Greatest Car Chases In Science Fiction

Emilio Estevez talks smack to Mick Jagger and manages to dodge 10,000 futuristic dune-buggies at the same time, in this huge car-chase from the movie Freejack.


Car chases are a huge part of sci-fi movies so it's important to pay tribute. After all, no matter how high-concept your plot may be (like time travel and brain-transplants) it always comes down to a bunch of cars zooming around trying to smush each other. Here are some of our favorites, with clips.

Car chases are woven deep into the DNA of movies, says crime writer Elmore Leonard. We invented cars and movies at around the same time, and both experiences are about speed, exhilaration and technophilia. And you can't write a good car chase — you have to film it. With explosions and crazy weird vehicles. So here are our favorites:

Freejack (1992). Emilio Estevez is a racecar driver, who dies in a car crash. But he doesn't really die, he's kidnapped into the future so Anthony Hopkins can steal his body. Or something. It's all just a set-up for a giant car chase. You can tell it's the distant future because everybody has laptops with video-chat clients in their cars. How else could Estevez tell Jagger he couldn't catch the clap in a whorehouse? CB radio? I also love Jagger giving him driving tips via vid-chat. I want a video Mick Jagger critiquing my driving to be a standard feature in my next car.

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Andy Gill, the stunt driver for Freejack also did all the driving for the original Knight Rider, and here are a couple of his favorite stunts.

Death Race 2000 (1975). David Carradine is a super-driver created by the world's greatest surgeons to drive the world's fastest car, which just happens to have jaggedy fake teeth. He's up against Sylvester Stallone in the world's most vicious race, where you win or die. Here's the trailer.

Mad Max: Road Warrior (1981). Mel Gibson is escorting a hella giant oil tanker across the wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia. But a whole gang of New Wave savages with mohawks and spikes sticking out of their vehicles want to jack him. Crossbows, flaming projectiles, funny helmets and weird-looking machine guns are just some of the weapons they use to try and put Mel off his game, while he gets his swerve on.

THX-1138 (1971). The jet car scene towards the end of George Lucas' first movie is an all-time classic as THX makes a break for sweet freedom.

Cyber Tracker (1994). Someone in law enforcement took RoboCop a little too seriously, and now all the cops are mean cyborgs. Plus an evil corporation wants to replace political leaders with bots. It's up to Don "The Dragon" Wilson to stop this mess, the only way he knows how... with car chases. Cyborgs are crazy driving fiends in this movie. At one point, a van hits Wilson's car, flips over in mid-air, soars about twenty feet up and then crashes and explodes. Wilson, of course, is unharmed. Cyber-crashes are just better than regular crashes. The shot is so awesome, it appears three different times in the movie's trailer.

Looker (1981). Michael Crichton directed his own weird story about an evil company that scans models and creates perfect computerized facsimiles of them... then disposes of the originals. The company also comes up with a weird hypno raygun that works like roofies... it temporarily blanks out your mind and makes you unable to remember your assailant afterwards. At one point, Albert Finney and a hit-man drive around chasing each other and trying to shoot each other with hypno-rays. D00d, it's drive-by hypno!

Total Recall (1991). This one is more comedy than anything else. Arnie is on the run, with a wet towel around his head to block the tracking device in his skull and a suitcase containing an important secret from Mars. To get way from the spooks chasing him, he steals a JohnnyCab, but first he has to disable the chirpy auto-driver and take control of the joystick steering. Here's the video.

The Fifth Element (1997). Milla Jovovich's weird strappy leotard and crazy talk beguile Bruce Willis into helping her jet away from the cops in his flying taxi. He swerves through CGI tunnels at a breakneck pace. This is basically just an old-fashioned chase. You have a cop scanner-blocker instead of a radar-detector, and the cop cars have machine guns on their hoods. But then it ends in the traditional way, with Bruce scooting onto the train tracks and avoiding a freight train, which the cops crash into, spilling cartons onto their hood. You can practically hear the banjo music.

Deja Vu (2006). Denzel Washington is wearing a headset which lets him see four days into the past. He drives around looking at the past (night-time) through one eye, and the present (daytime) through the other. He's chasing the past movements of a terrorist who blew up part of New Orleans three days ago. And of course he wreaks major havoc in the present while he tries to chase a phantom from the past. It's an amazingly brilliant moment in an otherwise dull movie. Washington drives a Hummer H1 modeled on a real robot car, the H1ghlander. An autonomous robot car built by Carnegie Mellon for the 2005 DARPA challenge, the H1ghlander features LIDAR laser-ranging units, an intertial navigation system and SICK laser sensors. (I have no idea what SICK laser sensors are, but they sound hard-core.) Director Tony Scott used a Porche SUV with a special robot camera arm that can film at 180 MPH, for this sequence.

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999). Because you demanded it, here's the pod-racing scene. Wacky aliens, goggles, funny zappy lightning running between the poles of the pod, zoomy video-gamey action. It's pretty kinetic, and one of the few moments in Menace that isn't bogged down by weird ethnic alien people talking too much, or grasshopper-headed fight robots fighting.

Matrix: Reloaded (2002). Sure, a lot of this movie felt like a powerpoint presentation about fate vs. free will and the meaning of something or other. But it was almost all worth it for the giant freeway pileup, where Neo and Trinity try to get the Keymaker to safety. The white-dredlock guys have guns that magically make the cars flip over, and then they can turn into carjacking ghosts. Meanwhile, Agent Smith can jump onto cars and smush/flip them without slowing down.

Terminator 3 (2003). Like we said, cyborgs just make better car crashes. Every one of the Terminator films has an awesome car chase at some point. In the first movie, Arnie steals a cop car and tries to run Reese and Sarah down. In the second movie, the evil Terminator is in a giant tanker truck trying to run down the Connors' pickup truck, but Arnie jumps onto the tanker and manages to flip it over, so it skids on its side into a steel factory and bursts. But the best car-chase spectacle of all is in Terminator 3, where a female Terminator chases John Connor's van while Arnie follows on motorcycle. Oh, and half a dozen cop cars also try to catch John Connor. Laser hand-blasts, crane-street-fu, Arnie carjacking a firetruck after he gets splatted on the windshield... it's all pretty awesome.

Next (2007). Nicholas Cage plays Johnny Cadillac, who can see two minutes into the future and adjust his actions accordingly. As any normal person would, he uses this ability to drive really fast and lead the cops on a crazy-ass chase through the streets of Las Vegas. It's based on a Philip K. Dick story, so you know it has to be brilliant. Right?



Charlie Jane Anders

@tetracycloide: You know, I thought about the pod race... is that really a car chase though? Racing is different... We might have to do a separate post about races.