Look, admittedly I am not a car guy. Basically if a vehicle can get me to and from work then cool. Picking up girls was never attached to a car for me, and this is a person who owned two Prius’s. That being said, as a film nerd a great car chase is totally awesome. It can thrill audiences all around the world. Seeing a well crafted car duel is the stuff of legends. These are my Top 15 Car Chases in Movies. I have excluded the “Fast & Furious” movies because those chases are so ridiculous and flat out douche-baggy that it’s basically paint by numbers movie making. Yeah, burn on that franchise.
15. Mini Cooper highway robbery (“The Italian Job”):
Be honest here people. In hindsight “The Italian Job” is barely passable as a good heist movie that is much closer to the SUCK than the good end of the spectrum. Plenty of top-tier actors and actresses here, but it’s kind of a more expensive version of a “CSI: MIAMI” episode as opposed to a well crafted heist movie. Not much more than simply trying not to phone things in. That being said, the company which owns Mini Cooper owes all of their early 2000’s success to one hell of a climactic chase sequence. After having been back stabbed by a former crew member in order to take the money during a job, Mark Wahlberg and the remaining members are coming back for Edward Norton’s punk ass. You’ve gotta be careful when trying to rob a fellow professional robber. The remaining team out for revenge against the scumbag sure is, using Mini Cooper’s to literally navigate the hallways of a seven-plus figure household to steal the money back before the crook comes home. From there we get a car against helicopter sequence. Obviously we all know what happens, yet this chase is absolutely thrilling.
14. Going backwards on the highway and much more (“To Live and Die in L.A.”):
“To Live and Die in L.A.” is another clunky action movie that deserves to have slipped through the cracks of the movie gods. The sex scenes are, to be kind, ‘meh’. The plot and performances make “Lethal Weapon” look like “Schindler’s List”. It is way too long and there are so many moments that literally make no sense that it is maddening. Despite the flaws, the climactic car chase is absolutely incredible. William Peterson, best known for his role in, yep, you guessed it, CSI, plays a Secret Service Agent out to bring down a top-end money counterfeiter played by Willem DaFoe. That’s it. Really compelling stuff. No problem there, it’s just stupid in its production. Except for this phenomenal chase along the L.A. highways. Two unmarked cars are going at it, even including a sequence with the main character going the wrong way on a freeway exit. It all ends in the bad guys taking a dip in one of the L.A. ditches.
13. Destroying half of the San Francisco streets (“The Rock”):
Another thing I will never stop saying in reviews, I absolutely despise Michael Bay. Totally a piece of human garbage I wish would just go away. That being said, I give fair credit as always and the one good movie Bay made was “The Rock”. A mish-mash of classic Hollywood talent invading America’s most notorious prison,“The Rock”is admittedly a ton of fun when it comes to pure action. One of the best moments comes when stars Nicolas Cage and Sir Sean Connery are driving around San Fran destroying everything in front of them. Armed with a Hummer and Lambo, these stars don’t care if they destroy a car dealership or a traffic light. The only thing that saves these two stars is a ‘Muni Metro’ train operator not hunting these mo-fo’s down after destroying his train.
12. Utilizing the narrow streets of Paris (“Ronin”):
As a movie 1998’s spy thriller “Ronin”was a completely miscast collection of legendary actors not staying in their lane. Star Robert De Niro is an all time amazing actor. He is not an action star and the weakest link in an otherwise jaw dropping and beautifully choreographed chase scenes in Paris. A freelance group of U.S. Intelligence Agents led by De Niro are on the hunt for a mysterious package a government agent has that multiple agencies from other countries are dying to get their hands on as well. Standard spy stuff that finds other excellent actors like Sean Bean or Stellan Skarsgard in the wrong place, wrong movie. Should have called Tom Cruise and Liam Neeson. That said, this more than seven-minute-long vehicular battle in the streets of Paris is simply unbelievable. From tunnels to sidewalks, De Niro and his crew will stop at nothing to retrieve the package that could possibly have global ramifications. Add in Czech composer Elia Cmiral’s foot-thumping music (The only somewhat good film of his career, look him up on iMDB) and you’ve got one heck of a good time.
