Nearly 20 years on, Ronin's pulse-pounding car chase in Paris still hasn't been bettered.
After giving a rundown of the best movie car chases from the 1970s and 1980s, it was only a matter of time before Donut Media chronicled the best chases from the 1990s before CGI started to replace practical stunts in the 2000s. Frankly, there was always going to be one winner in this era: it had to be Ronin, which still has the best and most realistic movie car chase since Bullitt. Directed by John Frankenheimer, who also directed the 1966 racing movie Grand Prix, Ronin released in 1998 features not one but two outstanding chase scenes.
The first features an Audi S8, Citroen XM and Mercedes-Benz barrelling through the narrow streets of Nice, but it’s the Paris street chase featuring an E34 BMW 535i and Peugeot 406 that’s the real standout. The choice of everyday cars instead of supercar exotics is inspired: you don’t often see a powersliding Peugeot 406 in a movie car chase.
To make the chase as realistic as possible, both cars were right-hand drive UK models fitted with fake steering wheels on the left-side for the actors to use and mimic the stunt driver's moves. That's why Robert De Niro's terrified expression is genuine as they careened through traffic-filled streets at crazy speeds. In this case, the film didn’t need to be sped up to create a thrilling sense of speed. The sound editing is superb, too. There’s no distracting music, just the sweet sounds of screeching tires, crunching metal, and the BMW revving its six-cylinder engine. Unlike Fast & Furious, even the amount of on-screen gear shifting is believable.
The chase culminates in a tense highway wrong-way sequence which used 300 stunt drivers. Nearly 20 years after its release, Ronin’s car chase has never been bettered, particularly as modern movies often resort to CGI car stunts. That’s not to say there weren’t any other car chases in the 1990s that deserve to be commended. You can always rely on Michael Bay to deliver a destructive car chase in his movies, and The Rock is an early example featuring Nicholas Cage in a stolen Ferrari F355 chasing after Sean Connery in a Hummer. William Friedkin also famously directed The French Connection and To Live and Die in LA, which feature two of the greatest movie car chases of the 1970s and 1980s.
In the ‘90s Friedkin also directed Jade which has a very underrated chase scene featuring two Fords speeding through the streets of San Francisco. It also has quite possibly the most preposterous car jump stunts in movie history – there’s no way these cars would be able to continue with the suspension damage from those hard landings. Aside from a suspension of disbelief, what ultimately lets the scene down is that the chase grinds to a halt when the cars drive through a Chinese parade for several agonizing minutes which ruins the pacing.