As I was poking around under the hood of my new collection, Our Pool Party Bus Forever Days: Road Stories, gathering up stories and realizing that a theme had miraculously begun to emerge, I also understood that, at some point, a reader might find the book’s supposed connection to the road a little … abstract in some tales. So I came up with this desperate rationalization and a bit of bonus material, something like that first lap they take before a race where the cars do that little freaky waggle dance to heat up their tires and help them stick to the asphalt. Because even if a story doesn’t have a literal car chase, or a figurative car chase, or sex with a tailpipe, maybe a “road story” can just be a state of mind? Or, to put it another way, what’s the last thing that goes through your brain in a car crash? The fucking steering wheel! You see what I’m saying? I don’t know what that means either.
So, I first got excited about car chases again, and by proxy stories about the road, when I saw Refn’s wonderful throwback Drive and realized these sorts of movies were having a bit of a comeback. And they’re still chugging along. This year, we’ll actually have a road movie called The Road Movie to look forward to, which, near as I can tell, is some sorta hypnotic documentary made up entirely of crazy Russian dashboard cam footage that’s being put out by the Beastie Boys’ Oscilloscope Films, a company that’s no stranger to the highway after distributing the mesmerizing, not-quite-post-apocalyptic (but those guys sure wished the world was ending) indie darling Bellflower. But have you seen Drive? I think it might actually be the adventures of a carjacking scorpion dressed as a man, but it reminded us again what was important in life. And as I said recently to a cab driver who wasn’t really asking, it was a little bit of Heat, a lot of Hill’s The Driver, a sprinkle of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, dash of Tarantino’s Death Proof, splash of Mann’s Thief, smattering of Vanishing Point, as talky as the mute masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop, and simmered in what sounds like the music from goddamn Xanadu, and, because it’s the reason for the season, even a slice of Carpenter’s Halloween-stalking action thrown in for kicks.
You do have to endure “The Frog and the Scorpion” fable for the millionth time, last heard in The Crying Game, and even Skin Deep fer chrissakes, but it’s totally worth it because the scorpion in the movie (a childlike design embroidered on the back of the hero’s satin jacket) should get a Best Supporting Actor nod for the emotion that creature brought to the silver screen. For example, after a particularly brutal elevator beating, I swear I saw that bug trying to catch its breath. Anyway, all this got me wondering where this movie might fall on a definitive, last-word inventory of car-chase flicks, and because I’ll jump on any excuse to ponder this question forever, let’s do it right now. I’m calling this list:
The Invention of the Wheel!
Mad Max told us the road was a “white-line nightmare,” but it’s more like a white-knuckle dream. Who was the first to do it? Invent the wheel, I mean. Someone, somewhere slid over their hood, dove into the driver’s seat, then peeled out. Well, maybe not quite peeled out, since roads came later and the first chase probably involved horses instead of horsepower. Unless a horse can peel out on dust? Maybe on wet grass. The Duke Boys did it all the time, right? Anyhow. You know what happened right after that? Someone started chasing them! And this probably happened all over the world at the exact same time, just like those cave men who invented the wheels. Plural. See, it wasn’t just one wheel, don’t let ’em fool ya. They always talk about the invention of the wheel, singular, but it was definitely spontaneous wheels all over the damn place. And when four cave men in nearby caves rolled four wheels out into the sun at the same time, shit, they almost had a whole car. And then someone started chasing them! And then someone invented movies. And then came the lists. And the Lord did grin. It was just that simple. Trust me, I’m a scientist. Which brings us to …
The Best Car Chases of All Time. Or … The Best Car Chases in Movies I Happen to Own
10.) The Hidden
The first chase in the movie, of course. The rest of the movie mostly feels like Beastmaster-era straight-to-cable stuff. See, aliens are among us. And we’d probably never realize it … until they start stealing high-end sports cars and rocking to bad heavy metal music while mowing down old people in wheelchairs. This is such a great opening to a movie (right up there with The Last Boy Scout’s football game) that the audience is shocked into a satisfying kind of stupor thinking the movie will be better than it actually is. We start off with some crazed-looking business man robbing a bank, motorvating down sidewalks in a black Ferrari, nodding along with the tunes and grinning all spooky while plowing through police road blocks. Stars Twin Peaks’ Agent Cooper as the good alien, doing his spaced-out Agent Cooper thing two years earlier. The audience is as confused as the cops at first, and for a while you think you’re strapping in for the greatest film of all time. And it isn’t. But that’s okay, because, for a second, you think it might be.
9.) To Live and Die in L.A.
