Top 5 Favorite Movie Car Chase Sequences

Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because it’s now 2022 and I still find myself BEGGING the internet for fun little diversions to read, so I have to create some of this shit myself. This week’s list…

Top 5 Favorite Movie Car Chase Sequences

Oh, you know something from these trash masterpieces will be in here

For a variety of reasons, I have lately been filled with some cocktail of the following emotions: bitterness, despair, ennui, sadness, resentment, anger, and paralyzing apathy. Some of it is getting over COVID, some of it is the inescapable and incredibly dispiriting news cycle that seems to drop awful news tidbits every single day, and probably most of it is self-inflicted wounds I cannot seem to stop doing to myself. I’m in a bad headspace, and I’m actively working to turn it around.

Which is why I’m here to ignore all that shit I just wrote and amuse myself and you by talking about car chases.

Car chases! Fuck yeah! If a movie has a bitchin’ car chase, my enjoyment of that movie goes up roughly 50% and the chances I rewatch it go up 75%! I actually did that math, and those are the correct numbers! So let’s look at five of my favorites. What are yours? Share ‘em in the comments section, or drop a note on social for me when you share this bad boy.

The Mini Cooper in The Bourne Identity

I tried to take my girlfriend to see this movie when it was in theaters, but ended up in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. This is a longer story than I’ll tell here, but bottom line from that day: Fuck my life. The Bourne movies are unbelievably satisfying because they’re structured like a great video game. You the audience member basically are Jason Bourne escaping out of impossible circumstances, learning as you go, gaining and losing resources, all while vicariously having the coolest powers you could ever imagine without drifting into comic book or fantasy territory.

The Mini scene in this movie still takes my breath away. Frenetic chase shots are interspersed with closeups on Matt Damon’s face where he emits steely resolve and intense concentration. He knows he’s better than these cornball local cops and all he has to do is execute the right moves in order to evade them. He can’t misstep, so he won’t misstep. It’s all just a matter of time until he’s free from them. Even when he gets on the highway going the wrong way – an all-timer of a nightmare anti-fantasy for me! – his demeanor never changes. He’s ruthlessly efficient, and in an absolute banger of a sequence, that icy focus is just so fucking cool.

Two things to add here: 1) I love when films take thoroughly milquetoast cars like this old ass Mini, and make them do awesome shit. In one of the films, Bourne uses a magazine to fight a guy with a knife. This is like the car version of that. 2) Europe lends itself to badass car chases because the streets are always narrower and laid out in non-grid patterns, which makes the action more interesting. Plus, if you’ve ever driven in Europe you know that people there drive fucking insane. Read here for a description of the most bugfuck insane cab ride of my life in Naples soundtracked by “Wake Me Up” by Avicii.

The Audis in Ronin

According to the description on iMDB for this movie, “Ronin is the Japanese word for Samurai without a master.” Okay then, you might be wondering if that has anything to do with the plot. And reader, if you guessed that this movie is about a freelancing former United States Intelligence Agent tracking down a mysterious package wanted by the Irish and the Russians, well you can get all the way fucked because no one would ever guess that. I’ve seen this movie a bunch of times and the plot still makes no fucking sense to me. The movie features twists and turns and perpetually shifting allegiances and the case at the center of this thing is just one stupid McGuffin.

But the car chases! Holy shit, the car chases! A good chunk of the movie is simply stylish mercenaries chasing each other in Audis throughout the South of France, but somehow I still wish it took up more screentime than it already does. Like with Bourne, this one benefits from both using attainable cars and a cool European location. Throw in some cool espionage gadgets, Robert DeNiro with a strangely of-the-moment haircut, and lots of cool helicopter shots, and you’ve got yourself something highly watchable!

The highway sequence in The Matrix: Reloaded

This sequence is crazy long, so you’ll have to piece the whole thing together yourself on YouTube for the full experience. But more importantly, to this day I don’t think I’ve ever been more tense during an action sequence in a movie theater. In a movie franchise built entirely on marveling at freak characters doing impossible shit, there were still multiple points during this long ass sequence where I legitimately didn’t know how the heroes would escape. This thing is so harrowing, so exhilarating, and so relentless, I’m reminding myself to breathe during its duration any time I catch all these years later.

