Some of us got into cars from seeing them race, others from seeing their loved ones fix them up, even some gear heads started by just reading about them, but one of the most common ways a car fan begins their automobile obsession is through the movies. Cinema is all about motion and what better way to show that off than in a thrilling extended chase sequence between stylish automobiles? We marvel at the skill of the drivers and the performance of the vehicles. It would be more foolish than driving on the wrong lane to try and list every great movie car chase, but we’ve put together a handful of ones that we are absolutely crazy about!
BULLITT (1968 Ford Mustang GT and Dodge Charger R/T)
The coolest man ever to grace the big screen takes center stage in the greatest car chase ever. Steve McQueen plays Lieutenant Frank Bullitt: a no-nonsense cop that is a man of few words. San Francisco’s mountainous slopes are the setting for the film’s genre-defining chase, which sees Bullitt, in his iconic (I’ve wanted this car since I was a kid) 1968 Ford Mustang GT, doing his best to catch a pair of deadly assassins in an equally impressive 1968 Dodge Charger R/T. These cars are two of the pinnacles of American muscle cars known for their loud and powerful V8 engines and their bold design.
Aside from the astounding hang time the cars achieve in hurtling down the tram-lined hills, the sequence boasts the sort of first-person viewpoint that causes the audience to flinch each time McQueen (who did his own driving stunts) takes a corner too sharply. After 10 minutes of our hero ducking gunshots at his steering wheel, the pursuit ends with the bad guys careering into a gas station before being swallowed by a fireball. Any list that ranks the “best car chases on film” and doesn’t include this is either incomplete or incorrect.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971 Pontiac LeMans)
The scene was filmed in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn roughly running under the BMT West End. The most famous shot of the chase is made from a front bumper mounted camera and shows a low-angle point of view shot of the streets racing by. The camera was under cranked to 18 frames per second to enhance the sense of speed. Other shots involved stunt drivers who were supposed to barely miss hitting the speeding car, but due to errors in timing accidental collisions occurred and were left in the final film which left the film’s action to feel as sloppy as a real-life chase.
THE ITALIAN JOB (1969 Mini Cooper S)
Fiat offered the production as many super-charged Fiat cars as they needed, several sports cars for the Mafia confrontation scene, plus $50,000, but the producers turned down the offer because it would have meant replacing the Minis with Fiats. The Minis used in the chase scenes were all destroyed in accidents while filming the sewer sequence which was luckily one of the final scenes they shot.
THE BLUES BROTHERS (1974 Dodge Monaco)
Action movies aren’t the only ones that can have amazing car action. In this 1980 comedy, a sharp-suited music duo (Saturday Night Live alumni John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) plough their Dodge into a busy shopping mall in order to escape the wrath of the law. At one point in the scene, they even drive it upside down on the roof of the car. Nicknamed “the Bluesmobile” the 1974 Dodge Monaco is a battered police car. The film used 13 different cars to depict the Bluesmobile, all of which were former police cars purchased from the California Highway Patrol, and were modified to look like the same patrol cars seen at the time in Mount Prospect, Illinois.
Some were formatted for speed, while others for jumps or high-performance maneuvers, depending on the scene. One was designed simply to fall apart upon its arrival at the Cook County Building. Over 60 old police cars were purchased for the film’s chase scenes, and the production kept a 24-hour body shop open to perform repairs as needed. All this consumer carnage is set to a stomping soul soundtrack as the boys Blues duo avoid the police on their “mission from God” to save their orphanage.
THE BOURNE IDENTITY (1959 Austin Mini Cooper)
The chase ends when one of the police officers pursuing the Mini crashes his motorcycle into a Peugeot 405, and Bourne drives the car into a parking garage. “Bourne Identity” producer Frank Marshall told USA Today that filmmakers used five different vintage Minis to make the film, and that only one of them was left when filming wrapped.
We surely left off a few fan favorites, but don’t worry, this is just the beginning. Check back with us from time to time as we continue to highlight some of our favorite car moments in movies. The car chase scene is not only staple of cinema but it’s also our safe gateway into seeing what cars can do when pushed to the peak of their performance!