Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. This week’s edition asks “What is your favorite car chase scene in the movies?” As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team, along with a special guest. This week, we are joined by The Fate of the Furious director F. Gary Gray.
If you’d like to share your favorite movie car chase, please send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured on the site. Find our favorite movie car chases below!
F. Gary Gray: The French Connection
Gene Hackman, underneath the [elevated train] – The French Connection. Bullit was dope, too. I know that’s a film school answer, but those are pretty dope because you have to really understand that they didn’t have the equipment that we have today. So to get that level of feeling was really tough with those big cameras back then.
Peter Sciretta: Bad Boys II
I have many favorite car chases and it would be easy to pick one of the obvious candidates. But the one car chase sequence that doesn’t get nearly enough love is the highway chase sequence from Bad Boys II. Maybe it’s because it’s a Michael Bay movie, or maybe it’s because Will Smith and Matthew Lawrence are cracking jokes throughout, but it’s thoroughly entertaining and does things I had never seen done in a car chase sequence before.
Notably, the bad guys are throwing cars off of one of those big automobile haulers at our heroes, who are attempting to avoid the explosive carnage as it hits the pavement. The intense sequence is shot practically, and it feels like it, even though the explosions, wreckage and chaos is often larger than life. The camera feels closer to the action than most car chases, with the shots providing the point of view of the cars in the sequence as they swerve in and around the action.
Christopher Stipp: The Blues Brothers
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark…and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
There has never been a more auspicious beginning to what is one of the best car chases in cinematic history than the beginning to the one that brought the Blues Brothers back to Chicago proper and into the company of a completely oblivious Steven Spielberg as the Cook County Assessor’s clerk who would take the boys’ cash, thereby saving Sister Mary Stigmata’s orphanage. The chase itself is just amazing. It reaches level of pure absurdity, with Nazis falling from great heights (with one revealing his unrequited love for the other), a jump over a police cruiser that makes no sense whatsoever, police getting out of their busted-down rides and opening fire in broad daylight out of complete frustration, and just copious amounts of car carnage that is completely unnecessary in every way. This was a movie that introduced me to the idea of a fantastical car chase.
There is actually another car chase that happens earlier in the movie within a mall that still delights me when I watch it, but there was, and is, something about how that final chase goes down that will always be something of a high water mark. The action here feels more kinetic because cars really are meeting their demise as they crash into one another in ways that aren’t perfect. Perhaps that’s why its greatness still resonates with me. I still am in awe of any modern car chase that is well choreographed, but these original men in black will never be topped.
Devindra Hardawar: The Bourne Supremacy
By the end of The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne is limping, bloody and beaten. With Moscow’s cops and the man who killed his girlfriend on his tale, his only escape route is a ratty taxi cab. What follows is one of the most brutal car chases ever filmed. It’s less about speed and more about destruction and survival – that poor taxi takes a whooping, and Paul Greengrass’s camera makes us feel the impact of every hit.
This chase evokes everything I love about the Bourne series: action that means something; a great accompanying score by John Powell (“Bim Bam Smash” is a perfectly appropriate title); and a unique spin on typical movie trips. Jason Bourne might be outmatched – Karl Urban’s relentless agent pursues him in a much larger and tougher SUV – but he figures out a practical way to survive. And while Paul Greengrass’s shakey-cam style might be getting a bit tired today, The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum both show how it can be effective.
I’ll never forget seeing this chase for the first time with my family in a crowded theater. It was almost as if everyone was holding their breath throughout the crescendo of violence. And when it ended, with Bourne’s taxi smashing in the big bad’s SUV in a highway divider, we all breathed out a sigh of relief.
Ben Pearson: Drive
I love balls-to-the-wall car chases as much as the next action movie fan, but I also appreciate the quiet precision of the chase that opens Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive. Ryan Gosling’s nameless Driver is effortlessly cool, projecting a sense of calm and control at all times in this scene – even when it looks like the jig is up. It’s the rare cinematic car chase in which the camera almost never leaves the car, and by keeping the perspective limited to the driver’s and not giving the audience the satisfaction of a wide shot, it makes the scene infinitely more effective. We can only see what he sees, so we aren’t able to guess ahead of time how he’ll possibly be able to squeeze out of the L.A.P.D.’s grasp.
On first watch, I kind of thought the Driver was nuts for listening to the play-by-play of a basketball game during a chase. But as the scene comes to a close, we realize it’s the key piece of his plan, and the way he times his escape to the end of the game is pretty brilliant. It’s somehow able to simultaneously be the most relaxed and one of the most suspenseful car chases I’ve ever seen.