There’s something gripping about thousands of pounds of metal hurdling down highways and crowded streets—pushing the edge of disaster—that captures our cinematic imagination. Perhaps it’s life rushing so close to death that keeps us pinned to our seats, even though we’ve seen literally thousands of car chases on the big and little screen.
Although the Tom Cruise film Jack Reacher is still in post-production, Paramount recently previewed three scenes at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, the annual theater-owners convention, and the early word is that it has the feel of a gritty crime film from the 70’s. Even better, the guys at Slashfilms and Collider say Tom tears up the screen with a car chase that could be an homage to that decades live-action, high-speed bust ups.
While the chase pushed all the right audience buttons and effectively lubed the chassis of anticipation, it wasn’t the only thing sparking interest: You can’t have a car chase without a car. In this case, the automobile of choice is a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS, one of the premiere muscle cars of its day.
In this original commercial for the 1970 Chevelle, you get a sense of the car’s appeal.
Not much is known of the car’s role in the movie at this point—other than that it will reach high speed in a dangerous situation—but the Chevelle isn’t new to the silver screen. Chevy made the car from 1964 to 1977, but after 1972 the model underwent an extensive redesign and lost much of its collectable status. What you see on screen is the apotheosis of its look according to many fans.
In recent years the 1970 Chevelle SS has appeared in a number of car-oriented films like Faster with Dwayne Johnson and Fast & Furious 4 with Vin Diesel. Even when pitted against contemporary muscle cars, the Chevelle SS still exudes power and strength, and manages to inspire awe.
Dwayne Johnson gives his Chevelle a workout in this short, intense chase.
A Brief History of the Car Chase
Car chase scenes are so popular that it is hard to believe they are relatively new in the admittedly short history of cinema. Most film historians generally agree that the first modern car chase took place in the Steve McQueen film Bullitt in 1968. At 10-minutes, it’s an epic even by today’s standards, but it still holds up as edge-your-seat entertainment more than 40 years later. The car in that film was a 1968 V8 390 Ford Mustang fastback.
Steve McQueen runs his Mustang through a gauntlet of cars and pedestrians in this seminal car chase.
Bullitt was followed by the famous car scene in The French Connection, much of which was shot without permission on the crowded streets of New York City. The Seven-Ups soon followed, adding another chase of epic proportions to the growing silver screen-list. From that point on, cars barreling down streets at high speeds became a hallowed ritual in Hollywood Blockbusters, and continues to galvanize viewers.
Green Screen Mayhem
Today, many films rely on computer-generated imagery to ratchet up intensity levels in action-packed sequences—and in the process push scenes beyond even a contemporary audience’s well-learned suspension of disbelief—but there is a core viewership of dyed-in-the-wool realists who appreciates the less spectacular but far more authentic work done by actors and stunt drivers in real time.
During his acting heyday, Steve McQueen was known to perform many of his own driving stunts (he raced motorcycles for money early in his career), and much of the excitement generated by his Bullitt scene came from the fact that he was the guy behind the wheel for parts of it. Even when a stunt driver was used, he was a real guy bombing down narrow roads at high speeds.
Keeping It Real
Following in that same tradition, Tom has been known to assume the mantel of stunt man for many of his movies, especially where cars and motorcycles are concerned. And it appears he’s taken the same approach in Jack Reacher by stepping behind the wheel to push the Chevy Chevelle through its paces. Although we can’t bring that scene to you just yet, we’ve dug into the vault of gritty 70′s cinema for something equally exciting.
In our homage to DIY classic muscle car chases, we’ve put together a brief but heart-stopping collection of vintage scenes that could be some of the most exciting footage of its kind. Remember, these were done before CGI and are all the more exciting for their intense, dramatic realism. Buckle up and enjoy responsibly!
The Seven Ups
Once you start watching, you won’t be surprised to learn that the producer of Bullitt and The French Connection was also involved here.
Kowalski has 15 hours to get his 1970 Charger from Colorado to San Francisco. This is the movie trailer, but it tips its hat early: It’s all about the car.
Gone in 60 seconds
The 1973 Ford Mustang races, crashes and careens through fives cities in this punishing chase.
Did we leave out your favorite car chase? If so, let us know what it is in the comments section below, or connect with the TOMCRUISE.COM team on Twitter, Facebook, WhoSay, Orkut, Gree, Sina Weibo, Google+ and Tencent Weibo. Plus, get all the latest news and insider information when you sign up for the TomCruise.com official newsletter today!