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The Greatest Car Chases of All-Time

Written by on June 28, 2017 

the-greatest-car-chases-in-cinema

For decades, the car chase has existed as a timeless equalizer, settling scores with stomach-churning speed and velocity. The best of these chases employ vintage muscle-cars with practical effects and stunt work to achieve these amazing shots in camera. If CGI is used in the scene, it’s only to sweeten the practical effects and stunts.

The landscape is an equally essential ingredient, providing opportunities and obstacles for the drivers to embrace and overcome. The car chase grounds the action in an identifiable reality, menacing us with the ever-present possibility of death at high-speed. It also taps into something deep within everyone who’s ever gotten behind the wheel of a car: driving fast is as addictive as it is life-threatening.

The newest film from director Edgar Wright, Baby Driver, mixes the filmmakers love for the classic car chase genre with a killer soundtrack. To explain, the plot follows Baby, a getaway driver who suffers from tinnitus. While Baby uses his own personal soundtrack to combat the condition, it also makes him the best driver in the business. Our positive review states: “Wright doesn’t simply apply technical precision and innovation to genre-smart storytelling — he also makes what must be exhausting work look like so much fun.”

To celebrate the release of one of the year’s most highly-anticipated films, we decided to take a look back at the films featuring the best car chases in the history of cinema. Enjoy, and please include your own favorites in the comments.

Against All Odds (Taylor Hackford)

against-all-odds

One of the elements that makes the car chase in the opening act of Taylor Hackford’s Against All Odds so surprising is its seeming lack of relation to the plot. It’s merely used to establish the competitive relationship between its two leads, a former pro-football player (Jeff Bridges) and an arrogant nightclub owner (James Woods). They’re headed to the nightclub to discuss a proposition, which eventually drags Bridges’ character into a film noir nightmare. But first, they find themselves racing to the club, driving like lunatics down Sunset Boulevard. Cutting off cars honking trucks as they laugh and trade insults, they sound like two stupid kids racing their parents’ cars, until Woods falls behind. Determined to win the race by any means, he wheels the car into oncoming traffic. At which point, the car chase becomes a sweaty-palmed classic.

The Blues Brothers (John Landis)

the-blues-brothers

Glorious chaos and joyful destruction sums up John Landis’s car chase classic, The Blues Brothers, an upside-down celebration of smashing automobiles and ‘70s soul music. Not unlike Baby Driver, the soundtrack is a lead character in itself, which elevates each chase far beyond the realm of mere comedy. Gleefully tossing out the usual life or death stakes associated with car chases, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) never feel as if they’re in danger, allowing each vehicular bust-up to remain in dizzying good fun. The smashing of cars becomes a dance, each smash-up building the comedic frenzy to a transcendental mania. The destruction of a shopping mall, the film’s most iconic chase, becomes a joyous musical number as Landis revels in the automotive anarchy of his own making.

Bullitt (Peter Yates)

bullitt

The exhilarating car chase through the streets of San Francisco, which comes at the halfway point of Peter Yates’s Bullitt, is like a band that influenced a thousand others, playing notes that would eventually become endlessly imitated. Exploiting the streets of San Francisco for all their steep and treacherous pathways, Steve McQueen’s icy-cool detective Frank Bullitt wheels down a pair of shotgun wielding killers, blasting out his windshield as they careen down the highway. In hindsight, the sequence might lack the flashy fireworks found in other entries on this list, but this is the chase that spawned a thousand others. Finding the perfect combination of sequence and setting, Yates executed a coldly precise action scene, the brutal climax of which underlines the frigid detachment of its titular detective.

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (John Hough)

dirty-mary-crazy-larry

After robbing a supermarket, Larry (Peter Fonda) and Deke (Adam Roarke), two wannabe race car drivers, find themselves on the verge of their getaway when Mary Coombs (Susan George) demands to come along for the ride. Larry and Mary slept together the previous night, a one-night-stand which morphs into an extended first (and last) date: Larry and Mary get to know each other, while they’re pursued by police cars and helicopters at every turn. While the chase sequences only last a few minutes, each one is lively and builds on the momentum of the previous. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry never hints at the bleakness at the heart of the film, racing headlong into a jarring climax without of a hint of the insurmountable obstacles in store for its heroes.

Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino)

Grind House (Death Proof)

Death Proof’s climatic car chase is actually two for the price of one. After the girls (Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson and Zoë Bell) hit the road, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) attempts to run their borrowed (in more ways than one) Dodge Challenger off the road with Zoë still riding the hood. Soon Stuntman Mike finds himself the hunted as the girls execute a vicious reversal on this twisted psychopath. Channeling the car chase classic Vanishing Point (also on this list) with the choice of vehicle, writer-director Quentin Tarantino miraculously pulls off one of the finest entries in the genre in his rookie attempt, while simultaneously paying homage to a muscle-car classic. Refreshingly, Tarantino mines this material for emotional resonance, not merely action-horror film posturing, making us fall in love with his characters before introducing them to Mike’s death proof Dodge Charger.

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