Cinema’s 30 Greatest Chase Scenes (Part 1 of 2)

The chase scene. It’s a staple of action movies from across the decades. Nothing offers quite the visceral thrill as a high speed chase through the streets, across space, or even through dimensions. These scenes can make a good movie great or even be the one standout part of an otherwise forgettable affair. In either case, they have become some of the most well-loved and memorable parts of cinema.

A good chase can be on foot, behind the wheel, or at the helm of a spaceship. It may have two desperate foes locked in combat, a legion of villains on a heroes tale, or one man racing against time. In any case, these are the scenes that stick with audiences for years after, bringing them back again and again to be thrilled.

Read Part 2 listing #15 to #1!

30. Race to the Bridge – Vanishing Point

On his mad dash to San Francisco, Kowalski encounters a Jaguar driver with a big head on his shoulders. While the majority of Vanishing Point is some type of car chase, this is one of the scenes where the pace really picks up. While it sort of comes out of nowhere, this race between car lovers is a great obstacle on the protagonist’s manic drive to his destination. Plus, just having that ever cool white 1970 Dodge Challenger front and center is enough to put this competition on the list.

Best Moment: After spinning out in the dirt, the two combatants get back on the road with a tiny bridge their goal. With room for only one car, Kowalski’s opponent is driven into the river.

29. Stolen Documents – Ratatouille

When rat Remy realizes that Chef Skinner has papers proving that Linguini is the son of the legendary Chef Gusteau, he steals them to keep them from being destroyed. With Skinner chasing after Remy, and making everyone truly believe he is insane, the chase leads through buildings and down streets, eventually culminating in a desperate leap onto a passing river boat. Michael Giachiano’s score makes this race both thrilling and hilarious as it becomes more and more insane.

Best Moment: With the papers airborne, Remy takes a leap, catching the documents in his mouth and catching an updraft. Sailing to safety on a boat, Linguini’s future is saved.

28. Sewer Chase – The Third Man

The slippery Harry Lime has finally reached the end of his rope as his deception has come crashing down on his head. It’s a desperate and sloppy chase through the sewers beneath Paris as both protagonist Holly Martins and a group of police officers splashes after him. Stark lighting and sleek reflections work perfectly in the black and white cinematography, making this chase as visually appealing as it is thrilling. While Harry is a truly bad man, watching him struggle to escape is still thrilling, with someone needing to pay for the terrible toll he has brought upon his victims.

Best Moment: The end of the chase. Wounded and with nowhere else to run, Harry would rather die than go to jail for his many crimes.

27. On the Highway – The Matrix Reloaded

Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus rescue The Keymaker, but are forced to take to the freeway to escape from Agents and The Twins. Of course, everything goes wrong and since this is The Matrix, it quickly escalates into madness involving flying bad guys, huge explosions, and plenty of sword and gun play. In a disappointing sequel, this is the sequence that has managed to capture some of the franchise’s excitement and unique appeal. By transitioning from car to motorcycle to foot, this is a chase that makes the most of its ideas.

Best Moment: Facing off against a car driven by the twins, Morpheus slices through his opponents’ vehicle with a sword and then blows them up by shooting the gas tank.

26. The Pursuit of the Falcon – The Adventures of Tin Tin

With the last piece of parchment showing the location of buried treasure discovered, Tin Tin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy chase after Sakharine and his goons, including a vicious falcon. The beauty of this chase is that since it is completely animated in CGI, director Steven Spielberg films it in one continuous take, swooping in and out of buildings, down rivers, and over rooftops. What starts out as a simple motorcycle chases quickly escalates, with floods, explosions, fights between a dog and a falcon, runaway tanks, and collapsing buildings all playing a part before the end.

Best Moment: With his borrowed motorcycle on its last legs, Tin Tin smashes through a tower window, hooking the broken off handlebars on a telephone wire to zipline after the falcon. The craziest part of a completely insane chase.

