Simply put, the car chase scene is a staple of the Hollywood action movie. There is so much that a perfectly shot car chase sequence does for a movie: It draws the audience into the story and makes them care about the characters, it shows off the skills of the director, stunt coordinators, and special effects teams, and, best of all, it seriously gets the blood pumping.
Since movies have been made, tons and tons of cars chases of all types have been filmed, but only a handful truly stand the test of time as some of the best in movie history.
Here, we’ll look at just five movie car chases that are widely considered to be among the greatest of all time. But, before we get into the top five, here are a few honorable mentions.
Honorable mentions: The Blues Brothers, The Italian Job (both the original and the 2003 remake), Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, The Fast and the Furious franchise, Gone in 60 Seconds (the Nicolas Cage version).
In 1966, director John Frankenheimer helmed the Formula One racing movie Grand Prix, and more than 30 years later in the action thriller Ronin (starring the great Robert De Niro), he used some of the same techniques that made him the master of the car chase scene.
Frankenheimer hired actual Formula One races as stunt drivers, so you know that what you’re seeing on screen is the real deal. It also doesn’t hurt to see sweet rides like the Audi S8, BMW M5, and Mercedes-Benz 6.9 cruise through the extremely narrow streets of Paris.
4. Smokey and the Bandit
Think fast: Who’s the best actor in Smokey and the Bandit? Believe it or not, it’s not Jackie Gleason, Sally Field, or even the legendary Burt Reynolds (RIP). Nope. It’s actually the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am that, without a doubt, stole the show.
Sure, the car chases in this movie may not be the most intense of all time, especially when compared to movies today, but you’ve got to respect the classics and Smokey and the Bandit is definitely a classic.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
When it comes to ridiculous, over-the-top, high-speed, high-octane, batshit insane car chases, Mad Max: Fury Road absolutely takes the cake.
In the fourth installment of his Mad Max series, George Miller knew he had to turn things up and notch, and good god, did he deliver with stunt driving that you honestly need to see to believe.
2. The French Connection
Before William Friedkin began shooting The French Connection, renowned director Howard Hawks told him to “make a good chase, make one better than anyone’s done.” Friedkin certainly did that with the scene in New York that features Gene Hackman’s character as the driver of a 1971 Pontiac Le Mans in a desperate chase against a speeding, elevated train.
It’s not just an exceptional car chase scene, but also one of the most classic movie moments of all time.
And then there was Bullitt. Regarded for decades and decades as having far and away the best car chase scenes, this movie absolutely stands the test of time. Between Steve McQueen and stunt driver Bill Hickman, the Mustang GT 390 shines in every scene that it tears up the streets of San Francisco.
If you’ve never seen this movie, stop what you’re doing and watch it right now.