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 is the second half of 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.
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Imagine sitting in theatres circa 1981 on a date. You’ve obviously seen Star Wars, you recognize Han Solo when you see him, but you might not even know who played him…some guy with two last names and a penchant for grins. And what’s this film called that you’re seeing? Raiders of the Lost Ark? So they’re going to find a ship, right? And isn’t Han Solo an archaeologist or something? That’s a boring premise. “Hopefully,” you think, “my date won’t be so turned off by this film that she leaves me blue balled…again.” Then, you remember that you’ve been blue balled all through high school, and you sink lower into your seat, the social pariah that you are.
But at your lowest, the movie starts and Han Solo is walking through the jungle with…is that Alfred Molina? Slowly, you allow the celluloid to work its magic and you forget about Star Wars long enough to let this newer, even more self-assured character win you over. The strange archaeologist traipses through the jungle, almost gets killed numerous times by poison arrows, a boulder, crazy natives, but he escapes, miraculously, just like in Star Wars. “Whewww,” you remark to your date, a comely sophomore wearing striped leg warmers and a jean jacket.
And as the film progresses, you start to get this feeling that, while Montana Jones—or whatever his name is—might be a nerdy professor, he has another side that, like yourself, is just aching to get out. Your date grows sublimely attracted to you, finally grabbing your arm while watching our favorite hero get dragged behind speeding Nazi cargo trucks on his way to one of the greatest chase sequences of all time. He’s a bit of an underdog, like you, working alone at times and enduring unsavory conditions—like being an impromptu bumper in a sadistic game of “smash the archaeologist to bits while Nazi’s laugh.” But when the going gets tough, Indiana knocks out those same Nazi henchmen, commandeers their vehicle, and kills every last one of the bastards in the name of science, history, and the American way.
You got laid that night in the back of your dad’s wood-paneled station wagon. As you and your date passed a cigarette between each other on the way home, you couldn’t help but think to yourself, “God bless that movie and all associated with its production.”
4. The Rock (1996)
Rob Van Winkle aka The Culture Schlub wears women’s underwear when he has someone important to meet. The lacy frills and tight fit make him feel secure, so who are we to judge? He was also the only person to correctly guess, that, yes, The Rock comes in at #4 on the all-time list. What does the aforementioned fetish have to do with The Rock, pray tell? Nothing at all.
But let’s be serious for a moment here: say what you will about Michael Bay…and we’ve said a lot over the years…but the man can do action. Sure, plot, characterization, and basic conflict all fall under his vehicles’ tires, but this particular chase scene is the height of late 90’s, big budget extravagance.
The year was ’96…
Independence Day, Twister, and Mission Impossible all upped the proverbial ante as far as the action flick is concerned, with most of them using borderline-ridiculous FX in the process. Not so The Rock, which comprises a good ole fashioned romp through the streets of San Fran with real cars, real explosions, and a whole slew of nods to previous chases like Bullitt, the other San Fran chase flick. There’s a Hummer, a yellow Ferrari, and a cable car, all careening down an endless series of hills and even through store windows. Plus, not only does this scene provide basically a perfect chase sequence, but it also introduces us to the two major characters in a way that only Bay’s action sequences can: Stanley Goodspeed emerges from his laboratory, purloins a Ferrari, and proves that he can actually drive stick. So perhaps he’s not a giant pussy as we initially believe. Meanwhile, we see the kind of havoc that Mason can unleash, destruction he’s been waiting decades for—and hey, who’s side is he on, anyway? And how does he know how to drive a Hummer if he’s been locked up for so long? These sentences are called questions, and if I learned anything in Sunday school, it’s that questioning Michael Bay, just like questioning God or Rob Van Winkle is a fruitless exercise. Just sit back and enjoy their work.
3. Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
Most people have heard of this movie and may even realize that it ushered in a new wave of artistically spectacular 70’s films, but to actually see it nearly 40 years later might change the way you view film in general. What Arthur Penn did with Bonnie & Clyde was to change the definition of a hero for the rest of time. Consequently, he also altered the way audiences perceive violence, social mores, and even sexuality. Before this film, men were John Wayne types—strong, quiet, and American as apple pie. Women were treated in a similar way, never straying from the damsel in distress mold created by A Streetcar Named Desire or Gone with the Wind.
But my God, to watch Bonnie & Clyde is to literally witness history. How exhilarating is the crucial scene where Bonnie poses for a picture while leaning on their famous escape car and holding a Tommy Gun with a cigar in her mouth? That one shot rewrote how women could be filmed in American movies. Meanwhile, as strong as Bonnie is, Clyde’s character is yet another 180°. We’re talking Warren Beatty here, the ultimate Hollywood playboy. He’s had more ass than your local proctologist. Yet he plays a celibate, a borderline homosexual during a time when sex education was an oxymoron.
