This is the ultimate list of stunts and stunt cars. Have you ever wondered what modifications filmmakers make so that a car can make an impressive jump? How about how they film the stunts? Or what makes a stunt car different from a regular car? Or just how the designers come up with the cars that you see on screen?
A lot of thought goes into building the vehicles and planning the stunts that you see on screen. Everything, from planning the sequences to building the cars, from filming the stunts to filming the actors’ reactions as if they’re the ones driving, take meticulous planning and precision so that the crazy scenes you see in the cinema are as explosive, climatic, and impressive as they can be.
However, safety is also a concern (for some directors, as you will find out), so a lot of work also goes into making the cars and stunts as safe as possible, without diminishing how cool they look.
If you’re into your Fast and Furious, your James Bond, your Mad Max, or your car chases in any other film, and want to know a bit more about that movie magic that goes on behind the scenes to bring the stunts to life, then this is the list for you. Now, I’ve lined up the car and I’m driving up the ramp… Let’s take off!
20 Patenting a Jump
Have you ever been so sure you want to do a stunt that you patent it? Probably not, unless you’re a film director or just a big stunt enthusiast. But some people are.
James Bond’s infamous corkscrew jump in The Man with the Golden Gun sent an unassuming AMC Hornet X twisting 270 degrees over a broken bridge. Probably the most famous non-Aston Martin in the entire franchise, the stunt has gone down in the history books as one of the most impressive ever accomplished, and while the car was unmodified, the producers actually filed a patent for the jump itself.
According to howstuffworks.com, “the jump was thought up years before the movie was ever made and producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli took out patents on the jump to keep people from using it before it made its way into a film. The stunt was the first of its kind to use a computer to calculate the jump, borrowing the use of some of the most sophisticated computers at the time from Cornell University.”
The jump itself was allegedly first seen at a motor show, and producers Saltzman and Broccoli did not want anyone else to use it before they had a chance to.
19 Longest Stunt Jump
How far do you think a car can jump? 100 meters? 200 meters? How about a mile? That’s what Kenny Powers attempted.
Stepping in for stunt driver Ken Carter at late notice (are all stunt drivers named Ken?), Powers was attempting to drive a Lincoln Continental over a mile-wide section of the St Lawrence River that separates Canada and the United States of America.
The Lincoln Continental itself was heavily modified for the jump, most notably by being rocket powered. Small wings were put on the doors, and its top speed was reportedly 280 miles per hour. The car was driven off an eight and a half story ramp to try to break countless world records.
Five years of planning and over one million dollars were wasted, however, when the car crashed, and failed to complete the jump. Luckily, the driver came out of it alive, but he broke his back in the process.
The dangers of being a stunt driver may seem obvious, but safety precautions must always be in place. The Lincoln in question deployed a parachute when it was on its descent to its demise, which likely saved Powers’ life.
18 Unplanned driving
For most car chases or stunts in films, a lot of preparation is necessary to close roads down, and fill them with “fake” cars, or cars driven by people who know that a film is being shot on that road, and have scripted places to be. This provides the utmost safety for both the stunt drivers and the public.
However, French director Claude Lelouch didn’t feel the need to shut down any roads or notify the police that he was filming his short film C'était un rendez-vous (English: It was a date). Lelouch attached a stabilized film camera to his Mercedes-Benz 450SEL, and drove through Paris at high speeds in order to meet a lady friend for a date.
His driving was pretty dangerous though, especially as the film was unplanned and therefore anyone featuring in it was a member of the general public. The Mercedes passes by the most famous French landmarks, but also ignores most traffic laws. It passes through red lights, drives on the pavements, and it goes the wrong direction down one-way streets.
Although it was an impressive film, with Lelouch claiming speeds of over 140mph through the French capital, the sound of the engine was actually made by Lelouch’s V12 Ferrari rather than the V8 Mercedes being driven in the film.
17 Crazy Stunts
The Fast and the Furious franchise is probably most well-known for its amazing vehicle stunts.
