With the eighth (!!) “Fast and Furious” feature zooming into theaters, it’s time to look back and marvel at some of the past decade’s other big achievements in high-octane action. While the Vin Diesel-starring franchise might have a monopoly on auto-based mayhem, a slew of other features have made a solid case for their ability to wield cars (and very, very good drivers) as weapons of major entertainment.
From indie favorites like “The Raid 2” and “Hell or High Water” to box office bonanzas like “Lucy” and, yes, “Fast Five,” the car chase is as dangerous — and daring — as ever before. Here are our eleven favorites. Buckle up.
Even a seemingly unstoppable drug-mule-turned-modern-superhero like Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) can’t escape the pull of a good vehicular adventure. Precision is the name of the game here, as a nearly fully evolved Lucy zooms through the streets of Paris (alongside her amusingly stoic compatriot, Pierre del Rio, played by a wonderfully unflappable Amr Waked) without missing a beat — or a street, or a turn, or even a seemingly ill-advised zip through a roundabout that only runs one way. Punctuated by a few classic “Lucy” lines (Johansson muttering “we never really die” is a highlight of the entire film) and neatly flipping between her perspective and wider views of the mayhem she’s happily unleashing, it’s a heart-pounding sequence that also adds humor and a kickass handle on location to the mix.
God bless the wild mind of Nicolas Winding Refn, who uses one ingenious, pulse-quicking chase scene to introduce us to everything we need to know about his toothpick-chomping anti-hero. Ryan Gosling is all fixed eyes and best-laid plans in the opening moments of “Drive,” smoothly navigating from a nerve-wracking getaway into a zip around downtown Los Angeles, all perfectly timed to one hell of a surprising twist. We learn nearly everything we need to about Driver in this first sequence — that confidence, that handle on even the most unnerving of situations — which makes it all the more satisfying when all those elements are stripped away as the film rolls on.
“John Wick” (2014)
Of course “John Wick” has a great car chase scene, but what really works about this night-set sequence from Chad Stahelski’s Keanu Reeves-starring banger is how it uses so many elements we already associate with great chases — a desolate location, a generous amount of revving, plenty of smashing, so many squealing tires — and crafts something new. Reeves’ rage, which should have been considered for some sort of supporting actor award, drives the sequence forward, while his characteristic can-do-anything skill set keeps everything cool and collected, even when he’s just shooting so many people in the face, while still driving.
“Please, please drive faster!” Not to worry, Wesley (James McAvoy), you are about to get that and so much more. Timur Bekmambetov’s hyper-stylized assassin fantasy established the Brit as not only an action star to watch, but one who could actually match wits with Angelina Jolie. Sure, Wesley is not too hot to trot when we first meet him — the “your dad was an assassin” information dump would be enough to put anyone into a tizzy, and that’s to say nothing of the high-wire action to come — and watching him come to grips with his new reality is half the fun of this scene. The other half is the flat-out mastery at play in a whiz-bang car chase that, even nearly a decade on, looks fresh as ever.
“Death Proof” (2007)
Two words: Zoe Bell.
“The Raid 2” (2014)
Gareth Evans’ bone-crunching franchise excels at packing a murderers’ row of mean dudes into a confined space and letting them just tear each other to shreds. While Evans’ first “Raid” feature was notoriously set inside a sprawling apartment complex, his 2014 followup moved at least some of his action to different locales — like this ill-fated motorcade which makes a case strong case for never, ever getting into a vehicle with an enemy ever again. The high speeds are scary enough already (and are at least speedy enough to demolish an entire bus shelter with hilarious ease), but when combined with absolutely merciless hand to hand combat, it adds up to one of the series’ most imaginative and bloody sequences ever.
“Hell or High Water” (2016)
By the third act of David Mackenzie’s 2016 indie hit, desperation has seeped into every moment, every character, every choice. As brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) hit the road after one last viciously ill-conceived robbery, it’s become clear that a happy ending is simply not in the cards. Not content to just keep driving, the increasingly unhinged Tanner turns an already compelling car chase into a good, old-fashioned Texas shootout. It’s good enough to save one Howard brother, and more than enough to set the film’s final, gripping moments into unstoppable motion.
“Pineapple Express” (2008)
Arguably the moment everything really goes topside in David Gordon Green’s gut-busting stoner comedy, Saul’s (James Franco) brutally stupid plan to liberate his new best pal Dale (Seth Rogen) sets the stage for plenty more mayhem to come, all neatly fit inside a genuinely thrilling car chase through the Valley. Saul is dumb as ever (and perhaps even mortally wounded), Dale is absolutely no help to anyone, and at the end, a Rascal scooter gets pounded. A comedy classic that doesn’t often get its action due.
“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (2015)
Yes, motorcycles count. Tom Cruise and his “Mission: Impossible” franchise have gleefully raised the stakes on signature stunts over the years, and while it’s hard to imagine anything every topping the Dubai skyscraper scene in “Ghost Protocol,” there’s something ballsy about bringing it back down to literal land for a solid chase sequence. Alternately cutting between Ethan Hunt’s POV (powerful enough to made audiences twist and lean like they’re the one driving, if not chucking their cookies because it’s all a little too whiplash-inducing) and wider shots of stunning settings, it’s a fast-paced banger that offers up one serious lesson on motorcycle safety.
“Fast Five” (2011)
Credit Justin Lin for taking the already popular “Fast and Furious” franchise into a wholly new direction with his wickedly entertaining 2011 heist film. “Fast Five” marked a true sea (lane?) change for the series, recasting Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and the rest of his chosen family as world-class burglars capable of combining their scrappy attitudes with their serious driving skills to pull off dizzyingly daring crimes — like yanking a vault from a Rio police station and dragging it through the streets and getting away with it. While the franchise has continued to up the ante when it comes to such antics, nothing has come close yet to the pure ingenuity and WTF-ness of the biggest, baddest, and best of “Fast Five.”
“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
It would be easy to argue that the entirety of George Miller’s gobsmacking return to form functions as one of cinema’s great chase scenes, and while narrowing it down to just one chunk of brilliance is almost impossible, it all starts somewhere. Superlatives aren’t enough to describe the utter madness of the first chase scene of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which doesn’t just introduce characters, the world they live inside, the vehicles they drive and the weapons they wield with the maximum of intensity and creativity, but wraps it together into the kind of non-stop thrill ride deserving of such obvious pullquotes. Set against the burnt out desert and littered with faces and furies that will prove paramount to the rest of the story, it never lets up and it never lets down.