Edgar Wright Gushes About 10 Movies That Influenced 'Baby Driver': Part 2

(Welcome to Cinematic Inspirations, a series where filmmakers talk about the movies that inspired their latest release. In this edition: the second of two conversations with Edgar Wright on the movies that inspired Baby Driver.)

Leading up to the release of Baby Driver, director Edgar Wright was a guest programmer at the British Film Institute for a series of films under the banner Car Car Land. The filmmaker rounded up 10 of the movies that influenced Baby Driver in some way for cinephiles in London to enjoy. Since not everyone can attend those screenings and hear all the wonderful things he has to say about these movies, some of which he introduced himself, we wanted to hear from the man himself why he loves these movies and how they inspired his new film, which is being called a "dazzling car chase musical."

A little over a week ago, we had an extensive phone call with Edgar Wright where he laid down his passion for these 10 movies and provided some fun facts. Since this is such an extensive conversation, we've split it up into two parts.

Below is part two of this feature, which covers the second five movies, and you'd do well to read the first part before you go any further.

First of all, here's Edgar Wright explaining how he chose the films for BFI's Car Car Land season:

What I did with this season is I picked movies that had car chases of my youth. So there are not as many recent ones because I capped it where I started making movies myself, which was around 1994. I chose the car chases that really inspired me when I was younger. Because I had the original idea for Baby Driver in 1995 so I was thinking about the films up until that point.

Let's get right into the next batch of movies that inspired Baby Driver and why Edgar Wright loves them so much. Anything below that appears in italics (other than the titles) is me – everything else is Wright in his own words.

Freebie and the Bean

Freebie and the Bean (1974)

Why Edgar Loves It: Freebie and the Bean is not technically a car chase movie, it's sort of an all around mayhem movie. It arrives in the same year as The Super Cops and also Starsky & Hutch, but it's clearly the template for Lethal Weapon and the extravagant buddy movies of the 1980s. I've seen this with a crowd at the Alamo Drafthouse once, and it completely kills on the big screen, partly because the mayhem in it is so brilliantly over the top. Particularly there's a shot where James Caan is shooting a bad guy from one glass elevator to another, and you see this amazing wide shot of two elevators outside a hotel with cops and bad guys shooting from one elevator to the other, and it's almost Naked Gun territory, except it looks beautiful.

The car chase in the movie, as a little kid I remember seeing clips of this film when it was playing on TV, and it's exactly the kind of movie that I had to see. Jumping through trains, cars crashing through walls, there's literally a point where James Caan gets on a motorcycle and knocks over an oversize domino set. The rest of the movie in terms of James Caan and Alan Arkin's performances, as well as Alex Rocco as their boss, they're all really funny performances with some insanely huge gags. The director Richard Rush went on to do The Stuntman, which has a sort of epic scale and almost like silent movie era sight gags. It's a mixed bag of a movie of parts I cannot defend and then bits of action and comedy that I absolutely love.

Baby Driver Note: Though the action is certainly a driving forced behind getting some butts into the seats to see Baby Driver, it should be noted that all of the performances, from the lead Ansel Elgort to the lovely waitress Lily James, to the robbery crews played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, to the boss played by Kevin Spacey and Baby's deaf roommate C.J Jones, are absolutely fantastic.

Edgar's Fun Fact: There's a reason that it was on TV late at night, because if you actually watch it, it's a terribly non-PC movie with a couple of racial jokes and a not particularly well-handled gay killer in the movie as well. I cannot defend that part of the movie, because it's totally politically incorrect by today's standards.

Smokey and the Bandit

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Why Edgar Loves It: Smokey and the Bandit was the movie I was most bummed to miss on the big screen with this season of programming. It's one of those films that I've seen on TV a bunch of times, but I've never seen on the big screen.

