There's a new car-chase director in town, and his name is Gareth Evans. His latest movie, The Raid 2, an Indonesian kung-fu sequel to a film that made a surprising splash when it hit screens in 2011, arrives in theaters on Friday, fresh off its appearance at Sundance in January. Already, Evans is being hailed as a genius for the movie's chase scene, which takes place on the streets of Jakarta. Everyone loves it. In fact, Forbes went so far as to call it "among the all-time best."
To create the sequence, Evans had to improvise, i.e., he didn't have a big Hollywood budget. The result is raw—real footage made at high speed with real drivers and real cameramen hanging on for dear life. In other words, it's reminiscent of sequences from back in the days of Steve McQueen and Burt Reynolds. In honor of The Raid 2's high-speed achievement, here's a look back at the most heralded sequences from cinema's golden age of car-chase scenes (1968-1981). Because they're all winners, I've listed them in chronological order. (Hey, no value judgments here!)
Generally considered the best cinematic car chase ever—thanks in large part to Hollywood's greatest gear head of all-time (Steve McQueen). (What was I saying about no value judgments?) Plot: A San Francisco cop goes in search of the bad guy who killed a witness who was supposed to be in the cop's protection. Machinery: A 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback versus a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T.
Starring absolutely no one you've heard of, this made-for-TV film was the directorial debut of a guy named Spielberg. Plot: A mysterious truck driver (who is never revealed) is chasing a traveling salesman for seemingly no reason. It gets ugly! And paranoid. Machinery: 1971 Plymouth Valiant, 1955 Peterbilt tanker truck.
The French Connection (1971).
Yeah, yeah, I know, it makes everyone's list. But for good reason—no list of chase-scene movies is complete without this gem, directed by William Friedkin. Plot: Two NYC drug cops are on the hunt for a major shipment, coming in from Europe. The chase scene was filmed in Brooklyn, underneath the elevated subway tracks. Machinery: A 1971 Pontiac LeMans driven by Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) in pursuit of a train moving at breakneck speed.
Vanishing Point (1971).
Now here's a canonical B-movie with real impact, worthy of any booze-soaked Saturday night. Plot: Kowalski (Barry Newman) makes a bet that he can deliver a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Colorado to San Francisco in 15 hours. Throw in some bonus breasts and Benzedrine, and it's popcorn time! Machinery: The aforementioned Challenger R/T 440 Magnum and lots (and lots) of police vehicles.
The Seven-Ups (1973).
Philip D'Antoni produced Bullitt and The French Connection. This movie was his only directing credit. Plot: The Seven-Ups are a group of renegade cops led by Buddy Manucci (Roy Scheider) who get tangled up in a mafia kidnapping case. The chase scene in the middle of the movie was filmed in Manhattan. Machinery: Manucci's 1973 Pontiac Ventura in pursuit of a 1973 Pontiac Grand Ville.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974).
Peter Fonda was never a great actor, but he made his bones picking roles in bad movies that guys couldn't resist—like this one. Plot: Larry Raydar (Fonda), a would-be stock car racer, and his mechanic rob a grocery store, only to find themselves with a woman in their back seat and the cops on their tail. Machinery: A 1966 Chevy Impala and a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T (both driven by Fonda), a bevy of Dodge cop cars and a Bell helicopter.
Gone In 60 Seconds (1974).
H.B. Halicki had one great moment in Hollywood before he left this planet at age 49. He wrote, directed, produced and starred in this B-movie masterpiece. Sadly, he died in an accident while making the sequel. Plot: A seasoned car thief rips off a Ford Mustang, only to find out the cops were tipped off. Halicki seriously injured numerous vertebrae in the final stunt scene. Machinery: A 1971 Mustang fastback nicknamed "Eleanor," and a laundry list of stolen cars.
The Driver (1978).
An impressive cast (Ryan O'Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani) and a brilliant concept (a guy drives robbery getaway cars for a living) make this one a must-see. Plot: An L.A. detective (Dern) becomes obsessed with busting "The Driver" (O'Neal). But is he fast enough? Machinery: Too much to list. So click here instead.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The lone comedy on this list stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Jake and Elwood Blues. Plot: The Blues Brothers attempt to save an orphanage by getting their old band back together and playing gigs. Naturally, they run afoul of the law. The chase scene destroys a fake mall created for the film. Machinery: The Bluesmobile (a retired 1974 Mount Prospect, Illinois Dodge cop car), plus innumerable squad cars in pursuit.
The Cannonball Run (1981)
If you haven't seen this Hal Needham-directed Burt Reynolds "vehicle," co-starring Dom DeLuise, Roger Moore, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Farrah Fawcett, you should be spanked by Ms. Fawcett herself. Plot: Teams of racers compete in an illegal cross-country race. Machinery: A Lamborghini Countach, an Aston Martin DB5, an ambulance, a Ferrari 308 and so much more.
A.J. Baime is the author of Go Like Hell and the forthcoming The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War. Reach him at www.facebook.com/ajbaime.
Photos via stills from The Raid 2.