Inspired by the pursuit of the three Minis through Turin in The Italian Job, I decided it was time to stake my claim to the best car chases. Honestly, there are so many great choices that I had to eliminate a horde of worthy contenders. These five (and the two near-misses) stand as the most original, intense sequences that I’ve ever seen on screen. Also, the common thread is a minimum of CGI, which can look impressive but lacks the in-your-face tone of practical effects. Without further unnecessary rambling, let’s get to the list!
The Bourne trilogy contains many exciting chases, but few could match the simplicity of watching Bourne (Matt Damon) and Marie (Franka Potente) elude French police and the CIA in the crowded streets of Paris. Driving a Mini-Cooper, they race down steps and through narrow alleys, which is a nice homage to The Italian Job. With Death Proof, Tarantino takes a much different approach and delivers a high-voltage thrill ride in muscle cars. Zoe Bell does remarkable stunts aboard the hood of a 1970 Dodge Challenger while they’re pursued by the vicious Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). That’s only the first stage, and Bell and her pals deliver fist-pumping retribution by the end.
5. The Road Warrior (1982)
I discussed this sequence in my post during the We’re All Dead! Marathon, so I won’t go into too much detail. Basically, the final act of the movie includes a white-knuckle chase sequence involving a big-rig truck, motorcycles, and many other vehicles. George Miller puts us right in the middle of the action, which doesn’t let up until the explosive finale.
4. Bullitt (1968)
I didn’t see this Steve McQueen cop thriller until a few years back, and I expected the highly praised chase sequence to be a letdown. How could it live up to the hype? Amazingly, watching McQueen speed a Ford Mustang through the hills of San Francisco actually exceeds the acclaim. This 10-minute pursuit reaches unbelievable speeds as the Mustang tries to catch an equally adept Dodge Charger.
3. Ronin (1998)
This remarkable John Frankenheimer thriller includes two stunning chases that rank among the best ever filmed. For this list, I’ve chosen the Paris chase through the tunnels under the Seine, which takes place later in the movie. The genius of this sequence is sending Robert DeNiro’s Peugeot against the flow of oncoming traffic at high speeds. It’s the highlight of an underrated movie that improves on repeat viewings.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
I nearly forgot the truck sequence from this Spielberg film because there are so many classic moments in this movie. Yes, it begins with our hero riding a horse, but it still qualifies for me. The combination of music, pitch-perfect editing, and remarkable stunts makes this one of those sequences that you never forget. Indiana Jones is not a superhero, which makes his daring attempts to grab the Ark even more riveting. This is Hollywood moviemaking of the highest caliber, and it’s only a small part of this consistently exciting movie.
1. The French Connection (1971)
I know this is an obvious pick, but I’ve yet to see a car chase that can match the intensity of watching Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) race through the streets of New York City. Pursuing a drug dealer in an elevated train, Doyle drives at ridiculous speeds and barely avoids other cars and even a baby carriage. The reason this chase rises above the rest is the direction of William Friedkin, who places us inside the car and raises the intensity to an almost-unbearable pitch.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list. What are your favorite car chases? You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them.
Next week, I’ll be heading to the bank to watch Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer match wits in 1978's The Silent Partner.