We take a look at ten of the best car chases to grace the big screen
Hollywood is a fickle place, where actors, directors and movies alike can be dropped at the same speed as they are picked up and celebrated. Car chases are special, though. Nothing sets an audiences heart racing quite like an adrenaline-fuelled pursuit through the heart of Berlin or on the cusp of an Alpine pass. Over the years there have been thousands, yet after much downloading, popcorn, and argument, we’ve decided on our top ten.
The Italian Job (1959)
Lets start with the classic, shall we? When Troy Kennedy Martin penned The Italian Job script, it lent itself instantly to a great car chase scene, what with a gold robbery, the mafia, a cockney gangster and three Mini Coopers. It failed to disappoint, with Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) leading an epic wild goose chase through the heart of Turin and into the Alps, with £4million dollars worth of gold on-board.
Car chases aren’t as essential to action movies they once were, but the 2004 film The Bourne Supremacy featured a gem. Set in Moscow, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) embarks on a gritty escape attempt from a corrupt Russian FSB agent (Karl Urban). With a bullet in the shoulder, Damon steals a yellow Volga taxi; hardly fair when his pursuer is behind the wheel of a Mercedes G-Wagen. Like the film itself the chase is intense, going over crossroads, cobbled streets and down staircases, before the crescendo sees both cars crash in an underpass.
Mustang vs Charger. Nothing more needs to be said really, however the chase scene itself lived on to become one of the most iconic of all time. Set in San Francisco, Hollywood’s coolest actor Steve McQueen plays the role of Lieutenant Frank Bullitt. Being tailed by a pair of hit-men in a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, Bullitt manoeuvres his 1968 Ford Mustang GT to fall behind them, and embark on an lengthy-yet-gripping pursuit, over the hills of San Fran and out on to the highway, where the ‘Stang nudges the Charger into a gas station and subsequent fireball.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Prepared by Max Balchowsky, the man who also maintained the Mustang and Charger in Bullitt, the 1970 Dodge ChallengerR/T helped the car become an all-time classic on the American highways and on the big screen. The chase-at-hand sees Barry Newman, portraying a car delivery driver named Kowalski, drive across Utah and Nevada with the police unable to catch him. Kowalski is referred to in the film as ‘the last American hero’, but in truth it was he who helped the Challenger become an American hero in its own right.
The Cannonball Run (1981)
Strictly speaking the entirety of The Cannonball Run is a car chase based on the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, with Wacky Racers connotations throughout. In essence the film is a parody, with Roger Moore comically depicting his James Bond-self in an Aston Martin DB5, Jackie Chan driving a Subaru GL (the joke being that both are asian even if Subaru are Japanese and Chan is Chinese), and Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis playing the role of a pair of 'good ol’ boys' in a NASCAR-liveries 1979 Chevrolet Malibu amongst others.
Die Another Day (2002)
Die Another Day is not the greatest Bond film ever produced, nor was the movie's star car the most iconic. The Aston Martin Vanquish was a suitable Bond car, but that invisibility cloak was simply too gimmicky. That said, it was the film that brought Bond kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and in the Bond vs Zao/Vanquish vs Jaguar XKR was a brilliant chase scene. Set in a rapidly melting ice palace, Bond is pursed by Zao’s missile-equipped XKR. Desperately seeking his drowning companion (Halle Berry), Bond crashes the Vanquish through a wall of ice to find her, but only after forcing Zao into pool of water, with a razor-sharp falling chandelier entrusted to finish the job.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
It’s unlikely that any film directed by a stuntman is to go without a car chase. Alas, in Hal Needham’s 1977 epic, a Pontiac Trans Am was enlisted as the star car, which in context was used to draw police attention away from a lorry carrying illegal bottles of Coors beer state-to-state. The second half of the film sees the Pontiac embroiled in a constant chase, with Bandit relying on the support of other truck drivers to help him, the cargo and the Trans Am evade the clutches of the cops.
BMW M5 vs Peugeot 406. Not the most enthralling prospect but in Ronin they became the stars of a movie that featured a number of chase scenes. John Frankenheimer directed the scenes (including our chase of choice), after gaining accolade for his scenes in Grand Prix (1966) and The French Connection (1975). Set in the capital of romance, Paris, this gritty chase saw gendarmes’ disposed of, civilian cars rolled, and in the face of the Parisian traffic, some of the most dynamic driving sequences ever filmed. And you've got to love the sound of that screeming M-Sport engine...
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Compared Casino Royale that went before it, Quantum of Solace was a bit of a flop. That said, the opening scene was one of the best in Bond history, as Daniel Craig is tailed in his Aston Martin DBS by a convoy of equally stylish Alfa Romeo 159s complete with machine guns, a maniac lorry driver, and a Land Rover Defender. Twisting through mountainside tunnels and across a quarry, the chase sees a number of dynamic driving manoeuvres (including a high speed in a two-way tunnel) both on road and off-road.
The Longest Yard (1974)
We end with a comical scene featuring a 1972 Citroen SM. Piloted by Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds), the SM is chased through sub-urban Florida by the 5.0, with a drunken Crewe behind the wheel of the French export. During the chase, the car's legendary soft suspension helps Crewe jump off a bridge and away from his pursuers, before ditching the Citroen in the sea.