In its day in 1977, it was the second highest grossing film that summer after Star Wars. In the program for the BFI, I said it's the end of that 1970s era of movies that came after Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 and sort of started with Easy Rider and went through Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. By the time you got to Smokey and the Bandit, that 1970s is over, and now you've got just a complete popcorn movie about bootleggers and bandits, and it's just a fun movie. It's not very deep, but it's totally entertaining. They Jerry Reed song is ridiculously catchy. You also have so many fun performers, obviously having too much of a good time. Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Mike Henry as Jackie Gleason's nephew Junior.

Baby Driver Note: When I was shooting Baby Driver in Atlanta, some of these actors are doing Southern accents, and I used to make my director of photography Bill Pope laugh, because my attempt at a Southern accent was impersonating Jackie Gleason from Smokey and the Bandit. I would say, "There is no way in hell that you could come from my loins," which is what he would say to Junior.

Edgar's Fun Fact: Famously, or kind of infamously, somewhere in the Universal vault there is a version of Smokey and the Bandit 3 where Jackie Gleason played both the sheriff and the bandit. Smokey and the Bandit 3 was called Smokey is the Bandit. They make reference to it in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. Jackie Gleason played both parts, they shot the movie that way, they even had a teaser trailer for that version of the movie. Test audiences were so bewildered by it, that they reshot half the movie and had Jerry Reed playing Cledus Snow. Then at the end of the movie, they shot a Burt Reynolds cameo to explain everything. But somewhere in the Universal vault must be that version of the movie.

The Driver

The Driver (1978)

Why Edgar Loves It: It should go without saying that my movie couldn't even exist without The Driver. If there's one film that has an influence on its genesis, it would be that. I saw this movie on late night TV when I was a teenager, and I was really struck by it. I didn't really have any idea about its influence, I didn't really find out until later that it wasn't a hit at the time, but it is a huge influential movie that has inspired Michael Mann, James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino, Nicolas Winding Refn.

I love Walter Hill's movies, and it's my favorite movie of his. I love how beautifully stripped down it is. The characters don't have names, and a lot of the time in the locations the characters seem to be the only people there. The majority of it is set in the dead of night in the late 1970s in downtown Los Angeles. As well as having amazing car chases, the whole thing feels like a great chess match between Bruce Dern's cop and Ryan O'Neal's driver.

I also love the way it's shot. Walter Hill was the second assistant director on Bullitt at the start of his career. He worked on a couple of movies early on, Take the Money and Run being another one. When I interviewed him for Empire, I asked him what he learned from doing Bullitt and he said that at the time when he was making it whether all these locked point of view shots were worth it since they took a lot of time to set up. And when he saw the movie, he saw that they made the sequence. So in The Driver, Walter Hill goes one further and for the most part, all of the action is completely subjective, and you're always moving with the car.

There's just a lot of great photography in it. Some of the shots in the opening sequence have really stuck with me. There's one of a cop car swinging into vision in a rearview mirror. And just like Bullitt, they let the sound effects dominate. There's something very hypnotic about the sound of the screeching wheels and also the sirens echoing around the concrete of downtown Los Angeles.

In a similar way to Reservoir Dogs, one of the things that I really liked about The Driver is that within the movie you get these revolving crews through more than one heist. So through the movie you get a succession of at least three different crews. In Reservoir Dogs you have one crew, but you get the sense that these people have never worked together before, or at least not that exact same team. And that's the case with real life crime, as well as the crime novels of Elmore Leonard and Richard Stark. So I really wanted to bring that aspect into Baby Driver. Through three different heists you meet this revolving crew, one crew for the first heist, another crew for the second, and then the third heist is like a supergroup.

I also think the screenplay is really good. If you want to see how to write great action, it's well worth tracking down the screenplay for The Driver, because the way that Walter Hill writes stage directions is very entertaining to read and almost reads like beat poetry. I actually got ahold of the screenplay before I started writing Baby Driver.

The other standout sequence that's worth mentioning is what they call the exhibition scene where the driver is proving to the new gang how great he is by precisely totaling an orange Mercedes Benz. That was shot in the basement level of the parking garage underneath Century City mall in Los Angeles. That's not a particularly cool place, but in 1977 that's where they shot that sequence.

Baby Driver Note: Though he doesn't total a car, there are several moments in Baby Driver where the title character proves to certain members of the gang just how good he is, especially when they consider his ear handicap and the fact that he doesn't seem to be paying attention during the planning phases of the job.

Edgar's Fun Fact: Walter Hill makes a very brief vocal cameo in Baby Driver. I won't tell you what he does, but he appears in the last five minutes of the movie. It was very important for me to get some kind of spiritual sign-off from the man himself, as a huge fan of Walter's.

The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers (1980)

Why Edgar Loves It: The Blues Brothers is one of those movies that is one of a kind. Sometimes you get those movies where the director and the stars at the time could not have been bigger, and used all of their muscle to make one of the most joyously indulgent movies, and I mean that as a good thing. It's epic, because everything in it is to the max. It's the greatest soundtrack ever. The most destructive car chases ever. Biggest visual gags with deadpan reactions. It's an amazing movie. If you've never seen it on a big screen, it's really worth watching there. I watched it again on the big screen last year, and it totally blew me away.

The thing that jumped out to me about The Blues Brothers is that the action is huge. The sight gags are huge. The car chases are huge. And the performances are so deadpan, right to the point that they barely take their sunglasses off. That's always stuck out to me in that movie. It's in stark contrast to Freebie and the Bean and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. For a movie that's almost entirely, probably fueled by cocaine, it was seriously deadpan. It's kind of like a Jim Jarmusch movie with a $100 million budget.

One of my favorite sequences in Blues Brothers is actually when they're driving on Lower Wacker Drive, and you can tell how fast that car is going by the fact that the trash on the dashboard is slipping away from it. That's how you can tell that they're going so fast. It's an amazing sequence. All of the action in that movie is great. I really just tip my hat to it.

Baby Driver Note: If there's one comparison to be made between Baby Driver and The Blues Brothers, it might lie in Kevin Spacey's character. Even when he's delivering sarcastic lines or jokes, he's the most deadpan character in the entire movie, and his character is all the more effective because of it.

To Live and Die in LA

To Live and Die in LA (1985)

Why Edgar Loves It: William Friedkin is the only director to get two movies in this program. He really is the king of the car chase. To Live and Die in LA is his more obvious attempt to top himself with another extraordinary car chase. In a similar way to how iconic The French Connection is to New York, To Live and Die in LA makes incredible use of downtown Los Angeles, in kind of an area that doesn't really exist there anymore. A lot of the area that's in that movie near the LA river and some of the streets that they're driving around are now completely gentrified.

There's a particularly great camera shot where William Petersen is driving, and then the camera cranes up the bridge and shows one of the baddie cars off the bridge coming to get him, all in one shot. Those shots are extremely difficult to do, so I just marvel at the amount of work that went into the cinematography that went into that sequence. There's another great bit where it cuts between William Peterson, clearly experiencing the adrenaline rush of this chase where bad guys are trying to kill him, and bungie jumping, with him equating the rush of this very dangerous car chase with bungie jumping. Meanwhile, John Pankow is in the back in a cold sweat thinking about the shooting that just happened, the dead body, and the fact that they were nearly just killed. It's a really interesting juxtaposition in the middle of this kick ass car chase, to show what the detective and his partner is thinking and how different their response is. It's a very 1960s moment in 1980s film.

The other part of it is the marquis moment of driving down the freeway the wrong way. That's how the setpiece ends, and there's this incredible shot of the truck jackknifing. It's just a great idea. Like in French Connection, the idea of having a car chase a train, this has a car going the wrong way down a freeway.

Baby Driver Note: There's a similar freeway sequence in Baby Driver, but it goes in a different direction for a stellar payoff that is just awesome.

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That does it for our extended feature from Edgar Wright. Make sure you see Baby Driver, which is in theaters everywhere right now. And if you've already seen it, go see it again!