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Coolest Movie-Stunt Sequences

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Dec 13, 2011 | 9:48am EST

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By now most movie fans have heard about Tom Cruise’s more-insane-than-couch-jumping decision to perform a series of harrowing stunts, himself, near the top of the world’s tallest building. It’s probably, at the very least, the craziest stunt pulled off by a big star without the aid of a stunt double, and the finished sequence in the film, this week’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, makes it all worthwhile (which is much easier to say as someone who didn’t have to perform said stunts). Here are the stunt sequences it rivals – the best, craziest such scenes of all time.

Death Proof: The Car Chase

The movie is about a (deranged, sadistic) stuntman, but it’s a real-life stuntwoman, Zoe Bell, who steals the show and single-handedly makes for one of the most exciting, insane stunt sequences in recent history. In Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Vanishing Point and other muscle-car revenge flicks, he clearly wouldn’t settle for CGI, and Bell – his stuntwoman on the Kill Bill movies – was game for his vision. That is REALLY her hanging off of the hood of that speeding, iconic 1970 Dodge Charger in the climactic chase scene, which took six weeks to shoot. Soooo worth it (for viewers).

The French Connection: The Train Chase

It is considered by many to be the chase-scene gold standard, and rightfully so; bonus points for the fact that most of the sequence is, in fact, real (not too many technological options in 1971). Star Gene Hackman, who does a good chunk of the driving, and the stuntmen involved, who, well, do the driving that was too dangerous for Hackman, both deserve a lot of credit, but director William Friedkin turned this sequence – in which Hackman’s Popeye Doyle chases down a hitman from below an elevated train – into an absolute masterpiece thanks to ingenious camerawork and quick cuts. Really, really quick cuts.

GoldenEye: The Bungee Jump

All James Bond movies show off impressive, elaborate stunt work; GoldenEye, namely its opening sequence, took things to a whole different level. In explanation, the scene is relatively simple: It’s a really long bungee jump from atop a dam. But stuntman Wayne Michaels could’ve died pretty easily during the shot (i.e., smacking against the wall at some point on the way down). And he set an all-time record for bungee jumping from a fixed object. And on-set anxiety. And audience amazement. Oh, and at the end of the jump, he manages to fire a gun, as seen in the movie. Not too shabby.

Speed: The Bus Jump

Pop quiz, hotshot: There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do? ! Answer: Whatever is necessary to keep the bus a-chuggin’, including jumping a 50-foot gap in the freeway. Stunt-wise, this sequence in the 1994 Keanu Reeves vehicle (hehe) is the film’s climax, and director’s Jan de Bont’s setup and execution are pretty damned thrilling, even for the most silly-stunt-jaded moviegoers among us. Never mind the fact that Mythbusters – and logic – totally disproved this stunt’s plausibility!

Jackie Chan’s Entire Career

His acting is often the butt of his movies’ joke – at least his American offerings, in which he’s typically paired with cinematic opposites, like the fast-talking Chris Tucker (Rush Hour franchise) and slow-talking Owen Wilson (Shanghai movies) – but Jackie Chan’s stunt work is seriously amazing. Throughout his nearly 40-year career, Chan has performed most of his own stunts, oftentimes at the risk and expense of his well-being … and insurance from studios! Say what you will about the latter part of his career and the so-called watering down of his stunts – if there were a lifetime-achievement Oscar for actors who perform their own stunts (perhaps with a catchier category name), Chan would win. He’ll probably just have to settle for the Taurus version of that award, though, which he won in 2002.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Steven Spielberg movies might be worthy of a Best Stunts of All Time list all their own, and Raiders could almost have ITS own list, but one sequence does tend to stand out in the Indiana Jones classic: Indy’s – er, Harrison Ford’s stunt double’s – improbable takeover of a truck … via horse.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

“You want outta this parking lot? OK.” Needless to say, Dan Aykroyd’s Elwood doesn’t follow that classic line up with a conventional exit but rather a, uh, longcut through a Toys ‘R’ Us, then a crowded mall, leaving the pursuing cops in his and Jake’s retail dust – and creating quite possibly the best-ever stunt sequence in a comedy.

Ben-Hur (1959)

One of the earliest examples of amazing stuntsmanship, this Charlton Heston Oscar sweeper featured the iconic chariot-race sequence, which required thousands of extras, the largest film set ever built and many weeks for fill-in director Andrew Marton to shoot. The result speaks for itself.

Vanishing Point (1971)

With all the ridiculous, over-the-top car stunts executed in this aforementioned Tarantino fave, it’s basically a made-for-videogame movie – you know, long before that really became a thing.

Bullitt (1968), Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)

See Vanishing Point, above.

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