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Top 10 movie car chase scenes

  • Story Highlights
  • In most car-chase movies, the real star is the car, author says
  • The chase in "The French Connection" features a 1971 Pontiac LeMans
  • More than 300 stunt drivers were employed for the 1998 "Ronin" film
  • "Bullitt" is perennially voted one of the best car movies of all time
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By Craig Howie
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(AOL Autos) -- Which star do you most associate with car-chase movies: Steve McQueen or Michael Caine? Gene Hackman or Burt Reynolds?

Honor Blackman, star of the James Bond film "Goldfinger," poses on an Aston Martin DB5 car in 2002.

Honor Blackman, star of the James Bond film "Goldfinger," poses on an Aston Martin DB5 car in 2002.

Although most car-chase movies pack some serious A-list talent, we like to think that in many cases the real star in this particular movie genre is the car: from McQueen's super-tight Ford Mustang in "Bullitt" to the stripped-down Dodge Charger in Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof."

But which movie has the best car-chase scene in history? We take a look.

10. "Cannonball Run" (1981)

Almost everyone knows that Hollywood's cheesy celebration of America's intercoastal car culture is one big car chase involving spectacular cars, including a Ferrari 308 GTS, an Aston Martin DB5 and a gorgeous opening sequence where a Lamborghini Countach makes short work of a Pontiac Firebird police cruiser.

But perhaps less well known is the original coast-to-coast sprint run undertaken by speed racer Erwin George Baker in 1914. The 11-day drive made his name in the New York press, who forever associated him with the Chicago Express steam train christened "The Cannon Ball."

Trivia: The ambulance driven in the movie by Burt Reynolds and sidekick Dom DeLuise was a modified Dodge Tradesman used by Car and Driver editor Brock Yates when he tried to resurrect the famous race in the 1970s, as part of a protest against the onset of 55 mph speeding limits nationwide.

9. "Death Proof" (2007)

Quentin Tarantino continues to push the limits of speed and taste in "Death Proof."

The film is a stock car- and violence-infused tale that features for a quarter of its run-time a fantastic chase sequence involving a stripped down bad-ass 1969 Dodge Charger and a heavily modified 1970 Dodge Challenger with a girl -- actress and former stuntwoman Zoe Bell -- splayed on its hood.

Apparently, Tarantino came upon the idea for a "death proof" car after filming the car-crash scene in Pulp Fiction and telling a friend he wanted to buy a Volvo for safety reasons. AOL Autos: 2009 Dodge Charger

The friend informed him that a decent movie stunt team could easily "death proof" any car for him. Hence was born the "Death Proof" movie concept. And Stuntman Mike. Doesn't that name still give you chills?

8. "The Fast and the Furious" (2001)

Car chases ostensibly over a half mile, otherwise known as street racing, received attention when "The Fast and Furious" lifted the lid on a high-adrenaline Tokyo Drift racing scene that burgeoned in popularity in Japan and the U.S. in the late 1990s.

The movie explored the phenomenon through a fictional world of ultra-hip hijackers who used heavily modified Japanese cars to steal high-end electronic components.

It's a cops and criminals yarn with a high-octane twist that features some seriously customized old-school cars including a Honda Civic, Toyota Supra and a Mazda RX7 -- though if you look closely, a retro Dodge Charger also features, too. AOL Autos: Honda Civic

Tokyo Drift racing, where drivers work in teams while skidding all four wheels around a tight circuit, now features at many events on the IRL circuit, catching a tailwind from the movie's popularity. Look out for the new "Fast and Furious" film soon.

7. "Mad Max II: The Road Warrior" (1981)

You'd be hard pressed to name any of Mel Gibson's cobbled-together vehicles in his 1981 sequel to "Mad Max" -- which may boast the highest number of chopped and recharged V8s outside of Havana, Cuba -- but that doesn't stop "The Road Warrior" being considered a car-chase classic and one of the best action movies out there.

Motley collections of cut-throat bandits, nomads and braggarts populate Australia's barren, dystopian landscape and blow-up any number of heavy machines, including police cars, motorbikes and a big-rig fuel tanker.

It's all in their quest for that all-important and -- in a post-apocalyptic world -- rare substance: fuel.

The explosive 20-minute chase scene to end the movie still exhilarates nearly 30 years after the movie's release. And don't we all want an engine intake like Max's infamous "blower?"

