A great car chase does not necessarily make a film great, but it can add a spark into run-of-the-mill movies, and keep audiences munching on their popcorn. A fantastic car chase will also make a movie memorable, which is certainly true of all the films listed below.
Interestingly (even for us), the most recent movie we’ve included is from the early 2000s — most are from the 1970s and 1980s, when conspiracy thrillers and excess were in vogue. Would you include something a bit more recent? Something from The Fast and Furious franchise, perhaps? What about a Bond movie? Let us know in the comments below.
1. The Italian Job (1969)
Starring: 1967 Austin Mini Cooper S
Charlie Croker and co.’s escape from the long arm of the Italian law (and mafia) in red, white and blue Minis deserves inclusion in the top 10 by right, as it features inventive chases through buildings, down stairs and through sewer pipes and even a building-to-building jump from the Fiat factory rooftop test track. But it tops our list because of the pride factor – it’s Britain v Italy, and our boys come out on top. Sort of. NB Avoid the remake at all costs.
Did you know? The heist member guiding the Minis into the back of the 1964 Bedford VAL coach at the end of the film is the director, Peter Collinson, himself.
2. Bullitt (1968)
Starring: 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 fastback; 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440
Probably the best known movie car chase of all time, featuring two of the greatest American muscle cars duking it out through the streets of San Francisco, with the king of cool, Steve McQueen, at the wheel of a Mustang. This is a breathless, no-holds-barred, full-throttle battle of crunching metal with a huge fireball climax.
Did you know? The sound of the Mustang’s engine is believed to have been dubbed on in post-production … and the suspected donor is a Ford GT40.
3. Ronin (1998)
Starring: BMW M5 E34; Peugeot 406 V6
As you might expect from John Frankenheimer, the man who brought us 1966’s glorious F1 epic Grand Prix, the car chases in the heist thriller Ronin are edge-of-the-seat stuff. The greatest of the film involves Robert De Niro’s Peugeot 406 chasing down Natascha McElhone and Jonathan Pryce in their BMW M5 E34 through the streets of Paris, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic.
Did you know? The chase sequences required up to 300 stunt drivers at a time.
4. The Blues Brothers (1980)
Starring: 1974 Dodge Monaco in police livery
Perhaps the most ludicrous chase sequence in movie history, the cop-dodging run from the Palace Hotel Ballroom (with a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, in the dark, wearing sunglasses) is also one of the most impressive.
It’s an orgy of destruction, especially once Jake and Elwood get to the Windy City. The total car smash count for the film reaches triple figures, which hasn’t been surpassed by many other films. Blues Brothers 2000 went slightly better, but we’re trying to forget that movie ever happened.
Did you know? 103 cars were wrecked during filming, but one of the 12 original Bluesmobiles created for filming survived. It’s now owned by Dan Aykroyd’s brother-in-law.
5. Vanishing Point (1971)
Starring: 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum
Another iconic American muscle car stars in a film described as “the ultimate car chase movie”, with a delivery driver racing from Denver to San Francisco in a gorgeous white Dodge Challenger packing a 7.2-litre V8, pursued by the law every step of the way. This is an essential antihero motoring tale with spectacular car stunts.
Did you know? The car crashed at the end is a 1967 Chevy Camaro, not a 1970 Dodge Challenger. It was simply painted white.
6. The French Connection (1971)
Starring: 1971 Pontiac LeMans
Based on a true story about two New York narcotics detectives on a drugs bust, The French Connection is most notorious for its 90mph car chase, with Gene Hackman’s Popeye character chasing an elevated train.
A front-mounted camera, hair-raising choreography and brilliant editing work all contribute to a chase that was widely considered at the time to be better than the one in Bullitt.
Connecting the two films were the producer Philip D’Antoni and the stunt driver Bill Hickman, who did much of the films’ driving.
Did you know? Because of the danger associated with the in-car filming, the director, William Friedkin, operated the camera from the back seat of the car himself as he was single but all his cameramen were married with children.
7. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Starring: 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT351 (modified); various customised vehicles
Mad Max 2 features a desolate, post-apocalyptic wasteland with ruthless, feral gangs battling it out for the scarce remaining resources. It’s a brutal vision, with a number of chases notable for their ferocity and violence.
The raiders’ armoured vehicles are something to behold, but Max’s heavily modified ex-police Interceptor, with its huge supercharger protruding through the bonnet, steals the show.
Did you know? In one of the stunts, a motorcycle stuntman was supposed to hit a car and fly over the top of it, but instead smashes against the car and cartwheels through the air towards the camera. He broke his leg badly in the near-fatal accident but the shot was kept in the film.
8. The Seven-Ups (1973)
Starring: 1973 Pontiac Grand Ville; 1973 Pontiac Sprint Coupé
Philip D’Antoni returns for the third time in our top 10, this time as director. The Seven-Ups is not as well known as Bullitt or The French Connection but its pivotal car chase is right up there with the best.
The scene was edited by the man behind The French Connection’s chase, and the San Francisco setting borrows heavily from Bullitt. Here, though, the bad guys in a Pontiac Grand Ville are chased down by Roy Scheider in a Pontiac Ventura Sprint Coupé. It’s an epic high-speed pursuit with a sudden (and surprising) end.
Did you know? The conclusion of the chase is a homage to the death of Jayne Mansfield. We’ll say no more.
9. Duel (1971)
Starring: 1970 Plymouth Valiant Signet; 1955 Peterbild 281
There’s not much in the way of narrative to Steven Spielberg’s debut movie — essentially, a commuter is pursued and terrorised by a tanker driver, but it’s the psychological effect of the film that makes it stand out. The fact that Spielberg never shows the driver of the truck is perhaps the most intimidating aspect.
Did you know? Spielberg had what he called an ‘audition’ to find the right truck. The ’55 Peterbild 281 was deemed the most menacing.
10. The Bourne Identity (2002)
Starring: Mini Mayfair MkV
Another sequence in Paris and another outing for the old Mini Cooper, this time in the hands of the lethal amnesiac Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). The chase is most notable for the car’s face-plant down the steps in the alleyway, but the Ronin-style sections into oncoming traffic get the heart pounding, and Bourne milks absolutely everything out of this beaten-up little motor.
The film’s sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, arguably has a more elaborate chase scene, but the clinical, tone-setting chase of Identity makes our list by a lick.
Did you know? Director Doug Liman reshot a few scenes, including this complex chase sequence, which caused the release of the movie to be delayed.
– Do you agree with our list of the top 10 best movie car chases of all time? What movies would you include? Let us know in the comments below.
– Why not take a look at our list of the five most underrated movie car chases of all time
– Into racing movies? Check out our interview with Daniel Bruhl on playing Niki Lauda in Rush, our review of recent Ford v Ferrari film Le Mans ’66 , and our article about forthcoming Robert de Niro and John Boyega F1 film for Netflix called The Formula.