Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Five Best Car Chase Scenes in Movie History

I admit I’ve undertaken an impossible task—trying to sift through dozens of terrific celluloid car chases to come up with the five all-time best. And, no doubt, some readers will take offense that some splendid car chases were omitted. I know for a fact that my rankings will generate controversy. But differences of opinion are what make movie blog discussions fun…so bring them on! To narrow the scope a little, I’ve included only car chases from action films—no comedies this time out (and I apologize to fans of movies like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and W. C. Fields’ The Bank Dick ).

1. The Seven-Ups (1973) – Philip D’Antoni¸ who produced Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971), obviously knew a little something about car chases. The Seven-Ups is the only film he directed and its set piece is a New York City high-speed “duel” between a Pontiac Ventura Sprint coupe (driven by good guy Roy Scheider) and a Pontiac Grand Ville (the bad guys). Like Gene Hackman in The French Connection, Scheider does a great job of acting during the scene, pounding on the dashboard and swearing to himself. It’s a thrilling chase, but what sets it apart is the climax devised by stunt man extraordinaire Bill Hickman. Scheider’s Ventura skids under an 18-wheel truck, peeling off the top of the car…but leaving the driver (who ducks down on cue) unscathed.

2. Bullitt (1968) – In 9 minutes and 42 seconds, Bullitt redefined the car chase forever. It can certainly stake its claim as the most influential car chase and I suspect it ranks No. 1 on most lists. The San Francisco locale can’t be beat—helping to create iconic shots of the cars flying over the hills and careening around the tight curves. Director Peter Yates heightens the action with point-of-view and overhead shots. My only quibble: Steve McQueen and the driver of the car he's pursuing are the epitome of cool--so the scene isn’t quite as frantic and tense as the ones in The Seven-Ups and The French Connection. By the way, Bill Hickman drove the Charger.

3. The French Connection (1971) – William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning film featured a chase between a Pontiac LeMans commandeered by Gene Hackman’s police detective and an elevated train containing the baddies. Hackman accents the tenseness of the scene perfectly, pounding on the horn and yelling at pedestrians as he speeds through the streets of Brooklyn, often against oncoming traffic. Friedkin makes terrific use of tracking shots, sometimes showing Hackman zooming underneath the elevated train in a single frame. In addition to reuniting producer D’Antoni and stunt driver Hickman from Bullitt, The French Connection co-starred Roy Scheider and Tony Lo Bianco who would later appear in The Seven-Ups.

4. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) – Friedkin returned to the car chase with a revved-up sequence in this tale of unethical Treasury agents out to nab big-time counterfeiters at any cost. A young William Petersen played the federal agent who is pursued through Los Angeles. After a gripping chase through parked trucks and tight streets, Petersen finds himself surrounded on all sides but one…which leads down a one-way street. He zooms down the highway against oncoming traffic, resulting in a harrowing scene that momentarily tops a similar one in The French Connection.

5. Ronin (1998) – John Frankenheimer (who directed The French Connection II…interesting how all these films connect in different ways) features a couple of car chases in this espionage thriller. The most famous one, though, pits a BMW 5 Series against a Peugeot 306 as they whisk through the narrow streets of Paris. The scene’s highlights are a nail-biting tunnel sequence and another pursuit down a one-way street.

Honorable mentions: The original Gone in 60 Seconds, Goldfinger (for its gadget-laden Aston-Martin), The Road Warrior, The Italian Job (1969), Vanishing Point, the Bourne movies, and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

All of my top five picks can be viewed on YouTube. So if you don’t remember The Seven-Ups, or haven’t seen the chase scene in awhile, just click here.

Differing opinions about my rankings and omissions are welcomed!

18 comments:

  1. Cool picks Rick, can't argue with any of those choices. For a different and modern spin on the movie car chase scene, I would add Deja Vu with Denzel Washington as being pretty nifty as he was chasing a suspect in his current timeline in the dude's different timeline, and they both kinda merge. Cool as hell.

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  2. Great list, Rick. I especially like your #1 choice, THE SEVEN-UPS, RONIN, and two of your honorable mentions, THE ROAD WARRIOR and THE BOURNE SUPREMACY. I liked that you noted the ending of the chase sequence in THE SEVEN-UPS because I love that moment when the truck driver helps Roy Scheider from his car. Scheider's performance is excellent, as he struggles to regain his equilibrium, and we the audience can all share in his sigh of relief. Car chases are so fun in movies, and I honestly can't think of one that you omitted. Great job!