The chase about halfway through. When the two “good” guys screw up their scam to steal drug money from one gang (actually undercover Feds) to buy counterfeit money from another gang, led by an utterly bonkers Willem Dafoe. Turns out the deal they were ambushing was staged by the FBI for a bust, so our heroes have to drive the wrong way through traffic to escape. Friedkin can do this sort of car chase in his sleep, but this one is something special. During the getaway, agents materialize around every corner (a decade before The Matrix), and it finally starts to dawn on our heroes that they fucked up pretty bad. At least it starts to dawn on one of them because the other guy, William Peterson from Manhunter (and, tragically, CSI, a show that will forever be remembered as confusing dumbass juries with a little bit of knowledge), flashes back to his recreational bungee jumping from the opening scene for some reason (the birth of extreme sports?), which, impossibly, helps him keep it together and follow the most important rule of the road, according to Tom Waits: “He don’t lose his composure in a high speed chase.” Of course he can’t follow the second-most-important rule: “One-Way Traffic, yo.”
8.) Raiders of the Lost Ark
No, I’m not calling it Indiana Jones and the Whatever Whatever. That re-naming was just more revisionist history from Lucas, but you almost forgive him and his buddy Spielberg when you see this scene. Good guy crawling all over that truck like a chimp, lots of goose-steppers slipping under the wheels, cheap shots and sucker punches from everyone. Maybe it’s more like a fight scene than a chase scene, sure, but that truck is oh, so lovingly filmed and gives the sequence lots of momentum. And this chase is right after what is arguably one of the greatest fist fights of all time: Jones taking on a big, bald Nazi, then tag-teaming a propeller. Getting off track though. Gonna have to save the fist fight list for another time (where CGI and high-wire Crouching Tiger, Floating Dragline will be disqualified), and I will build another short-story collection around one to justify it.
7.) The French Connection
The only chase in the movie. Come on, you remember it. Where Gene Hackman steals a car to chase the bad guy riding the elevated train above him. And he seems to be killing or maiming several pedestrians during this pursuit. Hackman plays Popeye Doyle, the first of the Dirty Harry-type cops that bum-rushed the 70s, and he does a fantastic job gritting his teeth while he screams and honks that horn. And this horn is like its own character, too, as relentless and needy as the wailing baby in Eraserhead. Friedkin’s sequence may be a little tame in this jaded age of videogamey pile-ups, but with today’s movies you never get the pleasure of watching the cop shoot the bad guy in the back in frustration at the end of a chase. That’s only on the eleven o’clock news.
6.) Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome
The last chase in the movie. The one where Max drives a train full of kids on a doomed, dead-end escape through the desert. More tricked-out dune-buggies ramming those metal wheels like moths to the flame. And maybe it was just the nostalgia of seeing desert + Max + wheels + Village People-lookin’ bad guys and hoping that combination would still = magic. And maybe it doesn’t quite pull it off. And maybe Max isn’t all that “mad” in these movies anymore without the R rating (at least not as mad as a typical Mel Gibson phone call). And maybe the “last of the V-8s” is being pulled by horses (say it ain’t so!), but this is George Miller and Mad friggin’ Max we’re talking about here, so it’s guaranteed a spot on the list.
5 ½.) Grand Theft Auto III
This part of the list is like the half floor in Being John Malkovich, where The Matrix Reloaded chase would bump its head if it wasn’t disqualified for turning into a videogame (and what’s up with the CGI cars missing their mufflers when they flip over?). Equal parts satisfying and frustrating, kind of like the kinetic but artificial acrobatics in Wanted, which aped The Matrix fairly effectively. And I guess John Wick should go here in the half floor, too, even though, yes, Keanu Reeves was replaced with a more lethal avatar, his Mustang Mach 1, which they crunched in a tangible, off-the-hard drive, real-world fashion. Kind of like Jack Reacher’s Chevelle bouncing around Pittsburg in a very appealing, sorta poor-man’s San Francisco chase that was better than the whole movie. But then I thought about all this and decided I got waaaaaay out of bounds here, and that Grand Theft Auto III, an actual computer game, gets this half spot instead. Simply because in the game you can take your car chase into the park with a five-star wanted level and post up on this little island and shotgun cop cars and FBI SUVs out of the sky when the A.I. sends them flying off the bridge above you by mistake. It’s a sweet glitch in the game that sends flaming cars screaming over your head while you just keep lighting them up over and over and over and over … Like an awestruck friend whispered when he saw this happen, “It’s like the end of the world, dude.” So it deserves the slot. Because Matrix Reloaded was just a videogame you couldn’t play.
You know what chase. Do I even have to say it? Mustang vs. Dodge Charger. Mustang wins. This chase has been overrated, then underrated, then overrated all over again. I put it at number five, like the porridge that’s just wrong, because it effectively blurred the line between reality and fiction when Steve McQueen (like Burt Reynolds or Jackie Chan after him, really more a stuntman slumming as an actor) clicked on his seat beat and stabbed the gas, then continued to do all the driving and derring-do himself. It’s not really a movie anymore after that, kind of like when McQueen slapped his wife/co-star in the face in The Getaway. It’s really happening. And to Hell with The Great Escape’s famous motorcycle jump (which he didn’t even do). Peter Yates will always claim Steve’s defining moment. Side note: all my life I thought this was a Dodge Challenger and not a Charger because I’m into roads, not cars, and I’m also an idiot, but I blame my confusion on years of hearing Super Soul in Vanishing Point announce, “Here comes the challenger …” which I didn’t realize was also the name of a vehicle until decades later. I know. Shut up.
