Hit the pedal to the metal and practice your handbrake turns, it’s time for twenty epic car chases that will drive you wild…
You can rely on the action genre to set your pulse racing with shootouts, fight scenes, foot chases and aerial duels. There’s another enjoyable kind of action sequence that genre fans love and it’s car chases.
There have been countless great car chases but fans of vehicular mayhem who love to watch speeding cars pitted against each other will undoubtedly have their favourites.
Get used to the name, Spiro Razatos, because you’re going to hear it several times. He’s one of the masters of car chase choreography and orchestrated carnage, who has overseen the Dwayne Johnson era of the Fast and Furious franchise but we’re not even going to touch upon them. Here are 20 epic car chases…
Look, I’m gonna hit you with some well-known choices up in here, but also with a few hidden gems. Here, not for the last time in our list is a film from PM Entertainment and this one has the aforementioned Spiro Razatos to thank (along with a stellar stunt team that was par for the PM course) for some pretty wild action sequences.
The film sees Gary Daniels as a teacher unwittingly becoming a guinea pig super soldier who goes on the run to clear his name and track the people behind everything. The highlight car chase in this has Daniels hitching a lift in a fuel tanker having just blitzed his way out of a secret lab. He’s got the police on his tail and inevitably has to chuck the driver out and take over. Cue a lengthy (10 minutes no less) sequence where the truck is chased by cars, many of which end up exploding, another truck, which ends up tipping over across the lanes of traffic and having cars flip and explode through it (a PM speciality) before ending with a game of chicken between Daniels’ truck and a commandeered classic American (yellow) school bus. They collide, by which time Daniels is surfing the roof and he catapults himself off it and clear of a massive explosion of vehicles to safety. Insane…kudos Spiros (and gang). Sidenote: Razatos also oversaw the action on another film called Rage (starring Lorenzo Lamas and Gary Busey) that has a great chase in it with a car drifting under a truck and riding between its front and back wheels.
You may well get fed up with the name shortly, but Spiro is back and Gary Daniels is along for the ride once again. Recoil is even more top-heavy with car chases than Rage and Daniels is a cop whose family is killed by criminals seeks revenge.
There are so many highlights but this film opens with pretty much non-stop action as a bank heist shootout turns into an almost never-ending car chase through a covered market among other places. Crates, boxes and more get demolished as cars and bikes weave around or just smash through obstacles (and each other). Like most of PM Entertainment’s films at their peak, it was just a gleeful exercise in stunt work and a great place for stunt folk to go wild.
As far as 90s action cinema goes, Ronin as a whole deserves more love. It should be more widely heralded than it is. A classy Euro thriller with a great cast and gritty action also boasts several superb vehicular sequences.
The best sequence is a lengthy chase as De Niro and the gang try to hunt the nefarious double-crosser, Stellan Skarsgard. The chase goes through the tight Paris streets and out into motorways and through tight tunnels with and against traffic. John Frankenheimer, a master of action and no stranger to car chases, manages to capture intense visceral speed and the immense stunt work orchestrated by (among others) Joe Dunne and Jean-Claude Lagniez. Some of the stunts look genuinely terrifying like the stunt driving was taken right to the edge. The results are stunning. Is this the best car chase ever?
Steve McQueen and Peter Yates may have something to say about that with Bullitt, a film as synonymous with its headline car chase as any other film. Yet when you view the film as a whole it’s a pretty great early New Hollywood-era thriller with brutal violence and morally obtuse characters.
However, we’re here for that showstopping car chase on the streets of San Francisco. It simmers at first with McQueen’s titular character tailing a suspect who then shifts into top gear and kicks off the chaos. McQueen, a racing driver at that time (outside of his acting) handles a significant portion of his driving, leaving the crazier stuff to stunt coordinator and his driving double, Carey Loftin. The chase is insanely cool, further embellished with McQueen’s iconic Ford Mustang GT.
To Live and Die in LA
The late great William Friedkin is well versed in the humble car chase with the iconic chase in his first mega-hit, The French Connection. That’s pretty well renowned of course but one car chase in a later Friedkin film which gets overlooked (largely because the film itself is still somewhat underappreciated) is the immense showstopper in To Live and Die in LA.
