From “The French Connection” and “Ronin” to “The Fast and the Furious,” the car-chase scene has evolved beautifully over the years.
Maybe it’s the incredible talent of stunt drivers (and added visual effects in the last 30 years) that makes you feel you’re in danger even though you’re comfortably in your seat, or the high stakes of the moment in which the characters we’re rooting for will either get out of the situation or have a gruesome finale, but an impressive car-chase scene can make even a mediocre movie a beloved classic.
The “Fast and Furious” movies have collectively taken the car chase to the next level. To prepare you for the latest movie in the franchise, “The Fate of the Furious” (opening April 14), we decided to look back on the best car chases ever pulled off.
See where the memorable chases from movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and “Bullitt” rank on our list:
28. “The Rock” (1996)
Before Michael Bay brought nerve gas to Alcatraz, he had a Hummer wreak havoc on the streets of San Francisco. When John Mason (Sean Connery) tries to make a run for it in the beginning of the movie, he hops into a Hummer, and let’s just say he doesn’t obey traffic laws. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) is honestly no better in a commandeered Ferrari.
27. “Lucy” (2014)
After taking a dangerous synthetic drug that has given her special powers, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is on the hunt for the person responsible for making her this way. In Paris she thinks she’s got a lead on one of the bad guys through sensing people’s data on their devices and thus begins her insane chase to find the person through rush-hour traffic. At one point driving on the sidewalk, she never gets a scratch on her car, but she leaves destruction in her wake.
26. “The Italian Job” (2003)
Though the original “The Italian Job” had a great chase with Mini cars, it’s the 2003 reboot that really pushed the envelope. The custom-made Mini Coopers featured in the scene in which Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Jason Statham race through underground Los Angeles had to be built with electric motors, as combustible engines aren’t allowed in the subway tunnels they shot in. And most of the actors did their own stunt driving.
Fun fact: “Fate of the Furious” director F. Gary Gray also helmed this movie.
25. “The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974)
There have been plenty of car chases in the James Bond franchise, but one that stands out is when Bond (Roger Moore) does a corkscrew jump with an AMC Hornet X in 1974’s “The Man with the Golden Gun.” The stunt was shot with eight cameras and amazingly was pulled off in the first take. Now only if we can take out the slide-whistle sound effect used in the final version.
24. “The Fast and the Furious” (2001)
It’s the one that started it all. Compared to what the “Fast and Furious” franchise does now, the chases in the 2001 original are quite tame, other than the final one. As Brian (Paul Walker) chases Dom (Vin Diesel), the two stop at a streetlight and have a race to a train track with a moving train heading their way. The two jump the track just before the train gets there but Dom ends up hitting a truck that causes his car to flip in the air over Brian’s. The moment still holds up.
23. “Mad Max” (1979)
George Miller introduced us to Mel Gibson’s iconic character Max in 1979’s “Mad Max” with his encounter with the crazed Nightrider (Vince Gill). The movie begins with Nightrider racing away from the highway patrol in a stolen police cruiser with his girlfriend. Eluding numerous officers, he’s finally matched up with Max, which doesn’t end well. With Max hot on their tail, Nightrider and his girlfriend are killed when they crash into a truck on the side of the road.
22. “The Seven-Ups” (1973)
Roy Scheider plays a member of a New York City division of police that arrests criminals using drastic measures. For one case, he goes on a crazed chase to try to catch the bad guys. Speeding through busy Manhattan traffic and even a side street filled with kids, he ends up on the Taconic State Parkway, where he’s nearly killed when he runs into the back of a parked tractor trailer and the top of the car is sliced off.
This was just one of the memorable stunts in the career of famed driver Bill Hickman (who also did stunt driving in “Bullitt” and “The French Connection”).
21. “Drive” (2011)
Ryan Gosling plays it cool as the getaway driver in the opening of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller about a guy who is really good behind the wheel. Playing cat and mouse with the LAPD, Gosling never utters as word, and Refn has the roar of the engine and Cliff Martinez’s incredible score guide us through the chase.