They’ve done everything, from landing a car on a yacht, to near misses with trains, to dragging a bank vault through the city streets. A personal favorite, however, is the cargo plane scene from Fast & Furious 7.
For those of you that haven’t seen the film (if you’d seen it you would remember this), the heroes of the film drive their cars out of the back of a cargo plane – in mid-air. The cars parachute down onto the road, and drive straight off, not stopping when they touch ground or anything. Impressive right?
It’s even more impressive when you find out that the only element of CGI in this was inserting the actors into the cars. The empty vehicles were actually thrown out of the back of a plane onto an arranged part of the Arizonan desert.
The landing was more difficult to perform, however, with The Telegraph reporting that “the vehicles were hoisted seven feet above the earth, where they each started their engines and were gently lowered, giving the impression of a smooth slide into driving mode”.
16 Basic Modifications
Nearly all cars involved in chase sequences in films have a lot of basic modifications, regardless of whether they are going to be involved in extreme stunts or just some fast driving.
First of all, the cars are heavily reinforced, and filmmakers (or their teams of mechanics) replace the majority of the frame of the car with heavier steel. This allows the cars to survive heavy hits, accidental or on purpose.
This also serves to protect the actor or stunt driver inside. This reinforcement is said to help a normal car to survive up to 10 crashes, rather than just the one.
Additionally, stunt cars will be fitted with roll cages. Kept out of shot, these line the inside of the car, and just help with the safety. If a car were to roll over, as a part of a stunt of if something went wrong, the roll cage will protect both vehicle and driver. The sides and roof will be reinforced, therefore stopping the car from crumpling and protecting those inside.
Protection and money-saving go hand in hand when filming long and expensive car chases, and both are in the minds of film directors when putting a climatic car chase into their film.
15 Furious modifications
Another problem they encountered when filming the Fast and Furious films was how to best capture a high speed car chase. The answer was by managing to engineer a specialized rig to do so. The “Mic Rig” was a half-car, half-camera hybrid. The back seats of the car were removed to incorporate cameras, and the whole car was put on the back of a truck which allowed it to be driven independently from the actors.
Obviously this was only used for the interior shots of the cars, but it’s an incredibly complicated modification to a car for these shots. The director obviously wanted to make it as realistic as possible, and the only way to do that was to have the truck carrying the Mic Rig car to match the movements that the stunt car had already performed, giving the impression that the actors were driving the stunt car, which they weren’t. Still, this must have been odd for the actors to have to pretend that they could see the road ahead out of the windscreen. But, I guess that’s just acting, pretending all the time. The ingenious Mic Rig has been utilized in countless films since, but it is by no means the only piece of filming equipment that heavily modifies a car.
14 Pursuit Cranes
Mad Max director George Miller pretty much exclusively used equipment from Pursuit Systems when filming 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Most commonly used was the Pursuit Crane, which is essentially a large crane put on top of a car, and offers 360 degree fields of vision for the camera operator, and requires a stunt driver to drive (obviously). By placing one of these in the middle of Immortan Joe’s mob of crazy cars, Miller was able to film any shot he wanted, from any angle.
According to their own website, “the Pursuit Crane is the result of years of design, engineering and testing to create the most capable stabilized remote crane in the industry. Tested over a grueling course at speeds in excess of one hundred twenty miles per hour and temperatures above 130 degrees, the Pursuit Crane is also completely impervious to rain and snow.”
Pursuit Systems recommend pairing the crane with their Porsche Cayenne camera car, which can manage 140 miles per hour, and the camera itself can manage a 360 degree pan in 4.5 seconds, allowing the ultimate maneuverability when filming.
13 Not all are that high tech, however
George Miller didn’t always have access to such technical marvels, however. For a POV shot of Max riding a motorbike in the original 1979 movie, a delicate balancing act was needed.
The driver of the motorbike, obviously unseen in the POV shot, had to lie as flat as possible to avoid being caught in camera. This undoubtedly restricted his visibility to near zero, but still he rode.
