The Best Movie Ever: Car Chases
This weekend, Scott Waugh's Need for Speed needs to do more than go really, really fast. It needs to re-energize the old school car chase genre, kept alive for the past few years by the Fast & Furious franchise but largely killed off thanks to the prevalence of CGI, which makes it look like cars do just about anything, physics and the jobs of professional stuntpersons be damned. Need for Speed brings back the practical car chase, so we're hoping it's going to be great, but will it be The Best Car Chase Movie Ever? Eh… we're not holding our breaths.
So this week on The Best Movie Ever, the film critics at CraveOnline are presenting their individual picks for the single, best car chase movie ever made. These are the films that prevent us from holding our breaths. In fact, the car chases in these movies will leave you breathless. Check out the films selected by William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Fred Topel and Brian Formo, then vote at the bottom of the page for the film you think deserves the title of The Best Car Chase Movie Ever.
We associate car chases with tense action and mounting speed. We picture cars swinging around corners in San Francisco, launching off of ramps, nearly avoiding trucks, bursting through pans of glass, and generally causing a very particular brand of urban mayhem. I have seen some spectacular car chases in my day starting with Bullitt in 1968, and lasting at least up until Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof in 2007. And while I can rattle off about a dozen amazing car chases off the top of my head (seriously, don't miss the last 20 minutes of The Blues Brothers), my selection has less to do with singular and particular chases within a movie, and more to do with a movie that is constructed entirely around a car chase.
As such, I select It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as the best car chase movie of all time. Made in 1963, IaMMMMW stars just about every single recognizable comedian who was alive at the time, from Jimmy Durante to Buddy Hackett to Buster Keaton to Milton Berle to the Three Stooges. This is not a film that features one very good car chase, but an epically long, 192-minute comedic test of endurance that is – in itself – one enormous car chase. By the end, literally dozens of main characters have entered the frantic fray, racing to the mysterious location of a buried fortune. Other films tried to reproduce the frenetic panic of Mad, Mad World, only to fall short (although I am fond of 1980's Midnight Madness). Three hours of chasing. Nothing finer.
When we think of “car chase movies” we tend to think of serious explorations of masculinity, even if those explorations are serious to the point of self-parody (see: the Fast & Furious franchise). It’s intriguing to note that of all the great car chase movies, perhaps only Death Proof explores the relationship between women and their cars. So the genre has otherwise been somewhat limited to somberly macho preenings like Walter Hill’s The Driver, Richard C. Sarafian’s Vanishing Point or H.B. Halicki’s original Gone in 60 Seconds.
Death Proof is a real corker, a largely misunderstood approximation of actual grindhouse aesthetics with an unusually feminist slant, and the final car chase is easily one of the best ever filmed. But if I’m being honest, although Death Proof runs a close second, I believe only one film earns the true title of “The Best Car Chase Movie Ever,” and that film is The Blues Brothers, a film which by all rights didn’t need to have a single car chase in it at all, but instead features at least two of the very best, seemingly just for the hell of it.
Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) are on a mission from God to save a Catholic orphanage, and to do so reunite their old band, put on one hell of a show and piss off just about everyone in Illinois in the process. They can’t afford to get caught by the police, so they put the pedal to the metal and plow through an entire indoor shopping mall near the beginning of the movie, causing rampant real-life destruction, and at the end of the film they have to motor from the Palace Hotel Ballroom to Chicago City Hall, eluding hundreds of police cars (and those Illinois Nazis), and perform feats of vehicular insanity that still amaze because they really did all of it. They drove 188 mph through downtown Chicago. They even dropped a pinto from the sky. The Blues Brothers wrecked 103 cars over the course of production, and all in the service of a “Saturday Night Live” routine that was just about two white guys who loved the blues.
The Blues Brothers isn’t about masculinity. It isn’t even about cars. It’s about the joy of performing, and the joy of pulling off these incredible car chases comes across in every frame.
There’s only one car chase in To Live and Die in L.A. But I will live and die by my choice for best car chase movie.
Why? Because it gave us the first ever wrong side of the freeway chase. Because director William Friedkin had the gall to tell his stunt drivers and crew that after six weekends of filming this scene he’d only include it in the final cut if it turned out better than his chase in The French Connection. Because Friedkin, like a driver, is more concerned with the mechanics of how a car actually crumples or swerves in such a situation. And because the man fleeing (William Peterson) has no idea who is in the other car – and neither do we. It’s a mystery car chase!
Lastly, there are the absolutely perfect time capsule 80s touches of this being scored by Wang Chung’s synthesizers, and the chases closes with a textbook Los Angeles joke as a radio commentator states – post-multi-car-pileup – that, “there’s a slight delay on the 10 freeway today.”
Outside of this chase, To Live and Die in L.A., operates best as a time capsule of 80s filmmaking: extreme sports provide character development; the villain (Willem Dafoe) is also a tortured artist; the crave for authentic crime filmmaking led Friedkin to hire actual currency counterfitters as consultants; and the female lead (Debra Feure) goes lesbian by film’s end. It also has the first prominent role of John Turturro’s young career. And he gets to groan that they only show “space movies” in prison and say, “I promise not to cum in your mouth,” to Dafoe.
In simple math, all the above x car chase = see To Live and Die in L.A.
Remember, the McConaissance began with the freakin’ Friedkin Sauce.
Well, you know I don’t think there are any faster, more furious movies than the Fast and the Furious series, so I guess I should pick the fastest, most furious entry in the franchise for this. While the fourth film, Fast & Furious is my favorite for the opening tanker heist alone, and the GPS race, subsequent entries had even more racing.
Furious 6, as anyone who really cares knows is the proper title, is the fastest, most furious Fast and the Furious movie with some truly awesome car chases. The opening race to Mia’s childbirth is only an appetizer, but a great way to begin the film emotionally. The flip car chase is awesome, the tank chase is awesome and it climaxes with a caravan of fast and furious vehicles chasing a damn airplane, with Dom bursting through the flaming nose in the end. Not only these three set pieces, but a race between Dom and the amnesiac Letty is both emotionally important and a nostalgic harkening back to the simpler days where the races were only a quarter mile at a time. Furious 6 is the best car chase movie ever.