25. Shooting Your Gun Up in the Air and Going “Arrgh” – Point Break

It just started as some simple fun with fire at a gas station! Chasing after bank robber Bodhi, FBI Agent Johnny Utah (these names!) races through aqueducts and over fences in pursuit of his criminal target. Squeezing between buildings and busting through homes, neither participant is willing to give up, with both taking some ridiculous risks during the chase. The close-up camera work is what really makes this an adrenaline-pumping thrill ride, with cameramen running right after the two actors for a frenetic and rough feel. Of course, it all comes down to Utah hurting his old football injury (cliche much?) and not being able to take the shot at Bodhi. Because of man love, of course.

Best Moment: While all those bullets getting fired up in the air is pretty good (some innocent bystander is definitely going to get hit), it’s definitely throwing a vicious pitbull that takes the cake. How’d he even pick it up?

24. Bond on the Bayou – Live and Let Die

Escaping from the henchmen of Mr. Big, Bond commandeers a speedboat on the Louisiana bayou, only to be hotly pursued over both land and water. Roger Moore’s time as James Bond may have involved corny plots and cartoonish gags, but it also featured many spectacular real world stunts. This speedboat chase sends Bond and numerous henchmen zipping through rivers, sliding over grassy islands, and leaping through the air. It’s still a blast decades later. While the corny inclusion of Sheriff J. W. Pepper may keep this scene from getting higher on the list, it can’t keep it off.

Best Moment: Blasting through the bayou at blistering speeds, Bond leaps a highway break in the water with his speedboat. And it’s all done with practical stunts!

23. Sheep Rescue – Wallace and Gromit in “A Close Shave”

Loads of sheep and the lovely Wendolene have been kidnapped by the sinister robo-dog Preston, so it’s Wallace and Gromit to the rescue in their contraption-laden sidecar motorcycle! This stop motion animated chase has suspense, style, and loads of laughs in ways that could not be done in live action. Once dozens of cute sheep make a pyramid formation to stay aloft on the back of the motorcycle, you know this is an unforgettable chase. All the while, the goofy and talkative Wallace and the stoic and brave Gromit provide some of the best moments in the series.

Best Moment: Separated from the motorcycle and forced off a cliff, Gromit shows off his smarts by deploying his sidecar’s wings and flying to safety.

22. You Mothers – Hot Fuzz

A petty crook steals some biscuits in the quiet town of Sanford, leading newly assigned supercop Nicholas Angel to chase him through the hamlet’s streets. What makes Hot Fuzz’s chase so great, and what makes the film as a whole so brilliant, is that the seriousness and stylish filmmaking techniques use in most modern action movies is applied to something as trivial and silly as chasing down a grocery store thief in a quiet English suburb. Add in some spot-on one liners (“You mothers” in reference to a group of mothers blocking the path), and this is a fantastic subversion of action blockbusters. While this approach makes the whole thing hilarious, it also makes it innately thrilling.

Best Moment: In a callback to both Shaun of the Dead and Point Break, Angel jumps fence after fence with ease in pursuit of his target. Following up giddily, Danny stumbles and crashes through the first fence.

21. Streets to Roofs to Train – Skyfall

Opening this Bond film in spectacular fashion, Agent 007 finds that a valuable hard drive has been stolen and immediately pursues the assassin responsible. While the audience is thrust into the action with little explanation, little is needed. We know the stakes (the secret identity of countless undercover agents) and the goal (stop the assassin), and that’s enough. Transitioning from a chaotic car chase to a frightening gun fight to a motorcycle chase across rooftops to a battle that spans the length of a train’s entire roof and this one has everything you could want. Of course, the twist ending makes it even better, with Bond losing and almost being killed breaking the mold of James Bond opening sequences.

Best Moment: Hooking onto the back of the escaping train car with a back hoe, Bond scales the machinery and jumps into the car just as the back rips off. Naturally, he straightens his cuffs right after landing.

