable, and one of the best action sequences in any movie, is the foot chase through the Los Angeles suburbs. Often cited as “the king of all foot chases,” the entirety of this scene is near-perfect, using a stripped-down, hand-held 35mm camera nicknamed the Pogo-Cam to follow Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) as he chases down Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) disguised in a Ronald Reagan mask. The camera weighed 18 pounds and was equipped with a gyro-stabilizer and a wire loop placed on top of the camera, giving the camera operator a rough idea of what was in the frame as he followed the actors at breakneck speed. The scene shows a variety of different techniques including a POV tracking shot, slow motion, and several swooping shots around the dozens of extras passing by. The scene is relentless; and yet somehow the cameraman manages to follow his subjects through narrow spaces, in and out of houses, through backyards, scaling high fences and eventually dodging a pit-bull without ever slowing down. It was early proof of the amount of talent and creativity future Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow has when staging action sequences without relying on computer generated effects. (Ricky D)

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1. Casino Royale (2006) – Free running Bond

The Bond franchise had gone four years without a new installment. The announcement of Daniel Craig as the new 007 would beat The Dark Knight to having the hive mind of the internet make hilariously shortsighted comments about franchise casting. As much as the black-and-white cold open keyed audiences into the new tone Bond would be taking, the first major stunt set piece is what convinced those audiences that the franchise was in good hands. In the first piece of action we see him undertake as a freshly christened 00, Bond must chase a bomb maker from a cobra-mongoose fight, through a high-rise construction site, and into in an embassy. The brilliance of the sequence is that it takes something of the moment–parkour–and makes it timeless by keeping the action consistent with the character. Just because his mark is leaping and tumbling through a construction site doesn’t mean Bond has too. Instead, Craig busts through drywall, falls into air vents rather than landing gracefully, and at one point uses a front-end loader to bust through a stack of pipes. Even just little touches, like Bond catching and throwing a gun back at his mark or Craig telegraphing the pain of every punch and failed landing on his face demonstrate the command the actor and filmmakers have over this new chapter in the franchise. Bond is arguably more popular than it has ever been, and the roots of that popularity can be found in the clarity and brutality present in the very beginning of Casino Royale. (JJ Perkins)

 

Top Choices from our Writers

Colin Biggs – The Third Man

Christopher Clemente – The Bourne Identity

Ricky D – The Shining 

Austin Gorton – Point Break

Dylan Griffin – Casino Royale

Thomas O’Connor – The Third Man

JJ Perkins – Casino Royale

Shane Ramirez – The Bourne Ultimatum

Christopher Saunders – Casino Royale

Brian Welk – The Third Man

Katie Wong – Terminator 2: Judgment Day

(Check out the rest of the list by clicking below)

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1 Comment
  1. Patrick says

    Will Smith’s rundown of the alien in the opening of Men in Black comes to mind as another good one. It’s a great introduction to the character and perfectly in keeping with the off-beat humor.

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