Total Recall

Total Recall: Greatest Movie Car Chases

by | September 8, 2011 | Comments

Car chases are a classic element of action movies, and we’ve seen them since the Silent Era. A well-executed chase can be extremely thrilling, even in an otherwise crappy movie. Since Drive hits theaters soon, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the greatest car chases to ever go careening across the silver screen.

The Blues Brothers


“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” Those words mark the start of one of the zaniest car chases ever commited to film. Jake and Elwood Blues are headed to sweet home Chicago, with the Illinois State Police, the Chicago Police, the Good Ol’ Boys and some Illinois Nazis in hot pursuit. What starts out as a seemingly standard chase scene gets increasingly spectacular as the brothers near Chicago, and in the end, this movie set the record for the most cop cars destroyed in a film, a record that stood until the 2000 sequel hit theaters (the only thing worth mentioning in an otherwise awful sequel).

To Live and Die in L.A.


There’s a complicated story leading up to this car chase, but you don’t need to know it to enjoy this chase scene (we do recommend watching the movie). What goes down here is an exciting chase scene in a gripping movie from director William Friedkin. One of two chase scenes on this list from Friedkin, this one ends with a harrowing sequence showing two Secret Service agents speeding the wrong way down a crowded LA freeway.

The Bourne Identity


As soon as Jason Bourne asks Marie if she takes care of her car, and how the tires are, you know you can expect some serious driving. And the next scene doesn’t disappoint, as Bourne throws the Mini around the streets of Paris. Director Doug Liman gives us every bit of the Mini’s tight handling, with Bourne darting through alleys, down stairways and against traffic, and applying liberal use of the handbrake to slide the back end of the front-wheel drive car.

The Road Warrior


Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2) continues the story of former cop “Mad” Max Rockatansky. After nations have fallen, the fuel shortage has gotten so bad that people will kill each other to keep their cars running. The freakish Humungus and his marauders have besieged a fortified refinery, and Max is the only hope for the settlers inside. The climax of the film is an epic chase scene with Max behind the wheel of a heavily armored tanker truck, on the run from the bloodthirsty savages that want the precious gasoline its carrying. This is a tense and brutal chase scene, and also serves as a reminder of when we all still loved Mel Gibson.

Gone in 60 Seconds


Let’s get one thing straight here; Gone in 60 Seconds is a terrible movie. It was written, produced, directed by and starred stunt driver H.B. Halicki (although we’re being generous with the writing credit, considering there wasn’t an official script). Most of the cast was comprised of Halicki’s friends and family, and the story can be pretty hard to follow. The first hour of the film is amateurish and confusing, but everything is redeemed in the last chase scene. That is to say, a 34-minute chase scene featuring a 1973 Mustang Mach 1 (code named “Eleanor”) on the run from dozens of police cars. This chase earns its spot on this list not only because it’s the longest car chase on film, but also because we see some great driving here. Halicki may not have made a good movie, but this chase scene is legendary.

Death Proof


In 2007, audiences were treated to one of the tensest car chases ever filmed. In Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (part of the Grindhouse double-feature) stuntwoman Zoe Bell plays an insane game called “Ship’s Mast,” where she rides on the hood of a car at high speeds, holding on to a couple of belts to keep from sliding off. As if that wasn’t enough, along comes Stunt Man Mike (Kurt Russell) with murder on his mind. The two classic Dodges go careening down the road in a scene bereft of any CGI tricks. Bell’s really on the hood of that Challenger, and you’re terrified she’s going to go flying off at any minute.

The Italian Job


This 1969 British caper film could have served as an advertisement for the Mini Cooper. Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) and his gang have the perfect heist: create the mother of all traffic jams in Turin, steal a consignment of gold bullion, and escape in cars small enough to dodge the snarled traffic. The three Mini Coopers are as much the stars of this movie as Michael Caine was, and you get to see them driving through shopping centers, over roofs, down stairs, and through sewer pipes.

The French Connection


Detective Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) is runing down a hitman, only to see the hitman jump onto an elevated train. So naturally, the next step is to commandeer a civilian’s car and chase the train, right? Keeping up with the train is no easy task though, and true to the character, Doyle breaks almost every traffic law you can think of while trying to get his man.



One of director John Frankenheimer’s last films, and one of his best, Ronin tells the story of a diverse groupe of former (but not really former) government agents trying to steal a case, and the aftermath of the theft. The target case is transported in a small, heavily armed convoy of cars, but since that’s the only time the case is out in the open, the team has to hit the convoy. The heist we get to see involves high speeds, mountain roads, narrow alleys, machine guns and a rocket launcher. That sounds a bit over the top, but it works within the context of the film, and Frankenheimer gives us a modern chase scene that is a good as any we’ve ever seen before.



It may never get any better than watching Steve McQueen barreling down the streets of San Francisco in his 1968 Mustang. Sure, some of the sequences are repeated, meaning you see McQueen’s Mustang and the Dodge Challenger pass the same Beetle four times, but that’s not unforgivable. Seeing McQueen himself behind the wheel for much of the chase definitely makes up for that, and seeing a star do their own driving isn’t something you get to see much of in this day of CGI effects and production insurance. This is the chase scene by which all other chase scenes will forever be measured.

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Drive.

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