20. Silent Getaway – Drive

As a getaway driver for hire, The Driver aids two robbers in getting away from the scene of a crime on the nighttime streets of Los Angeles while being tenaciously pursued by the police. What makes this such a memorable chase is how director Nicholas Winding Refen makes sure that the sequence plays out unlike almost any other chase scene on film. There’s no soundtrack to pump up the action, very little dialogue, a focus on secrecy over action, and the majority of filming taking place from inside the car. Capping it off with a perfectly timed getaway and Drive’s chase helps elevate the film as a whole and becomes a true classic.

Best Moment: Stopped at a light facing a cop car, Driver knows that the police suspect it’s him thanks to his police scanner. The tense silence is broken by the roaring engine and the start of a desperate dash to escape!

19. Tangier Rooftops – The Bourne Ultimatum

After failing to save a target from assassination, Jason Bourne realizes that his ally Nicky is next on the assassin’s list. With the shortest distance between two points being a straight line, Bourne has to run and jump across all manner of dilapidated rooftops to get to her in time. Director Paul Greengrass’ shaky handheld style is at its best here, creating a chaotic sense of urgency that propels the action forward. At this point in the series, audiences know what a beast Bourne truly is, but the running clock makes this an edge of your seat encounter. Topped off with a brutal hand-to-hand fight and this is a defining moment for the franchise.

Best Moment: It’s the defining moment of the chase and an iconic image from the film. Bourne jumps off a rooftop and crashes through a window, all captured by a cameraman with a bungee cord who jumped after the stuntman!

18. Arnie to the Rescue – Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Young John Connor is pursued on his little dirt bike by the vicious T-1000 in a semi-truck through the streets of Los Angeles. Knowing he can’t outrun him, John drives down into the riverbed, only to have the T-1000 smash his truck after him. With only moments to live, it’s the intimidating T-800 on the back of a classically cool Harley Davidson motorcycle to the rescue. This is Arnold Schwarzenegger in full blown action star mode and it’s magnificent. Top it off with an explosive truck crash and the revelation of the T-1000’s liquid metal mode and Terminator 2 quickly becomes a classic of the genre.

Best Moment: There’s just something incredibly cool about the way Arnie flips around the shotgun to cock it over and over again as he blasts the hell out of the T-1000’s semi truck.

17. Hedge Maze Finale – The Shining

After a long and psychotic stay through the winter at The Overlook Hotel, Jack Torrance has finally completely snapped and is determined to murder his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny. Chasing Danny into the outdoor hedge maze in the middle of a freezing winter night, the bellowing and insane Jack is hellbent on murder. After a long and dizzying descent into madness, it seems like there is no happy ending for Danny. But it’s the young boy’s intelligence and wits that turn the tables on the raving and insane Jack, leaving him stranded in the icy maze for a deathly freeze.

Best Moment: Circling through the maze, Danny pauses to retrace his steps and leave no new footprints, escaping his murderous father and sealing his own escape at last.

16. The Game Has Changed – Tron: Legacy

After being captured by Clu’s forces, Sam Flynn is forced to battle the dictator and his forces in a Light Cycle match for the pleasure of the ravenous crowds. Like all of Tron: Legacy, this chase is all about taking a classic piece from the original Tron and giving it a dazzling upgrade. Whereas the original Light Cycle match involved blocky closed-in cycles boxing each other in with 90 degree turnings on hard lines, this one is all fluid motion and spectacular modern CGI. Combined with Daft Punk’s pulse-pounding score and cinematography that gets burned into your brain, Sam’s blistering race is a true highlight of the film.

Best Moment: Sam figures out how to activate his Light Cycle in a slow motion, detail-filled sequence that shows off the glory of the grid and these new and improved Light Cycles.

Click here for #15 to #1, with Mini Coopers, oil tankers, and some of film history’s most amazing stunts!
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3 thoughts on “Cinema’s 30 Greatest Chase Scenes (Part 1 of 2)

  1. Pingback: The 30 Greatest Sci-Fi Movies (Part 1 of 2) – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

  2. Pingback: Cinema’s 40 Greatest Fight Scenes (Part 1 of 2) – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

  3. Pingback: Cinema’s 30 Greatest Chase Scenes (Part 2 of 2) – Crisis on Infinite Thoughts

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