The cameraman was perched on the back of the motorbike, sitting sideways in order to shoulder the heavy camera. He was also not wearing a helmet, due to the fact that it would have been impossible to see what the camera was filming had he been wearing one.
What’s more, the pair had to share a seatbelt, because the bike only had one. Oh, and the unedited speedometer in the film shows that they’re traveling at 110 miles per hour. Both stunt driver and cameraman survived the crazy filming, however that may not have been the case if the bike had crashed, slid, hit a slight bump in the road, or anything else.
This just goes to show that you don’t need fancy equipment to film an amazing vehicle sequence, but maybe a helmet would be nice.
12 Michael Bay Camera Car
Michael Bay is famous for unnecessary explosions and unnecessary Transformers films, but he can also direct a pretty mean car chase. One thing he is known for is bringing viewers as close to the action as possible. This often requires cameras to go under rolling cars at high speeds, or to drive through fiery explosions. Aside from the tiny go-kart “Suicide Car” that Bay developed to nip into dangerous places to film the best angles and shots, he also invented the Bay Bomber.
The Bay Bomber was created for Bad Boys II, and it has cameras hanging off every surface, as well as huge amounts of fencing on the front so that the stunt driver to drive straight into other crashing cars, so that they flip into the camera. According to cracked.com, it was “designed to make it look like "a cameraman would have been killed shooting" the scene, which doesn't seem like such a far out possibility”.
This crazy car is Michael Bay’s own creation, but there are companies that do this sort of thing for you, such as Bickers. Read on to find out what they offer.
11 This company produces add-ons to make cool stunts
Bickers is a company that specializes not in camera cars, but in the changes you can make to normal cars to make them into stunt cars, or just to make them do stunts.
A popular option from Bickers is the POD car, a car with a man sat on top in a little roll cage. Like a high-tech Mic Rig from the Fast and Furious franchise, the POD can be attached to most automatic transmission vehicles to allow the actors to act, while not actually having to concentrate on driving. This specific rig has been used in British TV shows Eastenders and Hollyoaks, as well as some James Bond films.
Another of their products used in James Bond is the nitrogen powered piston. This is placed on the underside of a car in order to flip it when moving or when at a standstill. This particular version pushes the vehicle by exerting 26 tons of force, and can accelerate a vehicle from 0-60mph in 3 meters. At these speeds, it would be too dangerous to have a stunt performer in the car, but clever camerawork can make it look very impressive.
According to their website, “This system can be incorporated into a cable wrap rigging operation enabling the vehicle to be rolled violently, up to the point of vehicle destruction.” What a scary thought.
10 Setting chases to music
What could be better than a good old car chase? A car chase set to music perhaps? And no, I don’t mean a car chase with a soundtrack. Edgar Wright, who directed Baby Driver, meticulously planned the car chases so that everything would be in time with the music in question. Powerslides are the exact length of drum solos, jumps match pauses in the music, everything is perfect.
This required immense amounts of planning, and location scouting. Scouts had to find perfect corners that would take the precise number of seconds to turn around, and jumps that were the perfect height in order for the car to get just the right amount of time in the air.
With 95% of these sequences being shot on camera, and CGI only used for touching up close-up shots of actors and so on, there was no room for error. Many films add in famous local buildings in post-production, but Baby Driver filmed on location, meaning that if there was an accident, an historic building could potentially be destroyed. Luckily no such accidents happened, and everyone was kept safe by the immense planning on the parts of the directing team.
9 Car Mods
Obviously cars in films not only have to do the stunts, but they have to look the part. There’s no use letting a Peugeot 207 do a huge power slide away from the police, because it’s just not the same as watching a supercar do the same thing.
Making the modified cars is not an easy task. Back to the Fast and Furious films, Dennis McCarthy has been a long time car designer for the series. He starts with the engines, suspension, brakes and important bits, before testing the vehicle on a special course. They then adjust how much it bounces or oversteers to suit the camera, before finally making sure the car looks the part. Because all of the cars in the franchise are iconic big name brands, they need to look like the standard version of that car, rather than a hyper-modified stunt vehicle. This lets viewers believe that real, normal cars are doing the insane stunts that they see.