4.) Mad Max II: The Road Warrior
The last chase. Max trying to drive a decoy truck full of sand through about fifty screaming apocalyptic nutjobs (or “Smegma Crazies” if you dare to use subtitles) and their colorful array of custom, high-octane, teenage-wet-dream vehicular abominations. Bizarre muscle cars, spike-riddled dune buggies, harpoon-equipped El Caminos, and jet-powered forklifts all take their turn under Max’s eighteen wheels. And watch close for what happens to The Humungous’ two hostages when Max slams on the brakes. Oops. Sorry about the rescue, guys! The death of Max’s own beloved ride (“Shoulda had a V-8!” my dad joked as he slapped his forehead while we all watched it five more times on his bootleg cable box) is even more tragic than when that tornado wiped out the Little House on the Prairie and Charles Ingalls lost his faith. But I have faith in George. To be honest, George Miller’s dusty, hellish visions might be the most satisfying views of the future I’ve ever seen. And when I tell you that I want to collect gasoline from underneath car wrecks with my cracked Frisbee, trust me, I really do. Maybe someday we all will (checks gas prices, loads crossbow, adjusts football shoulder pads).
3.) The Driver
The big finale. Toothy goofy Camaro vs. cherry-red ’74 Chevy C10 step-side pickup. Cat-and-mouse action in a warehouse with a very pleasing crunch when the mousetrap finally gets sprung. But what makes Hill’s chase so satisfying is the buildup to it, the pre-game in the parking garage, when the bad guys make the mistake of having the hero test-drive a pumpkin orange Mercedes-Benz with them hunkered down in terror in the back seat. Ryan O’Neal’s nameless “driver” bashes the stuffing out of their gleaming ride, scraping it against every sharp corner he can find. A beautiful, unnerving, weirdly punishing scene. Also watch for the end credits when the cop is left “holding the bag.” Get it? I swear I’m not talking about testicles. Speaking of …
2 ½.) The Driver II (a.k.a. Drive)
Come on, it’s pretty much the same damn movie, right down to someone at the end of the flick left holding their balls. But it’s better, too. And the opening chase got my ladyfriend to turn to me and mutter, “You know, this is the first car chase I’ve ever cared about.” I ended up marrying her! How did it do this, you ask? By doing the same things The Driver did. Cat-and-mouse moves (or cat-and-moose-and-squirrel moves really), slowing everything down, turning off the lights, then almost exclusively filming from behind the steering wheel. And the second chase in the movie ain’t no slouch either. Looking a bit like the famous chase from The Seven-Ups, it was fast, hectic, with a brutal ending that shows a car simply stopped cold can be more effective than one that explodes.
2.) Mad Max
The first chase. Two ugly, piss-yellow, “bogan” wagons, a.k.a. police “interceptors,” and a motorcycle driven by a guy named Goose (and anyone named Goose ain’t gonna last long), all chasing someone calling himself “The Nightrider,” who is never seen driving at night for some reason, and who gets oddly emotional during pursuits. A great chase and a real sense of danger for the stuntmen here. How many Aussie day-workers were “killed or injured during the making of this film?” Rumor has it they got paid in beer, too. George Miller starts his movie and his chases kind of lighthearted, then quickly escalates into some serious vehicular mayhem. A van, a camper, and a baby all wander onto “Anarchie” Road (hey, that’s how they spelled it, not me) at the wrong time. And if you freeze-frame when The Nightrider is stomping the gas pedal, you’ll see a tattoo on his toes! I’ll let you discover what it says on your own. Also, here’s another Easter Egg for ya; check behind the CD tray on your copy of Tool’s Undertow and you’ll see a cow licking its own ass. You’re welcome! Seriously, what if this same picture is hiding under all of your CDs. Speaking of rimjobs …
The last chase in the movie. Rims flying everywhere. Mercedes vs. Audi, going Mach 12, lots o’ traffic, a real sense of danger for the characters, as well as the actors, pedestrians, and especially that dude on the bike that eats it. Too bad the movie kinda blows? Perfect chase though. Frankenheimer is inspired here by using no music at all for the first 2/3rds of this chase. Sure, maybe he should have stuck with no music the entire time, but still, this sequence is as close to perfection as a car chase in a movie (that I own) ever got. It’ll have to do.
Runner-ups (or is it runners-up? That never sounds right …)
Tank vs. Peugeot. Bit of a mismatch. Bond, driving the tank, accidentally destroys St. Petersburg as a result. But don’t tell me those teeny tiny foreign cars sprinkled all over those streets weren’t destined to be chewed under tank treads someday. I think they were trying to say something profound about the end of an era with all the Russian monuments and historic symbols being destroyed. And the message is clear: tanks fuck shit up.
