The 15 Greatest Movie Car Chases

Steve McQueen drives a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback in Bullitt (1968).
Steve McQueen drives a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback in Bullitt (1968).
Warner Bros.

The car chase is a time-honored, frequently practiced piece of the language of action cinema, and the rise in digital wizardry in filmmaking has only helped to bolster its place on the big screen. For many moviegoers there’s nothing more thrilling than watching two or more cars pushed to their absolute limit, whether on the open road or while weaving through crowded city streets. Many movies try to get it right, and lots do, but there are a select few who nail it on a masterpiece level. These are some of the greatest movie car chases ever staged.

1. Bullitt (1968)

For many film fans, Peter Yates's Bullitt is still the gold standard by which all other movie car chases are measured. The legendary showdown between Steve McQueen’s Ford Mustang and the Dodge Charger occupied by a pair of men trying to kill him still holds up as a beautiful display of 1960s automotive muscle, in part because it doesn’t adhere to a predictable structure. Yes, the chase begins in the iconic hilly streets of San Francisco, but it ends out on a more open road, where the cars get to really show off some speed and, finally, some spectacular crashing. It’s that contrast between cramped and open, hilly and flat, that really puts the chase over the top.

2. The Italian Job (1969)

A lot of car chases rely on speed above all else to sell the action, whether it’s the speed of the cars or the speed of the editing or both. The Italian Job, a lighthearted heist film about a crew of British thieves (including Michael Caine) trying to get a big pile of gold bars into the Swiss Alps, certainly has speed going for it, but what makes its car chase particularly memorable is its palpable sense of humor. The idea of a trio of Mini Coopers zipping down stairs is funny enough, but then throw in things like a marriage ceremony, a stalled police car on a roof, and guys calmly steering through a pitch black tunnel like they’re on a Sunday drive, and you’ve got something unforgettable. The Italian Job doesn’t have the fastest car chase ever, but it certainly has one of the wittiest.

3. The French Connection (1971)

When producer Philip D’Antoni and director William Friedkin were gearing up to make The French Connection, D’Antoni had one particular demand: The film’s car chase had to top the one from Bullitt, which he had also produced. The two filmmakers brainstormed and eventually hit upon the idea of a car chasing an elevated train. After a few weeks of permit-free shooting on the streets of New York City, Friedkin had all the footage he needed to produce an all-time great action sequence. From the first-person camera perspectives to the obstacles under the train tracks to Gene Hackman’s screaming face, it packs just as much adrenaline today as it did in 1971.

4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

James Bond films were tailor-made for car chases featuring the sexiest vehicles of any given era, and nearly every film in the franchise has a chase scene worth remembering. We could do a whole list composed of nothing but great Bond car chases, but if pressed to pick just one we have to talk about the merry procession of pursuers in The Spy Who Loved Me’s centerpiece chase. In a sleek Lotus Esprit, Roger Moore's Bond and Russian Agent Amasova (Barbara Bach) are chased first by a motorcycle with a killer sidecar, then by a car carrying new villain Jaws, then by a helicopter. It’s this last obstacle that proves particularly tricky, but Bond’s always got one more trick than the bad guys, and this time the trick turned out to be that his Lotus was amphibious. Yes, this is the movie where the car turns into a submarine, and that’s something no one who saw The Spy Who Loved Me will ever forget.

5. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

No discussion of great movie car chases is complete without Smokey and the Bandit, the film that made the Pontiac Trans Am an essential part of American pop culture forever. Hal Needham’s classic road movie is packed with wonderful car moments and great stunts, so much so that it’s difficult to pin down just one as the best part of the film. The task is made more difficult by the sheer amount of swagger that exists in the film between Burt Reynolds's performance and Needham’s direction. Even when the danger is dialed up to 11, the film is so breezy and light that you almost forgot someone could die doing this kind of driving. The jump across Mulberry Bridge feels like a perfect encapsulation of these seemingly opposing ideas, as Bandit quips “that’s not good” upon seeing the roadblock and then “That’s worse” upon seeing troopers speeding up from the other direction. It’s a brilliant blend of comedy and great stunt work.

6. The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Blues Brothers, the John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd vehicle that remains one of the most successful Saturday Night Live sketch adaptations of all time, leans heavily on a sense of outsized action that runs through the whole film. The story is ostensibly about a pair of well-meaning guys who just want to earn some extra money to save the orphanage they grew up in, but along the way they run into explosions and car chases that they have to somewhat calmly steer through on their way to fulfill a relatively simple “Mission from God.” The film has not one, but two great chases that lean into the lunacy of this, and while the early chase through the mall is a masterpiece, the sheer cartoonish absurdity of the final pursuit through the streets of Chicago is the one most people remember. It’s just too zany to forget.

7. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Only one director has the honor of being on this list twice: William Friedkin, who masterminded the car chase in The French Connection and then somehow produced another all-timer more than a decade later. To Live and Die in L.A. is not a masterpiece in the same way that The French Connection is, but its centerpiece chase scene—in which a pair of Secret Service agents flee two gunmen after an operation gone wrong—is a masterpiece for the 1980s in the same way the train versus car chase was for the 1970s. What begins with weaving through trucks in an industrial area soon explodes out onto L.A.’s freeways, and culminates in some of the most daring driving ever captured on film.

8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

While it’s always fun to see two classic muscle cars zipping around each other on the road, The French Connection taught us early that contrast is often the key to a thrilling chase. James Cameron took that lesson to heart and poured it into this thrilling sequence in T2, in which the T-1000 hijacks a tow truck to chase John Connor and his weak little motorcycle through a puddle-filled channel. The sound design impeccably plays up the contrast through the engine noise alone, until the truck becomes a full-blown monster raging through the concrete path, throwing sparks as it goes. The climactic moments, featuring the T-800 on yet another motorcycle, only serve to further play up the juxtapositions of the scene in a very fun way.

9. Ronin (1998)

Sometimes the best car chases are the ones that don’t feature cool cars and even cooler characters, and for proof you can look at John Frankenheimer’s Ronin and its masterful centerpiece chase. The two cars involved are relatively unremarkable, but Frankenheimer dials up the intensity through everyone from the use of tunnels and bridges to little details like hubcaps spinning off in the middle of turns. Even more remarkable than the car chase itself, though, is the way the sequence works as a character piece to really emphasize the danger. No one in either car looks like they’re having a good time, and Robert De Niro looks practically freaked out in a lot of the shots. It all adds to the sensation that everything could go horribly wrong at any moment, which only makes it more thrilling.

10. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

When you think “spy movie” in the context of car chases, you tend to think of the slickest possible presentation and the coolest possible car. It’s playing against those sorts of conventions that makes the Moscow chase sequence in The Bourne Supremacy so effective. Anchored by the intensity of Matt Damon’s performance and Paul Greengrass’s handheld camera style, the chase plays like a montage of desperation as Bourne flees his pursuers in a beat-up taxi cab while nursing a shoulder wound. We know Jason Bourne’s not going to day, but watching this chase you still get the feeling that you’re not sure which will give out first: Bourne’s body or the taxi.

11. Death Proof (2007)

Quentin Tarantino has been remixing classic genre tropes and moments from his vast knowledge of cinema throughout his entire career, so he was bound to get around to doing a car chase eventually. Tarantino’s definitive chase sequence finally arrived in Death Proof, and it’s perhaps most notable not because of Tarantino’s ability to play with genre conventions, but his ability to adhere to them. It plays in many ways like a classic car chase straight out of the 1970s, and it works as a moment of pure adrenaline because Tarantino shoots it like one. His unflinching camera simply refuses to give the scene a break, reminding us over and over again that what we’re watching is as real, and as exciting, as it gets.

12. Fast Five (2011)

The Fast & Furious franchise is renowned for its ability to up the ante with new car stunts in every single installment, to the point that in the last film the central ensemble was literally chasing a submarine across the ice. Even as the set pieces get bigger, though, the climactic vault heist from Fast Five remains a high water mark for many fans. The setup is fairly simple: Brian and Dom yank a massive vault out of its housing then drive it through the streets of Rio in matching Dodge Chargers. What makes it truly special is the many ways in which the sequence evolves through little details, from the vault tearing through a line of pylons as soon as it hits the streets to Brian backing his car into the vault to drive backwards for a while. It’s a gem in a series full of gems.

13. Drive (2011)

Though it might sound counterintuitive, patience is often just as important to crafting a good car chase as speed is. It’s all about the setup, the context, the various elements that tell a story without words, and few films grasp that concept as well as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The film’s opening sequence, in which The Driver (Ryan Gosling) lays out his rules for work and then picks up a pair of armed robbers for a getaway through the streets of Los Angeles, is a masterclass in patience. From the moments of parked tension to the clever culmination, it’s all about waiting for the right moment and then unleashing that horsepower.

14. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Up until a few years ago, George Miller’s The Road Warrior would have been the Mad Max film to include on this list thanks to its wild and brutal chase sequences. Then came Mad Max: Fury Road, Miller’s fourth film in the franchise and perhaps the greatest action movie to come out of the 2010s. The film is essentially one long car chase, pausing only once in a while to set up the next big chunk of driving, so it’s hard to pin down just one “chase” as the masterpiece. For now, though, let’s just say the sequence when Immortan Joe’s War Boys start to swing down at our heroes from poles is the most thrilling part.

15. Baby Driver (2017)

Many, many films incorporate pop music needle drops into their biggest action sequences, but few have ever done it quite as intricately as Baby Driver. Edgar Wright’s action film about a getaway driver who does his best work when his music is blasting combines the speed and thrills of classic car chases with the cinematic language of the movie musical to create something magical. There are several wonderful chase sequences in Baby Driver, but it arguably never gets better than the film’s instantly magnetic opening sequence, set to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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