The five best movie car chases of all time

by Will Thompson

OK, settle in. This is gonna be a long post, especially if you watch all the movies.

After running across a YouTube clip from The Driver, I decided that my first actual post on this blog should be a subject that touches the heart of almost every car guy or girl: car chases. I have no idea why movies today don’t have good car chase scenes. I think a lot of the problem is that modern CGI technology gives moviemakers an easy way to fake the incredible stunts that helped make older movies with car chases so great. Call it The Matrix Effect.

Anyway, here are Autoblogger.net’s top five best car chases of all time, in reverse order:

5.) The Seven-Ups

Summary:
This is one of the coolest car chases in a movie that not a lot of folks have seen. The ending was especially good on this one, and car chase endings are a sticky point for me.

Memories:
Does anyone else my age (mid 30s) have memories of riding around in those giant land yachts from the early 70s with gobs of torque and big cubic inch engines? Those things practically floated on air, and the door handles nearly scraped when going around a curve because the suspension was so soft. I think those cars were purposefully engineered to put kids asleep in the back seat.

Notes:
An interesting thing to keep an eye on here is the driver of the land yacht. You’ll be seeing him again in this list. The bad guy in the passenger seat of the land yacht is obviously a rookie at getting chased. He pretty much wigs out the whole time, flailing his arms, holding on to the grab handle, and generally looking like a big wuss. Come on, bad guy. In the words of Tom Landry, act like you’ve been there before!

4.) The Blues Brothers

Summary:
One of the most classic catastrophic car chases in movie history. I think this movie wiped out every mid 70s Dodge Monaco in Illinois. It touches a pet peeve of mine for realism for the Bluesmobile being a “magic car”, but in the end it makes up for it by dropping a Ford Pinto station wagon (containing Illinois Nazis) from a height so tall the filmmakers had to get FAA certification. Looking back, it was the only humane thing to do to the Pinto.

Memories:
“It’s got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say, is it the new Bluesmobile or what?”

Notes:
At the time of its release, this movie held the world record for number of cars crashed. In a 1998 interview for Universal, John Landis credited mob help for getting permission from the Cook County Board of Commissioners for this (alluding to the Board being mob-controlled at that time). The political outrage for the damage caused by this car chase actually caused the mayor of Chicago to lose a bid for re-election.

3.) The French Connection

Summary:
The car chase in this movie is groundbreaking for a couple different reasons. First off, the car isn’t chasing another car, but rather a train. Second, the car chase doesn’t take place on deserted city streets. This chase is set in a populated area with lots of traffic and pedestrians. This makes the chase a bit more real.

Memories:
Gene Hackman is an incredible actor, and The French Connection was an outstanding role for him. The groundbreaking nature of this chase bumps it up the list a notch or two.

Notes:
Anyone who’s ever played Grand Theft Auto III will recognize the overhead train track. Matter of fact, if you were to turn left at the place where Popeye sideswipes the first car and spins out, you’d be in Triad territory.

2.) Gone in Sixty Seconds

Summary:
This was an incredibly hard decision for me. I have seen this movie over 200 times, and I love the car chase. The final reason I couldn’t put this one #1 is because they used the friggin’ CGI for the very end of the chase. Short of that one thing, this car chase has everything you could want: a badass main car (1967 Mustang Shelby GT500), a swarm of cops and cop crashes (police Crown Vic meets front end loader), an incredible amount of ancillary action (keep an eye on the right side of the street when the first black and white pulls alongside Memphis in the alley), a chase through the LA aqueducts (a computer game staple), outrunning a helicopter, and a friggin’ demolition ball knocking a rent-a-cop through a building. All of a sudden my heart’s beating really fast and I’m not getting enough oxygen and I think I might pass out.

Memories:
When the wife and I saw this movie in the theater, we got into a fight on the way home because I made a comment about wanting nitrous on my Chevelle (it’s plenty fast enough to get me in trouble now). She also loves this chase scene and never fails to jump when Memphis is backing up and the passenger side mirror gets knocked off. The little kid smiling at Memphis (who flashes a smile right back) never fails to put a stupid grin on my face. Good times all around.

Notes:
This is such a monumental movie for car guys that it inspired a whole aftermarket movement for people to not only buy parts to make their Mustangs look like Eleanor, but for a while there you could actually get an Eleanor replica built specifically for you. The original car design was done by the now-famous TV car life-changer Chip Foose. There are two big uses of CGI in the final chase scene. The first was the out of control pressurized tank that flies around at the shipyard. The tank it self was real, as were the movements. The smoke was drawn in during post-production. Not a real big deal in my book. The second big use of CGI was, of course, Eleanor jumping over the accident on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. In the end, this is what keeps this from being the best car chase of all time.

