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Craziest Movie Motorcycle Chases


The latest movie adaptation of a television show has arrived.

This month, it’s CHiPs, a raunchy and ribald update of the bland and mediocre buddy series (it ran six seasons, from 1977 to 1983) about two mismatched California Highway Patrol motorcycle cops solving crimes, chasing bad guys, and trading innocuous barbs.

Though audience expectations are null, and critical response has been predictably vicious, the new CHiPs movie has at least rekindled some fond memories of the most badass motorcycle sequences and stunts in the movies.

Hop on, rev up, and for heaven’s sake wear a helmet.

 

The Great Escape (1963)

Hats off to Steve McQueen, who took audiences’ breath away with a show-stopping motorcycle jump over a barbed wire barricade as he flees from a Nazi POW camp. It’s all relatively quaint by modern-day action movie standards, but back then it was quite a big deal…all the more so because McQueen performed the stunt himself.

 

Tron (1982) and Tron: Legacy (2010)

Though they take place inside the digitized realm of a computer game and veer more towards animation than live-action, the “light cycle” sequences in both Tron movies are worth mentioning for their sleek design, then-cutting-edge visual effects, and physics-bending choreography. Watch out for those deadly walls of light left in the bikers’ wake!

 

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

When Doctor Jones and his father escape from the Nazis on a vintage WWII-era motorcycle with sidecar, a brisk and funny chase ensues that is highlighted not only by composer John Williams’ catchy scherzo, but also by a jousting bout/chicken race between two opposing riders and, finally, a splendid send-off with a well-timed jab of Henry Senior’s handy umbrella into the spinning spokes of an enemy’s front wheel. Yowch!

 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

It’s not merely the mind-bending visual effects that elevated T2 far above its scrappy low-budget predecessor, it’s also the scale and choreography of the bonkers stunt-filled action sequences. We knew from the very first motorcycle/semi-truck chase that director James Cameron had upped the ante into the stratosphere with this sequel. Ah-nold’s T-800 is on a Harley-Davidson, catching up to the T-1000 in the semi, who’s bearing down on young John Connor riding for his life on a dirt bike. Add one landmark Los Angeles aqueduct and a heart-stopping leap off a tall levee into the concrete canyon, and you can almost overlook the suspension cables tethered to Arnold’s bike, along with the brief distraction that his stunt double looks very much like Jean-Claude Van Damme.

 

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

Swerving into and out of oncoming highway traffic has been done in the movies before (To Live and Die in L.A.) and since (Ronin and The Matrix Reloaded), but there’s something extra psycho about the motorbike bit in the third Lethal Weapon flick because Mad Mel Gibson is in such a furious rage he doesn’t notice until it’s almost too late that he’s racing into bullets and then zooming straight for the precipitous edge of an unfinished off-ramp.

 

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and Skyfall (2012)

There’s more action than plot in Bond 18, but one of the highlights is a nifty motorbike chase through the crowded streets, along rickety balconies, and atop the ramshackle rooftops of Saigon. Complicating matters: Bond and his girl-du-jour Wai Lin are handcuffed together and must each take a handlebar in order to steer clear of henchmen who give chase on ground level in SUVs and from above in a low-flying helicopter. The opening sequence of Bond 23 harkens back to this scene, with Bond and an assassin racing cycles up stone steps and over the rooftops of Istanbul, into a plate glass window, through a bazaar, and finally off an overpass in order to catch a moving train. Also worth mention is the Alpine chase in Bond 12 For Your Eyes Only, during which a henchman on a motorbike with spiked tires and machine-gun handlebars pursues skiing 007 onto an icy bobsled track.

 

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

There are more car derbies and foot pursuits in the Bourne series that you can shake a camera at, and they all sort of blend into each other, but when our amnesiac hero hops on a two-wheeler to negotiate the steep and narrow steps and passageways of Tangier midway through his third adventure, it’s the first time since the original film that an action sequence has felt so fresh. It helps that director Paul Greengrass and his cinematographer have tamped town the jittery and over-zoomed photography that made the second installment The Bourne Supremacy such a cinematic migraine.

 

Mission: Impossible II (2000) and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Motorcycles feature prominently in two of the five (so far) M:I adventures. For the second film, director John Woo orchestrates a beautiful ballet of bullets, bodies, and biker mayhem, accented by his trademark use of stylish slow motion. The sequence is utterly ludicrous yet so expertly crafted you can’t help but hold on tight and enjoy the ride. For the fifth film, director Christopher McQuarrie goes the opposite direction, delivering an exhilarating full-throttle sequence with enough vroom-vroom action and frightening hairpin turns to give even the most daring cyclists white knuckles and whiplash. The stakes are higher because, unlike in M:I–2, the characters this time seem more human and the specter of death feels more palpable. Never before has a movie motorbike chase felt so much like an extreme sport.

 

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