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Car chase scenes race for title of greatest

By Craig Clough, Staff Writer
Published On: Jun 15 2011 09:44:00 AM CDT
Updated On: Sep 08 2014 09:35:33 AM CDT
Bullitt

The car chase has always been a cornerstone of the action genre of cinema.

It seems that any movie involving cops and robbers or good guys and bad guys, will at some point lead to one chasing the other at high speeds through winding city streets or back highway roads.

As special effects and stunt coordinating have gotten more advanced through the years, filmmakers have been trying to outdo each other by creating more intense and incredible chase sequences.

Here is a list of some of the most memorable car chases in the history of cinema:

20. Running Scared (1986)

"Running Scared" is a great buddy cop movie starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines. It features a scene where the two Chicago cops chase a drug lord, played by Jimmy Smits, through the city streets and eventually end up driving on elevated train tracks.

19. The Italian Job (1969)

"The Italian Job" captures the attitude of the swinging '60s and features a climactic car chase through the streets of Turin, Italy, as the main characters make their getaway in three Mini Coopers.

What sets this chase apart from others is its campy, fun attitude, as the chase is played more for laughs and amusement than it is for intensity and thrills.

18. Thunder Road (1958)

Robert Mitchum starred in, co-wrote and produced "Thunder Road," which is about a bootlegger running moonshine through the back country roads of Tennessee and Kentucky who is always getting chased by the police.

The film became a cult classic that was screened at many drive-in theaters for decades.

17. Batman Begins (2005)

"Batman Begins" reinvented the tale of the Caped Crusader for a new generation and included a chase scene where the Batmobile ends up on the rooftops of Gotham City, jumping from one to another.

16. Death Proof (2007)

The film "Death Proof" was director Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the exploitation films from the 1970s and features a climactic chase sequence pitting a 1970 Dodge Challenger against a 1969 Dodge Charger.

15. Duel (1971)

Steven Spielberg was only 23 years old when he directed the made-for-TV movie "Duel."

The film is a simple story of a salesman traveling the empty highways of the California desert who is terrorized and stalked by an unseen driver of a large tanker truck.

Spielberg was able to turn the minimal story into a gripping, spine-tingling film, and it is not difficult to see why he was given considerably more money a few years later to make a similar story about an unseen shark terrorizing beachgoers.

14. The Seven-Ups (1974)

The cop film, "The Seven-Ups" incorporates all the things audiences have come to love and expect from an urban chase scene.

Fruit stands go flying, garbage cans are smashed, shotguns are blasted, innocent children are almost run over and it all ends in a fantastical and almost unbelievable crash.

13. Goldfinger (1964)

James Bond has had many amazing car chases throughout his 21 -- going on 22 -- film adventures, and no list of great car chases would be complete without Agent 007.

"Goldfinger," the third in the series, is considered by many critics to be the best Bond film ever, and the chase scene with Bond’s Astin Martin DB5 is the first in the series that featured a car equipped with gadgets like a smokescreen and oil slick.

12. Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)

"Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" stars Peter Fonda and is another drive-in cult classic that features many incredible car chases.

The film definitely falls into the "They just don’t make 'em like they used to" category, for the film was considered a B movie when it was released, but B movies produced nowadays are rarely this entertaining.

11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

"Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest action films of all time.

One reason is the unforgettable chase sequence where the evil T-1000 -- played by Robert Patrick -- jumps a semitrailer off a bridge and down into the Los Angeles River basin.

10. The Bourne Identity (2002)

Most other action films would have a character as cool as Jason Bourne -- played by Matt Damon -- speeding away in a Porsche or a Lamborghini.

But the fact that Bourne drives an old Mini Cooper, and that the action was filmed live on the streets of Paris without CGI effects and quick MTV-like cuts, makes it much more memorable.

9. To Live and Die in LA (1985)

Director William Friedkin filmed one of the greatest car chases of all time in 1971's "The French Connection," and seemingly tried to outdo himself with "To Live and Die in LA."