The William Petersen starrer has some classic car chase beats we all love such as the narrow train dodge, the aqua duct chase and that old chestnut, driving against traffic. It’s a brilliant, dazzlingly stylish film with a Wang Chung soundtrack so there’s plenty to love in addition to the epic car chase (overseen by stunt legend Buddy Joe Hooker).
Dolph Lundgren is a presidential bodyguard tasked with looking after the black bag (a briefcase containing nuclear launch codes). It’s taken from him and he’s given the Hans Grubar skyscraper treatment and dropped from a great height. He survives however and gives chase trying to retrieve it.
The Peacekeeper is a solid little riff on The Rock where Dolph must battle terrorists in the nuclear silo they’ve taken over. The piece de resistance here though is a brilliant car chase that takes place at night through city streets into a car park, ending as a rooftop jumping car chase. It’s a great set piece that kind of makes the film peak a bit too early but that’s all down to the brilliance conjured up by Spiro Razatos (yes…again).
Not unlike The Peacekeeper, Executive Target has our hero taking on terrorists who are trying to take down the president, also played here by Roy Scheider. Michael Madsen plays a stunt driver being manipulated by the terrorists into kidnapping the president. Given that this is from PM Entertainment (though a rare no-show by Spiro) it’s loaded with great car chases, usually in sports cars.
It’s hard to pick a highlight but the film is very much paying homage to Michael Bay, right down to the stylistic choices and smarmy dialogue. Perhaps the best chase sees Madsen escaping capture in a Chevrolet Camaro.
I’ve sung the praises of The Hitcher many times, a film that its mesmeric star Rutger Hauer called a fucked up fairytale. It’s a brilliant, strangely metaphysical thriller, tinged with horror but also benefitting from some excellent set pieces.
The standout is a pulsating highway chase as Jim Halsey (C Thomas Howell) and Nash (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) are escaping the police and the titular hitcher (Hauer) blazes in to cause chaos before a chopper arrives to up the ante further. There are some great car flips and dynamic camera car work coordinated by David Burton.
Nic Winding Refn’s brilliant neo-noir is a love letter to The Driver, Thief, Heat and many more. Yet it has its own inimitable neon style and Refn’s trademark brutal violence.
Of course, being a film about a mysterious stuntman by day, and a getaway driver by night, this has car chases and the opening sequence which is unspeakably cool, is the standout.
Speaking of The Driver, an American reboot of French classic Le Samourai, this classic from Water Hill does exactly what it says on the tin. Once again, a mysterious driver for hire sees his meticulous ways throne into disorder by the criminals he does business with.
Cue plenty of action, gorgeous neo-noir photography and great car chases. Hill is a master of action and The Driver might be his best work. He designed the vehicular set pieces alongside stunt coordinator Everett Creach.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration
Director John Hyams managed to breathe new life into a Universal Soldier franchise no one ever suspected would be resurrected back in 2009 (and followed with another sequel in 2012). He built his films on gritty and grounded action where violence has consequences, gravity is rarely defied and impacts are felt. The film opens with a terrorist group, who have a Unisol running point, grabbing the kids of the Russian president and it breaks straight into the car chase.
In spite of the budgetary limitations, Hyams designs a set piece with perpetual motion which is brilliantly cut together. It’s a frantic, growling car chase punctuated by great sound work which effectively acts as the score. An armoured vehicle ploughs through police and bystander vehicles as the kidnappers abscond with the kids to their extraction point. All the while, their Unisol (Andrei Arlovski) fires heavy artillery out of the sunroof, pummelling cars with bullet holes and setting off a few impressive crashes and flips. Hyams tends to know how he wants his action to play out, more hands-on than many but he’s ably abetted by Charlie Picerni and Boris Iliev.
The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan does spectacle very well and best of all in this modern CGI age, he does it as practically as he possibly can. This often requires clever solutions to capturing complex shots but in others the simple solution of using great stunt teams and creating awe-striking moments.
The Joker’s police transport assault, particularly the underpass sequences are stunning thanks to a combination of brilliant stunts and miniature work which blend seamlessly. One of the best setpieces of the 21st century, in undoubtedly the best comic book film ever.
