Question 1: One trope that recurs rather often in movies — and sometimes justifies the perpetuation of a franchise — is the car chase. Overall, what is the mass appeal of the car chase?
Tim Adkins: I’ll borrow a line from the late great Fresh Prince of Bel Air: “Drive fast. Speed turns me on.” It’s just that simple.
Bill Coffin: Car chases are an extension of the American love affair with automobiles in general. And given how much cinema is either from Hollywood or bears its watermark, I think what you get with car chases is something that is guaranteed to resound with American audiences.
Steve Barker: Car chases don’t especially appeal to me, but I think the simplest answer to the mass appeal is they’re cool. People like seeing stuff they want to do, but never could. There’s also something really satisfying about seeing someone evade the cops.
Jared Wade: Serious question? Cause it’s awesome. And it’s something that everyone thinks could happen to them on any given day but never does. Every dude thinks he is great behind the wheel and respects these other world-class drivers.
Dustin Freeley: Car chases might be visually masturbatory, but the car itself is an identity. In a way, I think the car-chase film runs closely to our love of superhero films as well in that both offer the opportunity to don another persona. While I probably won’t ever run across an alien orb looking to hand out telekinetic powers, an extraterrestrial handing out green rings, or a radioactive spider, there a chance – albeit slim – that I can steal a Mustang, get involved in a heist, and then outrun two assassins, all while maintaining complete composure, control, and travelling at 85 miles per hour. In a sense, surviving the high speed car chase makes the character invincible.
Question 2: Aside from the action aspect, what, if anything, does the car chase add to a film, thematically?
Tim Adkins: Apart from the adrenaline-boosting value, a cleverly used car chase can also add a layer of metaphor: the pursuit of a mysterious goal or fleeing from a hard-charging enemy. Off the top of my head, it seems as if the Bourne movies provide good examples of both applications.
Bill Coffin: Car chases strike me as something that writers and directors like to keep up their sleeves as a scene they can use to introduce peril to characters that isn’t a fight. Car chases are contests, and combat of a sort, but they are a good way to diversify the kind of action in a movie. Thematically, I think they inform the audience that in the story, not all conflicts can be resolved through direct confrontation; some must be fled.
Steve Barker: I’m not sure if it adds anything. Information isn’t usually revealed and the characters don’t usually change much from the time it starts until the chase is over. They’re entertaining and they sell tickets. Sometimes they’re the best part of an otherwise poorly written movie. I don’t remember a thing about Ronin except it had cool car chases.
Jared Wade: Rarely anything. Just cool. Occasionally it can elevate the plot but it usually just makes it seem more improbable.
Dustin Freeley: Much of the time, the car chase is visual filler to elicit oohs and ahhhs. However, I think the car chase also introduces conflict and can define characters. The chase itself is a competition. Good versus evil. Hunter versus hunted. Therefore, while filled with explosions, etc., the car chase can also define our characters as cool, frantic, powerful, weak, or psychotic.
Question 3: Best car chase?
Tim Adkins: With apologies to The French Connection and the entire Fast & Furious franchise, my pick is The Blues Brothers. There’s Jake and Elwood, of course. The Chicago PD. Illinois State Troopers. Nazis. A random honky tonk band. A Pinto falling out of the sky. Also, they wrecked 100+ cars during filming, which was (and may still be) a world record. If you measure a great car chase by its volume of destruction, that’s pretty tough to beat. Almost forgot … the whole thing is set off by an all-timer of a movie quote: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
Bill Coffin: Best car chase is the one from Ronin where Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno tear through Paris in hot pursuit of the bad guys and that silver case everyone is after. This one had it all: going against traffic, gunplay, handbrake turns, tight roadways, relatively normal cars, and not a drop of CGI. An instant classic.
Steve Barker: I rarely watch movies with car chases. I haven’t seen any of the Hella Fastest and Super Furiouser movies. However, I really like the one in Pineapple Express. It has the rare combination of excitement and humor.
Jared Wade: Quality-wise, it’s probably still Ronin. (Although I haven’t seen Drive or 5 Fast 5 Furious yet.) But I’m going to go with The Rock as my favorite. Sean Connery steals a Hummer and Nic Cage commandeers a yellow Lamborghini Murcielago. They race through the streets of San Francisco narrowly avoiding devastation, finally arriving at a park for a touching moment between Connery and his daughter that is furthered by Cage’s compassion. It’s arguably the finest moment in cinematic history.
Dustin Freeley: Bonnie and Clyde. This chase doesn’t have the explosions or the intense action sequences of other films like Matrix Reloaded, Ronin or Heat, but Arthur Penn shoots the car chase geniusly, exposing the divergent personalities of the Barrow gang: frantic, insouciant, stoic, excited, greedy. These moments are also juxtaposed with a media retelling and the reality of events, posing the Barrows as both Robin-Hood-like philanthropists and deranged criminals. There’s also a bit at the end where the officers in pursuit cross into Oklahoma only to slam on the brakes, citing a jurisdictional tether, which is a nice little comment on the severity of a crime being defined by territory and perpetuated by media.