Car chases in movies have existed since the beginning of cinema’s storied timeline. They are one of the staples of the medium, occupying a special place in the pop-culture psyche. However, that isn’t what I’m here to talk about today. This is all about the impact of boat chases on film.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love a well-shot car chase. Mad Max: Fury Road is one my favourite films ever, and that’s essentially a 120-minute car chase. My main reason for writing this article is I feel that not enough credit is given to boat chases as a part of film history. There are always specific chases that are pointed to (which I’ll get to in a moment). But as a part of the bigger picture, I feel they have never been given their time in the sun. It’s time for me to do my small part to change that.
While I could completely fill this list with chases from the James Bond films, which feature many incredible examples of these scenes, I will attempt to keep the list fresh by only using two chases from Bond films. Without further ado, here are some of my favourite boat chases in cinema history.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
In my humblest of opinions, this is Guy Ritchie’s most underrated film. Nestled in the heart of the movie is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it boat chase that is certainly the shortest on this list. However, this one is the best shot and directed in my opinion. It has a soaking wet Henry Cavill eating a late-night meal while a romantic Italian song plays in the background. Who would say no to that? Really, though, this chase looks beautiful and is used for more than just an action set-piece as Ritchie brilliantly uses it to expand upon Cavill’s character. This chase is brilliant in that respect, and for that, it earns a place on my list.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
The World is Not Enoughwas Pierce Brosnan’s third outing as James Bond and is often considered one of the weakest entries in the series. It does, however, have an absolutely stellar boat chase. In pursuit of an assassin who helped detonate a bomb inside MI6, 007 commandeers Q’s “retirement boat,” and embarks on a heart-racing chase on the Thames (the moral conundrum of Q using taxpayer money to make a boat for his retirement will be saved for a later article). This chase is on this list simply because it feels so dangerous. Bond is in a very small one-man boat that seems perilously close to flipping on several occasions throughout the chase. I couldn’t say if it is the fastest chase on my list but it certainly feels that way, with Bond’s boat bouncing along in the assassin’s wake attempting to catch up to her much larger vessel, dodging machine-gun fire and grenades from the driver. This chase also includes some of Brosnan Bond’s classic touches, including destroying people’s property and ruining their days for absolutely no reason, and adjusting his tie while completely submerged in the boat. You can get a feel for his character in this chase. It’s more than an incredible action sequence.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Next up is Sir Roger Moore’s first appearance as 007, and what a premiere it is. Live and Let Die is a standout amongst his Bond films, almost entirely because of its incredible boat chase. Live and Let Die feels like a major step down in terms of scale compared to the latter days of the Connery era. With fewer gadgets and the world not at stake, Moore’s premiere instead relies on the charm of the characters and one massive action sequence that chronicles Bond’s escape from Mr. Big’s heroin farm in a high-speed boat chase through the Louisiana bayou. Despite being the oldest chase on this list it still manages to feel dangerous, fast, and brand new. 007 manages to take a standard speedboat and deftly avoid his pursuers without the need for gadgets or guns. Speedy runs through narrow channels lead up to what was the longest boat jump put on film at the time, spanning nearly 34 meters, and that’s only the first half of the chase. No words I can write will be able to do justice to this chase so I can only recommend watching it yourself.
Next up is what is arguably John Woo’s most successful foray into mainstream Hollywood filmmaking. Face/Off is a classic Woo film with over-the-top action put to the forefront of what I think is an incredibly interesting premise. Despite being nearly 20 years older than the newest chase on this list, Face/Off has the best looking boat chase out of all these picks. This is probably because it has the advantage of being a modern film but still has the wherewithal to use practical effects. I can also say it easily has some of the best stunt coordination I’ve seen in a film. Boats moving at high speeds can be incredibly dangerous and the stunt team had no qualms about hanging a man off the side of a boat going at incredible speeds. When you watch a film it isn’t often you get to come out and say a boat chase was your favourite part of it. But that is exactly what I got to do with Face/Off. It is easily the peak of this movie for me and easily earns a spot on my list of the best boat chases ever.
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)
The top spot for my favourite boat chase of all time is taken up by one of my favourite films of all time. In my opinion, the best of the Indiana Jones series. The Last Crusade has all the best parts of Indy movies and very few of the missteps that we see in other entries. This boat chase is the whole reason I decided to write this article. It crams the essentials into a three-and-half-minute sequence: humour, Harrison Ford yelling, big punches. And it all ends with a small boat going into a big propeller. Not to mention the whole thing is amplified tenfold by John Williams’ incredible score. It has the classic boat chase sequence where the small boats go between two big ships and are nearly, or in some cases completely, squished. Perhaps my favourite thing about it though is the fact that this chase, like many others, is set in Venice. But it has the balls to completely forget the canals and instead takes it into the harbour, a part of the city rarely seen in films. While the whole film boosts my good feelings toward this chase enough to make it my favourite ever, the chase has more than enough merit on its own to warrant the top position on this list.
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