12.) Terminator II: Judgment Day
Truck vs. Harley vs. mini-bike. I think the semi plowing through cars when the T-9000 first jumps on board is better than the famous chase through the reservoir, but still plenty of twisted metal for everyone, and the original Terminator chase isn’t slacking either (T3 might have made the list if it hadn’t computer-faked its trucks). Hate the kid in this movie though, especially all his “catchphrases.” Quit trying to make Tex-Mex teen slang happen, Mr. Cameron. Oh, yeah, the helicopter smashing into the S.W.A.T. van later is sweet, too. I remember people cheering in the theater when that happened, way back when. But they also cheered when I tripped on the way out.
13.) The Blues Brothers
It’s just a comedy so it’s easy to forget that John Landis’ fever dream always seems to be on the brink of Carmageddon. Speaking of Biblical proportions, maybe Death Proof should be here instead, since this is where the cars in Bullitt and Vanishing Point and The Seven-Ups ended up in the afterlife, or the ghost of every car a movie destroyed, doomed to chase each other’s taillights and flip over and over forever.
13 ½.) Highlander
No one is really chasing anyone, so it doesn’t really count (and I wanted to end the big list on a luckier number so saying thirteen and a half makes even less sense). However, the bad guy jacking that car and playing chicken by plowing through pedestrians and oncoming traffic with a screaming passenger is just too much like GTA: Vice City to ignore. The bad guy is also singing like Tom Waits, which then morphs into Queen, and Queen wrote the song “I’m in Love with My Car,” so there’s some kind of synchronicity going on here that is bigger than all of us.
The Best Anti-Chases!
Just when you think the big chase is about to start, the taillights flicker in the distance and one of the cars is upside-down in the snow. Tragic because two young lives, and, more importantly, a car chase, was cut short in its prime. Sniff. Only one of those things is really a tragedy though.
2.) The Way of the Gun
The chase right around the first third of the flick, when the two guys take turns sticking their feet out and walking their vehicles for some bizarre reason. Not sure if it works as a comprehensible scene, let alone a chase, and it probably only made sense on paper, but that car-walking deal has gotta be some kind of important milestone in chases.
1.) Wages of Fear/Sorcerer
Same movie done twice, more than twenty years apart. Both excellent. Trucks hauling old, soggy, nitroglycerine-sweating dynamite through the jungle at about five miles per hour. The building-the-trucks sequence in Sorcerer set to the sounds of Tangerine Dream makes me want to build a truck and die in it right now. The original film is a little Frenchified with scarves and striped shirts and time wasted on a romantic subplot, but both movies are twitchy masterpieces. And I’m convinced the remake ends up on the surface of the Moon somehow. Maybe I was hallucinating like Roy Scheider.
The Best Movies That Are Sort of One Big Chase but Don’t Really Contain a Single Good Chase!
10.) Mad Max: Fury Road
Let me back up. It’s not that it doesn’t contain a single good chase. It’s just that every inch of that movie is a chase and also perfect and I don’t know how to deal with this. Okay, maybe the CGI lizard at the beginning wasn’t perfect, but this movie, and seventy-year-old George Miller, feel like they’re somehow hovering above this list, spinning in a nuclear whirlwind. Because, at some point, if a movie is one big chase, the chase doesn’t matter as much as the spectacle, right? Ripping ass down a road becomes as unremarkable as walking across the room, or even turning your head, because complete immersion has been achieved. Which is why this film will likely never be topped and should not be included here. Don’t even look at it. It goes to eleven.
9.) North by Northwest
Arguably the first mindless action movie, as Hitchcock admitted the title meant nothing, the chase meant nothing, and nothing meant nothing. He just wanted to end a movie with a man hanging off Lincoln’s nose at Mount Rushmore. You know what the movie was originally called? The Man on Lincoln’s Nose. The prosecution rests. And no good chases to speak of here really. So why is it on this list you ask? Good question. Because Cary Grant does some excellent drunk driving in a jaw-droppingly irresponsible sequence. Today they’d call that shit “problematic.”
8.) Death Race 2000
Some cool, goofy 80s Toledo Sports Arena Autorama-looking rides. But the creepiest thing might be the strange opening credits doodle. What the hell was that? Someone must have painted that on the side of a suspicious van at least once.
7.) Baby Driver?
Nope. This movie is completely disqualified for not having an actual baby drive a car. And for not using a Fisher-Price baby dashboard. No excuse. So let’s put Speed here instead. That was one big chase with no real “chase” chase. But how damn likable was Keanu Reeves in that movie? He’s like our buddy!
6.) The Hitcher
Lots of cops get killed by C. Thomas Howell and the bad guy from Blade Runner. Or is it the other way around? Or is the guy from Blade Runner just a figment of the kid’s imagination and he’s a one-man country-cop slaughterhouse? Is Eric Red pulling some sort of Fight Club thing here decades before Fight Club? Probably not, but I’m still hoping. “It’s a drive-away,” the whiny little punk keeps saying until he gets pennies on his eyelids. My favorite part is when the kid’s covered in gas, and the match is falling, falling, and he can’t catch his breath because of the fumes. You can still smell it.