As well as making fully working car modifications, some cars made for the film were simply shells. For instance the Lykan Hypersport costs $3.4 million, so the ones that are destroyed are just replicas that cost a fraction of the price.
8 How to build an iconic car – that works for stunts
As with making the inside bits work, the iconic cars of the Fast and Furious franchise needed to look the part, too.
With the iconic Dodge Charger that appears in most of the Furious films, McCarthy told roadandtrack.com that they “start with a Charger shell but we put completely different suspension in it, Reilly Motorsports coilovers, rack and pinion steering, coilover 4-link rear suspension, so there's really very little left of the original Dodge Charger.”
Other, less iconic, cars, get a less severe treatment, however, and are mostly modified rather than completely rebuilt; “we modify the suspension, add some safety equipment that we need to add, we don't really need to add any performance to them because they perform great right out of the box, so that's a much easier picture car for us is going with new.”
This is the case for cars like the Nissan GTR, that only see light action, but require something that helps stunt drivers make, or more importantly land, the jumps. Because of the extensive changes made to it, the Dodge Charger in Furious 7 took the team two and a half months to create, whereas other cars could be turned around much quicker due to the ease of the modifications.
7 Who cares about safety?
According to stunt driver Terry Grant in an interview with wired.co.uk, safety has to be overlooked when modifying a stunt car. He said that most of the electronics that are built in to the car to make it safer to drive had to be overridden in order for it to perform stunts.
“We had to override nearly all of the electronics, such as the ESP and traction control, so it can allow me to perform my stunts. Again, these electronics are in place to make the car safe on the road as it's capable of reaching high speeds, but these mechanisms prevent the car from sliding, which isn’t handy for me.”
Slipping and sliding in a stunt car makes everything look so much cooler on the big screen, so it is no surprise that turning off settings like traction control are necessary to provide audiences with some extra excitement.
However, cars are also fitted with extra safety precautions such as roll cages, and stunt drivers often wear helmets, something not usually necessary for a standard commuter. As for what the best car is for doing stunts in, Grant has an emphatic answer. Read on to find out what it is…
6 What is the best car for performing stunts?
In the same interview, Grant believes that the best car for doing stunts in is the Lamborghini Gallardo. In a list of his favorite stunt cars that had some surprising entries such as the VW Beetle and the Renault Clio Sport 200, as well as rally classic Mitsubishi Evo 9 and the sporty TVR Sagaris, it is comforting to see a supercar top the list.
Why the Gallardo, though? He told Wired that “Thanks to its 5-liter engine, this car has immense power and is ideal for driving off ramps. It also has a very active four-wheel-drive system, which makes controlling the car easier. The carbon ceramic brakes can be found on all four wheels of the car, and comes in handy for when I’m making immediate stops. It can literally perform nearly all tricks, but I mostly use it for sliding.”
He does like his sliding, doesn’t he? The Lamborghini Gallardo has 562 brake horsepower and can go from 0-60mph in 3.3 seconds, making it one of the fastest cars on the road, despite being an older model. It also looks the part of a car that should be racing in a film. Its streamlined style really put Lamborghini on the map in the early 2000s, and it has become an iconic car, both for stunts and for normal driving.
For some scenes that require a car driving at speeds in reverse, there is a very interesting set up. The entirety of the inside of the car is changed to be backwards instead of forwards. We’re talking the engine in the boot, the rear window becoming the windscreen, the seats facing backwards, the whole lot. What essentially happens is the chassis is lifted off, turned 180 degrees, and put back on again.
What happens here is the driver sits in the seat, facing the rear window. He can then drive normally, but on film it looks like the car is reversing at high speeds, higher speeds than it could usually achieve, and it is safer as well. The stunt driver does not have to crane his neck and look over his shoulder to see where he is reversing, and the steering will take him in the direction that he turns, not the opposite way, so it saves on confusion too!
Stunt driving like this is quite rare, but featured heavily in the stunt show “Lights, Motors, Action!” at Disney theme parks across the world, as a part of a section where they revealed the secrets of car chases in films.