I usually like my stunts to be practical effects. CGI fights are neat enough, but there’s an uncanny valley effect I find generally distracting. This is perhaps why I find so much of the MCU dull and antiseptic on rewatch. But the highway sequence in The Matrix: Reloaded blends the elements so seamlessly, you can’t help but feel like you’re along for the ride.

Even characters as undeniably hokey as the be-dreadlocked, clad-in-white, ghostly twins have that incredible “close quarters” style fight with Morpheus and the straight razor inside the Cadillac. Between the Agents, those dorky ghost things, and police, the odds are stacked against our heroes. Yet Trinity puts the pedal to the metal and never lets up until Neo flies in from halfway around the world and Deus Ex Machina’s the entire thing. That sounds like criticism, but honestly, it’s relief. This scene takes it out of me, man.

The “wide load” sequence in Terminator 3

This movie gets a bad rap, but I fucking love it. It has a dry sense of humor, a phenomenal performance from Claire Danes, and fat Chris Hardwick. Oh, and some truly bananas action sequences. Near the beginning, the evil Terminator (or Terminatrix, or T-X, or guhhhh…..) finds John Connor and his future wife and tries to kill them. They escape in her veterinary truck, while the T-X finds THE BIGGEST FUCKING CRANE TRUCK IN THE WHOLE GODDAMN WORLD to pursue them in.

What results is just an absurd, unforgivable amount of destruction in the next few minutes. When the T-X swings the crane arm out and bulldozes through telephone pole after telephone pole and whatever else gets in the way, my lizard brain erupts in orgiastic, maximalist glee. When Schwarzenegger grabs onto the crane swinging right at him and double barrel kicks over that ambulance, the sequence goes from good to great. He hangs on as he crashes through windows, but can no longer maintain his grip when she splats him onto a fire truck traveling in the other direction where the director not only gives us a shot of the now empty crane, but smash cuts to Schwarzenegger pasted onto the fire truck’s front windshield. It’s a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, and it’s gleefully stupid.

Also, you can tell this movie was made like 20 years ago because the shots are wider than you see now, and the cuts not nearly as frenetic. As an audience member, I like being able to situate things in time and space, and I’d bet if you really wanted to, with a little effort you could draw on a map the path this chase took. The ability to theoretically map this in my head grounds the sequence effectively enough to take my enjoyment to the next level.

The whole gonzo safe sequence through Brazil in Fast Five

And if you want to talk absurd, unforgivable amounts of destruction in a car chase, you cannot do better than this batshit crazy fever dream from the best Fast and Furious movie. Look, I’m not going to bullshit you. This is easily one of my all-time favorite things ever captured on film. This sequence is so bananas, so unhinged, so deliciously mad, and so irresponsibly nihilistic, to treat it with anything other than absolute reverence would be sacrilegious. This is the reason movies are made! We want to see two Dodge Chargers tow a vault that weighs several thousand pounds through the streets of Rio and fuck up any and everything that gets in its way.

And I’m going to tell you something you already know – this scene was done using largely practical effects executed in-camera. No cornball CGI, no eunuchs wearing pajamas firing gobs of light at each other, just some cars, a heavy ass vault and CARNAGE. Using your own Google-fu, you can find any number breathless articles about this scene and what it took to make (my personal favorite is the oral history from the stunt crew that features unfuckingbelievable stories from the poor stuntguy who had to pilot the drivable version of the vault), but this simple detail from this article on Screenrant sums things up nicely (emphasis mine):

“Other enormous vault props that weighed around nine tons were used for stunts that involved mass destruction. When various cars became the victim of the speeding vault, the stunt team built a vault-like facade on a semi-truck to easily demolish anything that came in its path. In total, over 200 cars were said to have been destroyed by the vault. Special cameras mounted on the filming crews’ cars were able to capture all angles of the sequence, and special effects served as the glue that held the entire stunt together.”

Can you imagine the glee of getting handed tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to make a movie and using it to destroy 200 cars as part of it? That’s a level of demented genius very few ever get to enact that the rest of us should feel lucky we get to witness.

Watch these sequences and have yourself a very fun Friday!

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