Cool, evil, very oily truck in this one. But it’s a made-for-TV movie, so fuck it. Speaking of oil! I wanted to talk about The Transporter right here, too, but every time I try to watch a chase in those movies, I just rewind to the fist fight in the first one where Jason Statham is sliding around on bike pedals in a pool of 10W-30. It’s so slippery it’s like watching a fight give birth! To my penis.
4.) The Getaway (1972) & The Getaway (1993)
Both versions have great moments when the movie stops cold so the hero can shotgun the shit out of a cop car. So satisfying they had to do it again. And, of course, both movies stop cold so the leading men can pimp-smack their co-stars (wives in real life) across the face. What’s up with that, guys? I think McQueen hits his wife twice! But Alec Baldwin gets smacked back by Basinger so the filmmakers can pretend it’s all empowering to embattled wives slash crime molls or anyone else who’s taken a wrong turn in a relationship and had hopes too high for a Peckinpah remake, so I’m leaning towards the original here? “Yeeesh” on those scenes either way. Hey! A little trivia you should already know: these were both written by Walter Hill, the man responsible for many an existential masterpiece, including number three on the big list up there, The Driver, and its illegitimate son, Drive.
3.) Smokey and the Bandit
You know, this movie holds up surprisingly well. Good wrecks and some great crunched metal, and Buford T. Justice’s magically shrinking cop car is still quite funny to ten-year-old me. I’d even throw that chase from Hooper in this slot, too, since that’s a videogame you can play if you still have your PS2 copy of Stuntman. But, yeah, these are all comedies and therefore make you long for the destruction that reached Old Testament proportions in The Blues Brothers if you’re gonna be watching the funny pictures. Of course, if you do throw in Smokey and the Bandit, always be sure it’s the old VHS version, not the retooled digital editions where Hal Needham added whimsi- cal music to the surprisingly poignant final stretch. “We ain’t gonna make it, son.” Son? Yes, there’s a seventy-five percent chance that Burt Reynolds is your father.
2.) Vanishing Point
How ridiculously symbolic is this? Dude takes “speed” then decides to drive from Denver to San Francisco in fifteen hours for no good reason. Speed? Get it? And he’s helped by a psychic DJ named Super Soul. Could happen. And guess what? Another Dodge Challenger is involved. Remember it from Bullitt? Wait, no, that was a Charger? I still get confused. But the real problem here is the bastard keeps stopping and getting out of his car to flash back to his soft-lit, very soap-opera-looking life. Okay, there’s a naked girl on a motorcycle rocking out to “Mississippi Queen,” but if I wanted to see that, I wouldn’t have watched a movie called Vanishing Point. Keep that channel tuned to highway oblivion, movie! Perfect ending though.
1.) Two-Lane Blacktop
I know this movie is about a race because that’s what the nameless character said (damn, I sure love it when they go nameless). But, for some reason, I can’t remember ever seeing this race occur. And I remember some mumbling about ripping out the heater in the heroes’ car to make it faster, but I can’t remember seeing that either. And I remember some tough talk from the rival driver, Warren Oates, every time James Taylor and Dennis Wilson stop for gas, but no one seems to be very passionate about any of this. But I do remember the cars. Bulky Chevy 150, the last thing you’d expect to be racing, and a GTO, driven by a guy the credits call “GTO” so we won’t spend too much time thinking about it. You might remember him better as the guy that fell in love with the severed head of Alfredo Garica (Tarantino totally owes his sequence from Sin City to that movie, too). This is probably the slowest chase flick ever made. And, for some strange reason, against all of my instincts, one of my favorite movies.
Some Crazy Cars That Won My Heart!
1.) The Car
Big limousine-looking beastly thing with red-tinted windows. Driven by, uh, the Devil? Actually had a huge impact on me as a child. Because I thought we were rooting for The Car the whole time, until the end when the Highlander-looking tongue-wiggling explosion shows up and The Car loses. The equivalent of the Black Sox Scandal on my young mind. P.S. counting down like a bomb seemed dangerous all the sudden, so I’m counting up from here on out.
2.) The Wraith
Early Charlie Sheen classic (yes, that’s a thing). Rips off High Planes Drifter so bad that some early reviews mocked it as High Planes Dragster, or High Lanes Drifter. Also features Audrey from Twin Peaks doing her Audrey thing two years early (between this and Agent Cooper in The Hidden, I think Lynch was watching a lot of shitty ’80s movies). The plot goes like this; Charlie comes back to life as a combination space-alien slash Dodge Interceptor concept car. Jesus Chrysler, another friggin’ Chrysler?! Well, at least it ain’t another Challenger? Anyway, the car, er, half-car/half-Charlie hybrid, proceeds to hunt down and systematically murder the lamest gang since the home intruders in Weird Science. Features some very impressive fiery wrecks rolling down mountains. Too bad the car and Charlie look more like something out of Tron.
