Meet Joe Black
True, it's not technically a crash --more of an accident, if you will. 1999's Death Comes to Live Among Mortals romantic melodrama might have offered us little more than three hours of badly acted sentimental goo, but it kicked things off right: by offering us a meet-cute between Claire Forlani and handsome stranger Brad Pitt, and then promptly offing him in spectacular, shocking fashion. Alas, the sight of Pitt getting hilariously ping-ponged and flattened like a rubber chicken by two cars was the first and last good idea this overlong debacle had. But its place in film history is secure thanks to this wondrously insane -- and, by all indications, earnestly conceived -- moment.
It's not exactly the kind of film in which one might expect to find a terrifying car accident, but believe it or not, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's delirious 2002 meta-satire actually features two. (Here's the other one.
) For our money, the early flashback to how John Laroche lost his teeth stands out as the most effective example of the audience-sees-the-truck-coming-through-the-window-before-the-characters-do school of movie crashes.
American Werewolf in London
John Landis might not have been the greatest director who ever lived, but the man knew a thing or two about vehicular mayhem. Some will quibble that the multitude of car crashes from The Blues Brothers isn't here, but we prefer the climactic scene from American Werewolf, wherein our troubled hero finally bursts onto the streets of Piccadilly Circus and causes a chain reaction of hilariously over-the-top collisions. (Seriously, have the Brits ever heard of seat belts? Jesus.) It starts off as a couple of funny traffic sight gags and then it just goes on and on -- as if someone spliced in the outtakes into the film by accident. Pretty soon we've pretty much forgotten the werewolf entirely.
The Seven Ups
As the producer of Bullitt and The French Connection, Philip D'Antoni was partly responsible for two of the best-known chase scenes in film history. Not as well known, though perhaps even more impressive, was the New York-set chase from The Seven Ups, the crime drama D'Antoni directed himself in 1974, starring Roy Scheider (who else?) as a cop who uses unorthodox methods to bring in the bad guys. The chase is intense, but its finale, conceived by legendary stunt driver Bill Hickman as an homage to Jayne Mansfield's death, is even more notable, stopping the whole thing dead in stunning fashion. In the age of CGI and $200 million budgets, perhaps it doesn't seem so spectacular, but try watching this one with an audience and you'll see (and hear) what we're talking about: This is one finale that makes a theater audience howl as if they've received a collective kick to the groin.
Bad Boys II
Consider the intricacy of a Bach fugue; now imagine it played on an organ made of C-4. Michael Bay might be a joke to some, but Hollywood's reigning crown prince of overkill weds a teenager's fantasies to an A-list director's willpower, and sometimes that's exactly what the situation calls for: Certainly we're not the only ones who, as kids, wondered what would happen if the cars stacked on one of those auto-transport trucks suddenly spilled out onto the freeway? Well, in Bad Boys II, Bay actually went and made it happen. (It's what he does.) And the results were something beyond merely awesome. They were sublime: a perfect example of what happens when you bring together superior processing power, a crack stunt crew, and a director who just doesn't know when to stop.
The Mad Max
movies might have been every gearhead's favorite sci-fi franchise, but it could be argued that for pure automotive devastation, George Miller's series never topped the opening chase and multiple crashes and wipeouts of the very first film (though The Road Warrior
's finale did certainly give it the old college try
). Look fast for the infamous eyeball insert; it was his work in an emergency room in his previous life as a doctor that inspired Miller to make this film in the first place.
The Terminator franchise may have since been de-balled by unnecessary sequels, a TV spinoff, and a comically high-profile political career for its lead killer robot from the future, but spend five minutes with this stunning set piece from James Cameron's second installment in the saga and you'll see why everyone keeps trying to resurrect these movies. The Terminator movies' entire aesthetic was built on the indestructible villain who just keeps coming, no matter what you do to him (it was actually kind of a novel concept back then), and this car chase, with the T-1000 behind the wheel of a massive crane truck, perfectly encapsulates the series' essence. It also happens to be a watershed moment for stunts, special effects, and giant trucks getting shredded to bits before bursting into flames. Plus, remember how cool it was the first time we saw the T-1000 walk out of the burning wreckage without a scratch?
...And Then It Happened
Surely you remember this. Directed by Gene Starbecker, the Stanley Kubrick of gory school-bus safety films
(he also directed the infamous "Death Zones"), this unforgettable exercise in preteen terror gives us two separate cautionary tales about the blood-soaked, slow-motion consequences of what happens when a bunch of no-good unruly kids turn a school bus into a careening deathtrap. Sure, he couldn't afford Hollywood-style stunt driving or expensive effects, but that didn't stop Mr. Starbecker from invading the nightmares of millions of unsuspecting students. Though it still apparently screens in some schools, it's hard to imagine today's society producing an educational film this blunt or graphic. Or awesome.
Quentin Tarantino's feature-length contribution to Grind House was supposed to be the ne plus ultra of gearhead movies, utilizing modern-day Hollywood stunts and pyrotechnics to tell an old-school automotive horror flick. And while the extended car chase of the film's second half rightly got most of the attention, none of it would really have worked were it not for the gruesome crash that brought the curtain down on the film's first half. That it came on the heels of some deliriously pointless Tarantino-esque banter from a gaggle of sweet young things just made it that much more shocking -- and even kind of sad.
Final Destination 2
It has become the new gold standard for car-related chaos in cinema, as surreal in its own way as the traffic jam in Godard's Weekend
and as iconically terrifying as burning Christine running down her prey
. Utilizing the full faith and credit of 21st century Hollywood's F/X and stunt wizards, this terrifying and endless orgy of twisted burning metal and humanity brings to life pretty much every nightmare we've ever had about freak deadly car mishaps. All of them. At once. And if you haven't worried about your water bottle rolling on the floor of your car and getting jammed under your brake pedal -- well, you should.