For some guys, there’s nothing better than ripping down the street in an insanely fast car. The roaring engines; the surge of testosterone. I, for one, drive a sweet Audi SQ5. The beaut hits 60 in 5.1, which—and those of you who know anything about street-legal cars can corroborate this—is insane. You’ll also find a BMW Z4 in my garage, perfect for cruising around on balmy summer days.
So, yes, you could say I’m certainly one of those guys. Couple that with my past and present life as a private investigator, retired cop, gunslinger, spy, and all around super semi–top secret ninja—not to mention my illustrious relationship with the film industry—and you’ll see why my friends at Best Life asked me to cobble together a list of the greatest, fastest, most badass (and, notably, most realistic) car chases ever put to the silver screen. But before we get down to it, I need to note that not a single shot from The Fast and the Furious franchise made the cut. Remember, it’s the “real” in “realistic” that’s driving my list. And once you’re done with this high-octane action, be sure to check out my definitive list of the 20 greatest and most realistic movie fights of all time.
Vanishing Point (1971)
The original version of this one is miles better than the 1997 remake. Barry Newman—as Vietnam vet Kowalski—practically becomes one with his Dodge Challenger, dodging cops in the the American west at breakneck speeds. (And let’s not forget a stunning Gilda Texter riding a motorcycle completely in the buff.)
The Peacemaker (1997)
Twenty years ago, George Clooney teamed up with Nicole Kidman for this international thriller, driving a beefed-up, armored Mercedes through the streets of Paris. The most unbelievable part? It looks like Clooney and Kidman haven’t aged a day.
Mad Max (1979)
This is the scene that started it all—the Fury Road frenzy, the reverence of Furiosa, the adoration of the Coma-Doof Warrior, a.k.a “the guitar guy.” It all can be traced back to one of the most intense car chases of all time.
Death Proof (2007)
Way before Kurt Russell joined the Fast and Furious franchise to partake in car chases that seem inspired by video games, Tarantino directed him in a Challenger versus Charger duel.
The Driver (1978)
The Driver, with its visceral road rage, inspired two amazing, unforgettable car chase films: Drive and Baby Driver. Yes, I know Baby Driver isn’t out yet. Yes, it’s going to be amazing and unforgettable.
The Black Stallion (1979)
While this isn’t a car chase scene, it sure showcases a lot of horsepower! That, plus the film is too damn good not to put on my list. (Admittedly, it brings tears to my eyes, every single time.) And for more insane levels of horsepower, check out the best car you can get for under $100,000.
The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)
In an utterly thrilling scene, shot in one take entirely from police car dash cam, Ryan Gosling robs a bank and takes off on a motorcycle—through a freaking graveyard. As far as car chases go, this is one death-defying scene. Gosling may be the villain in this scene, but in real life, he’s proven himself to be a hero—twice.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
I know, I know; I said “realistic.” But I guarantee every kid and their father—and their grandfathers—got their license because of this film. Plus, this movie caused Pontiac Firebird sales to explode.
The Last American Hero (1973)
There’s a reason why actor Jeff Bridges is an American Icon. Well, actually, there are a lot of reasons. But one of the greatest reasons is his turn portraying race car legend Junior Johnson in this film based off Tom Wolfe’s seminal story, “The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!”
Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011)
When you’re watching this scene, remember: Tom Cruise does all of his own stunts. Also, while I have you, let’s state, for the record, that this is the best Mission Impossible.
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
William Friedken directs a tour de force among car chases. His use of the Los Angeles natural landscape—the railways, the aqueduct the highways—is nothing short of masterful. The lengthly scene truly has you getting carsick.
Mean Streets (1973)
Some brilliant car chases omit music and dialogue, and instead let the roar of the engines and the screeching of tires serve as conversation. Mean Streets, the first Scorsese–DeNiro collaboration, stands out for the exact opposite reason: it foreshadows the future of their incomparably brilliant relationship.
Rambo: First Blood (1982)
Sylvester Stallone, arguably the greatest action hero to ever walk the Earth, doesn’t disappoint in the first entry of the Rambo franchise. Dodging a cop car through dreary, soggy woods? Can’t beat it.
Mr. Majestyk (1974)
I wouldn’t respect myself in the morning if I didn’t have Charles Bronson somewhere on this list? To those of you that have a problem with that? I could give 2 trucks—as in the two trucks that were used to create this white-knuckle thrill ride of a chase. (Fun fact: shots from this scene were later used in advertisements for Ford trucks.)
John Wick 2 (2017)
John Wick will stop at nothing to get his car back, even if that car is pulverized in the process. This rescue mission—wherein Wick singlehandedly storms a compound to retrieve his beautiful Mustang—is an exercise in cinematic thrills.
White Lightning (1973)
Nobody plays country boy better than Burt Reynolds. Reynolds, plus fast women and even faster cars, not to mention a soundtrack that will make your heart race? A recipe for perfection.
In one of his final films, John Frankenheimer directs a tense, drawn-out scene of Robert DeNiro zooming through the streets of Paris. Take note of the absence of dialog and music—and the startlingly realistic mannerisms DeNiro displays behind the wheel.
The French Connection (1971)
There are two Bills who fit the bill here—director Bill Freidken and driving legend Bill Hickman—to give us this gritty thrill ride of a chase scene. The film, of course, went on to win best picture.
The Seven-Ups (1973)
If The French Connection didn’t convince you, The Seven-Ups will: Bill Hickman’s driving legacy is unmatched. The thrilling urban chases of this film went on to inspire the Grand Theft Auto franchise.
And coming in number one—with a bullet—is the king, Steve McQueen. Words don’t do this sequence justice; you simply have to see it to believe it. Here’s part two. And if you want to look like the king, here are 20 modern day sweaters he would swear by.
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