11. A potential suicide on the highway (“The Matrix: Reloaded”):
Another movie that in hindsight is not very good, the Wachowski Siblings did have one sequence in the second of their Sci-Fi trilogy. “The Matrix: Reloaded” has one of the craziest highway chases that the crew literally built a half mile long section of highway in real life that the filmmakers could destroy. In the world of “The Matrix” going onto a freeway is potential suicide as the great leader Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) says. The evil robot replications known as agents can take over the consciousness of any person still plugged in behind the wheel. On top of that, two evil albino twins are on the hunt for our heroes. Cop cars, semi-trucks, and several Cadillacs are destroyed in the process. But this sure is one hell of an action scene highlighted by a leather clad woman in Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) weaving through oncoming traffic like a F-ING BOSS!
10. A one-take struggle of insanity (“The Rhythm Section”):
One of the few movies to slip through the cracks before Covid-19 shut everything down in 2020, “The Rhythm Section” is an action movie that was surprisingly an original story and not a sequel or remake. Directed by Reed Morano (A female director, HELL YEAH!) the movie overall is truthfully just alright. I will give props to star Blake Lively who I did not know could take on a serious role and come out looking like she’s got some chops. Lively plays a former well-off member of an English family that was killed in a terrorist attack. Years of pain full of prostitution and drug use has Lively with nothing to lose. After running into and being trained by an MI-6 agent who lost his wife in the same terrorist bombing, Lively is determined to kill those responsible for killing her family. The height of her battle comes when she kills a mid-level terrorist leader. When she comes out of the room, security is ready to go and in an excellent one-take chase scene, the anti-hero is nearly killed multiple times. However, she will not be stopped on her mission.
9. Running from his past with a car (“The Bourne Identity”):
Plenty of great action scenes in the “Bourne” movies. The best overall movie in the series is the third installment for me. However, Matt Damon would be forced to doing boring dramatic roles over and over when the real fun is action movies if it wasn’t for this chase scene. Damon plays a super-spy in the first “The Bourne: Identity”. The man has no idea who he is but can straight-up own an entire crew of police officers in hand-to-hand combat before even having breakfast. This car chase is the true moment this went from being a one-off and instead became a viable action franchise. While the highlight is going down a long flight of stairs in a car, the key is when Bourne asks his newly met co-star played by Franka Potente that “This is your last chance to get out” as the cops are surrounding. She’s all in and now we’re off to the races.
8. A motorcycle versus a big rig (“Terminator 2: Judgement Day”):
This heated face off sums up the classic “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” in a five minute metaphor that is utterly amazing. Yep, the future savior of the human race John Connor is currently just a punk kid with his mom stuck in a mental institution. Two robots from the future are hunting him down, but which one wants to protect him? You’ve got the trusty old-timer Arnie coming with a shotgun versus the T-100 made out of liquid metal. It’s a dice-roll as this youngster realizes within a few seconds everything his mom has said for years is true. Kiddo hops on his tiny motorcycle in the mall parking garage and hopes to escape the silver liquid guy by going through the L.A. ditches. Nope, that advanced robot picks himself up a semi-truck. Then our hero Arnie must use his own motorcycle to protect the future savior of the world. A more advanced machine with a giant truck against Schwarzenegger with sunglasses and a motorcycle. Place your bets everyone.
7. Protecting the oil rig (“Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior”):
The “Mad Max” series is notorious for its post-apocalyptic car chases. Hell the latest and best installment “Fury Road” is essentially one long chase scene. But my favorite sequence is the climatic chase across the outback in “The Road Warrior”. Mel Gibson is the OG Max and one of the biggest badasses in history. In this installment everything is centered around oil and how everyone is battling over what is now the most valuable commodity in the world. Max stumbles upon a fortified compound with a group that has hundreds of gallons of the stuff. They are also constantly being attacked by a group of maniacs trying to get their hands on it. In a desperate escape attempt, Max drives out the oil tanker and is attacked by the entire gang of loons armed with crazy vehicles and weapons. This is one thrill ride that definitely earns the term “Mad”.
6. Escaping a robbery dressed as nuns (“The Town”):
After the critical success of his directorial debut “Gone Baby Gone” Ben Affleck decided to take a stab at good old fashion cops and robbers action. Turns out he knew what he was doing when he released “The Town”. Set in his hometown of Boston, a group of four skilled robbers from the slums run a calculated routine that has helped them avoid the cops for years. In one of the films’ most exciting heists, the crew goes after an armored car loaded with money. Things go wrong when one of the guards decides to fight back and gets himself shot in the process. Now every cop is after the getaway van. With filmmaker in Affleck that actually knows the streets he grew up in, the crew uses a series of side streets and tiny alleyways to evade the police before finally reaching the switch car. They do also utilize assault rifles to destroy cop cars along the way as well. They may be from the streets, but these guys are not stupid and know how to get away clean.
