From high-speed crashes to explosions and heart-stopping plunges over the edge, ‘death by car’ has often proved one of the most popular vehicles for film makers when it comes to delivering high-impact drama in death scenes. Of all the meet-your-maker-in-a-motor scenes to ever be captured on celluloid, here is a list of the very best.
10. Thelma & Louise (1991)
Starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, Ridley Scott’s acclaimed road movie celebrating female rebellion and friendship follows two women as they embark on a trip away from their suffocating lives. But their journey of liberation and self-discovery soon turns into a nightmare when – after killing a sexual attacker – they become outlaws. The film culminates with an iconic scene, as the duo find themselves trapped by the police at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Rather than accept capture and imprisonment, they decide to end it all, driving their Thunderbird convertible over the precipice – their story ends with a freeze frame of the car in mid-air against the symbolic backdrop of the great open: a poignant, unseen death.
9. Death Proof (2007) – video NSFW
seriously, do NOT watch this video if you’re the least bit squeamish
Quentin Tarantino’s anti-hero, horror-thriller tale depicts the murderous exploits of a sadistic stunt man (played by Kurt Russell) who hunts down young women and kills them in staged collisions with his “death-proof” car. Tarantino’s preference for real action sequences – rather than CGI – in the collision scenes, lends a brutal authenticity to the crashes. The most violent and gruesome of these involves four women, whose points of death – including being thrown from the vehicle, dismemberment, and even a close-up of a face being run over, are all individually shown for extra squirm-factor.
8. Final Destination 2 (2003)
David R. Ellis’s sequel to 2000’s Final Destination is a horror flick based on the simple premise that you can’t cheat death. After one character’s premonition of a fatal disaster, events inevitably follow to turn her worst fears into reality. And so the film continues, with each of the characters being killed off in unfortunate and seemingly fluke circumstances. One such incident is an orgiastic vehicle pile-up – involving multiple victims – after a logging truck loses its load and causes carnage. The sequence, in which a motorcyclist, a garbage truck and various cars are wiped out, is often referenced as one of the best car crash scenes in cinema to date, and even won an MTV Movie Award for Best Action Sequence.
7. Mad Max (1979)
This dystopian fantasy by George Miller is set in an Australian gangland of the future – awash with motorcycles and souped-up rides – and stars Mel Gibson as “Mad Max,” a cop bent on retribution for the deaths of his family. He finally gets his revenge on the barbaric gang-leader “Toecutter” during a high-speed pursuit in which “Toecutter”, riding a Kawasaki Z100, is forced into the path of an oncoming semi-truck thanks to the driving skills of “Mad Max” and the super-charger of his Special Pursuit. “Toecutter’s body is violently crushed and torn apart under the truck’s wheels. Just before impact – in an apparent and amusing reference to old cartoons – we see “Toecutter” remove his goggles, his eyes almost popping out of his head as he faces impending doom.
6. RoboCop (1987)
Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi law enforcement flick – set in the crime-ridden city of Detroit in the near future – is an over-the-top and ultra violent resurrection story. After being brutally executed by the local crime boss, a rookie policeman (played by Peter Weller) is chosen as the first candidate to be resurrected and turned into a cyborg cop by a mega-corporation that believes the city’s human police force is incapable of controlling crime levels. During an encounter with his original murderers at a local steel mill, one of the gang members tries to kill RoboCop by running him over with a van, but instead crashes into a container of toxic waste. He emerges a living zombie, with his destroyed flesh hanging from his bones, and walks into the path of an oncoming car. In a particularly gruesome death, his already-destroyed body is annihilated by the collision, and his decapitated head slides across the windscreen in wash of blood and gore.
5. Vanilla Sky (2001) (language alert)
Cameron Crowe’s re-interpretation of Alejandro Aménabar’s Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) – featuring a star-studded cast including Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz and Cameron Diaz – is a sci-fi psychological thriller exploring the theme of cryonic suspension amongst others. In an early, fateful scene, the lead male character is powerless to prevent a horrific crash when his ex-lover, who is driving erratically and at high-speed, deliberately drives the car they’re both in off a bridge, in a revenge-murder-suicide bid. While she dies, it appears that he, though horrifically disfigured, survives, though the course of his ‘life’ has been permanently altered.
4. The Italian Job (1969)
Peter Collinson’s cult British heist movie with Michael Caine and Noel Coward is a riot of Mini Coopers and derring-do. The job? To steal a $4m haul of gold from under the very noses of the Italian Mafia. After a legendary car chase through Turin, it seems the robbery and subsequent escape have been successful – that is until their getaway coach, which by this point has been loaded with the gold bullion, loses control on a hairpin bend. The crew find themselves teetering on the edge of a cliff, with the weight of their stash threatening to tip them over the edge. A literal cliffhanger, the film ends in the touch-and-go of the crew attempting to save themselves and their precious cargo. Although the final outcome is left deliberately open to interpretation, as the credits roll, the outlook for the gang doesn’t look good.
3. Meet Joe Black (1998)
Martin Brest’s fantastical romantic drama starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Claire Forlani relates an imagining of Death living among the living. In one of the film’s earlier scenes, the central female character, after being affected by a conversation on life and love with her father (who believes he is not long for this world), happens to meet a striking young man with whom she feels an instant connection. Immediately after their encounter – and in one of the most unexpected car death scenes in cinema -the young man is run over by two cars in immediate succession. The sheer suddenness of this scene, coupled with the violent way in which the character’s body is flung between the two cars that collide with him, somehow contrive to make this sequence unexpectedly humorous as well as shocking. The corpse is later chosen by Death to be his body in life.
2. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Arthur Penn’s taboo-breaking biopic features the exploits of the infamous Depression-era outlaws, played by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. In “one of the bloodiest death scenes in cinematic history”, the notorious duo are betrayed, and meet their end in a police ambush: the lovers, and their car, are riddled by machine-gun fire from law enforcement agents concealed in nearby bushes.
1. Kick-Ass (2010)
Matthew Vaughn’s superhero action film based on a comic of the same name, and starring Nicolas Cage, Aaron Johnson and Chloë Moretz, tells the story of an ordinary teenager who decides to become a superhero – “Kick-Ass”. However, he soon finds himself coming into contact with action heroes of a higher calibre and more violent nature: “Big Daddy” and “Hit-Girl”, a father-daughter team focused in their pursuit of the villain Frank D’Amico. In one scene, “Big-Daddy” and “Hit Girl” interrogate one of D’Amico’s goons while he is handcuffed to the steering wheel of a yellow Range Rover in a scrap yard car crusher. Showing no mercy, “Hit Girl” activates the machine after extracting the required information from her captive, and the victim is crushed to death within the compressor, splattering blood over the car windshield as he explodes. After this gory conclusion, the car crusher produces a neat cube of compressed metal.
This is an article produced on behalf of Give a Car – a scrap car charity organization that donates its proceeds to a range of charities throughout the world.