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  3. Oh, how about the opening sequence from Quantum of Solace? That was a very intense and cool car chase scene. It's a new film but if you were to make a list solely on films post 2000 or about there, I would definitely have Solace on the list.

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  4. Great work here, Rick. I admit I've never seen the Seven-Ups (or a lot of action films for that matter), but I agree with Sark that are fun to watch. I have seen the Bourne movies and I was amazed by the car chases.

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  5. Rick, what an excellent compilation of films featuring memorable car chases! I agree with your assessment of Roy Scheider vs. Steve McQueen. It has been a while but I remember really liking William Peterson in "To Live and Die in L.A." Most of all I was delighted to see you include "Road Warrior" which not only featured numerous car chases, but ones that included people on the vehicles as the cars were speeding along. Nail biting suspense!

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  6. Rick, My favorite car chase is Bullitt. Charger vs. Mustang. Awesome!

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  7. Wow, what great comments! The use of handheld cameras and digital editing have given recent car chases their own unique look. That's what make comparing car chases difficult (but it's also what makes this discussion fun). I'm second-thinking my omission of THE ROAD WARRIOR in the top five--I love the part where the Feral Kid is trying to recover the shot gun shells as Max fends off attackers.

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  8. Rick , cool list I would have #1 and # 2 reversed. Two of my favorites not on your list is the "Beach Chase In The John Wayne John Sturges Film McQ.and the combined live action CGI chase on the Terminal Island Freeway in The Island. BTW the car crash' s are not CGI but real.

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  9. Rick , BTW Fox movie Channel is running The Seven Ups on April 18th at 11:30PM Pacific ,check your local listings.

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  10. Rick, this is a good classic list of car chase scenes in movies...I think. Honestly, I never pay much attention to cars in movies or in real life. I have seen these movies and enjoyed them all. I guess I was born in the wrong century. I would prefer to travel horseback than by car. Horses I know and as for cars, they just get me from one place to another. Enjoyed all the comments and the review.

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  11. Rick, I have given this great thought and finally decided that I do like car chases. However, I prefer them to be in the future in a galaxy far away. It just happens that cars in the STAR WARS movies are spaceships, X-Wing starfighters, Imperial Speeder Bikes, and Airspeeders which are just like cars will be in the future. When Darth Vader in his TIE Fighter tried to shoot Luke Skywalker in his outdated X-Wing fighter in the end of STAR WARS in 1977 and Han Solo appeared in the famous Millennium Falcon and saved Luke's life...now that was an exciting "car chase" that made movie making history!! Even you can't deny that, Rick. I am also quite fond of the Airspeeder chase when Anakin Skywalker is chasing the bounty hunter, Zam Wesell, throught the air lanes in Attack of the Clones (even though it isn't old enough for your blog) it deserves to be mention because poor Obi-Wan is stuck with a teen Anakin driving like...well...a teen does today. I still enjoyed your article, but hey I just had to add this.

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  12. Aki, knowing that you're a STAR WARS buff, I thought you might mention some of those chases. I think the one from ATTACK OF THE CLONES is the best SW chase.

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  13. Definitely Bullitt!!Then The Fast and The Furious!!
    Also Bonnie and Clyde and Steve McQueen's Motorcycle Chase in The Great Escape!!

    Finally,don't forget Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road!!

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  14. THE GREAT ESCAPE and THUNDER ROAD are both fine additions.

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  15. the car chase in bullitt, sounds, better ,but the french connection, looks better. the music in bonnie and clyde ruined the movie, i think. and i would discount the chases in mad max and the road warrior because they speed up the camera in a lot of scenes which ruins the effect

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  16. the french connection is easily the best urban crime drama ever made ,theres no sped up footage in the car chase, the film takes place in the winter, which adds to the atmosphere and theres no love story to interrupt the awesome story and action, gene hackmans gritty, physical performance blows away steve mcqueens laid back almost lazy style, i dare anyone to name a better crime drama then the french connection and no its not dirty harry the french connection was released earlier and dirty harry doesnt have half the action of the french connection look at the boring bus hijacking scene it sucks, maybe if bullitt was filmed in new york instead of chic san francisco it would have been better just the same if you visualize the french connection in san francisco in the summertime it would not have been as good

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  17. Whenever I stumble upon similar blog posts, I always find The French Connection! Hehe, it actually has my fave car chase scene! It would be my number 1!

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  18. I've always loved action films, especially the car chase scenes. The thrill and the suspense of catching the bad guy and vice versa keep me at the edge of my seat. I go wild when the heroine/hero captures the enemies. LOL!

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