5. A lovable kid that can maneuver his ass off (“Baby Driver”):
“Baby Driver” has always been vastly overrated in my book. It is like hipsters in an upscale brewery talking about bullshit Neo-realism art without any ideas of their own was actually a movie. I like the music and Ansel Elgort was a solid choice to star, but there are so many stupid moments including a ridiculous ending that ‘Ham’ in John-‘Hamming’ it up. That said, this opening chase is absolute dynamite. Starting with Elgort jamming out in the car while three crooks rob a bank, the idea of the calm before the storm is turned up to eleven here. When the bad guys jump back in the car and point forward Baby rips off in reverse and it is on. This scene is almost more of a roller coaster than a chase, highlighted by some unbelievable stunt driver doing a 360 between two trucks in an alley. It’s just too bad things are all downhill from there.
4. Rednecks, Nazi’s, and every cop in Chicago can’t stop them (“The Blues Brothers”):
While the record has been surpassed (Michael Bay hadn’t started making movies yet), in 1980 the classic comedy/musical “The Blues Brothers” set the record for most cars destroyed. While some were wrecked in the early on chase through a mall, the bulk of the wreckage comes at the end with the two wanted Blues Brothers doing everything possible to reach a loan office in the heart of Chicago in order to pay money owed for their childhood orphanage. Starting off late at night and going all the way into the next morning, an endless armada of Chicago police cars are wrecked in a variety of hilarious ways. Not to mention the rednecks and Nazi vehicles also along for the ride. While the way in which the Nazi cars go down is awesome, the funniest moment for me is when Elwood tells his sleeping brother Jake he’s gotta pull over, and by pullover blasting through a guardrail on the highway on to a side road, resulting in a huge pile up of cop cars. A typical drive on your way home to “Sweet Home Chicago!”
3. Chasing an E-Train on the job (“The French Connection”):
Gene Hackman won an Oscar as the most hard-nosed cop in history that goes by the name Popeye in “The French Connection”. A NYC cop in the Narcotics Bureau, Popeye ain’t afraid to shake down even the most dangerous of bad guys. When he and his partner stumble upon an international drug trafficking ring with French nationals at the center of it all. In a breakthrough on the case, Popeye tracks down a top player in the whole ordeal and nearly catches the killer before he narrowly escapes on an L-Train. For most criminals you can call it a day. Not when Popeye is coming after you. He hops back into his car and literally chases a train from underneath while also having to dodge the busy New York traffic. Needless to say the tough as nails cop finally gets his man with the iconic shot in the back that ends the barely believable rundown.
2. Looking like a badass during a chase in the hills of San Francisco (“Bullitt”):
While Popeye might be the hard-ass, Steve McQueen is no doubt the coolest officer ever. Ford Motor Company owes billions of dollars over the years with McQueen donning a 1968 Ford Mustang while chasing bad guys around the hills of San Francisco in “Bullit”. McQueen plays the titular character, a no-nonsense cop who makes things look smooth. When an underworld kingpin has a witness under his protection killed, it becomes Bullit’s obsession to take this guy down. The climactic scene comes as the officer is chasing down a car full of bad hombres. While music is used in the build up, perhaps the most brilliant filmmaking decision was that as soon as it’s on the only sounds coming out of the speakers are revved up engines and crash cars, creating an in-your-face realistic feeling few action directors have the guts to attempt, let alone pull off like this.
1. Being smarter rather than faster while cops are in pursuit (“Drive”):
Director Nicholas Winding Refn revolutionized the idea of what a car chase was for me when he realeased his Cannes award winning film“Drive”. A car chase is supposed to have explosions and death defying stunts. Maybe you launch a character out of a parachute car seat ala multiple James Bond movies. Not here. “Drive” and its unnamed star played by Ryan Gosling doesn’t deal with all of the theatrics. A quiet thief, he looks at a situation and figures it out without being impulsive. This opening car chase which has Gosling driving the getaway car for two aimless thugs robbing something sets the tone. He uses the streets of L.A. as a cover and even goes so far as to follow one police car looking for his vehicle, all the while knowing he’s going to end up at a L.A. Clippers basketball game. This opening is not full of explosions. Instead, it is full of some of the greatest tension in movie history.