10 Most Intense Car Chases In Movie History
If classic action movies have taught us one thing, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a thrilling car chase. Burning rubber, screeching tires and roaring engines are guaranteed to get anyone clinging to the edge of their seat with anticipation as they push their trusty vehicle to the absolute limit.
Where once the car chase was a real treat to watch, it now feels like every street level thug has some sort of access to a supercharged getaway car to lead police in a wild goose chase. Now, the constant presence of the car chase in every action movie means that there are plenty of cookie-cutter sequences. Some are high-speed thrill rides, whereas some are about as enthralling as being stuck in gridlock traffic.
Whether it’s through death-defying stunts, clever editing and cinematography or just a sheer sense of speed, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned car chase. Here are the best of the best.
10. The Matrix Reloaded
While you might not have as much respect for the later Matrix movies, the lengthy freeway chase at the heart of The Matrix Reloaded featuring Trinity and Morpheus is a must-see.
Peppered with bullets from the Twins, Morpheus and Trinity try to escape in a Cadillac that seems incapable of being fully crushed. Filled with absolute carnage, they speed along the freeway whilst cars are flipped, scrape against trucks, and just generally get thrown around in a way only a Wachowski-level production budget could have allowed.
Flitting both inside and outside the Cadillac, we’re treated to both long-range shoot-outs and expert hand-to-hand combat inside the car thanks to one of the Twins’ phasing inside and holding Morpheus at knifepoint. Littered with stunts and crashes, we are promised action as soon as Trinity reminds us that Morpheus warned her never to drive on the freeway for fear of it being “suicide”. We’re promised action, and boy is it delivered.
Punctuated by a deep, electronic score and filled with impressive bullet time moments and total destruction, this is easily one of the most visually impressive car chases ever seen in the cinema.
9. Bad Boys II
Bad Boys II’s Highway chase scene is another example of a film which may not have gone down all that well with critics, but nevertheless has an amazing scene at its core. If Michael Bay can do anything, it’s over the top action. It’s no wonder their chief pulls them over the coals after this chase solves nothing and just ends up causing more chaos for the sake of it.
This intense firefight dominates an open road, with gang members trying to evade pursuit by both the police and our eponymous heroes, Marcus (Martin Lawrence) and Mike (Will Smith). Here, we’re treated to the pair chasing down a giant car carrier trailer as it slams its way through traffic, devastating everything in its path.
Unique camera work and huge budgets make for maximum carnage as the gang dump cars off the back of the lorry into the open road, all the while tension is ratcheted up as the two bad boys’ partnership begins to deteriorate. Lawrence and Smith are charismatic in their lead roles and carry the scene in their stride as we get escalating explosions and pile ups.
8. Mad Max: Fury Road
Being a franchise so dependent on its killer vehicles, Mad Max has to have amazing chase scenes. However, none of Mel Gibson’s original run comes close to the anarchic thrill ride of Mad Max: Fury Road.
The chase in question has got to be the one that finally unites Max and Furiosa as they escape Immortan Joe with his wives. Each enemy is treated as mere fodder in this scene, they serve only to try and hamper or sabotage the ceaseless pursuit of the War Rig through the sand dunes as they throw themselves at the giant truck with reckless abandon.
Lurid stunt jumps, a continuously stirring score and pinpoint accurate shoot-outs with the pursuers makes for a truly pulse-pounding chase through Mad Max’s sandblasted apocalyptic landscape.
This scene is important narratively speaking too; it shows us just how good of a team Furiosa and Max are going to be, even if they are really only working together out of pure survival. Ultimately, this is a top-level action scene, delivering truly edge-of-your-seat thrills through expert stunt choreography, the looming threat of horrendous fascist dictator Immortan Joe, and a great attention to continuity and detail at every turn.
Like many of Drive’s most memorable moments, this one is a short but sweet sequence that allows Ryan Gosling to fully embody the stoic, violent and emotionless action lead that Driver requires. Here, we feel a much stronger sense of urgency more than anything else; Gosling isn’t yet sure who is pursuing him and low-level crook Blanche just yet, but he knows they need to get away from the motel, and fast.
The genius is having the pursuing car having pulled up before the robbery the Driver is helping with goes sour. That car is in the back of our minds the whole time, and it’s only when the chase takes off that it becomes as important. Intermittent cuts compress time and space, making the acceleration feel all that more pronounced and therefore making the chase all the more exhilarating.
Culminating in a wicked little backward maneouvre that shows just how well Gosling’s unnamed driver knows his way round his stolen 2011 Ford Mustang, Drive’s most thrilling chase shows just how stylish you can be when you direct a chase scene that is sadly all too brief.
6. The Blues Brothers
The American comedy band The Blues Brothers might not spring to mind immediately when you think of amazing car chases, but their cult classic movie absolutely should. Elwood definitely proves his ‘motorhead’ status once the police start crashing through the doors and windows of the Dixie Square Mall in hot pursuit of the Bluesmobile.
Here, we’re treated to a huge number of police cars careening through shop windows and frightening the living daylights out of fleeing shoppers, all the while Jon Belushi and Dan Akroyd (Jake and Elwood respectively) casually whip around the Dixie Square mall quipping about the sheer variety of items found within. Comedy and action are balanced against each other perfectly, all the while we’re treated to absolute mayhem on screen.
