Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer
In the interest of giving chase scenes the respect they deserve, CC2K created a compilation of great chases from various films, keeping in mind that no list is complete without certain iconic chase scenes, but also keeping in mind that a great chase does not always require screeching tires, cars vaulting over piles of boxes (and subsequently exploding), or toxic waste mutants…exploding. People like lists, and people like car chases. So, love it, hate it, or ignore it, here’s an official CC2K endorsed, definitive list of the greatest car chase scenes of all time, in order, brought to you in conjunction with the good people at VaRaces.com.
10. The French Connection (1971)
Oh no! We put it at #10. Yeah, that’s right. Those organs beneath the schlong, they’re called balls. Think of this as us being provocative, if you wish, but this chase scene is mostly iconic, and not as powerful as the other nine on this list. Sure, it influenced every chase scene following 1971, but just because Citizen Kane changed the way we approach film protagonists doesn’t mean it’s better than The Godfather. It’s actually kind of boring.
The facts: Popeye Doyle stops making drug milkshakes long enough to get the beat on the out-of-towner frog drug dealer diplomat, then he engages in the most iconic chase scene of all time. That much we know for sure.
But why is this one so extraordinary, and how did it change the car chase for an eternity? Well, first of all, it takes place under the freeway/elevated train in New York, meaning that every single support beam comes into play during the chase. Second of all, several of the crashes and trash pile barrelings were unintentional, adding significantly to the realism. That, combined with super-gritty cinematography and Friedkin’s hectic directing style makes for a truly jarring experience. It might be impossible to accomplish a reenactment, but the entire scene was choreographed to Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”, giving the edits a significantly paradoxical rhythm. Cool, huh?
The French Connection also represents one of the first times, aside from Bullitt of course, that a mainstream American film strayed from the 007-ish chase template—Aston Martins cruising down a twisty-turny mountainside road on the way to a game of 7’s, the hero wearing a tuxedo and the villain of course being a beautiful femme fatale type. The French Connection looked real and felt real. To this day it appears authentic and the tension remains intact. Let’s not even get started on the symbolism behind driving under the freeway, where the crooks and vermin hang out.
9. The Terminator (1984)
Picking up right where The French Connection left off, Cameron’s trailblazing action fiesta includes a finale sparked by…what else? A great chase sequence. As Reese and Sarah Connor flee the motorcycling Terminator through the streets of Cali-for-nee-ah, suddenly the action gets transplanted to a nondescript tunnel sequence, where Sarah and Reese take turns throwing completely worthless pipe bombs at the Terminator until he finally hijacks a gasoline truck of all vehicles and continues his pursuit.
After leaving the audience breathless for a dozen minutes, Arnie mistakenly manages to ignite his vehicle’s hitch and gets blown to bits, emerging sans skin as THE metal exoskeleton for the first time. We all know how it ends—“You’re terminated!”—but without this perfect chase scene setting things off, how else was Cameron going to melt all of the Terminator’s skin off for the big finish?
If The Terminator was the first truly awesome action/violence picture—which it was—it stands to reason that without its own iconic car chase sequence, Arnold might be managing a Gold’s Gym somewhere in the Swiss Alps right now.
8. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Say what you will about this much-maligned series’ second installment, but we would love to hear any justification stating that the freeway scene is not completely badass…(crickets churping, wolves howling)…that’s what we thought.
True, the movie was a slight letdown, mostly due to an insipid reliance on soliloquy, but the action scenes got things right, and none was as spectacular as the freeway chase. Yes, another article that appeared on this site compared this scene with The Island’s amazing chase scene, calling The Island’s superior. We can assure you that the article’s author has since been flogged with an authentic Indiana Jones bullwhip. He also recanted, apologized to both Wachowski’s (even the transsexual one), and is now living in Flint, Michigan.
That being said, no car chase list could be complete without including this scene. It’s not only an amazing feat of technology, but it’s also a nod to everything a great, American car chase must have: American-made cars, spectacular crashes, and a finale of epic proportion.
Just after Trinity states with complete seriousness that the one place Morpheus advised her never to go—if being pursued by agents—is the freeway, she takes us there. “Why not the freeway?” the audience found itself asking. Ten minutes later we got our answer in the form of crushed Cadillacs, exploding SUV’s, and 18-wheeler super-collisions. If not for Neo’s deux ex machina at the end, Morpheus wouldn’t have survived to make the godawful stump speeches that ruined his character and nearly destroyed any credibility the film held intact going into Revolutions.
7. Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
1974 was a wonderful year for America and American movies. We exited Vietnam, named The Godfather Part II Best Picture (3 years following The French Connection’s victory), and even witnessed the Philadelphia Flyers win the Stanley Cup.
A little film called Gone in 60 Seconds also came out in 1974. Its predilection for action over plot, squealing tires, and exceptionally vintage hairdos has made it a classic amongst fans of the car chase and gearhead film genres.
Substituting any hint of storyline for an extended, 40-minute chase scene is probably not going to win you any Oscars, but it will raise some interesting questions, like, “What is the function of the car chase in a film?” Well, if Gone in 60 Seconds has anything to say, the function of the car chase is pure, uninhibited, vicarious enjoyment. Nic Cage and Angelina Jolie are both hot stars these days, but they can’t touch the original’s grime, energy, and sideburns, much less its brazen desire to send thousands of pounds of automobile flying through the air in virtually every scene.
Historically speaking, we have the original Gone in 60 Seconds to thank for The Fast and the Furious, its various progeny, and also a future member of CC2K’s prestigious car chase Top Ten that appears somewhere in Part II. We’ll give you a hint: the scene opens with a haircut.
6. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The finest chase sequence put to film in the 2000’s, The Bourne Supremacy took the chase scene to new heights by pitting Jason Bourne’s incredible driving skills (displayed in the first Bourne) against Karl Urban’s ruthless assassination ability. Earlier in the film, Urban’s character Kirill blew Franke Potente’s head clean off and sent Jason Bourne’s vehicle careening off an Indian bridge. You just knew that part two between the battling operatives would be badass. But did you ever predict the frightening culmination of the tunnel sequence?
There’s something for everyone here: rapid fire shifting, legitimately executed 180’s, and vehicle impalement. Not to mention the fact that Bourne cleans a gunshot wound with Stoli while simultaneously fighting off Kirill and tracking down a young Russian woman. Under Greengrass’ flawless direction, The Bourne Supremacy’s pivotal action scene just happens to be one of the greatest car chases of all time, hands down.