5.French Connection (1971) & To Live and Die in LA (1985)
Dir: William Friedkin
Cars: 1971 Pontiac LeMans, 1985 Chevy Impala
We’re cheating here, but it’s tough not to see the French Connection chase as the Charmander to To Live and Die in LAs Charizard. French Connection is eternally a podium finisher on best car chase lists, and for good reason. Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle chases some goons who have boarded an NYC metro train in a big ol Pontiac LeMans. The story behind the scene is equally as legendary, as Friedkin filmed the chase without permits from the city, using mostly off duty police officers to block traffic, but relying primarily on the car’s siren to ensure actual pedestrians wouldn’t get caught up in the scene. While endangering citizenry for the sake of a movie is wildly irresponsible, you can’t say Friedkin didn’t have some skin in the game; he directed the scene from the back seat of the stunt car.
Where French Connection’s chase is tight, immediate, and relatively brief, To Live and Die in LA cranks the knob to 11 with a massive LA River romp and wrong way chase on the freeway resulting in a jackknifed big rig and all the trimmings. And unlike many of the other entrants on this list, To Live and Die is actually a great movie overall!
4.Blues Brothers (1980)
Dir: John Landis
Cars: The Bluesmobile (1974 Dodge Monaco), various 1974 Chevy Bel Airs, 1977 Ford Pinto Wagon, 1975 Ford LTD Wagon
For what’s essentially a music/comedy movie, the Blues Brothers ends with one of the biggest demolition derby orgies ever committed to film. On the run from cops and nazis (aren’t we all?), Elwood puts The Bluesmobile through its paces, jumping at will over cops, sliding around corners, and even performing a signature backflip. The cop chase goes from a lot of cars, to even more cars, to “That has to be the bulk of cop cars on the east coast”, 103 cars were wrecked, a record at the time.
Later, the nazi chase looks like a Ford Pinto Wagon was dropped from lower Earth orbit before punching a crater in the asphalt (also lol that the nazis are driving Fords). After giving its all, The Bluesmobile finally collapses from exhaustion, collapsing into a heap, Looney Tunes style.
Dir: John Frankenheimer
Cars: BMW M5, Audi S8, Citroen XM, Pugeot 406, Pugeot 605
Ronin is a perennial favorite on best car chase lists, and for good reason. The movie manages to wedge 2 Game of the Year-caliber chase sequences into the plot all with some of the best car chase choreography and camera work out there. The butt-clenching never lets up as Natascha McElhone pilots her M5 through narrow Parisian streets with DeNiro in hot pursuit. Forgoing bright sports cars, Ronin keeps it old school, with a bunch of understated, but powerful saloons, perfect for hauling your accomplices away from the scene of the crime. If there’s any marks against this one, it’s De Niro’s hilarious “concentration” face that he seems incapable of changing throughout the whole chase.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Dir: George Miller
Cars: 1974 Ford XB Falcon, Gigahorse (Custom 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille), Nux Car (1934 Ford coupe), FDK (Volkswagen Beetle), Cranky Frank (Holden FJ)
No car chase movie list would be complete without a Mad Max movie, and Fury Road is essentially a chase from end to end; a nonstop hellscape of monster mutant cars endlessly roving about their self-inflicted wasteland for the next tank of guzzolene. Fury Road does a neat trick of almost making the cars seem like boats, and the drivers pirates, hurling explosive harpoons at one another and swashbuckling on poles from vehicle to vehicle. It may seem ridiculous to have a movie like this alongside Dabney Coleman in a Plymouth Caravelle (it is), but it’s a good example that our lizard brains love all chases great and small.
1.Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Dir: H.B. Halicki
Cars: 1973 Ford Mustang, Manta Mirage, Lamborghini Miura
Not to be confused with the 2000 reboot, the original Gone in 60 Seconds is a 70s-as-hell b-movie heist flick that culminates in a 40 minute (!) chase scene that earns its top spot the hard way. The yellow 1974 Ford Mustang, aka Eleanor, goes on a rip-roaring tour of 70s Los Angeles, evading police while jumping and smashing its way through any and all roadblocks.
It’s tough to pinpoint the best moment, but the easy answer is the insane jump at the end of the chase, what had to be the nail in the coffin for the poor Mustang. A lot of movies usually cut away quickly after launching a car skywward (as the cars’ suspension tends to explode on impact), but not Eleanor. The way this car is progressively battered throughout the chaseadds so much character the scene that you almost feel bad for how much it’s endured by the end (only one Mustang was used for the action shots). The chase is also a great time capsule through 70s LA, including a great run through an early Mazda dealership in Torrance. RIP Eleanor, you earned it.
What’s your favorite movie car chase? Link to it in the comments below, we’re nuts for this stuff. Also, follow Mike Grimm on Twitter for more car trivia!