8 unforgettable driving scenes from the big screen

Movies are nothing without some cars, trucks and motorcycles. Here are some of our favourite Hollywood moments with motorised locomotion.

Motorised vehicles and movies go together like bread and butter, or bread and Marmite or perhaps bread and raclette, depending on your country of origin. The point is; cars, trucks and motorcycles have all been a part of film-making since its inception and, as such, there are quite a few flicks that have etched the thrill of speed or experiential authenticity into the minds of the audience.

We decided to take a look at some of the more seminal driving scenes of the big screen from the last quarter century or so. Will you agree with all of them? Almost definitely not.

OK, with the housekeeping out of the way, have a look at our list of some standout driving films.

1. The Fast and Furious franchise

Honestly, the only reason any of these movies made this list is just sheer volume. Are they good? Don’t answer because that was a rhetorical question. Nevertheless, the Faster and Furiouser franchise has collectively done wonders for the modified and specialty car markets.

If we had to choose one of the multitudes of driving scenes from the hours upon hours of footage (where the cars are as much characters in the stories as the actors), the drag scene from the original movie is a good choice: a classic muscle-car drag race between two egos trying to show who’s boss. Eyes peering at one another from behind the wheel; revved engines; squealing tires; nitro boosters; smoke and burning rubber; a death defying game of chicken: the scene is basically one long cliche but it still draws out some adrenaline no matter how many times it’s viewed. Never mind the fact that it takes Dominic (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) well over a minute to complete the contested quarter-mile, which is pretty damn slow by any standard other than running.

2. Swingers

You’re scratching your head in confusion, right? Well, aside from being a 1990s indie film which helped ignite the careers of both Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, Swingers has some quintessential odes to the Los Angeles driving experience.

While dreamers may think LA driving is all palm tree-lined streets and Rodeo Drive, any experienced Hollywoodian (if that’s a thing) can tell you driving solo in a caravan of cars at any hour of the night while maxing out at 8kph is far more realistic.

Trent and Mikey’s Vegas journey perfectly highlights one of California’s most common road trips. Go ahead, just try to make the four-hour trek from the City of Angels to Sin City without saying, “Vegas baby. Vegas,” at least once.

3. LA Story

Yes, another LA-based flick that isn’t Speed. And why not Speed? Pop quiz hot shot: What do you get when you combine a careening bus with explosives and terrible one-liners? A whole lot of lame. There’s something particularly unexciting about lethargic public transportation that can barely handle turning onto an off ramp. Sorry Keanu, you don’t make the cut… for this one. Instead it’s Steve Martin’s time to shine.

The opening sequence in this off-beat rom-com is one of the most spot on depictions of LA’s morning commute to ever hit the big screen. Granted, it’s not one of Martin’s better known films (which he both wrote and stars in), but his quirky style of humour can make anyone familiar with the aggravation that is Los Angeles traffic smile simply out of recognition that someone else feels exactly as they do. From taking short cuts downstairs and through backyards to open season on the California freeway, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in your road rage.

4. Ronin

What’s in the case? We may never know, but what we do know is that Ronin had some of the best driving scenes of any film to come out of the ‘90s… or perhaps ever. Although the focal point of the plot was somewhat nebulous (a mysterious case containing… well… something valuable enough to kill for), the hectic driving and chase scenarios left the audience gasping for breath.

Racing through the streets of Paris in semi-average looking cars (although the Audi S8 is definitely a wolf in sheep’s clothing), director John Frankenheimer put viewers practically in the driver’s seat by filming much of the scenes only a few centimetres above the ground, from the car bumper’s perspective. The sense of speed (not Speed… sorry still not your turn, Keanu) is exhilarating.

By placing legendary actors Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Sean Bean in plain Jane automobiles while tearing along French boulevards, Ronin created a sense of plausibility rarely afforded in big-budget action movies.

5. Mad Max – All Mad Max films

OG? Yes. Road Warrior? Double yes. Thunderdome? Yup. Fury Road? Yuuuup! No matter what you think of these films, there’s no denying the adrenaline-soaked action that ensues almost anytime an engine fires up. The original Mad Max set the bar as society descended into chaos. Fury Road then took that bar, added 500kg, and deadlifted it all the way to Valhalla.

Picking one specific scene out of Fury Road is difficult, since nearly the entire movie is one long driving sequence. Skip ahead to just about any point in the film and you will likely find yourself racing along through the desert, being chased down by a scantily-clad evildoer wearing something with chains and getting far too much pleasure out of scaring the hell out of his or her pursuee.

6. Skyfall – James Bond 23

Bond is back. Bond is blonde and Bond is unstoppable in his biggest adventure to date – Skyfall. The movie is packed with beautiful women, stunning locations, a handful of gadgets and some amazing stunts – not least the opening sequence, where 007 chases a villain through the streets and across the roof of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

Daniel Craig provides the square jaw, the pecks and the angst, but the daring bike riding skills come from FMX star Robbie Maddison (doubling for Bond) and the late, great Nicky Hayden (doubling for the bad guy). It’s a classic jaw-dropping opener that ranks with Sean Connery’s ‘shocking’ opener in Goldfinger and Roger Moore’s parachute cliffhanger in The Spy Who Loved Me. It also sets up the plot and leads into the title sequence, and that theme sung by Adele.

7. The Matrix Reloaded

Hey Keanu, it’s finally your time to shine in this article. You thought we were going to tease you and never give you any airplay. OK, so Mr Reeves is never actually behind the wheel in this particular scene, but he still plays a pivotal role.

Now, you may not have been a fan of the Matrix sequels, perhaps because you have a brain and enjoy using it. However unlike the story, the action scenes in Reloaded are quite enjoyable.

The freeway chase sequence in particular mixed innovative film-making with high-paced action, letting you know that shit was about to get real when Trinity remarks, “You always told me to stay off the freeway… you said it was suicide,” and Morpheus replies, “Then let us hope [loads and cocks his gun] that I was wrong.” From there it’s all Cadillacs chasing Cadillacs, cops, agents, key makers, Ducatis, evil albino ghost-like twins with dreadlocks and receding hairlines, Jada Pinkett-Smith, samurai swords, careening lorries and (drum roll) Keanu to the rescue! Of course, Neo is flying Superman-style and never even touches the ground or a car, but who cares… it’s one great action scene.

8. Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Apparently an effective formula for great chase scenes is making the pursuer practically indestructible and relentless in their desire to see the pursued come to an immediate end by any means necessary. In the case of Terminator 2, which was one of the first films to effectively integrate CGI with live action, from the moment the T-1000 becomes aware of John Connor’s whereabouts, it’s ‘game on’ in his book. And so the pursuit begins.

Racing from the Galleria Mall to the filthy surfaces of the cement-lined LA River system, Connor flees a sprinting liquid metal cop on his Honda XR100 (which had every kid wanting one). For some reason, director James Cameron thought it was necessary to dub a two-stroke (and endlessly shifting) motor sound over the actual four-stroke sounds of the XR100. Perhaps Cameron is the only one who could say why, but hey, that’s Hollywood magic for you.

The memorable moments that you have likely seen at some point whether or not you’ve watched the entire film are the T-1000 (played by Robert Patrick) jumping an enormous tow truck into the river basin, and/or Arnold Schwarzenegger doing the same on his iconic Harley-Davidson Fat Boy.

Interesting side note: Arnold did not acquire a motorcycle licence until his first term as the Governator of California in 2006, despite having ridden motorcycles for movies and pleasure for decades. Why? According to his spokesperson, he “never thought about it” but was then forced to get his proper certification after crashing into an SUV on his Harley while leaving his driveway and required some stitches. We get it… a terminator is far less threatening when they demand “I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle licence.”