Almost anyone who likes action films likes car stunts as well. From the James Bond franchise, to The Fast & The Furious films, action movies are always trying their damndest to outdo former action films involving cars, whether it’s with death-defying stunts, or incredible car chases, or both. This article is about the former - stunts - which is why films such as Ronin and The French Connection and Bullitt aren’t included (ie, films regarded for their revolutionary car chases).
As technology has gotten better, and CGI improved, the sky is the limit as far as breath-stopping car stunts go - but the best ones are still live, real, and have viewers asking themselves, “How did they do that without someone dying?” Well, leave it to the real-life stuntmen and women who make these spectacular scenes possible, and have us shaking and scratching our heads in disbelief.
Here is a list of 10 of the craziest and most spectacular car stunts in film history.
10 Casino Royale (2006)
The James Bond franchise has always featured amazing car chases and crashes, and 2006’s Casino Royale was no different. The scene begins with 007 (Daniel Craig) foot-racing to try and rescue the kidnapped Bond Girl, Vesper, played by Eva Green. When he realizes his feet won’t catch a speeding car, he hops into his Aston Martin and the real pursuit begins.
What viewers assume is going to play out into the film’s pivotal car chase, ends up being cut short when Bond sees Vesper tied up in the middle of the road, and has to swerve out of the way at 70 mph to avoid hitting her. The car flips off the ground and spins seven times, a world record. The air cannon that launched the car was intended to only flip the car once, but a ‘malfunction’ made the scene truly memorable.
9 The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
The Man With The Golden Gun was Roger Moore’s second appearance as Bond, and is considered one of the worst 007 films in the franchise. That being said, the film is remembered for its incredible car stunt, performed by stuntman Bumps Willard. While speeding through the Thailand countryside with comedic character Sheriff Pepper in shotgun, Bond finds a broken bridge and decides to jump it, over a ravine.
The car corkscrews a full 360 degrees in the air, and lands on the other side of the mangled bridge unharmed, complete with a corny whistle sound (oh, the ‘70s) and all. While people have tried and failed to recreate the scene, stuntman Willard managed to land it on the first take.
8 Mad Max (1979)
In the dystopian Mad Max franchise, set in a desolate desert where there is plenty of room for wide-angled shenanigans involving cars, crazy stunts are a centerpiece. Perhaps because of its lack of CGI, the first film in the franchise will always hold a special place in people’s hearts for the death-defying stunts and car chases.
In the film’s conclusion, Mel Gibson pursues Toecutter (the man who killed his family) in his trademark Interceptor, while the villain flees on a motorcycle. When the villain looks back for a split second, he turns around and is wide-eyed at the sight of an 18-wheeler barreling straight for him. What follows is his bike being utterly destroyed, while the stuntman (or doll) himself is ran over by the semi, leaving viewers scratching their heads as to how the stuntman could have survived.
7 Police Story (1985)
Police Story was a 1985 film starring Jackie Chan as a Hong Kong cop who must clear his good name after drug lords try to frame him for the murder of a corrupt officer. Although full of great stunts, the opening really sets the bar.
Following a shoot-out with some bad guys, Inspector Chan Ka-Kui (Chan) proceeds to chase the baddies by driving straight downhill through a shanty-town, starting huge fires and creating massive destruction. Although admittedly not the safest or cop-friendliest way of pursuit, it was certainly the most applicable and enjoyable route for fans of massive destruction and car stunts.
6 Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Many people like the Captain America franchise because it seems more realistic (in action and plausibility) than most other Marvel films, which often feature intergalactic worlds and dog-fights in space and such. This film was shot by the Russo Brothers, to great success, and remains one of the fan favorites in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In this scene, one of the show-stoppers, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is fleeing in a bullet-ridden SUV, when through his cracked windshield he notices the Winter Soldier standing in his way. The character fires a mine at Fury, which flips his car onto its back in a cloud of black smoke. The car was launched for real, as was the truck and police car pile ups that happened prior.
5 The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight became recognized as the epitome of a great superhero film (certainly one of the most popular of the 21st century, if not of all time), largely due to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker.
One of the most iconic scenes in the film comes when Christian Bale’s Batman is pursuing the Joker, who’s driving an 18-wheeler and causing all sorts of havoc (including taking down a helicopter in surprising fashion). Batman blasts his way through parked cars, before engaging in the iconic scene where he wraps his Batpod’s cables around the Joker’s wheels, and flips the huge truck in slow motion.
4 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth installment in the Mad Max franchise, takes the action and car chases and stunts to a whole new level. Starring Tom Hardy as the eponymous character, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult, the film catapults viewers into non-stop action in the typical desert landscape that the franchise is known for.
It’s difficult to choose a specific car stunt to showcase, so instead here is a Behind The Scenes look at how some of the stunts were done - including the flames, the explosions and car-flippings, the flying motorcycles, and much more - most of which were done using real stunts, while sometimes relying on CGI.
3 Death Proof (2007)
Death Proof was part of Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” film, which starred Zoe Bell (a professional stuntwoman) as herself. Though she isn’t lauded for her acting prowess, she certainly knows how to pull off some death-defying stunts. In one crash, Kurt Russell’s evil stuntman, Mike, drives his car headlong into a car full of victims. The crash is captured from several angles, showing the homicidal destruction that is inflicted upon the victims.
But perhaps the most thrilling scene comes when Zoe Bell herself is strapped to the hood of a speeding car, while the heroines are being chased by a maniacal Kurt Russell. It’s all done for real on camera, and is breathtaking in scope. Just ask yourself, “How the hell does she stay on the car?!”
2 Fast Five (2011)
It would be foolhardy to create a list of the most spectacular car stunts without mentioning The Fast & The Furious franchise. Besides becoming one of the most financially successful franchises in movie history, the films really push the envelope on each subsequent film, as far as car action. Starting with the first entry, which was rather bare-bones and sparse (in comparison), each film seemed to outdo its predecessors.
From the narrow train escape to the car flip of the first film, to the “Flip Car” of the sixth movie, one of the most iconic series of stunts came at the end of Fast Five, where Paul Walker and Vin Diesel tow a huge safe through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. What makes the scene special is that it was mostly done for real, including the giant safe physically crashing into set-pieces and cars (apparently 200 cars were destroyed by the vault), which makes the scene completely unique and fresh.
1 The Blues Brothers (1980)
Okay, maybe it’s not the most death-defying car stunt in film history, but it is certainly one of the most recognizable. In the 1980 SNL spin-off, starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the titular characters who are on a “Mission from God,” the ending chase scene is brilliant, destructive, and even funny.
The film has two car chases, but it’s the ending one that takes the cake, featuring one of the greatest pile-ups ever filmed - where dozens of police cruises ram into each other at a Chicago intersection, growing ever larger, before they just curse to themselves and try to take the Brothers out with their guns. It was truly a revelatory scene for the time.