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The 50 Greatest Car Chases in Film History

on October 24, 2018, 2:57pm
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10. Vanishing Point (1971)

The Eternal Rider

Make/Model: 1970 Dodge Challenger

Blue Book: Hey, speaking of the Vanishing Point car! Like Two-Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point is a relic of an era when muscle cars could still be considered true counterculture. As Kowalski burns through the desert, on the path to his salvation and ruin alike, the white Challenger stands as a physical icon of an American ideal long passed by. Speed, equaling freedom of the soul. Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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09. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Wang Chung Chase

Make/Model: 1985 Chevrolet Impala

Blue Book: 33 years later, we’re talking about and taking seriously a car chase scored to Wang Chung? A miracle. The automotive successor to Friedkin’s French Connection chase crackles and screeches with a sort of coked-up energy that is positively 1980s. A big, rolling rush, as they say. –Blake Goble

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08. Akira (1988)

Cyberpunk Hell on Wheels

Make/Model: Unknown – Shotaro Kaneda’s Bike

Blue Book: The opening to Akira accomplishes what most chase scenes never dare to try: the conveyance of story and character and place alike, all delivered in a handful of whirlwind minutes through the streets of a futuristic world beyond comprehension. Through animation, speed is untethered from the limits of reality, and has rarely felt as manaically fast as it does here. Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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07. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Burt Reynolds Forever

Make/Model: 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Blue Book: 1800 miles, 30 hours to go, and a shitton of Coors. Smokey and the Bandit takes the action-oriented seriousness of car chases and adds a degree of absurdism so affectionately corny that it’s a small wonder Hall Needham’s hit-and-run classic has lasted without being fully excused as camp. Burt Reynolds rode into film history with this one. –Blake Goble

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06. Ronin (1998)

DeNiro on the Move

Make/Model: 1996 Peugot 406

Blue Book: Yes, John Frankenheimer’s latter day work of surreal action with a two-way street of chases. Bobby DeNiro with the bazooka? Dazzling, daring. But for our gas money, the Paris chase – complete with a car going into oncoming traffic – takes the prize on precision and anxiety alone. The stomach drops at this one. –Blake Goble

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05. Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

The Whole Goddamn Second Half

Make/Model: 1971 Ford Mustang

Blue Book: Back before you could stage a car chase with an entire city street full of computer animated vehicles, you had to send one prop car into the next for the desired effect. The original Gone in 60 Seconds, largely a relic of car movie culture these days, is a symphony of destruction, with what stands to this day as one of the biggest on-camera pile-ups in movie history. It’s nearly half of the movie, too. Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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04. The Blues Brothers (1980)

Jake & Elwood vs. Illinois Nazis

Make/Model: 1974 Dodge Monaco

Blue Book: There’s more than one great chase in John Landis’ fully stuffed comedy classic, but our favorite comes at the very end, as the state police, Chicago cops, and a legion of Illinois Nazis alike pursue Jake and Elwood through the streets on their way to the Daley Center. The Bluesmobile only just makes it, but the amount of anarchy flying through real city streets here is still dazzling. Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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03. The French Connection (1971)

Hackman Under the Tracks

Make/Model: 1971 Pontiac Le Mans

Blue Book: Dude, they did this so illegally! William Friedkin, that punk wunderkind of the ‘70s, had no time for precious permits and safety. He basically shoved Gen Hackman into a Pontiac, and got help from off-duty cops (involved in the movie’s real case) and assistant directors to shut down several blocks just for the chase. Some unlucky civilian leaving his house got hit. The producers had to pay for the damages. And that recklessness is so palpable. It’s why we (worryingly) love this chase. Not to bang on a clichéd expression, but boy you couldn’t get away with this one today. –Blake Goble

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02. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The entire film, start to finish

Make/Model: T815 Tatra “War Pig”

Blue Book: KAMAKRAZEE WAR BOYS. (WAR BOYS!)

Three years later, we’re still awed that Fury Road exists at all. George Miller took a pile of Warner Bros. money and went to the African deserts to send vehicles careening through perfect sands for two hours of blissfully uncontrolled screen time. We can’t really highlight any one sequence from the film, because really, all of Fury Road is a long, beautiful chase, with the kind of final impact that creates legendary movies. This thing is gonna live forever, shiny and chrome, in Valhalla. Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

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01. Bullitt (1968)

Down the Frisco Hills

Make/Model: 1968 Ford Mustang GT

Blue Book: No judgment, but does anyone remember anything beyond Bullitt’s signature car chase de résistance? Exactly. Call it a revolution in camerawork, in kinetic storytelling, in unabashed whirlwind stunts and action filming. Bullitt’s gassed chase still gets mileage after 50 years on the screen. There’s a moment at the very beginning of Bullitt when Steve McQueen puts on a seat belt to signal that he ain’t horsing around. Neither are we, when we say Bullitt is the benchmark classic chase. Lalo Schifrin’s groovy bongo music, Peter Yates’ cleverly escalating camera placement and trickery, and McQueen’s epically cool confidence behind the wheel of a green Mustang, hunted and hunting a Dodge in the pursuit of justice (or whatever). Even the continuity errors (we see you, dizzying number of hub caps) almost make this more important. It’s like this bred and began an era of pulp cinema that gearheads have been racing to compare to since, and Bullitt still leaves the competition in the dust. A masterpiece, for movie nuts and motorheads alike. –Blake Goble

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