Car chases are an enduring staple in action movies. Almost every action flick includes one, because it just wouldn't feel complete without a cat-and-mouse chase between brooding heroes and scheming villains, each riding in their vehicles of choice.
And it makes sense why car chases are so prevalent. The high-speed action represents the adrenaline-filled intensity of the conflict between good guys and bad guys, and we get to see cool cars and impressive choreography—at least when the car chase is executed well.
The greatness of a car chase scene comes down to a lot of factors, including stuntwork finesse, camerawork and cinematography, the setting, the editing, and how it fits into the overall narrative.
A great car chase isn't just about cars racing through streets; it's about properly escalating conflict between characters.
Here are my picks for the best movie car chase scenes and what they did right to get the blood pumping.
Note: I'm excluding James Bond and Fast & Furious movies, given how many car chases they have in every film.
15. Drive (2011)
For a movie named Drive, it's no surprise that one of its strengths is its driving scenes. What is surprising about Nicolas Winding Refn's film is that some of the driving stunts were actually performed by Ryan Gosling (who plays the unnamed driver) rather than a stunt driver.
From the very start, Drive's sleek action is on full display with the getaway car chase through the night streets of Los Angeles. Smooth yet tense, with its gripping camerawork and low-angle shots, the chase effectively sets up the double life that the Driver leads.
14. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
The Mission: Impossible franchise is filled with death-defying sequences that raise the bar with every entry. As for the best chase scene? You might point to the motorcycle duel in Mission: Impossible 2 or the motorcycle pursuit in Rogue Nation.
But we give it to the Paris chase in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. It's impressive how the chase evolves from a standard car chase (with collisions and all) into a kinetic motorcycle dash, all at breakneck pace. And Tom Cruise himself does all the white-knuckle driving!
13. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Perennial road movie Smokey and the Bandit is defined by its stunt-heavy car chases, which is fitting as director Hal Needham was a reliable stuntman himself. The action is complemented by Bandit's 1977 Pontiac Trans Am that he used for his bootlegging hijinks.
With the movie being one long car chase, many cars were used and damaged to execute the cat-and-mouse chase scenes. But the peak of its insanity is the jump over Mulberry Bridge, a thrilling sequence that would make even Evel Knievel blush.
12. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
To Live and Die in L.A. thrives as a strong example of an action revenge movie. It follows future CSI star William Petersen as a Secret Service agent who, after the death of his partner, is on the hunt for counterfeiter Rick Masters (played by Willem Dafoe).
Director William Friedkin's earlier The French Connection made ripples in the action movie genre, and he wanted to top those chase scenes. So, we got the iconic wrong-way car chase all over the LA freeway, for which Petersen himself did the driving (to the shock of his co-stars).
11. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The whole world was blown away when Mad Max: Fury Road hit theaters in 2015. With its full-throttle action and rewarding heft, it immediately cemented itself as one of the best action movies ever.
Director George Miller went all-in on his kinetic direction. With the movie essentially being one continuous car chase, many sequences could be picked and labeled as "the best."
But for us, the most thrilling is the first chase between Immortan Joe's forces and Furiosa's caravan. With so many tremendous moments in that chase, it really is "a lovely day."
10. Duel (1971)
Duel has a simple premise: a business commuter is stalked by an unseen truck driver, resulting in a wild goose chase.
Then-rookie director Steven Spielberg found strength in various limitations, including the unknown identity of the truck driver, the single desert setting, and the little-to-no dialogue.
The climactic race up to the mountain range is where the chase escalates to thrilling territory. The stakes are there: Mann's car breaks down, slams into a cliff wall, and nearly loses speed. Yet, it all ends with a satisfying victory for Mann against the truck.
9. Baby Driver (2017)
Director Edgar Wright used his experience as a genre bender to prepare him for Baby Driver. His kinetic editing, sleek choreography, sly humor, and engaging characters helped him deliver the beautiful scenes that almost play like a musical.
The opening chase is the epitome of the movie's unique execution. Through the tune of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's "Bellbottoms," Baby drives the trio of robbers away from a trail of police cars. Complete with alley skidding and the red car trick, the chase is amazing!
8. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Here's another fantastic car chase from the Mad Max movies, which proves itself a movie series filled with exciting chase sequences that all attempt to outdo one another.
In what could still be argued as the best Mad Max movie, each action sequence in The Road Warrior escalates the stakes and sums up the persona and the universe of Mad Max.
The best chase sequence is the climax where Max drives the armored truck while being pursued by Lord Humungus and his warriors. It's the scene that earns Max the distinction as "The Road Warrior."
7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
The sequel to The Terminator set a high bar, elevating the series from subtle thriller to all-out action flick, and James Cameron's legacy lives on for it. From its special effects to the Skynet lore, Judgment Day remains a must-watch action sci-fi classic to this day.
One of its most unforgettable sequences is the chase that has the T-800 and John Connor running from the relentless T-1000. In hot pursuit, the T-1000 bears down on the duo across the LA viaducts. The execution is amazing and one of the best of all time.
6. The Italian Job (1969)
The Italian Job is most known for its use of Mini Coopers and heist chase scenes that end in unforgettable fashion. While the 2003 remake with Mark Wahlberg had a spectacular and elaborate chase through LA, the original still stands as a classic above.
That includes its car chase climax in which the crew of Michael Caine's Charlie Croker misleads the police envoy guarding the gold. The drive of Mini Coopers is done with style and exhilaration, and that pursuit ends in a literal cliffhanger. Iconic.
5. Vanishing Point (1971)
Vanishing Point is yet another entry of an action movie that's basically one elongated car chase, but this one stands out as the one that paved the way for greater car-chase movies to follow.
The story centers on a burned out ex-cop delivering an embellished 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T to California. But with that setup comes hiccups that delay the journey for Kowalski.
From one chase to another, the ex-cop is thrillingly relentless. The best scene goes to the first chase between Kowalski and a cop motorcycle, which maximizes the excitement with Cleavon Little's side commentary and Jimmy Walker's music.
4. The Blues Brothers (1980)
It's amazing how an SNL musical act eventually led to a motion picture that's part-musical, part-road show, and all chase. That's the story of John Belushi's Jake Blues and Dan Aykroyd's Elwood Blues.
Amidst the iconic musical sequences of The Blues Brothers, which features musical cameos as well as the duo themselves, the brothers have to deal with being pursued by the police in their Bluesmobile.
Their chase culminates in Chicago, where the police pile up in a collision and the Bluesmobile performs a backflip. It's an insane chase that redeems the Blues brothers.
3. Ronin (1998)
Ronin may not be the flashiest movie on this list, but it's one of the defining movies of John Frankenheimer's career and Robert De Niro's stint in action movies.
Despite its predictable plot, Ronin is salvaged by the sleek execution of its white-knuckle car chase scenes—and the climatic Paris sequence is where the action strikes perfection.
Using no visual effects and placing the actors in sport sedans like the Audi S8, the real-time car chase scene polishes the stakes and successfully emulates the stylings of McQueen while standing apart as iconic in its own right.
2. The French Connection (1971)
The legacy of The French Connection is solidified by its intense action scenes and outstanding car chases sequences. At the time, they set a precedent for car chase scenes: never just gimmicks, but tools for escalating the intensity of Popeye's pursuit of a hitman.
The sequence starts after the hitman Nicoli targets Popeye. Nicoli escapes to a train, leaving Popeye to take a citizen's 1971 Pontiac LeMans and give chase.
The intense shots that come from the car's interior and its bumper give it a thrilling execution that was novel for the time. The chase ends with the iconic scene of Popeye apprehending Nicoli.
1. Bullitt (1968)
All car chases start and end with Steve McQueen's Bullitt. The muscular presence of action heroes, the sleek design of sports cars, and the brisk execution of car chases are paved by the charisma of Lt. Frank Bullitt and the obstacles he must overcome.
Chief among them is the iconic San Francisco street chase where Bullitt in his 1968 Mustang GT 390 evades several goons in a Dodge Charger. The car chase proves that Bullitt is a force to be reckoned with and earns its status as the iconic car chase to end all car chases.