6. "Vanishing Point" (1971)

A Dodge Challenger R/T gives you some serious leverage when you're involved in a bump-and-run two-car contest on a one-track road in the middle of the American west -- and it's the only road out of the desert heat. AOL Autos: Dodge Challenger

Stanley Kowalski, a renegade Barry Newman, used five separate first-generation Challengers, including the 375-horsepower 440 Magnum, to full effect in forcing numerous hapless drivers off the road on the hazard-ridden 15-hour sprint from Denver, Colorado, to San Francisco, California, as he's pursued by cops, racers and bandits alike.

Dodge released its highly anticipated and heavily retrofitted Challenger update in 2008, with the film's cult following no doubt waiting patiently for any word on a commemorative "Vanishing Point" model.

5. "Gone in 60 Seconds" (1974)

We're not talking about the remake starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie, which boasts some pretty spectacular car-chase sequences itself, but the 1974 original that features a 34-minute chase sequence over the Long Beach, California, ports complex that some consider the best ever captured on celluloid.

A mediocre cast and stilted dialog may put off many, but the film that centers around a group of car thieves and their bid to steal 48 cars over a couple of days accomplishes what it set out to do: Exhilarate viewers in movie theaters and destroy as many cars as possible (in this case, 93).

An amazing collection of Ford Mustangs, Rolls-Royces and Cadillac limos make up the list that car thief H.B. "Toby" Halicki -- who did all his own stunts -- is given to steal for a South American drug lord.

Few, though, compare to the film's famous 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1, christened "Eleanor" and driven by Halicki.

4. "The French Connection" (1971)

Gene Hackman bumping and weaving his way around the intersection of Stillwell Avenue and 86th St of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, while pursuing a bandit on a subway train offers to this day a fantastic driver's eye perspective of driving through New York at rush hour.

We're just kidding. But the chase featuring a 1971 Pontiac LeMans remains a classic as a result of its impromptu crashes that weren't supposed to be part of the action but were left in the sequence after several stunt drivers mistimed their entrance into the car chase, striking Hackman's car instead of narrowly avoiding it as he chases a train-bound drug dealer.

The sequence took several days to shoot even though the chase's screen time is barely two-and-a-half minutes. Director William Friedkin also put together a similarly fantastic car chase in 1985's "To Live and Die in L.A."

3. "The Italian Job" (1969)

Michael Caine's famous "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off," has become a familiar refrain among "Italian Job" fans who love the British actor's Cockney twang and the 1969 comic car caper that saw a collection of car thieves attempting a high-stakes bank heist in the Italian city of Turin.

Indescribably hip on its release, and a personification of Cool Britannia, the famous car chase featuring three red-white-and-blue Minis motoring through tight streets -- and even indoors -- was a landmark in quirky and fun car-chase sequencing and cinematography.

The 2003 remake cleverly twinned audience appeal with the film following the 2001 release of BMW's new MINI Cooper that featured in the updated film, leading some to suggest it was merely a two-hour commercial for the new model. AOL Autos: MINI Cooper

Trivia: Turin, or Torino, forms part of Italian car giant Fiat's moniker-- Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino.

2. "Ronin" (1998)

Although it will never be regarded as Robert de Niro's best dramatic performance, 1998's "Ronin" doesn't land on our list for its dialogue. In unbelievable realism, viewers are treated to chase scenes with sport sedans such as a BMW M5, Peugeot 406 and, perhaps most famously, an Audi S8.

Plenty of police cars, trucks and motorcycles meet their end and more than 300 stunt drivers were employed to give the real-time chases scene an air of metal-crunching realism amid a character-driven plot that involves CIA operatives, mercenaries and multiple double-crosses surrounding a mysteriously valuable briefcase.

There are few actors that can capture the mixture of terror and exhilaration involved in a car chase quite like De Niro, while Jean Reno is the only actor who could make driving a Peugeot an exercise in steely manhood.

Director John Frankenheimer pretty nearly perfected the art of filming gritty car chase sequences in 1966's "Grand Prix."

1. "Bullitt" (1968)

"Bullitt" is perennially voted one of the best car movies of all time and we're comfortable following suit. In the 1968 classic, real-life racing enthusiast Steve McQueen barrels after bad guys on the streets of San Francisco in an epically cool 1968 Ford Mustang in a delicious "Highland Green" color. AOL Autos: Ford Mustang

In a cityscape that gets most drivers nervous for its ups and downs, San Francisco proves the ultimate car chase backdrop. Lieutenant Frank Bullitt is not only one of the coolest cops of all time, he proves to be one of the best wheelmen we've ever seen. This is a must-see film and hands-down the best car chase movie of all time.

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