Part 1:

Part 2:

1.) Bullitt

Memories:
Ford produced Bullitt edition Mustangs with the same color and wheels as this one in 2001. I remember seeing a promo clip of Chad McQueen, Steve’s son, abusing one around the streets of San Francisco. Lots of history here. It’s impossible to count how many video games I’m played that had the same San Franscisco streets race course where you jumped down the big hills that flattened out only for the cross streets. In one of my games I have for XBox, you can even drive a dark Dodge Charger. That’s a seriously influential car chase. The hitmen in the Charger kill me every time I watch this clip. These are not the hitmen of today’s movies. These are nattily dressed, crew cut-sporting, cool-headed hitmen who don’t get upset at anything. They don’t talk. Nobody’s yelling, and the gunman in the passenger seat never reaches for a grab handle. It’s a day at work for these two; and when the driver of the Charger put on his seat belt, that’s when you know something’s about to go down!

Notes:
Keep an eye on the rear wheels of the Mustang right when Steve McQueen misses a turn and has to back it up. Check out the wheelhop in reverse, and I think I see an open differential (only one wheel spinning) when he takes off back up the hill. I have absolutely no idea why this one’s not a posi. A posi would leave much cooler black marks when you spin your tires all the way up a hill. Remember that guy from #5, the driver of the land yacht? The same actor is driving the Dodge Charger in this chase scene. That guy, Bill Hickman, was James Dean’s driver in 1955 when the latter was killed after a roadside accident. Hickman, driving the Ford station-wagon and trailer that hauled Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder, was the first on the scene when he came upon the accident.

Honorable mention:
Ronin, Diamonds are Forever, The Driver, Smokey and the Bandit, To Live and Die in LA, Vanishing Point, Matrix:Reloaded, Hooper

I want to give a quick thanks to Dave over at www.youtubedigger.com for helping me out with this post. If you want to see more quality videos, check him out.

–Will Thompson

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45 Responses to “The five best movie car chases of all time”

  1. joe dirt Says:

    Did you ever check out the ORIGINAL
    gone in 60 seconds car chase?

  2. Will Thompson Says:

    Sure did, Joe. Got it on DVD.

    Matter of fact, H.D. Halicki had a writing credit on the 2000 version.

    I liked the original movie, but it was basically a stunt show with a plot added in afterward. Not like I’m complaining, though.

  3. m stern Says:

    hmm…i say the original italian job should get an honorable mention. “this is the self preservation society…” (maybe the remake too.)

  4. Will Thompson Says:

    I gotta rent the original version. I’ve heard a few times that I need to see it, but I haven’t yet.

    The remake was pretty cool, though.

  5. DaveP Says:

    Great article, I enjoyed watching all of those chases :)

    m stern is right though, the original Italian Job chase is probably my favourite ever! You’ve got to try and watch it some time!

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  12. Mjuboy Says:

    Gone in 60 seconds is my personal favourite!!

  13. LearningNerd Says:

    Hey, great post! I’ll have to bookmark it and come back to watch every clip. :) Nothing like a good car chase. Have you seen “Deja Vu”? I didn’t really like the movie, but they had an interesting idea for a car chase where the guy is chasing someone who isn’t there, but was there four days in the past.

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  37. Kevin Welch Says:

    Hey Will,

    My friend forwarded your top 5 car chases of all time.
    Sweet 5. I have to bring one up that I believe you would have to have in your top 5 or 10 if you have seen it. It is in my top 5. Before I tell you what it is, let me give you some of the dirt on the chase:

    1) Very crowded European streets, or perhaps in Moscow

    2) The good guy has been shot and actually tries to alleviate the pain MID CHASE.

    3) It involves a BMW taxi and a Land Rover, if I remember the cars correctly off the top of my head, instead of any muscle cars. Sorry, I don’t have the DVD to check for sure.

    4) I don’t know enough about CGI use in movies, but this chase looks as authentic as any I have ever seen.

    5) An ending to the chase that I believe would rank worthy in your ideas of artistic, though realistic.

    The movie is: Bourne Supremacy, the good guy being Matt Damon. If you have seen the movie, then please explain how this is not even an honorable mention.
    If you have not seen the movie, you owe it to yourself to the enjoyment. You may wish to see the first in the soon to be trilogy, Bourne Identity. Bourne Ultimatum comes out this August.

    I would be interested in your feedback.

    Sincerely,

    Kevin Welch

  38. Will Thompson Says:

    Kevin,

    I saw the first movie, but I haven’t seen the second or third.

    This is another movie I will be checking out in the near future. Thanks for tipping me off to another great car chase, and thanks for reading!

    –Will

  39. Kevin Welch Says:

    Great, Will.

    When you do see Bourne Supremacy, please let me know where you would fit the car chase into your top 5, 10, honorable mention. I think you will give it serious consideration.

    Thanks,

    Kevin

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    The Best Movie Car Chases Of All Time…

    Will over at Automotive Blogger posted a great article revealing what are the 5 best movie car chases of all time in his opinion. He showed clips of them all from YouTube, and I enjoyed the post so much, I thought I’d share it with my readers/vie…

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