This sequence is every bit as ridiculous as it is brilliant. Whipping these police cars and the Bluesmobile around the pedestrian corridors must have taken incredible skill, and this is all captured with perfectly framed cinematography and some impressive stunts are thrown in for good measure. Set against a light-hearted ska backing track, the tension disappears into the good-natured digs of the two brothers within the miraculously safe (and iconic) Bluesmobile.
5. Baby Driver
Baby Driver was every bit as slick and stylish as Edgar Wright desired it to be. Few other films show off just how integral a good driver is to pulling off expert crimes, and even fewer have as killer a soundtrack as Wright’s masterpiece.
Choosing to keep us in the car with a naive, miming Ansel Elgort initially keeps everything up-beat and innocent, making the shift to high-octane chase all that more impactful. What follows is an ingenious chase, with Baby taking his own unique route through the city and always having some sort of answer for the ever-increasing number of police cars at his heels.
Whether it’s the infamous hand-brake spin around the parked caravan, tricking the police chopper on the highway by matching speed with other similar cars, or hitting a spike-rig at just the right angle that it busts the tires of the cops, Elgort displays a control over his vehicle few movie characters have matched.
Being choreographed with precision to the escalating bass solos of Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’ keeps the pace feeling highly strung, maintaining this thrill ride right to its very end.
Ronin might have an overblown and convoluted storyline, but it does feature an utterly brilliant chase through the streets of Paris that’s sure to excite any petrolhead.
Extensive use of car point-of-view shots show just how precise and risky so many of these stunts are, making sure we know exactly how much risk there is in tearing through the busy French capital. It’s no wonder the chase required the expertise and talent of professional racing drivers to truly sell it. Shocking stunts and an ever-increasing sense of absolute threat ensures we’re on tenterhooks the whole time De Niro is in hot pursuit of rival Irish operative Deidre.
By taking us down into the oncoming traffic of a bustling Parisian underpass and featuring an explosive, brutal pile-up midway through the chase, Ronin guns for absolute mayhem and completely achieves it. Director John Frankenheimer was determined to use practical effects to create a real sense of danger, even when CGI was freely available, which meant putting everyone through professional high performance driving training.
Visceral, pulse-pounding and immaculately orchestrated, Ronin’s Parisian car chase is one of the all-time greats of the genre.
3. Italian Job
The original Italian job was the first feature film that cemented the career of now-legendary stunt coordinator and driver Remy Julienne, and it’s clear why. The Italian Job features so many driving stunts that have been aped countless times over in popular culture, and of course finishes with that genius – and literal – “cliffhanger” ending.
While Caine’s cockney criminal Charlie Croker barking orders from the passenger seat keeps the whole sequence feeling light-hearted, his gang of thieves attempt truly death-defying stunts as they find the easiest exit route off the roof of the Fiat factory by way of a ramp and a 60ft stunt jump that Turin’s police are simply too scared to even try.
Once Caine’s gang have successfully evaded the police, watching the three Mini Coopers tear through the shops and streets of Turin and then out into the surrounding mountains remains every bit as entertaining today as it once was. If only we’d gotten to see what Charlie Croker’s great idea would have been in the planned sequel.
2. The French Connection
To have a list of car chases without mentioning William Friedkin would be completely impossible, and it’s arguable that The French Connection exhibits him at his very best. Here, we see a manic Gene Hackman as Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle behind the wheel of a commandeered 1971 Pontiac LeMans as he chucks this car frantically around the streets of New York, in hot pursuit of who he thinks is known heroin smuggler Alain Charnier.
What makes this particular chase so special is that for many of its iconic sections, the action was partially improvised. Some of the crashes that made the final cut are actually stunts that were supposed to be near-misses but were left in to heighten Popeye’s desperation. This is a messy chase, and we get to see it in all its glory as Popeye’s Pontiac endures more and more damage as he hurtles his way underneath the speeding train.
With the innovative use of under-the-bumper camera placement creating a blistering sense of speed – and the vicious turns and traffic all presenting more and more obstacles for Hackman to dodge – this is undoubtedly one of the most desperate, gripping chases you’ll ever watch.
You simply can’t top a classic.
A lover of fast cars himself, Steve McQueen practically invented the modern car chase behind the wheel of his Ford Mustang when he starred in Bullitt. It’s lengthy chase shows that you don’t need plenty of flashy explosions, overbearing firepower or even dialogue to make a chase scene tense – just some really fast cars.
We hear only roaring engines of the Dodge Charger that McQueen chases down in his own equally powerful 1968 Ford Mustang, allowing the scene to speak for itself and simply exude speed above all else. This is a race which requires concentration and rewards only the steeliest nerve.
Having already outwitted the hitmen and making himself the hunter after bouncing down the hills of San Francisco, Bullitt’s chase culminates in a perfectly timed ramming attack that sends the Charger straight into a petrol station that goes up in a blaze. He then skids to a halt just over a ditch, looking effortlessly cool in the process.
Bullitt’s chase feels at once chaotic and yet totally under control. You never feel that McQueen is ever going to be bested, and the shock end to this sequence only proves this.