Stephen King and John Carpenter rip off The Car but do enough cool stuff with the idea to be forgiven. The ’58 Plymouth Fury pulsing and heaving and creaking to restore itself is practically orgasmic (“Show me …”). It’s the best Cronenberg moment not in a Cronenberg movie. I’ll bet he hit himself in the forehead and exclaimed, “I could have had a V-8!” Our house can’t get enough of that joke. Hey, speaking of cargasms …
Don’t get this confused with the lame-ass Oscar-bait snoozefest of the same name. The cars in this movie kill, sure. But that is incidental. They’re misunderstood. They really just want to fuck.
5.) Freebie and the Bean
Never mind, I thought this was the name of a porn. And, amazingly, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry isn’t porn either? Gone in 60 Seconds (the original, not the crap remake) where the forty-minute chase wrecks ninety-three cars? Now that’s porn.
6.) Filthy Killer Trucks?
Meat Loaf has a sweet Satanic semi in Black Dog, and this is Meat Loaf we’re talking about, ambassador to the asphalt underworld and tour guide of dead-man’s curves everywhere, and some of the trucks in this movie blowed up real good, but it all plays like a bargain-bin Smokey and the Bandit, right down to a blue Camaro running interference instead of a black Trans Am (even if it’s funny to see Ned Ryerson as an ATF agent with one semester of psychology under his belt). Also, there was that sweet semi in Maximum Overdrive, with the grinning Green Goblin head on the grill (so my question is, why the hell did it keep killing with its ass end?), but, yeah, that filthy fucking milk truck from Jeepers Creepers, and the filthy semi in Joy Ride, those were my boys! (until we heard that shit about the director). But those trucks were kind of spiritual brothers, right? They both seemed to be the color of a grimy toilet you hope a bad guy’s face gets slammed into. And, sure, both rip-off Duel and its patented filth wagon for the opening third of these movies. But both probably do it better. Too bad they start pulling over off the road and stepping out of their filthy trucks and running their mouths instead of their engines. Big mistake! However, this might be the best double feature since the crazy man-rabbit combo they served up with Donnie Darko and Sexy Beast.
Motherfuckin’ Mother Medusa! Staring into her headlights won’t turn you to stone, but instead you’ll turn to dangerous hobbies like shotgunning propane tanks, flamethrower construction, Road Warrior worship, and brain-damaged revenge fantasies.
8.) The Dead Pool
Teeny-tiny remote-control ’63 Chevy Corvette vs. Dirty Harry’s ’98 Oldsmobile. Now that’s a toy with personality. And one of those rare car- chase send-ups of the classic Bullitt chase that works both as satire and as a surprisingly effective pulse-pounder (almost had to put it in the Anti-Chase list). Seriously, just look at that little sucker catching air on those San Francisco hills! Also it’s a fucking bomb, so Dirty Harry’s unmarked Oldsmobile doesn’t stay unmarked for long.
The Best Chase That Was Disqualified Because the Franchise Stole My Genius Idea (But Somehow Still Screwed It Up)
1.) The Fate of the Furious
For years I was telling anyone who would listen that the eighth Fast and the Furious movie should be called F8, and you’d pronounce it like, “Fate.” No-brainer, right? Then have the poster’s tagline say, “You Know Why Fast 6 Was Afraid of Fast 7? Because Fast 7 *ATE* 9!” Gold, I tell ya. But the official title, “Fate of the Furious,” makes even less sense than usual, even if they’re still striving for that “smells ‘gamey’” Grand Theft Auto-motive insanity. When they all parachuted out of that plane in their cars was a high-point though.
The Best Chase Where Corpses Are Treated with Little or No Respect!
1.) Bad Boys II
I used to call this a bad movie with good chases, but I’ve changed my mind on that lately. It’s good chases with a bad movie! Wait, that’s the same thing. But that chase with the embalmed bodies slapping around those hoods, or even the destruction of the shanty town? All minor masterpieces. I was tempted to add the dude from Fame getting windshield splooshed in Robocop to this slot, or the terrorist from Die Hard getting the “Welcome to the party, pal” safety-glass faceplant, but that’s down the rabbit hole again. And even though Die Hard 4: Die Hardier had some of the best recent car action (smoking that helicopter at least), it was combined with some of the worst car CGI ever, so I came out disgruntled. There’s just no getting around the fact that the best car chase in the Die Hard Trilogy is actually from Playstation’s Die Hard Trilogy (what a twist!), and computer Sam Jackson clearly knew this when he shouted out during his voiceover work, “Slow down before we go back in time!”
The Best Chase Ruined by a Sound Effect
1.) The Man with the Golden Gun
As you already know, anyone who busts out a slide whistle at a party gets immediately waterboarded. It’s almost as bad as someone playing acoustic guitar and gazing awkwardly into your eyes. Which is why when British stuntman Loren “Bumps” Willard (and either a mannequin or a corpse done up to look like a corpulent redneck) drove that AMC Hornet over a river to pull off a 270-degree barrel roll in one take (!) and in the process gave a hearty “fuck you” to a future full of CGI-addled action movies, people don’t really talk about that scene in The Man with the Golden Gun as much as they should. Simply because there’s a slide whistle in it. Rumor has it that Bumps was paid only £30,000 for nailing that stunt, which, coincidentally, is the price of 30,000 slide whistles. But the real cost will never be determined.
