20: The Dark Knight
Considering that the Batmobile is Batman’s best-known asset, certainly more famous than his teenage sidekick, it’s a surprise there aren’t more classic car chases in the Caped Crusader’s canon. That's something Christopher Nolan has attempted to redress, with a breathless freeway pursuit in Batman Begins and this relentless rolling battle from the Dark Knight. Having the mortally stricken Tumbler disgorge a combat motorcycle before it self-destructs is a master stroke that had cinema audiences cheering and might even provoke an involuntary whoop when you watch on DVD.
19: Who Am I?
Best known for his fearless physical stunts in a long series of light-hearted chopsocky movies, Jackie Chan here puts his own signature twist on the car chase. The principal innovation is the employment of loose gravel as a weapon.
One of countless 1970s cop dramas characterized by squealing tyres and wild automotive destruction, Freebie and The Beandeserves a mention just for The Bean’s sheer good sense. How many other hard-driving American cops had the foresight to bring a helmet along in case a high speed pursuit came up?
The only foreign language film on our countdown but the international language of fearless stunt work is understood in any country with more than 100 yards of tarmac. If you've only ever seen the Hollywood remake, you haven't seen Taxi. Be sure to hunt down the French original.
The Fast and the Furious is a film franchise that exists purely to house some of the most unapologetically, irredeemably irresponsible driving stunts in cinema. It’s hard to pick one example from a franchise that consistently does the same thing over and over again so very well but most fans of the series will always have a soft spot for the first movie. Click over to our 2009 movie preview for a look at the next installment.
Director William Friedkin’s unabashed attempt to match the high octane thrills of his earlier French Connection, To Live & Die in LAis a brilliant but almost forgotten cop thriller from the 1980s that is ripe for rediscovery. Or, given the current paucity of creativity in Tinseltown, a remake.
No mention of the art of high-speed entertainment would be complete without a mention of that mustachioed master of mechanical mayhem Burt Reynolds. Grinning genially as he taunted hapless law enforcement officers, he epitomised that last hurrah of old fashioned irresponsibility in a world increasingly dominated by the safe and sensible. That he also inspired The Fall Guy and the Dukes of Hazzard should in no way diminish our appreciation of the last happy-go-lucky outlaw of the wide open spaces. And of course we couldn’t talk about Burt without at least one quick peek at Smokey and the Bandit.
The original Gone in 60 Seconds didn’t have a car chase. It was a car chase. A labour of love for director/star H.B. Halicki it had practically no scripted dialogue, just a general story outline draped over a number of automotive set pieces. Together with the preponderance of non-actors performing on set, the resultant effect is not dissimilar to the pornography of the day, but with Ford Mustangs instead of young women.
In the car-chase crazy Seventies even John Wayne was a tough uncompromising cop in an ugly car. The Duke traded in his horse for a Plymouth Belvedere and called upon the services of stuntman (and later Cannonball Run director) Hal Needham. The central chase itself was innovative for taking place on a beach – occasioning generous use of windscreen wipers – and featuring the first staged rollover of a car in movies.
Computer generated effects are generally considered to be the poor relation when it comes to car chases but this seamless blend of CGI and practical effects filmed on a specially-constructed 1.4 mile loop of three-lane highway on a decommissioned navy base, is a masterclass in how to combine digital trickery with old-fashioned petrolhead derring-do. Other innovations include teleporting twins and in-car kung fu. General Motors reputedly lent over 300 vehicles to the Wachowski brothers for this sequence. None survived.
The Man With the Golden Gun and Thunderball were both considered for this list but variety is the spice of life, so we elected for just one example from the rich Bond heritage: The adrenalin-soaked opening sequence of Quantum of Solace features Daniel Craig’s Bond transporting a captured criminal mastermind from Lake Garda to Siena while pursued by agents of the shadowy Quantum organization. It’s a thrilling object lesson in how to capture the sheer danger of high speed driving and show it to people who are far too sensible to ever do it themselves. Apart from the destruction on camera one unlucky Aston Martin employee wrote off a £160,000 DBS while delivering it to the set, driving it into Lake Garda in poor weather conditions. To add insult to injury he was also fined £400 for dangerous driving.
9: Terminator 2
Not strictly a car chase, it’s true, a movie that was essentially one long chase from start to finish, employing trucks, motorcycles, cars and plain old fashioned running. It all climaxed with this sequence, where a helicopter chases a van underneath a flyover before all the principals change vehicles and start again. Could not be ignored.
Part of the ‘car as the extension of the man’ aesthetic that reached its apotheosis in Steven Spielberg’sDuel. A slight plot involving a hopped-up car delivery driver and a reckless bet supports a manic chase from Denver to San Francisco. Like its close relativeTwo Lane Blacktop the movie hasn’t dated well but traces of its nihilistic destructive glee can be detected in modern genre movies such as Quentin Tarantino’sDeath Proof.
Featuring what must surely be the first indoor car chase, The Blues Brothers is one long destruction derby interrupted by a few classic Stax tunes. The movie is distinguished also by some of the most comical in-car bickering in car chase history.
Combining dauntless seat-of-the pants driving with an omniscient computer controller and some neat bazooka sunroof work, Roninhas one of the most admired movie car chases of the modern era. It manages to incorporate genuinely high speeds unadulterated by camera trickery, some classic market stall destruction and a devil-may-care approach to roadworks that is the envy of every British road user.
Mad Max was a hugely influential movie, spawning an entire post-apocalyptic aesthetic that still crops up in movies, pop videos and fetish clubs today. The climactic chase - where a motley army of biker crazies pursue Max across the featureless Australian desert in order to obtain some of the last petrol left on Earth - is indisputably one of the great set pieces of action cinema.
Not just the most deadly assassin ever to have been trained by America’s espionage agencies, Jason Bourne is also that car-crazy country’s most skilled defensive (and occasionally offensive) driver. The Bourne series features more than one breathtaking ‘passenger’s eye view’ race though busy city traffic, but the amnesiac killing machine’s deliciously irresponsible employment of a Mini Cooper in The Bourne Identity is probably his most memorable.
A career-defining role for Gene Hackman who might otherwise be remembered as the comedy villain in the Superman movies, The French Connection improved on its true life source material with the addition of a high speed car-versus-train chase though the streets of Brooklyn. Combining big studio production values with guerilla film-making sensibilities (at least one of the car crashes filmed was a genuine accident) The French Connection is a true one-off.
The Italian Job is a catalogue of everything that is great about Britain, from Noël Coward and gay gangsters to Benny Hill and CCTV. The centerpiece of the film is the exuberantly silly pursuit out of Turin, featuring plucky British Minis demonstrating their essential superiority over laughable Italian cars. The car chase might traditionally be seen as an American innovation, but Michael Caine shows the Yanks that when we want to drive like maniacs though a sewer system, we can.
Undeniably the ultimate car chase. Bullitt got everything right: It had Lalo Schifrin’s score, by turns haunting, cool, and heat-pumping. It had an inspired choice of location, which allowed suspension-punishing jumps as well as tight cornering and raw speed. Most of all though, it had Steve McQueen, quite evidently driving the car in even the most dangerous shots and projecting an icy determination to get the job done, no matter how many Kwik-Fit Fitters would have to pick up the pieces afterwards.