From getting your adrenaline pumping to keeping you on the edge of your seat, there's something about a good car chase that can elevate a film from being run-of-the-mill to memorable.
The car chase is an integral part where the heroes and villains take cinemagoers on a ride.
Having been on several Hollywood movie sets and witnessed first-hand car chases being staged ¬– what you see on screen, is the finished work of months of planning by stunt crews and drivers.
The modern car chase began in 1968 with one of cinema’s most iconic scenes. Taking three weeks to film on real streets at over 110mph ¬– the eleven-minute chase from Bullitt sees Steve McQueen's V8 Ford Mustang GT Fastback pursue the villains V8 Dodge Charger R/T 440 through the streets of San Francisco. A renowned race car driver in his own right ¬– McQueen did most of his own driving. Even after 53 years, it's still regarded as one of cinema's finest chases.
The killer behind the wheel of the Dodge Charger was stunt veteran Bill Hickman, who also orchestrated gruelling chases for 1971's The French Connection and 1973 thriller The Seven Ups.
For The French Connection, director William Friedkin goaded Hickman, who was doubling Gene Hackman, into driving a Pontiac LeMans through Brooklyn at over 90mph for 26 blocks without stopping ¬while chasing an elevated train. The final movie sees real people walking out in front of the car as it speeds past, as well as non-scripted crashes.
The Seven Ups staged an elaborate chase through Manhattan, where Hickman's Pontiac Grand Ville is pursued by Roy Scheider's Pontiac Ventura coupé. Fraught with tension, the ten-minute chase required four weeks to film. Speeding along pavements and civilian streets, the chase ends with Scheider's car smashing into the back of a truck, shearing its roof.
Roy Scheider stated: ‘That's why it looks so great, because most of it was for real.’
The longest car chase in cinema history, clocking in at 40 minutes, features in 1974's Gone In Sixty Seconds, delivering crashes and precision driving – with star/director H. B. Halicki behind the wheel of 'Eleanor', the now famous yellow 1971 Ford Mach 1 Mustang. Over a hundred cars were destroyed. During a stunt which went wrong, Halicki crashed at 100mph - breaking his leg and several ribs, though was back behind the wheel a few weeks later.
The chase culminates with 'Eleanor' performing a 128-foot jump, which set the bar for many action movies ¬– a feat rarely attempted today without CGI.
1969 British crime caper The Italian Job is famed for its gold bullion Turin chase, where three MINI Coopers make good their escape via sewers and city streets. During the getaway, the MINIs are pursued by police atop Fiat's factory roof 'test track', climaxing in the MINIs being dispatched out the back of a bus in the Alps – leading to a cliff-hanger ending.
Notable mentions include 1971's Vanishing Point, 1977's Smokey And The Bandit ¬– with Burt Reynolds' Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, 1978's The Driver starring Ryan O'Neal as an ice-cool getaway driver, and 1980's The Blues Brothers, where forty drivers staged chases involving a Dodge Monaco patrol car – with sixty cars being destroyed.
Car chases from the 60s and 70s seem more memorable and authentic than today's ¬– manly, because many of them were filmed for real, on real streets. Nowadays, CGI plays its part.
By the 90s, there were few action movies that didn't feature a car chase, with even fewer being memorable. However, 1998's Ronin is the exception. Firstly, with a frenetic chase through the streets of Nice, then, a seven-minute breakneck pursuit through Paris between Natascha McElhone's BMW 535is and Robert De Niro's Peugeot 406.
Over three-hundred stunt and precision drivers staged the impressive chases through the French cities. To get the effect of the actors driving, right-hand drive cars were used by stunt drivers, with dummy steering wheels installed on the left for the actors - who were then driven at speed through traffic. The look of fear on the actor’s faces is genuine.
The Matrix: Reloaded and The Rock have slick, well-edited chases, but perhaps lack the grit of old.
Steven Spielberg's 2008 thriller Eagle Eye features a taut six-minute chase involving Shia LaBeouf's Porsche Cayenne Turbo evading the authorities.
Movie chases have sometimes made way for the improbable, with fast editing taking precedent.
Several franchises have utilised car chases, including the Bourne franchise, where director Paul Greengrass staged a spectacular chase for Matt Damon on the streets of Moscow in 2004's The Bourne Supremacy, and again in 2016 through the streets of Las Vegas for Jason Bourne.
The Fast and Furious franchise has provided some spectacular chases. The impressive chase from Fast 5, saw Dodge Charger's haul a bank vault through the streets of Rio with police in pursuit and, Furious 7 and F9 staged impressive set pieces with vehicular mayhem too. I was on the set of Fast 6 when they were shooting the main car chase and stunts on the streets of Glasgow, which doubled for London. Watching Range Rovers and BMWs chase each other at 70mph while crashing into parked cars and hitting ramps to demolish buildings was great fun. When you see the finished film on screen, most people probably don't appreciate the work that goes into even a few seconds worth of footage.
Remaining one of the most iconic and most successful movie franchises in cinema history - after nearly sixty years, twenty-five official movies and six actors, the James Bond movies have featured several chase scenes. 1989's Licence To Kill is memorable for featuring a spectacular Kenworth truck chase – driving at speed along a perilous mountain pass, with 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies utilising a heavily weaponized BMW 750iL to out-manoeuvre villains in a well-staged escape. They used seventeen BMWs to get the effects and shots required.
Die Another Day orchestrated a well-choreographed ice chase, with Bond's Aston Martin Vanquish pitted against the villain’s Jaguar XKR. I helped set up shots alongside my good friend, Hollywood action legend Vic Armstrong, on the set of Die Another Day at Pinewood Studios, and I got to see first-hand how car chases and stunts were produced. The sequences involved Bond's Aston Martin and the villain's Jaguar chasing each other through the backlot, then into the villain’s ice palace, firing weapons, with camera trucks keeping pace. Then, seeing the Aston being flipped with an air ramp, as well as the Jaguar being fired from an air cannon, not to mention how all the special effects and explosions were timed to go off alongside this, was incredible to watch.
2008 saw Bond’s Aston Martin DBS pursed by villains in a taut sequence along the banks of Lake Garda in Quantum of Solace and in 2015’s Spectre, 007's customized DB10 is chased through the streets of Rome by the villain’s Jaguar C-X75 concept.
The latest 007 blockbuster No Time To Die features several chases, including the iconic Aston Martin DB5 involved in a frenetic chase through the quiet Italian outcrop of Matera, all before the pre-credits roll, and a well-staged off-road sequence involving the new Land Rover Defender, a Toyota Land Cruiser and Triumph motorbikes.
The car chase remains integral to a gripping movie experience.
Some say, Hollywood may have lost the knack for directing chases... but you can bet, generations of filmgoers will still be thrilled and entertained by the car chase for years to come.