The Best Chase Where It Looked Like Someone Got Fucked Up for Real
1.) The Seven-Ups
For this movie, the stunt coordinator from Bullitt and The French Connection returned to drive the ’73 Pontiac Grand Ville that goes up against Roy Scheider’s Pontiac Ventura Custom Sprint, which was probably being driven by famous Hollywood stuntman Jerry Summers when it James Van Der Beaked into the back end of that semi and … oh my fucking God, look at Roy Scheider’s face!
The Best “Chase” Where I Use Scare Quotes Around “Chase” Because Chases Get Sidelined When the Whole Thing Is Filmed Inside a Car
Yes, I know there are no chases in this but I don’t give a shit. This movie was amazing, and I learned so much about laying concrete that I could do that job tomorrow.
I know I said earlier that I was frustrated whenever Barry Newman got out of the car in Vanishing Point, but this movie sort of proves, like the song says, sometimes you don’t get what you want, you get what you need. But did we need Grillo to keep leaving his car like that when I was promised a car-bound movie? My real gripe with Wheelman in a nutshell is that, unlike Locke, this movie has all sorts of angles on the action going on around the vehicle (shots of the wheels, pursuers, top view, side view, etc.), which is intended to squeeze the most out of such a narrow focus, but, ironically, this makes the movie seem so much smaller, especially compared to static shots of Tom Hardy having intense conversations about pouring concrete, which (no joke) seemed epic and had me on the edge of my nuts. Maybe they should have had this guy alone the whole time, or mute, or only recording himself making enemies lists in between chases? Sort of like . . .
3.) The Series of Embarrassing Videos …
… that Dave made in high school where he drove around recording himself making enemies lists.
The Best Chase According to My Brother-in-Law
1.) So, my brother-in-law, for whatever reason, is a foolproof predictor of what films will be huge. For example, he was talking about sleeper hit The Sixth Sense before any critic caught wind. And his predictions are critic-proof, as well. Like when he was yammering about that horrible new Ghost Rider movie, specifically where Cage jumps a motorcycle over some helicopters or some nonsense, and we all scoffed at him. Then that movie went on to make almost 300 million dollars, with respectable reviewers still scratching their noggins. It’s sort of an “everyman” gift he has (a sixth sense!) not burdened by taste or favorites or anything really, but he can pick the winners merely by buying a ticket. So when I was wrapping up this list, I decided to ask him what his favorite chase scene was, thinking there was no way I missed any. I was wrong, of course. He goes, “The Fifth Element, bro. With the flying taxis? That was the first three-dimensional chase without the stupid glasses.” And holy shit, he was right again.
The Best Chases with Things That Don’t Count!
10.) No Clue What This Was
Okay, I stumbled across this Hot Wheels slo-mo race video on YouTube once, where it pit K.I.T.T. against Ecto-1 against The A-Team’s “Free Candy” rape van and Doc Brown’s DeLorean, and the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine. The clip was this toy car chase with participants almost as tiny as the MINI Coopers in The Italian Job(s). No clue what it was, but it still ended up replacing The Italian Job on these lists easily enough (maybe not the cliffhanger ending of the original though, where you know they used the grappling hook to grab that gold). So does TV qualify now all the sudden? No clue. So, basically, this spot is simply reserved for all those crazy clips you dig up in the dark recesses of the internet, snippets of Russian or Indian films where you never know what the hell is going on. Like that pile of Indian dudes in sunglasses with the skunk hair that turns into a massive, gun-spitting cobra or whatever? No clue what that was. We’re just not ready for that. And you know what? Clicking through YouTube, I’m going to put the trailer for 80s classic Short Time here, too, because I just found it. Look at all those car crashes. Does this movie star The Winnebago Man? No clue!
9.) The Long Riders
Blatant Wild Bunch rip-off when the James Gang rides out of town after their botched robbery. Slo-mo bullet wounds and backward bullet noises are impressive as hell though, even if it is sloppy seconds (Young Guns stole this sequence, too, meaning Dirty Steve had dirty thirds). But, yeah, horses have horsepower, we established that earlier, but they’re not technically cars because of all the defecating. That’s science. But this is Walter Hill. And that scene is better than most movies. Especially this one.
8.) Hard Rain
The jet-ski chase through the flooded school. Who wouldn’t want to do that? There’s a kind of inspired madness to the scene, and any time you flood a house, strange things can and will happen. Just try it. Deep Blue Sea had sharks slipping in and out of a flooded lab, opening doors, learning how to use ovens. Hell, I was waiting for a shark to get on a phone and try to sucker a pizza-delivery dude. And Dagon had people reverting back down the evolutionary ladder as soon as their living rooms overflowed. Also, on a side note, someone should make a movie called Hard Black Rain to cause even more confusion when I rent movies.
