The greatest car chase ever filmed turns 20 years old this week 1 month ago

The greatest car chase ever filmed turns 20 years old this week

Seven exhausting minutes of edge-of-the-seat crashes, explosions, and near-misses.

Released in cinemas in September 1998, Ronin had all of the potential of being a bit of an action classic.

Directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, French Connection II), with a script by David Mamet (The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross), and starring Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, and Jonathan Pryce, it had the elements of being ranked alongside some of the greatest thrillers of all time.

Instead, viewers were a bit meh'd by the plot involving a heavily guarded suitcase and different groups of people who wanted the suitcase (we never find out what is in the suitcase, by the way), and paid off the $55 million production with just $70 million at the worldwide box office.

While the movie as a whole went on to become somewhat forgettable, what nobody who ever caught the film can forget is that 7-minute centre-piece car chase, as the "good guys" and the "bad guys" drive at high speeds through the packed streets of Paris.

Frankenheimer didn't cheat at all with these scenes - the actors really were in those cars, usually driven by Formula One driver Jean-Pierre Jarier and high-performance drivers Jean-Claude Lagniez and Michel Neugarten at speeds of up to 100 mph. Additionally, there were no SFX or frame-rate adjustments. Everything was in camera, everything was real.

And it probably explains why DeNiro's face looks to be in a constant state of fear throughout the entire thing.

For this scene in particular, the production purchased four BMW 535is and five Peugeot 406s, and one of each was cut in half and towed by a Mercedes-Benz 500 E while the actors were in them. Right-hand drive versions of the cars were also purchased, with a dummy steering wheel installed on the left side so the actors could pretend to drive, all while the stunt drivers drove the speeding vehicles for real.

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It is a full four minutes before any kind of music begins in the scene, scored up to that point only by the noises of the cars and anything or anyone unfortunate enough to be in their path.

There were over 300 stunt drivers used for this scene alone, most of them used in the on-coming traffic we see as McElhone and then DeNiro's cars drive through the tunnel in the wrong direction.

The scene is yet to be bettered - although Paul Greengrass has tried in the Bourne sequels - and to this day, the panic of watching that lorry dip up on to two wheels as it careens towards our characters is one of the most greatest gasp-inducing stunts of all time.

So while we don't fully recommend you watch Ronin in full (it's grand, not bad, not good, just... grand), we really can't recommend you check out this car chase enough:

Clip via David Lister