The 25 best movie car chases that put the foot to the floor

Nothing quickens the pulse or arrests the attention quite like a classic, gear-crunching car chase. The smell of the rubber, the squeal of the tyres, the thrill of the pursuit - Hollywood has always loved a bit of auto-on-auto action. From the early days of Steve McQueen cool in Bullitt to the modern-day, CG-laden spectacle of the Fast and the Furious blockbusters, our appetite for a good old-fashioned demolition derby is as strong as ever. With Edgar Wright’s upcoming Baby Driver promising to put an irreverent spin on the quintessential car chase movie, here are the 25 greatest. Buckle up and strap in!

25. The Dead Pool (1988)

The car chase: Who says all chase scenes need to be serious and gritty? Clint Eastwood’s fifth and final Dirty Harry movie puts a devious - and surprisingly hilarious - twist on the formula when his perpetually scowling renegade cop is pursued through San Fran by a toy car rigged with a bomb. Thundering its way across ‘Frisco’s infamous, scenic hills and streets, the chase comes to an explosive close when Callahan faces down his miniature assailant in an alleyway. You won’t get that from your latest Toys R Us purchase.

Destruction rate: Pretty minimal - the worst thing that’s damaged is Harry’s pride.

24. Quantum of Solace (2008)

The car chase: No, it’s not the greatest Bond movie but there’s no denying the whiplash-inducing power of Quantum’s opening sequence. Picking up immediately after the events of Casino Royale, as 007 (Daniel Craig) evades the baddies with Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) in the boot of his sleek Aston Martin, the sequence courses through the Italian mountains to the incessant strains of David Arnold’s score. The whipcrack editing may be overkill but there’s no denying it grabs the attention as Bond sees off the last of his pursuers by shooting him into a quarry - firmly establishing the colder 007 of the movie.

Destruction rate: Several ruined villain cars, plus a severely damaged Aston (and should Mr White prove travel sick, add some more destruction onto that).

23. Fast Five (2011)

The car chase: The fifth Fast and the Furious movie confirmed the franchise’s upgrade from mere street racing saga into full-blown heist movie on wheels. It all comes to a (gear) head during the monumentally destructive sequence on the crowded streets of Rio de Janeiro, as Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family drag a giant metal safe through the city. Oh, and they’re forced to evade both the police, the bad guys and the encroaching forces of Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). All in a day’s work, then.

Destruction rate: Copaca-carnage as untold numbers of police cars (pity the guys driving them) are totalled, as is scores of public property.

22. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

The car chase: Who can forget the expression on Roger Moore’s face as his 007 comes face to face with the plucky Citroen 2 CV owned by Melina (Carole Bouquet)? It isn’t equipped with the gadgetry of the more celebrated Bond cars but, in-keeping with Eyes Only’s down-to-Earth approach, the unassuming Citroen proves the equal of the big boys as it speeds down the Spanish hills and through small mountain towns, finally zooming over the roof of the baddies’ pursuing vehicle. Plus, being Rog, he finds the time to mockingly raise his eyebrow at the villains.

Destruction rate: Less a fender-bending fiesta than a delicious tapas in which carnage is minimal but levels of stunt work high.

21. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The car chase: Any car chase that takes place within the mind-melting Matrix universe has the ability to not just bend the laws of physics but outright shatter them. As Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) make their desperate freeway escape from the ghostly Twins with The Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) in tow, the camera traverses speeding motorbikes going the wrong way, hand to hand combat within moving vehicles and punch-ups atop a moving juggernaut. Plus, it’s all topped with  an eye-scorchingly cool, ‘bullet time’ climax that just renders the rampant levels of destruction all the more wonderful.

Destruction rate: Near-apocalyptic, particularly when an Agent gets involved and rams his truck into the one carrying Morpheus, resulting in a glorious rescue by Neo (Keanu Reeves).

20. Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

The car chase: The glossy Nicolas Cage remake may also have had the sleek Shelby Mustang named Eleanor (plus, erm, Christopher Eccleston as the baddie) but for low-fi, believable thrills, you don’t mess with the original. The best car chases work because we believe in what’s happening and the plausible, tyre-screeching thrills of the 1974 classic easily trump the wrecking ball-laden excess of the 2000 movie. Clocking in at a whopping 40 minutes in total as anti-hero Pace (played by director H.B. Halicki) evades the California cops, it’s a clutch-melting wonder of a scene.

Destruction rate: The damage to glorious Eleanor alone is worth 20 of the cop cars totalled.

19. The Raid 2 (2014)

The car chase: Love chase sequences? Love martial arts? Trust Welsh action master Gareth Evans to fuse them together in this bruisingly brilliant automotive showdown. As our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) lays a smackdown on the baddies transporting him to his death (the close-quarters fighting is truly astonishing), in hot pursuit is Eka (Oka Antara) who fends off the villains with automatic weapons, swift handbrake turns and helpful motorway dividers. Not only an Indonesian thriller that redefines martial arts; it also redefines what car chases are capable of.

Destruction rate: Car-nage on every level, from the vehicles destroyed to the poor guy’s head squished against a truck.

18. Jack Reacher (2012)

The car chase: Many modern day car chases go for the splash and dash approach, bombarding the audience with lots of glitzy spectacle. For this Lee child adaptation, director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise instead go gloriously old-school, stripping the pursuit of any music and instead allowing Reacher’s Chevrolet Chevelle engine to act as its own symphonic powerhouse, as he charges around the Pittsburgh streets in pursuit of the baddies whilst evading the police. It’s also a chase that, in its final stages, unfolds at a cleverly stealthy pace (in-keeping with the title character’s ghostly presence), leading to a brilliantly clever punchline. Even the engine cuts out at one point.

Destruction rate: Very low – impressive when one considers Cruise did all his own stunt driving.

17. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

The car chase: There are a lot of memorable pursuit scenes in the Bond series but few hit the deliriously creative heights of this one. As Pierce Brosnan’s 007 powers his fiendishly well-equipped BMW around a Hamburg car park (actually Brent Cross Shopping Centre in London), the baddies fall foul of every wonderful gadget imaginable from stingers to rockets and re-inflating tyres. What makes it all the more enjoyable is that we get a clear sense of how much Bond himself appears to be enjoying the vehicular torture – and the send-off stunt is classic 007.

Destruction rate: Shaken and stirred – and that’s just the car rental company.

16. Hot Fuzz (2007)

The car chase: Edgar Wright perfected the absurdist car chase in his gloriously entertaining West Country meets Lethal Weapon spoof. Although only a brief scene it’s a memorable one as Nick Angel (Simon Pegg) and sidekick Danny (Nick Frost) go in pursuit of villains Frank (Jim Broadbent) and Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) in unassuming British panda cars. It’s all in the little details, from eternal fanboy Danny yelling “bang bang” to the inevitable interruption by the local village swan. On the DVD commentary, Pegg recalls former 007 Dalton saying he’d never had so much fun making a movie. Now that’s when you know you’ve made a terrific chase sequence.

Destruction rate: Damage to swans – non-existent. Damage to the model village – catastrophic.

Sean Wilson
I'm a journalist, writer and podcaster with experience writing for the likes of Cineworld, Flickering Myth, Den of Geek and HeyUGuys. I've interviewed the likes of Ben Kingsley, Benicio Del Toro and Sam Neill and I also harbour a love of film scores, which I translate into a fortnightly podcast, Between the Notes.