7.) True Lies
The horse chasing the motorcycle through the hotel. I know, stop with the stupid horses, but that was a weird chase, huh? But the best scene is really the two Harrier jets taking out the terrorists on that bridge. Pilot: “Will the nukes go off if we take out the bridge?” Schwarzenegger: “No.” Then he turns and does this guilty shrug to Tom Arnold. That was funny stuff! The movie also scores points for featuring a loving kiss in front of a mushroom cloud, and, yes, we’re sliding off the road again and I’m-a let you finish but didn’t Adaptation get the last word on all this stuff with one line, “It’s like a battle between motors and horses … like technology vs. horse.”
6.) Runaway Train
Kurosawa wrote the script for this parable about a doomed train with escaped convicts heading for the big dead-end. So they’re, like, really chas- ing themselves? Deep. Lots of satisfying arguments and twitchy eyelids (and Eddie “Mr. Blue” Bunker). And an oddly affecting fade-out ending and Richard III quote that wasn’t “My kingdom for a horse!” for once. Thank Christ. What’s next? A horse in the hospital?
I’d kind of forgotten about the boat chase until my friend Jerry angrily described the climax of this movie as “the director jerking off onto my face.” So any chase that gets that kind of reaction has to get a mention. I’d also like to throw The Rock in right about here because there might be a decent chase with the Hummer, but I couldn’t tell with shaky cam strapped to that poltergeist. I did like how Cage and Travolta hovered in the air for about a year after the boats exploded. Points revoked for Cage’s hilariously earnest titular line though: “I want to rip his face … [pause] … off.” Ha ha shut the fuck up.
4.) Black Rain
That was a fulfilling little dirt-bike chase through that farmlands. Ends with a solid fist fight that shows how American right hands and cheap shots from a flabby, over-the-hill Michael Douglas can defeat that sneaky kung-fu any day! If there’s anything more embarrassing than white people doing Martian Arts it hasn’t been invented yet.
3.) The Abyss
Decent little sub chase ending with Michael Biehn’s wonderfully mustachioed bad guy getting smashed from the water pressure like an empty beer can. Question: How did they not predict a guy named “Coffey” was gonna get “the shakes”? Bonus points for Crazy Coffey elbowing that tape player into shards when the Linda Ronstadt song comes on in the middle of his chase. I’m right there with ya, buddy.
Ever see that Roman transsexual porn called Ben Her? Speaking of jokes my former high-school classmates still post on Facebook in their forties … not since high school boys cranked Queen’s “We Will Rock You” before football games have straight males been so excited and confused at the same time. You’ve all seen this chariot race by now. But how about that rowing scene? That’s technically a chase scene, too. At least I think they were being chased. But we weren’t allowed to look since there aren’t any windows in the bowels of a ship. I know I just said “bowels” but I’m not going to take the bait. Too many jokes … locking … up …
I got so excited that I forgot I was counting down again, but this movie has got to be the last word in superheroes hanging off helicopters, and when he’s bouncing and running along the tops of all that traffic, it still makes me smile to this day. I did it again today. Smile, I mean.
So in summation, just remember that those crazy limeys in An American Werewolf in London said it best when they warned us to “stay off the moors and stick to the roads.” I’m not sure what a “moor” is, but if it’s anything like a “mook,” definitely stay off them or you’ll get your ass kicked like De Niro in Mean Streets. But I think we’re done for now, even if this list changes again tomorrow, as it used to do almost hourly back when the first incarnation was parked in Flywheel Magazine, a now-defunct online rag chronicling my Toledo, Pittsburgh, and Louisville driving days, a project mostly dreamed up while pinballing around that rust belt and killing time in driver’s seats, back seats, and trunks, surfing the same highways and backstreets where many of my “fictional” road stories were born. And even if we’re all gathering more flies than wheels these days, luckily, it turns out tires really do screech on desert dust after all, and don’t let anyone whose name isn’t George Miller tell you any different.
About the Author
David James Keaton received his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and was the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flywheel Magazine (sadly, featuring more flies than wheels these days). His first collection of fiction, Fish Bites Cop! Stories to Bash Authorities, was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award and named the 2013 Short Story Collection of the Year by This Is Horror. Kirkus Reviews called his first novel, The Last Projector (Broken River Books, 2014), “A loopy, appealing mix of popular culture and thoroughly crazy people,” and his second collection of short fiction, Stealing Propeller Hats from the Dead, recently received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly, who said, “The author’s joy in his subject matter is obvious, often expressed with a sly wink and wicked smile. Decay, both existential and physical, has never looked so good.” Our Pool Party Bus Forever Days: Road Stories is releasing with Red Room Press on October 24, 2018. He teaches composition and creative writing at Santa Clara University and can be contacted at davidjameskeaton[at]gmail[dot]com.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of Zero Saints. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias