Chicago’s best movie car chases: Before NASCAR, Batman and Blues Brothers raced on (and above) city streets

Can this weekend’s race deliver the thrill of a Cutlass Classic falling from Marina Towers or a Porsche fleeing Guido the Killer Pimp?

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A car goes flying from Marina City into the Chicago River in “The Hunter.”

Sun-Times file

We’ve never had anything quite like the NASCAR Cup Series race coming to our downtown streets this weekend — at least not in real life. With the Grant Park 220 just around the corner, and that corner, and that corner, here’s a look at some of the greatest cinematic chase sequences in the history of movies set in Chicago or the general area.

‘Batman Begins’ (2005)

Director Christopher Nolan wanted a Dark Knight story that was grounded in the real world, and he based the famous Tumbler sequence on “The French Connection” and other 1970s action films. A Mercedes ML55 with a robotically controlled crane arm provided a number of exhilarating, street-level shots, as the Tumbler roared through Lower Wacker Drive, flew over rooftops and crushed everything in its path. All of it was captured via a perfectly edited mix of practical effects and miniature models, with a touch of CGI. As Christian Bale once said of “Batman Begins,” being Batman was only the second best job on the set. The coolest gig was being the stunt driver who drove the Tumbler.

‘The Blues Brothers’ (1980)

The madcap chase through the defunct Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, with John Belushi’s Jake and Dan Aykroyd’s Elwood commenting on the various amenities (“Disco pants and haircuts” … “New Oldsmobiles are in early this year”) was just a warm-up for the spectacular extended sequence in which dozens of Chicago Police squads (and eventually some pathetic Illinois Nazis) chased the Blues Brothers down Lower Wacker Drive and the streets of the city before the Bluesmobile careened through the Richard J. Daley Center. The filmmakers reportedly purchased more than 60 old police cars and reinforced them with steel cages for the stunt. Few, if any, survived the filming.

‘The Hunter’ (1980)

In his final film before he succumbed to cancer at the age of 50, Steve McQueen played bounty hunter Ralph “Papa” Thorson, whose pursuit of a fugitive leads to an amazing chase through the twisting parking levels of one of the towers in the Marina City complex, with Thorson having commandeered a tow truck and the bad guy behind the wheel of a Cutlass Classic, which eventually goes flying from the 17th floor and landing with a fatal thud in the Chicago River. The scene was re-created for a 2006 Allstate commercial, with Dennis Haysbert saying in voice-over, “Now would be a good time for accident forgiveness. Are you in good hands?”

‘Jupiter Ascending’ (2015)

Who needs the Bluesmobile when you’re a genetically engineered super soldier with dog ears and really cool “flying boots” that give you the ability to fly? In the Wachowski siblings’ 2015 sci-fi space opera, Channing Tatum’s Caine Wise tells Mila Kunis’ Jupiter Jones to climb aboard for a Superman/Lois-type flight that turns into a thrilling battle sequence, taking them to the skies above downtown Chicago and eventually through the streets of the Loop before Caine takes control of a spacecraft, and let’s just say there’s quite a bit of collateral damage to our skyscrapers before a nifty landing near the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

‘Risky Business’ (1983)

“Will you do me a favor?” says Rebecca DeMornay’s Lana. “I just need a lift.” Moments later, Tom Cruise’s Joel, Lana and Joel’s friend Miles (Curtis Armstrong) are roaring away from the Drake Hotel in Joel’s father’s Porsche 928 and heading north, to the suburbs — but they’re soon racing for their lives, with Joe Pantoliano’s gun-toting Guido in hot pursuit as the Tangerine Dream soundtrack kicks in. “I don’t believe this,” says Miles. “I’ve got a trig mid-term tomorrow and I’m being chased by Guido the Killer Pimp.”

‘Running Scared’ (1986)

Peter Hyams’ enduring action-comedy starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as wisecracking Chicago police detectives features an extended chase sequence that’s not as epic as the “Blues Brothers” masterwork, but nearly as impressive. It starts at O’Hare Airport, with Hines’ Ray and Crystal’s Danny in a tricked-up, reinforced taxicab/undercover car in pursuit of Jimmy Smits’ drug dealer, Julio Gonzalez. (There’s also a nun and a priest in the back seat of the taxi; watch the movie to suss it all out.) The high-speed chase takes us to an airport runway (Pan Am Airlines!) and down I-190 before an extended sequence with both vehicles racing on the L, literally on the L, before coming to a halt at the LaSalle/Van Buren station — the same stop where Del and Neil say goodbye in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ (2011)

The Decepticons invade Chicago! Dripping with saturated colors and featuring director Michael Bay’s typically bombastic style, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” features a ridiculous but admittedly entertaining combo practical effects/CGI platter of destruction that will have Chicago-area construction crews repairing highways for decades.

Just like in real life!

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