James Bond has driven some very cool cars in the last 50 years, but it’s what he did with them that counts. Here’s our recommendation for the best car chase scenes in the last 23 “official” movies, with extra credit for keeping it real.
1) Aston Martin DBS in Italy – Quantum of Solace (2008)
Let’s get it out of the way right now. The opening scene before the credits even begin is stunning, with Bond in his Aston Martin taking on bad guys in an Alfa Romeo on the crowded mountain road beside Italy’s Lago di Garda. It’s frenetic and edge-of-your-seat, borrowing from the quick edit style of the Jason Bourne franchise (which is a worthy contender, after all). It almost lets you forgive Daniel Craig for doing such damage to the car, especially after writing off five of them while filming the previous movie, Casino Royale. And it also distracts you from wondering how he drove the doorless Aston all the way to Siena without being noticed, since it’s about 350 kilometres from the lake, passing both Bologna and Florence.
2) Aston Martin DB5 in France – Goldfinger (1964)
This has always been the most famous chase, in the most famous car, though it would be forgettable if it were not for the ejector seat. The chase itself is not a patch on the pre-CGI sequences of Bullitt or The French Connection, but no matter – it’s the coolest. This was also the movie that single-handedly created product placement. The filmmakers had to persuade a skeptical Aston Martin to lend them the prototype of the DB5, and it was only when the movie came out that the car maker realized the James Bond potential.
3) Citroen 2CV in Spain in For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The little Citroen isn’t Bond’s car, of course – his Lotus Esprit blew itself up when a baddie tried to break into it – but Carole Bouquet doesn’t mind handing the keys to Roger Moore. Chased down Spanish mountain roads, and more literally down the Spanish mountain itself, Bond understates drolly that “I’m afraid we’re being out-horsepowered;” for filming, though, the 2CV was kitted with a slightly more powerful four-cylinder engine to give it at least some credibility in the pursuit.
4) Mercury Cougar convertible in Switzerland – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
He may have been a wooden James Bond, but George Lazenby’s only appearance as 007 is also notable for a terrific car chase in which he lets Diana Rigg do all the driving. He was probably tired after the ski chase from Blofeld’s mountaintop lair, but the Mercury was Rigg’s car and she takes it on the icy stockcar track – specially constructed for filming by flooding a flat field – without hesitation. No wonder he married her.
5) AMC Hornet X in Bangkok in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The rest of the movie is kinda humdrum, but the car chase with astonished tourist Sheriff J.W. Pepper in the passenger seat of the Hornet is riveting. The stunt driving was performed by race car driver Jay Milligan, but the corkscrew jump over the river was made by stunt driver Bumps Williard. With eight cameras rolling, he pulled it off on the first take and was paid a bonus for doing so. According to imdb.com, after seeing it performed by Milligan at a Houston stunt show, the producers had patented and protected the idea of the 360-degree jump to make sure it couldn’t appear in any other movies before the Bond release. The Hornet was adapted just for the jump, with modified suspension, a lighter six-cylinder engine and a steering wheel in the centre of the car to keep all its weight symmetrical.
6) Kenworth W900B in Mexico – Licence to Kill (1989)
It’s tough to imagine these days that this was shot without CGI, but even the 18-wheel tanker driving on its side is the real thing, achieved without assistance by a French stunt driver standing in for Timothy Dalton. Seven trucks were written off during the seven weeks of filming the sequence, and each truck was worth about $100,000. James Bond is used to flipping vehicles on their sides, though – remember Diamonds are Forever, when he drove Tiffany Case’s Ford Mustang through the narrow Las Vegas alley? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iuh2L-_yf3M)
7) BMW 750i in Hamburg – Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
There are two great chases in this movie for Pierce Brosnan, both with BMWs, but this wins out because they wrote off 15 of the cars in filming the sequence. It was a coup for BMW to get such placement, but in fact, after the lesson of Goldfinger, this was the first movie to have its entire $100-million budget covered entirely by product sponsorship from some two dozen companies. The later motorcycle chase through Saigon on a BMW R1200 with Michelle Yeoh deserves a special mention for its action, even though the leap into the helicopter was totally fake – the rotor blades were added digitally afterwards. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WS8FF0TRfw
8 ) Aston Martin V8 Vantage in Slovakia – The Living Daylights (1987)
This is pretty much the perfect Bond chase for Timothy Dalton: An Aston Martin, a beautiful girl alongside, snowy roads, rocket launchers and gadgets galore that all get a work-out. According to imdb.com, the Aston is fitted with a laser beam cutter, lower front-firing automatic missiles, studded tires, skis that protrude from under the doors, head-up display, a special radio with multi-transmission accessibility, hinged number plates, bullet-proof glass, a rocket jet propulsion unit and a self-destruct button.
9) Aston Martin V12 Vanquish in Iceland – Die Another Day (2002)
Even Roger Moore criticized this chase – “I thought it just went too far,” he told an interviewer, “and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!” – but it pulls it off anyway. The Aston Martin and Jaguar were fitted with four-wheel drive and V8 Ford Explorer engines to handle better on the ice. But it deserves inclusion if only for the background story that the frozen lake refused to freeze for filming, and the crew considered moving production to New Zealand. In the end, the river that feeds into it was dammed to prevent its warmer water entering and the lake ice promptly froze to a depth of two metres – more than enough.
10) Aston Martin DB5 in France – Goldeneye (1995)
Is this saving the best for last? Pierce Brosnan’s debut as Bond sees him back in the DB5, tooling down the switchback mountain road toward Monaco with his MI6 evaluator and a bank of one-liners. The femme fatale who pulls alongside in the red Ferrari 355 GTS Spider is Famke Janssen, who did all her own driving for the sequence. According to imdb.com, the Ferrari was rented for the shoot, and after colliding with the Aston it had to be repaired overnight at a cost of $80,000. And in the middle of all this, Bond delivers one of his most memorable observations. “James, is it really necessary to drive so fast?” asks the evaluator, and he replies, without hesitation: “More often than you’d think.”
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