Car crashes on the screen – the movies that get your heart racing

Photo: Matt Hearne

In real life, car accidents are the last thing you want to see or experience. Even the mere thought of being involved in a car crash is enough to send shivers down your spine. Unfortunately, traffic accidents are a reality that happens everyday on roads all across the world. In the best-case scenario, one gets to walk away unharmed or with just a few minor injuries and a good scare. In more serious situations, road traffic accidents can result in serious physical and mental injuries, leading to long term disabilities or death.

However, when it comes to car crashes in movies, the situation is a lot less dramatic. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. People seem to have a strange fascination with car wrecks in movies and they enjoy watching these types of scenes. The more dramatic the crash, the better. It can’t be denied that there’s something extremely satisfying about seeing cars smash into each other, flip and roll off the highway, collide with anything they come across, or blow up on the screen. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush viewers get when such a terrible spectacle unfolds in front of their eyes, or the possibility to look at and analyse these dramatic incidents that are grounded in reality from afar, knowing they are completely out of danger.

Whatever the reason may be, the good news is there’s no shortage of adrenaline-packed movies where we get to see an abundance of chase scenes, fights, and of course a fair share of car crashes. The not so good news is that not all these movies do car crashes justice. Some movies miss the mark when portraying car accidents, while others turn crash scenes into pure works of art. So, let’s take a closer look at how car crashes are depicted on the screen and the movies that stand out in this respect.

A propensity for the extreme

Going back to the parallel between real-life accidents and the portrayal of car wrecks in movies, one can’t help but notice that most cineastes have a tendency to take things to an extreme. There are certainly more than a few films where car crashes are so outrageous that it’s impossible to find them realistic. And even the scenes that are credible still tend to be filmed in an overly dramatic manner.

But that makes perfect sense when you come to think about it. In the real world, fender benders, rollovers, head-on collisions and side-impacts are the most common types of accidents occurring on the road. We don’t often get to see cars flying up in the air and spinning theatrically or going up in smoke on the highway after a collision, or drivers and passengers being thrown out of their vehicles, although these things can sometimes happen.

But people don’t want to see something that’s ubiquitous and prevalent; they want to see the exceptions and the extreme events that one doesn’t come across every day. That’s why most often than not most movie makers choose to offer viewers the more intense version of these types of accidents, even if that means bending reality a bit. After all, shock value sells and brings good money for the film industry.

Movie car crashes to remember

That being said, car crashes in movies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Not every car wreck has to end up in an explosion or include some over the top effects to provide cinematic value. There are plenty of well-filmed car crashes worth mentioning that prove this point. It’s the movies that seamlessly combine the realness of a car crash with different cinematic elements that manage to draw attention and have a powerful impact on viewers. Here are some good examples in this respect.

No Country for Old Men

In No Country for Old Men, the slow pacing of the movie and the lack of sound are used to increase tension and suspense. That’s what makes the brutal scenes all the more impactful, including the car crash where Anton Chigurh played by Javier Bardem gets in a side-impact crash and is the only person who survives the accident. The scene is stripped off music and other cinematic effects that could distract the viewers’ attention form the rawness of the impact and Bardem’s chilling interpretation as his character struggles to process the sock, pain and trauma of the impact.

Final Destination 2

None of the Final Destination movies are for the faint of heart, and the freeway pile-up in the second movie of the series is definitely a sequence that’s not easy to digest. The disaster ensues when a logging truck spills its cargo across the highway, causing a gruesome domino effect of successive crashes that leave a trail of casualties in their wake.

The Fast and the Furious

The Fast and the Furious franchise includes more car crashes than we care to count, which is not surprising given the title and the theme of the series. However, there’s one scene in the first instalment in the franchise that stands out from the rest due to its abruptness and tension build-up. After an intense race where Dom shows off his driving skills by sprinting in front of a speeding train and avoiding the collision, he gets distracted for a split second and gets hit by a truck that sends his car flipping into the air over Brian’s car. We can safely say that no one saw that coming.

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight trets viewers with a car crash sequence that is less realistic but all the more thrilling because of that. We see Batman on his motorcycle trying to stop the Joker’s wild ride by tying his truck to some light poles and making the vehicle flip over onto its roof. It’s a quick and clean scene that hits the nail on the head.

Hopefully, we’ll get to see many more exciting car crashes in movies and avoid them in real life.