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Let’s face it, most Hollywood car chases are hackneyed. There’s the classic “frenzied extras scurry out of the way of cars pulled on wires crashing through glass storefronts” shot. Or the standard “this car will barrel through a strategically placed barrier – one that would stop a tank – and emerge unscathed and drivable” take. Yet the best chase scenarios captured on celluloid have something to make them stand out: superb driving. We’ve been thinking about the other greatest driving scenes ever to hit the big screen. Allow us to present our top five.
5 – The Seven-Ups (1973)
It was the duel of the Pontiacs in this film from Philip D’Antoni (who produced Bullitt and The French Connection just a few years earlier) While the 1973 Pontiac Grand Ville and Ventura Sprint Coupe aren’t the most stunning or interesting of cars, D’Antoni knew how to coax an amazing performance out of each as they tore New York City to shreds. The best is the fantastic climax to the chase, orchestrated by stunt driver extraordinaire Bill Hickman (who drives the Grand Ville in the film), where Roy Scheider’s Ventura careens under a tractor-trailer, effectively turning it into a convertible, yet leaving the driver – who thankfully had his timing just so – uninjured.
4 – Ronin (1998)
More than 300 stunt drivers worked on this flick, helping a staggering number of sport sedans, motorcycles, police cars and trucks meet their demise for our pleasure. The BMW M5, Peugeot 406 and Audi’s S8 all got stunning close ups during the jarring realism of the real-time chases, and Jean Reno is likely the only actor who can make something as mundane as a Peugeot seem like a desirable driver’s car.
3 – The French Connection (1971)
This Oscar-winning film’s prime chase is between a Pontiac LeMans (helmed by Gene Hackman) and an elevated subway train in Brooklyn. Director William Friedkin makes it look easy, occasionally showing Hackman flying through opposing traffic underneath the elevated train in a single frame. The French Connection also brought producer Philip D’Antoni and stunt driver Bill Hickman back together, so you just know it’s nail-biting good.
2 – To Live and Die in LA (1985)
Friedkin wasn’t content to go down in history being known for merely one amazing chase sequence. His second epic chase sequence of all time lasts close to ten minutes and features cars careening over all the best parts of LA: side streets, under the freeway, in that infamous drainage culvert we always see, and finally, on the freeway. But it’s all presented with such inherent tension that even though you’ve seen chases in all those places before, it’s actually white-knuckle this time.
1 – Bullitt (1968)
It took a mere ten minutes for Bullitt to essentially redefine the concept of the car chase forever. The hilly backdrop of San Francisco means timeless frames of the muscle cars flying over the crests and sliding around apexes of the tight city’s streets. Bill Hickman (noticing a trend here?) drives the Dodge Charger, while director Peter Yates spiced up the chase by interspersing overhead shots with in-car cameras. Bullitt makes every guy who’s ever driven a classic Mustang want to unleash their inner Steven McQueen.
Have a favorite that you think should be added? Add it in comments below…