Classic car chase sequences made audiences’ hearts race before CGI dulled a lot of the spectacle of the efforts of stunt drivers. With car-heavy franchises like The Fast and the Furious dominated by computer-generated effects, it’s easy to forget how good we had it. Here are some of our favorite old-school car stunts in film.
5. Vanishing Point
1971’s Vanishing Point is essentially one long chase scene. It tells the story of a guy trying to deliver a car from Colorado to California while high on uppers and dodging every policeman in a four-state radius. It’s the film credited with introducing the Dodge Challenger R/T to the world of car chases. In an unforgettable classic car chase, the protagonist’s powerful Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum races against a Jaguar E-Type. They speed along a serpentine, dusty road, ultimately reaching a narrow metal bridge where only one car can pass.
4. The Road Warrior
2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road is a modern masterpiece of stunt work and kinetic filmmaking. However, 1981’s The Road Warrior (retitled from Mad Max 2 for American audiences), is the ultimate 80s car stunt film. The closing sequence is truly a classic car chase scene and the most brutal on this list. After enduring threats from Lord Humungus for their gasoline, the inhabitants of a secluded oil refinery seize an opportunity to escape. They speed away in an oil tanker, leaving the rest of the group a chance to flee, relentlessly pursued by Humungus’ marauders. Max (played by Mel Gibson) drives the rig.
Motorcycles are run over, and allies and enemies alike are sent flying through the air, hitting asphalt. Of course, characters are mercilessly killed in an unflinching fashion. One stuntman broke his legs during the chase, but director George Miller included it in the final film.
This one is unquestionably one of the coolest cars involved in classic car chase scenes. Released in 1968, Bullitt, starring the avatar of cool Steve McQueen, made car chases a staple of action films. McQueen himself takes the wheel behind the Ford Mustang GT 390 Fastback for a significant portion of the action. The star masterfully executes drifts, power slides, and daring jumps on the iconic hills of San Francisco.
2. The Blues Brothers, a Comedy with a Classic Car Chase
You’d never think a 1974 Dodge Monaco would be the center of a list like this, but here we are. 1980’s The Blues Brothers is a musical comedy first, but it has one of the most impressive classic car chase scenes of all time. Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi’s titular characters go through several car stunts throughout the film. However, the film ends with an exciting chase as the brothers race against time to reach the tax office in Chicago. They encounter police troopers, SWAT teams, and determined Nazis, leading to an adrenaline-fueled showdown that keeps audiences reaching for their seatbelts.
1. The French Connection
The French Connection is a gritty 1971 crime picture directed by the prolific William Friedkin (who would direct The Exorcist just two years later). Unlike modern movies that rely heavily on CGI, Friedkin used practical effects to capture the raw intensity of Popeye Doyle’s (Gene Hackman) high-speed pursuit of a perp who escaped on an overhead train. Of course, the scene is even more intense is the fact that it was largely shot without permits.
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