Our Ten’s List
Way back in April, we featured our ten favorite movie chases involving cars. There were so many other styles of pursuits, from chariots to wing-suits, that we knew we were going to have to come back to the topic someday. The return of 007 has given us an excuse to review ten examples of what we consider to be the finest use for your getaway sticks: a good old fashioned foot race. There’s no gasoline involved here, but these scenes are all diesel, so enjoy!
Famous Foot Chases in Film
10. Actually, Not Much Running
Film: The Running Man
If you’ve watched Arnold Schwarzenegger on film, you know he doesn’t exactly get up to speed very well. It’s one of those physical phenomena where you’d need infinite energy to accelerate his colossal frame up to any tempo faster than a light jog. And a light jog is all he needs here, as he spends almost the entirety of this film’s run-time (hehe, get it?) being “chased” by lunatics on motorcycles, ice skates, and whatever the hell Dynamo was driving (zamboni with a Lite-Brite glued to the front?), yet always seems ahead of his hapless opponents. The pleasure in these chases is not the tremendous physicality of the scenes, but in the inventive and violent way Arnold dispatches his pursuers while not even breaking a sweat. If you want to bulk up, cardio is a no-no anyway.
9. A Long Way Down
Film: The Fugitive
Another film scene that shows you can have a tense chase without having two world class athletes involved. Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones are certainly not going to be qualifying in the NFL combine with the stately pace they set here, but this pursuit still manages to be tense and satisfying because the rogue doctor and the seasoned Marshal use every psychological trick in the book to gain an edge on their opponent. It also helps that the stakes are sky-high… pretty much literally. When the race ends at the mouth of a drainage pipe overlooking a yawning chasm, we get one of the most iconic escapes ever filmed.
8. Mr. Wizard, Get Me the Hell Out of Here!
Film: The Matrix
One important ingredient in a great chase scene is to make the opponents asymmetrical in ability. If the hero has amazing stamina, you need to ratchet up the tension by mobbing him with pursuers, baffle him with obstacles, or match him against somebody who has more tricks than just speed. Neo possesses nearly super-human abilities, even before becoming The One, so any chase worth its salt is going to have to work around the fact that we’ve just seen him move faster than bullets. Agent Smith accepts the challenge and abuses his abilities to rewire the Matrix to his advantage, closing off escape routes and warping into host bodies all around our hero. Why bother chasing the guy when you can just use a cheat code to skip to the finish line? Agent Smith would have been a real pain in the ass playing Mario Kart…
7. Welcome to New York!
Film: Rumble in the Bronx
Talking about asymmetry, how do you keep a foot race engaging when your hero is demonstrably superior to his opponents? Jackie Chan consistently manages to create amazing chase sequences, and he generally uses three tactics to keep them fresh and exciting. First, he’s always surrounded and out-numbered. If you have less than a dozen guys chasing Jackie, it’s likely he’s out for a morning jog instead of filming a movie. Second, he creates the persona of a guy perpetually in over his head. Despite being able to leap over cars, dodge band-saws, and fight numerous foes simultaneously, his expressions and mannerisms always make it look like he’s just barely treading water. Lastly, throw in some absolutely gonzo stunt element to cap the experience. Jackie seems to be winning? Throw him over the edge of a building! Set him on fire! Run him over with a construction vehicle! Perhaps do all three? In Rumble in the Bronx, we see Chan combine all of these elements into a fantastic chase sequence as he tries to escape a street gang. The final stunt is incredible, and helped to sell his invasion of the American box office to viewers.
6. Bourne to Run
Film: The Bourne Supremacy
Thrillers tend to invigorate their pursuit scenes with guile and misdirection. Jason Bourne is a spy with lethal hands and a cunning mind, so simply fleeing is rarely his best option. In The Bourne Supremacy, Jason is being pursued by the entire Berlin police force. Using a nearby train terminal, Bourne ditches a city full of flat-foots with a quadruple head-fake. It’s a great sequence and showcases brains over brawn.
5. Country Boy Vs. City Gang
Film: Ong Bak
While Bourne may prefer to out-think his foes, Tony Jaa is always going to out-hustle them. Picking Jaa’s best foot chase moment is incredibly difficult. This phenom has evaded a team of BMX bikers… while on a rooftop. He’s outmaneuvered an ATV… by running up plate glass and doing a backflip. He’s even run across a herd of elephants to avoid capture. My favorite sequence, though, is his first: In Ong Bak, country bumpkin (and Muay Thai master) Ting heads to the city to retrieve the head of a sacred statue. He apparently manages to upset the local lumber yard, as twenty dudes wielding 2×4’s chase him through the streets. Jaa jumps and flips over obstacles that aren’t even in his way, just to show these fools who they are messing with.
4. Merciless Machine
What do you call a foot race where one of the participants is calmly walking the whole time? Terrifying, if that participant is a homicidal robot cowboy played by Yul Brynner. During the climax of this sci-fi film, Brenner quietly walks down our heroes like its no big deal. They flee in every direction, running like rabbits from a thresher… which is pretty much exactly the situation. Years before The Terminator, Westworld showed us how implacable and unnerving a fight against a killer robot could be.
3. Run Through the Jungle
This entire movie is one long foot chase, and it’s exhilarating and exhausting just watching it! When your neighbors believe that human sacrifice is the only way to greet the morning (ever tried coffee!?) you had better keep up with your cardio. Jaguar Paw’s village is raided by the ruling Mayan civilization, and he barely has time to hide his family down a well before he is dragged off to slaughter. All of those plyometrics pay off though, as he escapes certain death and races back to his village. With torrential rains threatening to drown his family and a team of alpha hunters dogging his steps, Jaguar Paw uses speed, cunning, knowledge of the forest, and an iron-willed resiliency to overcome his pursuers. And then he does this, just to make sure nobody messes with his family ever again:
2. Bond Always Gets His Man
Film: Casino Royale
Parkour or Free Running is all about the fastest, flashiest way to get from point A to B. It’s been a part of a growing niche market of films, mostly French, and has informed chase sequences in dozens of video games, but it never really crossed over into mainstream cinema until Casino Royale showed how absolutely mind-blowing its techniques could be in the right hands. As a freshly minted MI-6 agent, Bond is in Madagascar to collar a bomb maker who happens to have a fleet set of feet in addition to a steady pair of hands. The chase rages across the city, through buildings and roof-tops and into a construction zone before Bond finally makes the collar. It’s fast and frantic, and only the first big action sequence of the film, showing that this 00 agent is much tougher and faster than his martini-sipping predecessors.
1. The Last Mohican Gets Justice
Film: Last of the Mohicans
Another great film that is 90% chase sequences. Whether fleeing the French, pursuing the British, or escaping a vengeful Huron war-leader, our heroes are pretty much on pace to finish a marathon by the time the film’s big finale begins. The last two Mohicans, father and son, along with their adopted ward (Daniel Day Lewis) pursue Magua and his Huron warriors who have abducted an English colonel’s daughter. Fighting while on the run, the younger Mohican is cut down by the villain, and his father enters Great-Spirit mode, tearing through Magua’s men like tissue paper while still keeping his heart-rate in the fat-burning zone. With a beautiful Soul Caliber dodge, he avenges his son and makes Mitsurugi proud by owning Magua like its a job, and he’s already on overtime.