Penn treated the film’s major chase scene no differently than anything else, creating a literary, violent masterpiece that underscores everything about our characters and their struggles as well as the larger 60’s resistance already at hand. As the gang escapes from another heist—allegorically ripping off the previous generation and betraying the notion of American patriotism—someone tries to open the car door and apprehend them before they flee the scene. In bloody fashion, a bullet rips through the air, killing the man instantly and rubbing his bloody body all over the back window. The gang eventually eludes their pursuit but the real beauty of this scene remains in its implications.
The murder changes everything. Suddenly we find ourselves rooting for killers, something that never occurred in American movie history before Bonnie & Clyde. If not for this chase scene—the characters needed to be scared enough to commit murder—the entire film’s premise might have failed. Our identification with Bonnie and with Clyde hinges on understanding their motives. Was the murder justified in its context? You’re goddamned right it was…in a chase scene, the rules are out the window.
2. Ronin (1998)
Ronin prefaces the future of the chase scene and that’s why it’s #2. As audiences grow more and more expectant of solid FX and legitimately convincing action, they no longer can be satiated with explosions or cops and robbers fluff. They want the stakes raised, the action tighter, and the actual mechanics of driving to be on display. Ronin achieves everything on the list, placing De Niro’s character in the driver’s seat during a truly exceptional sequence in France. Bourne took cues from this film, to be sure. Plus, you know that move in video games nowadays where you can pull the E brake to perform a Tokyo Drift? That clearly came about as a result of Ronin.
There’s something for everyone here. Driving on the wrong side of the road, driving through tunnels, sliding around impossible breakneck corners, Euro cars that look a little weird to us Americans accustomed to Chevy’s—the list goes on and on. Plus, let’s take a peak at our characters: not a virtuous bastard among them. We only root for De Niro because we know him. Natascha McElhone ain’t too bad to look at, either.
In the end, what can’t be said about this film is that it’s an awesome movie. There’s a reason that the chase scene garners so much praise while us writer types have little to say about the wider implications of its plot. Frankly, I only remember a few parts of the film other than the chase; De Niro asking where the bathrooms are in perfect francais and Katarina Witt getting gatted by a sniper. What was in the briefcase? Who gives a shit? The chase scene is worth the price of admission, so much so that I saw this one twice in theatres, and as a result of producing this list I now have it on DVD as well.
1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
What? You were expecting Bullitt? You thought that we were finished with The Terminator by now? Think again. Allow us to transport you back 15 years ago to the release of this film. Guns ‘n Roses were at the height of their power. George HW Bush was the President. The Gulf War was blazing away and nobody really gave two shits. Suddenly, over the few years previous, Arnold Schwarzenneger became the world’s biggest movie star, but this, the greatest action film of all time, is his crowning achievement, aside from Pumping Iron, of course.
The other night, I was watching Aliens for the first time in a long while. I couldn’t help but think to myself that James Cameron’s version of the Alien series is more of a harbinger of things to come in his career. As far as straight action, I’ve seen better films. Yet the pulsing soundtrack, tough female heroine and vicious creatures are all in place. Michael Biehn’s character is poorly drawn, as are most of the Marines, but that’s really minor stuff. What’s important to note about that film are things like set design—those sets are amazing—and the sheer viscosity and tangability of the action sequences. It’s one thing to have sweet sets or sweet action, but to put them together is truly a remarkable accomplishment, rarely seen in cinema.
The chase scene in The Terminator is fairly bare-bones compared to its later incarnation (but hey, we’re talking 7 years later). Some of the music is a little cheesy, there are no truly spectacular stunts, and the main characters tend towards the ineffective side. T2’s first chase, on the other hand, combines everything that a great chase should have, and introduces some mind-blowing stunt sequences. Chief among them: the T-101 flying through the air and landing in the canal to save John Connor from the evil T-1000 as its bumper grinds against the back wheel of the chosen one’s dirt bike. Or how about the ordeal through which the truck cab undergoes at the hands of the T-1000? He jumps it off a bridge, rips the top clean off, and it even gets blown to pieces. We feel for John when he appears helpless in the canal, and accordingly we applaud when the T-101 picks him up by his jacket and puts him on his own bike.
But perhaps the coolest thing about the greatest chase scene of all time occurs at the very end. After the T-101 blows the truck cab up, we worry that the T-1000 will simply emerge from the fire unscathed. Finally, the T-101 drives away, and for a moment we relax. Seconds later, the T-1000 walks out of the flames looking like The Silver Surfer, proving to the audience that, despite the sheer insanity of the chase scene, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than that to take him down for good.
While I was hesitant to pick one chase scene over another in T2, I never had any doubts that those pivotal scenes it contains are truly the greatest chases ever put to film. Yes, it would be silly to include more than one scene from the same movie, but let’s face it: even the finalé stands far superior to anything else in the genre. I can’t wait to see what James Cameron dreams up for both Avatar and Battle Angel.