The crime thriller Drive (which opens today) manages to overcome its lackluster direction and acting to deliver some outstanding, pulse-pounding car chases—and those exciting scenes led us to thoughts of similar moments in sci-fi movies.
While not as common as in their action-genre brethren, sci-fi has produced its own unique brand of thrilling car chase. Here are some of the very best and most exciting.
The Road Warrior
Prior to the 1980s, the sci-fi car chase was primarily limited to the cult classic Death Race 2000 (1975) and Mad Max (1979). While both movies successfully aped the car chase mania that infused the era's crime films, neither produced a memorable scene akin to those found in Bullitt or The French Connection. It wasn't until the Mad Max sequel, The Road Warrior (1981), that the truly great sci-fi film car chase was born. During the finale, in order to save the settlers, the antihero Max pilots a tanker full of gas. A gang of murderous marauders, fronted by The Humongous, attack him from cars, trucks and motorcycles.
James Cameron successfully integrated the intensity of the 1970s crime film within the numerous chases in The Terminator (1984). None typified this better than the scene of the Terminator atop a motorcycle, guns blazing, chasing Sarah Connor and Reese through the streets of L.A.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
For the 1991 sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron moved beyond the standard car chase, practically reinventing it. This scene of the terrified John Connor zooming on a motorbike while being pursued by the T-1000 in a semi ranks high among the reasons cited for the belief that this movie is superior to its predecessor.
The Fifth Element
One of the more enjoyable sci-fi films of the 1990s, The Fifth Element (1997) featured a zany, multi-tiered flying cab chase. Using vehicle and architectural designs by the legendary Moebius, the scene leaps straight from the best pages of Heavy Metal. Shortly after meeting the mysterious LeeLoo, puzzled cabbie Korben Dallas attempts to elude several pursuers, including the police and dangerous thugs.
The disappointing Matrix Reloaded (2003) offered a sensational, creative and lengthy freeway scene featuring multiple martial-arts sequences, car crashes and numerous displays of superheroics. Sadly, the inane deus ex machina ending almost ruined the entire experience.
The fairly typical high-octane, balls-to-the-wall, check-your-brain-at-the-door Michael Bay production, The Island (2005) featured an intense if illogical chase. The scene includes an 18-wheeler laden with train wheels (what's up with sci-fi movies and large trucks?), police cars, helicopters, flying cycles and tons of destruction.
The Dark Knight
The current money-making superhero film champion, Christopher Nolan's second Batman story The Dark Knight (2008), garnered almost unanimous praise and numerous award nominations. Beyond the brilliant script, excellent cast and superior direction, the movie delivered the best superhero movie car chase ever. After the Joker threatens Harvey Dent's life, the Gotham police attempt to safely transport the D.A. in an armored car. The Joker attacks the vehicle and (of course) Batman shows up.
Director Patrick Lussier's love note to the over-the-top car and horror films of B-movie impresario Roger Corman, Drive Angry (2011) delivers gratuitous amounts of violence, explosions, nudity and, of course, cars. As expected car chases abound, but with only one truly memorable sequence. And that largely due to its enjoyable, tongue-in-cheek nod to the rampant misuse of slow motion in most Hollywood action films.
As with the action thriller, an exciting, well-done car chase alone doesn't make for an excellent movie, but it can make the difference between just good and absolutely amazing or even bad to mediocre. At the very least, these scenes often lead to a fun cinematic outing.
What are some of your favorites?