Car chases and celluloid. They’re just so well matched. Perhaps it’s because film is a medium in motion, much like the cars themselves. Or perhaps it’s simply because chases look so damn cool. Who knows?
Whatever the reason, it's the perfect time of year to sit back, switch off and revel in a few minutes of fictional motor mayhem. So, we’ve compiled a list of our ten favourites for you to mull over and enjoy. Here they are, in purely chronological order.
Be advised, some of the clips contain swearing. And remember, these are fantasy situations - you shouldn't ever try to recreate what you see. Please drive with due care and attention at all times.
1. The French Connection (1971)
The French Connection’s car chase (versus a New York train) is probably the most celebrated of them all – and it’s easy to see why. This is brutally real stuff. Or, as director William Friedkin puts it in this video, “the car was doing 100mph … which literally this car was, for 26 blocks, with no streets cleared”.
2. The Burglars (1971)
The chase in Henri Verneuil’s The Burglars (aka, Le Casse) isn’t quite as authentic as the one in The French Connection – there are a few shots against video backdrops, for instance – but it still has plenty of shabby charm. A Fiat 124 and an Opel Rekord knock each other into scrap on the streets of Athens. Watch out for the steps!
3. Gone in Sixty Seconds (1974)
Fear not, this isn’t the Nick Cage dud from 2000, but the 1974 original. Practically the entire film is a showcase of the power and agility of American muscle cars – but particularly the final 40 minutes, which are one long chase. The director H.B. Halicki used to claim that almost 100 cars were wrecked, for real, in the making of this sequence.
4. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
And while we’re talking about extended chases to close a film, how about the one at the end of Road Warrior? Technically, our hero Mad Max isn’t in a car – he’s in a tanker. But there are certainly plenty of cars, and assorted mad buggies, on his tail. The glory of this chase is in its invention and its sense of continuity. It almost feels as though it was filmed in one long take down one long Australian road.
5. To Live and Die in LA (1985)
Could Friedkin ever top the chase he orchestrated in The French Connection? Yes, yes he could, as To Live and Die in LA demonstrates. Like the earlier film, it has an on-the-streets authenticity to it. Unlike the earlier film, it features multiple cars going against the direction of traffic on a freeway. Its real genius, though, is in how it pauses the action half-way through – and then escalates it.
6. The Hidden (1987)
There’s something unnerving about the chase that opens sci-fi thriller The Hidden. At first, it seems almost trite: the Ferrari, the cops, the guys carrying a pane of glass that is duly smashed. But then it turns violently weird and weirdly violent. The driver’s smile before he’s shot by the police is grim but memorable, as is the part where he hits someone in a wheelchair.
7. Short Time (1990)
This one’s all about the context: a cop, who mistakenly thinks he’s dying anyway, is trying to get himself killed on the job so that his family can enjoy an insurance windfall. Does he manage it? Not in this chase – but it’s still kind of funny to watch him try.
8. Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
You can always rely on Mel Gibson to bring the crazy. Almost twenty years after Road Warrior, here he is fighting bad guys from the back of bungalow that’s being towed down a freeway, and then… well, you just need to watch it, if it’s to make any sense. If you want to feel sick, you can also see the whole thing in reverse.
9. Ronin (1998)
The French Connection comes up a lot in the history of on-screen car chases: this one, from Ronin, was directed by the man who made French Connection II (1975), John Frankenheimer. And it has another sort of French connection, too, in that it was shot in Paris. The bumper-camera shots call to mind Claude Lelouch’s famous C’était un Rendez-vous (1976).
10. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
We could have included a number of chases from the Bourne movies: the Mini adventure in The Bourne Identity (2002); the rough ride through New York in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007); whatever. But we alighted on this one, from the second film in the series, simply because it’s the best. Like most of the action in the film, it’s so frenetic that it almost causes motion sickness. But it gets its point across well: cars don’t enjoy smashing into tunnel walls.