20. “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry” (1974)
Peter Fonda plays a wannabe NASCAR star who holds up a supermarket with his friend, as they want to use the cash to get into the racing business. After they pick up a one-night stand, the group goes on an insane race from police. But all the fun ends suddenly in the final shot when they are killed after being hit by a train.
19. “The Driver” (1978)
Nicolas Winding Refn was certainly inspired to make “Drive” after seeing this similarly somber chase movie. Here Ryan O’Neal plays the unnamed driver who has a knack for getting out of tight spots. Like in the middle of the movie when he’s in a red Chevy pickup truck and has to play chicken with some bad guys in a Trans Am to escape.
18. “Gone in 60 Seconds” (1974)
Forget about the Nicolas Cage/Angelina Jolie 2000 movie — the original version has an authenticity that the remake and numerous other movies have unsuccessfully tried to duplicate. The highlight is the movie’s 40-minute chase scene, in which 93 cars are wrecked in the process.
17. “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004)
Matt Damon completely demolishes a Moscow cab in this Jason Bourne movie. Racing from the bad guy at the end of the movie, Bourne is not discreet in his getaway tactics. He pinballs off of numerous cars and intentionally rams into a few more to survive.
16. “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003)
Though the movie isn’t as universally acclaimed as the first “Matrix,” it does have an insane highway chase sequence, filled with agents replacing drivers and a whole lot of gunshots.
15. “John Wick” (2014)
Just when you thought Keanu Reeves had no other new ways to kill a man in “John Wick,” we are then presented with “car-fu” at the end of the movie. Reeves, as Wick, tracks down the head of the Russian crime syndicate responsible for killing his dog and proceeds to destroy the two Suburbans accompanying the boss, killing the men inside without ever leaving his car.
14. “Wanted” (2008)
While in her badass phase, Angelina Jolie pulled off one of the most insane (and very improbable, but hey, it’s only a movie) car moves in the underrated 2008 actioner “Wanted.” During a scene in which she and James McAvoy are being chased, she fights off the bad guy by hanging out of the windshield and shooting while she’s steering the car with her foot.
13. “Fast Five” (2011)
It’s the movie that got the franchise back on track and has arguably the best chase scene of the movies yet. In the finale, the crew breaks into a police station and steals an entire vault of money, leading to a high-speed chase through the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
12. “Death Proof” (2007)
Quentin Tarantino. Kurt Russell. A death-proof car. Why would you not watch this? And the ending is a great payoff. After “Stuntman” Mike (Russell) thinks he’s caused another death, he’s surprised to find that the women he ran off the road have caught up to him. After a chase that leads to him being run off the road, the women beat the heck out of Mike until the movie ends.
11. “Duel” (1971)
Four years before Steven Spielberg changed the movie business with “Jaws,” he came out with this TV movie and made us scared of big rigs. Dennis Weaver plays David, a businessman who passes a slow-moving truck on a two-lane highway, and it turns out to be the biggest mistake of his life. The truck begins to follow him and before you know it the evil truck and its driver are tormenting David. What could be laughable turns into a tense thriller thanks to the mastery of Spielberg.
10. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
In George Miller’s latest installment of the “Mad Max” franchise, the legendary director delivers a thrilling chase that is beautifully lush and diabolically violent. With Furiosa (Charlize Theron) racing to get the wives away from Immortan Joe, she and inevitably Max have to battle all sorts, leading to insane explosions and gunfights. WITNESS ME!!
9. “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977)
Burt Reynolds became a 1970s icon thanks to this movie, in which he plays the wise-cracking moonshiner Bo “Bandit” Darville. And the movie itself became legendary thanks to his character jumping a defunct bridge with his Trans Am. To pull off the stunt, the car was strapped with a booster rocket and the car was driven by the director of the movie, Hal Needham, who happened to also be Reynolds’ longtime stuntman.
8. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
On the run from the evil T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), John Connor (Edward Furlong) races away on his motorbike only to be chased by the T-1000, who has taken over a truck. The scene is already intense with the truck bashing through everything and jumping a bridge to continue chasing John. But then the Terminator arrives on a Harley-Davidson sporting a shotgun he twirls to reload. There’s so much to love about this chase.
7. “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981)
The “Mad Max” franchise really comes into its own with the sequel. What makes it so memorable is the chase scene in the climax. Max (Mel Gibson) is driving the tanker presumably full of gasoline to get Lord Humungus and his crew to follow him while the people Humungus has been tormenting are free to escape. It’s an intense battle that ends with twisted metal and a surprise reveal (spoiler: the tanker is full of sand).
6. “Vanishing Point” (1971)
Set during the unsteady times of the Vietnam War, the movie follows car delivery driver Kowalski (Barry Newman), who bets he can deliver a 1970 Dodge Charger from Denver to San Francisco by 3 p.m. the next day. Thus begins a Benzedrine-fueled ride that has him one the run from motorcycle police and eventually the entire California Highway Patrol. As you would imagine, it doesn’t end well for him.
5. “The Blues Brothers” (1980)
“There’s 106 miles to Chicago. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses.” With that line from Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd), we are given one of the most entertaining car chases ever put on the big screen. With the money to save the Catholic orphanage they grew up in, Elwood and his brother Jake (John Belushi) lead an insane chase that includes police, a rival band, and the Illinois Nazis to downtown Chicago. In the process, director John Landis went through 60 police cars and 40 stunt drivers.
4. “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985)
Legend has it that director William Friedkin was driving home from a wedding once when he dozed off at the wheel and awoke to find himself driving on the wrong side of the road. For 20 years, he tried to figure out a way to get that into a film, and he finally did it with this one. When partners Richard Chance (William Petersen) and John Vukovich (John Pankow) are chased by gangsters, Richard drives through parking lots filled with semi-trucks and LA’s flood control channels to try to lose them. It’s not until he starts driving the wrong way on the freeway that they lose them. The precision of gunshots and cars coming out of nowhere to attack Chance and Vukovich’s car is poetry to watch.
3. “Ronin” (1998)
Director John Frankenheimer, a former amateur race driver, took his love of fast cars and created numerous chases in this caper starring Robert De Niro. But the standout is the final one, which was shot throughout Paris and had up to 300 stunt drivers. De Niro and Jean Reno’s characters are in hot pursuit of a car containing a briefcase they’ve been trying to get the whole movie. Not many movie chases give you the feeling that the actual cars being filmed are going fast. But this one does, which adds to the thrill. The cars went up to speeds of 120 miles per hour while filming.
2. “Bullitt” (1968)
Steve McQueen loved fast cars as much as the movies, and he was able to get both in this classic, which is considered the the first modern-day car-chase movie. He plays a San Francisco cop who, while on the hunt for an underworld kingpin, is constantly in pursuit while behind the wheel of his 1968 Ford Mustang GT. The highlight is a 10-minute chase Frank Bullitt (McQueen) has with a hitman. The scene revolutionized how car chases would forever be seen in movies.
1. “The French Connection” (1971)
You thought William Friedkin was ambitious with his chase in “To Live and Die in L.A.”? That’s only because he had to try to top what he did in this movie. If “Bullitt” revolutionized the car-chase scene, then “The French Connection” gave it a reality never seen before. With Friedkin’s dashboard camera and handheld camerawork, not to mention the ferocious acting of Gene Hackman, the movie’s chase beats ever other one out there.
Nearly missed in a sniper attack, Popeye Doyle (Hackman) chases the shooter to an elevated train. Doyle then commandeers a car and floors it to numerous station stops, almost hitting a woman crossing the street with a stroller in the process, before catching up with the shooter and killing him. The feel of being right there with Doyle in the car is what makes the scene so thrilling. By the end, you’re as exhausted as he is — in a great way.