4 Ramps and maths
Getting some serious air in a stunt car seems like the coolest thing on the planet, but in reality it’s quite nerdy. After all, it is based on physics.
You’ve got to think about aerodynamics, speed versus mass, weight distribution, the angle of the ramp, everything. If you’re too fast when you go off the ramp, your car will just face-plant in the earth below. If you’re too slow, however, you won’t reach the target, be it another ramp or the other side of an obstacle.
Acceleration is also important to think about, though, as that dictates whether the nose of the car goes upwards or downwards in the air.
While in the air, there are countless things you can do to affect how the car moves. Applying the accelerator obviously doesn’t make the car go faster as the wheels are in mid-air, but their gyroscopic effects can impact the car’s orientation. The same goes for the brakes. And while seems implausible, in some cars it is. The more powerful the car, the more control you have using your throttle and brake. It’s not going to be the same in a hatchback or a Subaru, is it?
3 Pricey wheels
The most expensive stunt car ever sold at auction may surprise you.
It wasn’t, as you might think, Paul Walker’s orange Toyota Supra from the first Fast and Furious film. That iconic stunt car sold for £120,000 ($185,000) in 2015.
The most expensive was, in fact, the AMC Hornet X used in the famous corkscrew jump mentioned at the start of this list. It shows how iconic that scene was, and how big a franchise James Bond really is. It also shows that the producers were probably right to patent the jump!
The car sold for about $350,000, and comes complete with the modified seat and steering wheel used in the 1974 film. The single seat and steering wheel are positioned centrally in the car, so as to completely balance the weight to make sure the jump was perfect.
Someone somewhere is now the owner of a classic Bond car, and a piece of car chase history. The AMC probably took the most ambitious jump of its time, and without the help of CGI or post-production effects to make it look any more impressive, and therefore it deserved to be sold for the price of two Lamborghini Gallardos.
2 Fast and Furious and Smashing Things
How many cars would you say have been destroyed in the Fast and Furious franchise? Here’s a clue: it’s a lot. In fact, it’s nearly 1,500.
One thousand, four hundred, and eighty seven (1487) cars have been destroyed while filming and producing the seven films that make up the series. Let us break that down for you.
In the first film, The Fast and the Furious, 78 cars were destroyed. This set the standard, so nothing could go below this without feeling lackluster. In 2 Fast 2 Furious, they nearly doubled this figure, trashing 130 cars.
The odd one out of the series, Tokyo Drift, managed to total an astonishing 249 cars during filming, beating its sequel Fast & Furious, which only destroyed 190. Fast Five broke the record by 11, crunching through 260 cars, but Fast & Furious 6 took things to another level, battering through 350 vehicles. 350.
In comparison, 2015’s Furious 7 seems a little boring, as it only destroyed 230 cars. That’s a little disappointing. We don’t have the stats for Fate of the Furious, but it can be sure to add the tally in a meaningful way. Oh, and the likely cost of these cars? Insurethegap.com suggest it is over $575 million.
1 The best chase ever
Businessinsider.com took it upon themselves to rank the best car chases in history, and boy was it a list. All the films mentioned in this list have scenes that are on theirs, but their number one, the best car chase of all time, was apparently in 1971 William Friedkin film French Connection.
The scene combines dashboard cams with traditional car chase film methods, as Gene Hackman’s character Popeye Doyle chases a train through a busy city. A favorite part of the chase is when the car very nearly hits a woman with a pram as she is crossing the street. The scene has everything you need from a chase; excitement, car horns blaring, action, big crashes, tires squealing, the lot.
The tension created in the scene is probably what is best, though, created by footage and camera angles from cameras positioned on the noses of both the car and the train, which heightens the excitement and makes the viewer feel like they’re really in the car.
Is it really the best car chase of all time though? It could be, but it’s hard to say. There are just so many to choose from…
Sources: Howstuffworks.com, Telegraph.co.uk, Wired.co.uk, Filmmakermagazine.com