Twisted metal, broken glass, and earth-shattering explosions. Since the invention of the Model T, car crashes have been a staple in every action movie — just go watch the trailer for Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s new cop flick, The Other Guys, for proof — and the pinnacle of every self-respecting chase scene. With audiences increasingly accustomed to vehicular mayhem, it’s no surprise that filmmakers have to up the ante to make a memorable crash scene. To see who wins the automotive arms race, start your engines and let the destruction derby begin.
10. The Terminator
Some might enjoy the big-budget thrills of Terminator 2‘s semi crashing into the L.A. River. Or, for that matter, Terminator 3‘s fire truck-car-crane ménage à trois. But the smart money goes to the low-budget drama of the original: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg killer crashing into a police station after the desk sergeant gives him the runaround. It was memorable enough to make Arnold’s last words before breaking down the doors — “I’ll be back” — his lasting catchphrase.
Family vacations are nightmares. But no cross-country bedlam is complete without a car breaking down — or, in the Griswolds’ case, flying through the air, smashing back to earth, and all four tires deflating at once. And so expectations are similarly deflated for a nice, pleasant getaway. This perfectly timed comic sequence is topped by the kick of a delayed air bag blowing up in Chevy Chase’s face.
8. No Country for Old Men
Cinematic whiplash: just like in real accidents, you don’t see this one coming, as indestructible assassin Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) gets sideswiped by a car. Adaptation had a similar surprise attack, but the Coen brothers are more cunning — showing traffic clear in one direction before cutting to the car barreling toward the camera.
7. The Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers features so many car crashes that it’s hard to choose which smashup rates best. Our pick: when the brothers, in an attempt to escape the police, take a sharp turn and smash through aisles of merchandise in a toy store. But it gets better: they make another turn and find themselves smack-dab in the middle of the thoroughfare of a mall. After some deadpan repartee, they exit out a JCPenny leaving a dozen dead cruisers in their wake.
6. Armed and Dangerous
Ever been stuck in a traffic jam and wanted to mow through the cars in front of you? Your dreams have been fulfilled in Armed and Dangerous. That’s just what happens when John Candy, stuck on a backed-up freeway and in a rush, commandeers a 16-wheeler and turns the interstate into a monster-truck show. Car doors fly. Compacts smash like toys. One can almost ignore the use of “Born to Be Wild” on the soundtrack.
5. The Matrix Reloaded
Here’s how important the car chase was in this film: they built a highway in order to film it. That’s right, over a mile of asphalt made from runways of an old naval base. How’s that for a train set of mayhem? The chase scene is probably the best thing in the sequel. And what about one of the movie’s greatest spectacles: two semis smashing head-on into each other. One suspects the directors may have played with train sets as children.
4. Death Proof
Not surprisingly, Quentin Tarantino does this crash from multiple vantage points. As Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike head-on collides with a car packed with cute girls, it shows the terrible fates that happen to each one. Like in The Matrix‘s 360-degree slo-mo effect, it slows down split-second actions for our viewing pleasure — showing just what gruesome things happen when cars collide with nubile young bodies. His inspiration: crash-test-dummy footage.
3. The Car
Movie junkie that he is, Tarantino would probably feel okay about being bested by this vintage gem. It’s about a car haunted by a spirit (or something), and it’s a treasure trove of over-the-top crashes. The Car is seemingly impervious to harm, so when two police cars play chicken with the possessed automobile and think they have it bested, the Car makes short work of them, twisting into a sharp turn and spinning into a sidelong roll that makes for a twofer — taking out both cop cars.
Steven Spielberg’s first film considers an ancient rivalry: the clash between car and truck. Here a commuter and a long-haul driver play cat and mouse on the freeway. As with Jaws, Spielberg lets the revved-up tension build slowly and delivers with a haunting slo-mo shot that sends both car and truck careering over a cliff.
1. Final Destination 2
When a logging truck lets loose its load of timber on the road, it results in a gloriously gruesome set piece that parks Final Destination 2 firmly into the top spot. Take it as you will: a smorgasbord of vehicular carnage or a condensed physics lesson. Head versus log? Log. Garbage truck versus compact? Garbage truck. Man versus his motorcycle? Motorcycle. That’s only the start in this spectacular sequence that pulls out all the stops.