While the breathtaking chase through the LA freeway system may not have topped "The French Connection," it comes pretty close.

8. Ronin (1998)

The city streets and tunnels of Paris serve as the backdrop for this extensive scene that has become the definitive car chase of the last 10 years.

Like "The Bourne Identity," whose chase sequence was heavily influenced by "Ronin," director John Frankenheimer shot the action live and the real actors can be seen behind the wheel during the high-speed shots.

7. Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

You have to sit through a lot of bad filmmaking in "Gone in 60 Seconds" before it finally pays off.

The first half of the film is filled with cheesy dialogue, a thin story, zero character development and an overall substandard production value.

But the film ends with a 40-minute, epic car chase in which more than 90 cars are wrecked, making it all worthwhile.

6. The Road Warrior (1981)

"The Road Warrior" made an international star out of Mel Gibson and culminates in one the most astonishing chases of all time.

Roger Ebert called it "one of the most relentlessly aggressive movies ever made," and it has received a rare 100 percent "Fresh" rating by the Web site www.rottentomatoes.com.

5. Vanishing Point (1971)

"Vanishing Point" at first seems similar to "Gone in 60 Seconds" in that it completely lacks character development and appears to only exist as a excuse to film some great car chases.

But the simple chase movie about a guy trying to drive a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours eventually unravels into an existential commentary about police brutality, racism and the overall post-Woodstock malaise that overtook America in the 1970s.

What starts off as cheap thrills morphs into a very deep, chilling experience.

4. The French Connection (1971)

"The French Connection" won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and part of the reason had to be its inventive car chase where Gene Hackman’s character chases a drug dealer through the streets of New York.

The only thing is, Hackman is in a car and the drug dealer is riding on an elevated train.

Friedkin later admitted breaking a lot of laws while filming the sequence, as he did not have the proper permits. Many of the point-of-view shots of Hackman's character took place with real traffic and pedestrians.

3. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

"Smokey and the Bandit" is one of those movies that is difficult not to love.

Everyone from a small child to an elderly grandpa can get pure enjoyment out of the story of the Bandit -- played by Burt Reynolds -- trying to get from Atlanta to Texarkana, Texas, and back in under 28 hours while running blocker for 400 cases of illegal Coors beer.

The movie is basically one long car chase that is stacked with incredible stunts and crashes, but it is the film’s enthusiasm, comedy and characters that really elevated it to an all-time classic. It was the second biggest hit of 1977, right behind "Star Wars."

2. The Blues Brothers (1980)

"They're not going to catch us," Elwood Blues tells his brother Jake in the film "The Blues Brothers" as they are being chased by the police. "We’re on a mission from God."

The sight of the Bluesmobile crashing though a mall as shoppers dive out of the way is one of the most unforgettable stunts in the history of film, as is the climatic chase where dozens of police cars, a Winnebago and a car full of Illinois Nazis are annihilated as the Bluesmobile zigzags its way through downtown Chicago.

Like its main characters, the film was also on a mission from God. Its mission was to create one the most hilarious, chaotic and destructive car chases of all time, and this mission was accomplished.

1. Bullitt (1968)

Forty years after its initial release, the chase scene from "Bullitt" still stands out as the greatest of all time.

In a 2004 poll by Choices Video, 5,500 British film fans voted "Bullitt" the greatest chase ever.

The 10-minute sequence features Detective Frank Bullitt -- played by Steve McQueen -- driving a 1968 Ford Mustang while chasing a 1968 Dodge Charger through the steep streets of San Francisco.

Everything that you see in the scene was really filmed, because it was made before CGI effects and quick editing existed. The long, unedited takes of the Charger whipping around corners and flying in the air as it hits jumps are the types of things you just don't see in movies anymore.

In 2007, Bullitt was chosen to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress because of its "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significance".

It might look a little tame by today's standards, but the crime drama rewrote the rules for action films and car chases, making "Bullitt" the "Citizen Kane" of car chases.

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