Thanks to the rise of CGI effects replacing practical stunts, movie car chases became less realistic in the 2000s.
When you look back at the best movie car chases from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, they all have one thing in common: real car stunts. Back then Hollywood couldn’t resort to computer generated imagery, which is why chase scenes from films like Bullitt and Ronin still hold up today. This changed in the 2000s, as the increased use of CGI resulted in bigger, but not necessarily better chase scenes. In the first decade of the 2000s we started seeing movies prioritize spectacular crashes and explosions over skillful driving in chase scenes.
Consequently, many modern chase scenes lack that gritty sense of realism that immerses you like older films do. Thankfully, there are some exceptions as shown in Donut Media’s countdown of the best movie car chases of the 2000s.
Released in 2002, The Transporter features some superb stunt driving as Jason Statham outwits pursuing police in a BMW 7 Series. BMW provided three cars for the scene, and even fitted them with a six-speed manual to make them more manoeuvrable. But like many scenes from this decade, the standout stunt is a fake physics-defying CGI jump. By far the worst offender in this department is the chase in the 2000 Gone in 60 Seconds remake, which culminates with the Shelby GT500, better known as 'Eleanor', flying over a huge tailback of cars and emergency vehicles with extremely dated-looking effects that haven't aged well. Nicolas Cage did most of his own stunt driving to be fair, though.
The car jumps in Jade which featured in the 1990s chase roundup may not be realistic, but at least they were done for real. If you want to see a realistic chase scene from the early 2000s that doesn’t resort to fake CGI stunts, look no further than The Bourne Identity which features an exhilarating chase with an old Mini evading Paris police through crowded streets. Matt Damon’s character Jason Bourne uses the Mini’s nippy handling to his advantage, driving down stairways, on sidewalks filled with pedestrians and against oncoming traffic. It was orchestrated by the same stunt coordinators as Ronin and won a World Stunt Award for Best Work With a Vehicle in 2003.
Grindhouse Death Proof, which was surprisingly overlooked in Donut Media’s list, also deserves to be commended for its practical stuntwork. A throwback to old-school car films, its intense climactic chase between a vintage Dodge Challenger and Charger still impresses – watching stuntwoman Zoe Bell dangle on the Challenger’s hood at speed looks genuinely dangerous. But then we have over the top chase scenes from films like Bad Boys 2, The Matrix Reloaded and Terminator 3 which cranked up the carnage and put more emphasis on destruction than driving to excite audiences.
The 00s also saw more chases, like the opening scene in Quantum of Solace featuring an Aston Martin DBS, use quick cuts and nausea-inducing shaky shots to make the scene seem more exciting - a technique that still plagues modern movies today. Thankfully, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver released this year served as a reminder that distracting CGI effects and shaky-cam is no substitute for practical stunts and coherent editing to create a compelling car chase scene.