The Road Warrior
George Miller knows car chases and his entire Mad Max franchise has been built off them from the guerilla-ish recklessness of the ultra-low-budget Ozploitation original, to the mega-budget exploits in Fury Road.
The Road Warrior is still the best of the franchise with its perfectly lithe approach and it also has exceptional car chases which culminate with a stunning finale. Once again insane stunt work is the order of the day, coordinated by Max Aspin.
The Bourne Supremacy
Like the Mad Max franchise, the Bourne series has been built on its car chases as much as Jason Bourne’s hand-to-hand skills. Paul Greengrass took the reigns for the film’s second and third instalments (As well as a fourth film later on) and brought a voyeuristic, docu-style approach to the drama and the action.
It was a rare case where the shaky cam craze of the era actually fit the film and in particular during those intense and visceral car chases. The finale chase between Bourne and the rival assassin (Karl Urban) who killed Marie (Franke Potente) is nail-biting. Stunt coordinator, Dan Bradley also became the stunt world’s hottest property of the time thanks to his Bourne work.
Last Man Standing (1995)
Last Man Standing, not to be confused with the Bruce Willis/Walter Hill remake of Yojimbo, is another PM classic starring Jeff Wincott. Every good PM special needs a stunt coordinator (And they often had first billing on end credits too) and it’s the return of our pal, Spiro.
There are loads of car chases, flips, explosions and crazy shenanigans but the highlight is a lengthy chase between Wincott on his motorbike and an armoured truck that’s been taken by badduns. The beats as the action scene escalates are superb, including a sequence that the team on Lethal Weapon 4 undoubtedly lifted where Wincott is being dragged behind the truck on a cloth that rolls out the back.
Duel is a perfect exercise in simplism. It doesn’t take long for Dennis Weaver and on his road trip across the country to get tormented by the truck whose driver we never see. It’s one long chase from there on in.
Once Weaver realises he has to battle back, the action goes up another notch. Steven Spielberg provides so much energy to the sparse film and a thundering pace to the relentless chase.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
We can’t talk stunts and not mention Mr Tom Cruise. Mission Impossible: Fallout is still the best in the franchise and there are a number of excellent vehicle chases.
The highlight has to be Ethan’s chase through Paris streets on a motorbike and of course at moments going against the traffic. Cruise does a good amount of the driving himself, though of course many of those oncoming vehicles will have been added in post. Fallout is a rare gift in modern action though and is a stuntman dream, overseen by franchise regular, Wade Eastwood.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
James Cameron crafted a big, bold and ballistic sequel to his expert blend of action, sci-fi and nightmare horror, particularly upping the ante with the action.
There are so many amazing set pieces in this and terrific stunt work and the opening bike and truck chase could easily be the high point of any action film but for me, the pre-finale chase sequence is amazing as the chase shifts from chopper and truck chase to car truck chase with the T1000 relentlessly pursuing the Connors’ and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T800. Cameron undoubtedly designs what he wants whilst Joel Kramer and Gary Davis, stunt legends, made it so.
Jackie Chan’s greatest film is unsurprisingly chock full of amazing physical stunts and fights but it’s also a fantastic, slightly deranged showcase of the stunt teams working back then. The standout vehicular sequence sees Chan chasing suspects, transitioning from chase which sees pursuer and pursued smashing their way down a steep hill, right through a shanty town to chasing them onto a bus. It’s chaotic (also serving as inspiration for Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II).
You’ll never get stunts as crazy as Chan’s heyday now, but it’s not really surprising.
The Raid 2
The Raid 2 really kicked things up a notch, broadening the action horizons of a film which took place in a single location. Now we had a bigger variety of locales and set piece types in this fight-centric film from Gareth Evans.
The big vehicle set piece in The Raid 2 is a sensational car chase which sees Iko Uwais stuck in the back of a car being chased and having to fight his way out of the tight confides. The stunt work is great as is the amazing camera work which really keeps the tension high. The two films have put Indonesian action cinema on the map, not least its star Iko Uwais.
What is your favourite car chase? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth…