Nothing embodies the American spirit of rugged individualism better than a good old-fashioned car chase. One crafty lone bandit and his hydrocarbon-powered horse against the oppressive and bumbling police force. Maybe I just watched too many episodes of The Dukes of Hazard growing up, but I’ve always wanted the bandit to get away. Unfortunately for my childhood, but for the betterment of society, Johnny Law usually stops these high-speed crooks through some combination of helicopters, spike strips, and a few dozen Crown Victorias. Lets have a toast to those who went down fighting and take a look at some of the best car chases in movie history:
Here are greatest car chase scenes in history
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Words alone can’t describe what Gone in 60 Seconds did for the ever-reckless spirit of American youth. This was the Fast and the Furious of your parents’ generation. Directed by and starring H.B. Halicki, Gone in 60 Seconds has a plot line that makes an episode of “Dora the Explorer” look like Shakespeare. But while the excitement in Dora peaks with “Swiper No Swiping,” Gone in 60 Seconds features a 40-minute (no, that’s not a typo) chase scene in which over 100 cars were wrecked. Your move, Shakespeare.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
If it weren’t for a little movie called “Star Wars,” Smokey and the Bandit would have been the highest-grossing movie of 1977. Like its outer space twin, although to a somewhat lesser extent, Smokey and the Bandit has become a timeless classic: 30 years later at least one high school speed demon will recognize the black Trans Am used in the film. In fact, this may have been one of the first, and best, examples of product placement. Sales of gas-guzzling Trans Ams soared following the release of the movie, made more remarkable by a struggling economy and worsening oil crisis. The true mark of a good film is convincing viewers to throw convention to the wind, and that sometimes means blowing thousands of dollars on a tremendously impractical car, but a really, really cool one at that.
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Steve McQueen did for car chases what Thomas Edison did for the light bulb. He may not have invented it, but he sure did perfect it. The chase scene from Bullitt is how all other car chases are judged even 45 years after the fact. McQueen’s Mustang versus the villains’ ’68 Dodge Charger is a purely American version of the clash of the titans. Good versus evil, Ford versus Chevy, Coke versus Pepsi, corporations, cowboys, and cars, Bullitt has it all. The scene benefits from McQueen’s legendary ability behind the wheel. No stunt drivers here.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Thankfully great chase scenes didn’t end with the 1970s. Although Jason Bourne’s getaway vehicle of choice (a classic Mini Cooper) might raise a few eyebrows from the muscle car set, the driving is superb nonetheless. Clearly taking a few pointers from “The Italian Job,” Bourne uses the Mini Cooper’s small size to ditch the rainy streets of Paris by flying down stairwells, cutting over sidewalks, and zipping through impossibly narrow alleys.
I’ll freely admit that I had never heard of Ronin before doing the arduous and thoroughly boring research for this article, however, I can now confidently say that although the movie may be lesser-known, its chase scenes are the stuff of legend. That’s right, scenes. Plural. Three breakneck yet nuanced chase scenes ditch the muscles cars for some upscale Euro flair, namely an Audi, a BMW, and a Mercedes-Benz all being put through their paces on the streets, freeways, and tunnels of Paris. Director John Frankenheimer wisely decided to film from the inside of the cars, giving the viewer a truly visceral and realistic experience. While speed is an element in every chase scene, Frankenheimer seems to capture it in a wholly new way. The speed of the cars, and the desperation of their drivers, isn’t just presented, it is transmitted, somehow beamed directly into our frontal lobes until our racing hearts and sweaty palms make us feel like we’re actually sliding through Paris at 90 miles per hour.
Vanishing Point (1971)
Although the film’s oddly philosophical narrative comes off a strange and slightly disjointed, the car chase is tried-and-true Hollywood classic. Director Richard Sarafian actually let legendary Stunt Driver Casey Loftin design the films chase scenes. Watching Loftin drive the white Dodge Challenger R/T to the very brink of physics is a thing of beauty. Unlike some films of the era, none of the footage was sped up, what you are seeing is real, true speed (that was performed by a professional driver on a closed course and should not be attempted at home.)
North by Northwest (1959)
Many people may not remember this little Hitchcock gem, but North by Northwest is in essence a story of mistaken identity, with an innocent man who is chased across the US by men from an unknown group who want to stop his meddling with their plans to sneak microfilm containing government secrets out of the country. There is a classic drunk driving scene, where the main character Thornhill is forced to drink bourbon, but he however manages to escape from a staged driving accident that was set up for him in the movie.
Dylan Jones. I am a writer extraordinaire for AAMCO Colorado with a love and affection for everything having to do with automobiles. If you enjoyed this piece you can follow me on Twitter @AAMCOColorado. When i’m not writing about fast cars, I write about fixing them.