What’s this? A non-basketball post? I’ll admit I may have gotten a little too hoops-centric as of late (by “as of late” I mean yesterday, since I barely ever write anymore – I’m not proud of this), but it’s also NBA Playoff time, and with a maximum of seven games left in the season, I’m trying to get my money’s worth.
But perhaps just as great as basketball is summer movie season, which is upon us! Obviously, the most successful box office hit recently has been Fast and Furious 6, and for good reason, since it’s absolutely awesome. I haven’t even seen it yet, but I just know.
For the record, I was planning on seeing it the day it came out, but I decided to make my girlfriend watch the first five movies first so I could make her go with me, and this has taken longer than anticipated. We had to stop the other night right after the Dom vs. Hobbs battle royale in Fast Five, which, if you don’t remember, is the greatest moment in modern cinema. So hopefully we’ll get out and see number six soon.
But in the meantime, all of this “Fast and Something” hoopla has inspired me to think about the best driver characters in movie history. This started with a tweet I saw from ESPN’s Michael Smith on a similar topic, and then turned into a massive text discussion thread between me and my friends. Seriously, I’ve been thinking about this for weeks.
So the rankings below are the result of extensive discussion, countless hours of movie-viewing and research, and well-informed speculation. I present to you, The MulchPile’s first ever Best Movie Character Driver Power Rankings. My family must be so proud.
Honorable Mention (and why they didn’t crack the top 10)
- Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale): The Dark Knight Trilogy – We see some real slick driving in each of these movies, but I tend to think that the Bat Mobile/Cycle is doing most of the work. I’m sure Bruce has plenty of driving skill, but the degree of difficulty isn’t there.
- James Bond (Various Actors): The James Bond Films – Bond displays tons of driving prowess in the various movies (assuming he’s one singular character, which is debatable), but his abilities as an overall action hero tend to overshadow his skill behind the wheel. And like Batman, his cars give him too great an advantage.
- Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, kinda): The Cars Films – McQueen gets credit more for being the vehicle rather than driving himself. You wouldn’t credit someone for “driving” Usain Bolt, would you? Plus, McQueen just wasn’t hungry enough in Cars 2.
- Han (Sung Kang): F&F Tokyo Drift, 5+6 – Han is apparently a legendary driver by the time the story gets to Tokyo, so much so that he doesn’t even feel the need to race anymore. Because of this, however, we never really see any evidence of his ability. He does his job without issue in the other Fast movies, but never really stands out, and in Tokyo Drift, the first time we really see him drive he ends up dead. Despite being maybe the coolest character of the franchise, there’s just not enough evidence to make the list.
- Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker): F&F 1,2,4,5,6 – O’Connor is obviously regarded one of the lead drivers in the Fast crew, but here’s my beef: HE NEVER WINS. EVER. He gets dusted by Dom repeatedly, and the only time he beats Dom is because Toretto let him win. He’s even outdriven by Fenix Calderon in the fourth film. The only driver he consistently beats is Roman Pierce, which doesn’t mean anything.
- Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell): Talladega Nights, The Ballad of Ricky Bobby – Obviously a gifted driver, and you have to love the fact that he overcame a horrific driving injury. However, too much of his success came from the help of partner Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly). Shake N’ Bake might work on the track, but not on our list.
With those out of the way, let’s get to the cream of the crop:
10. Danny Zuko (John Travolta) – Grease
At first glance, Danny Zuko’s driving abilities seem pretty lame. He really only ever races once, and he doesn’t do much more than drive straight while his car gets sliced like a tin can. However, let’s consider the times; cars back then weren’t exactly equipped with the technology they have now, so the fact that Zuko can successfully navigate through a drainage area and pull off a jump while avoiding his opponent’s knife-wheels becomes more impressive. Not to mention, Zuko definitively destroyed acne scars, which is something we should all root for.
If Danny were a basketball player, he’d be George Mikan. He doesn’t seem all that great now, but in his era, he was a total stud. If we ever needed to invent a “Movie Character Driver” shot clock (or three second violation), it would be because of Zuko.
This section of drivers are forced to drive, rather than choosing to. They don’t drive because they love it, or because they’re car people. Instead, being an excellent driver is dictated by the demands of their larger occupation or position.
9. Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) – Speed
Managing to keep a bus running over 50mph isn’t necessarily the greatest feat ever, but doing so on city streets and through traffic is pretty damn excellent. Jack is also able to maneuver a sports car close enough to the bus to jump, which takes some additional skill. Plus, you know, he successfully jumps the bus off an unfinished freeway. If he’s good enough to make out with Sandra “I was pretty hot back then” Bullock, he’s definitely good enough for number nine on this list.
8. Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) – The Matrix Trilogy
The one knock on Trinity is that her driving abilities are downloaded, thus requiring less talent, but she shows more driving aptitude than the rest of Team Zion. Flying around 18-wheelers on a massive freeway while being shot at, handfighting in the car, and having a superhuman agent on your hood is nothing to sneeze at.
What makes Trinity an even more impressive driver is her performance on the Ducati motorcycle. She’s the only one on this list who really breaks out of anything other than a traditional car, and for that, she gets the eighth spot.
7. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) – Taken 1+2
(Can you BELIEVE there’s no clip on YouTube of the construction site scene from the first Taken? What a travesty.)
I’m sorry for the lack of a clip here, but just take(n) my word for it. Mills is able to navigate tough terrain, avoid gunshots, and not only evade enemy drivers, but make them kill themselves as well. All with an unconscious prostitute in the passenger seat. Very impressive stuff.
6. Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) – The Italian Job
My automatic instinct when thinking about this movie was that if anyone, Handsome Rob (Jason Statham) would be the top driver in the film since he’s the designated wheelman. But in reality, the only individual effort we see from Handsome Rob in the movie is him going 25mph in a doomed police chase. Otherwise, he just does the same driving as anyone else.
Instead, Charlie Croker performs the most impressive stunt when he avoids a helicopter (and Edward Norton’s mustache) and leaps over a parked car. Plus, he shows some great maneuvering in the parking lot and through traffic, earning him the six spot.
These guys drive well because they love cars. Their skills come from an extensive knowledge of what they’re driving, and how cars work. To them, being in the car is a spiritual endeavor, and at no other point are they truly at ease (I just gave myself goosebumps). There’s a very noticeable jump in ability from here on out.
5. Driver (Ryan Gosling) – Drive
Tons of versatility here, as the character simply known as “Driver” shows the more patient, stealthy side of driving in our first clip. He’s really the only character on this list who uses his knowledge of police protocol as part of his getaway strategy. The Driver teaches us that you don’t have to go 100mph or drift to be a master wheelman.
Then again, The Driver has no problem doing the flashy stuff too, as he drives in reverse, drifts, and tons of other cool stuff that I don’t know how to describe. Doing the whole thing without talking makes it even cooler.
4. Memphis Raines (Nicolas Cage) – Gone in Sixty Seconds
The “king of boosting” really struts his stuff in the Eleanor scene, as he drives backwards through alleyways and traffic at a ridiculously high speed. Really impressive stuff. Then he follows things up with some miraculous evasive driving, blows away a helicopter (!!!), and dominates a construction site before the car even has a scratch on it. OH AND THEN HE LEAPS OVER LIKE 100 CARS TO GET AWAY.
What separates these guys from their peers is the ability to formulate a plan as they’re driving, which indicates how easy it is for them to drive. Being able to focus on the larger picture while burning rubber is a skill that very few possess.
3. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) – The Bourne Trilogy:
What makes Bourne special is that he is able to drive horrendously crappy cars, yet still make his pursuers look like idiots. A Mini Cooper that was probably fitted with replacement parts from Siberia and a banged up taxi? We can’t be sure the other drivers on this list would be able to do more with less like Jason does.
2. Frank Martin (Jason Statham) – The Transporter Series:
(I think I like this scene in grainy Spanish even more than I like the real version.)
Frank Martin is the unquestioned ultimate getaway driver. He is a master of tight quarters and evasive moves. What makes him even cooler is his commitment to habit, detail, and precision.
Martin has a very impressive resume, with three movies’ worth of awesome car scenes. Why isn’t he number one, then? Well, his commitment to routine makes things more difficult at times, so he’s not quite adaptable enough.
1. Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) – F&F 1,3,4,5,6
Did you really think I would choose anyone else? Let’s start with Dom’s greatest quote; Paul Walker’s face of pure wonder just about sums up the way everyone should feel about Toretto at all times.
And really, living his life “one-quarter mile at a time” is what makes Toretto so great. Let’s relive his greatest triumphs…
DO YOU THINK ANYONE WHO LIVES THEIR LIFE MORE THAN ONE-QUARTER MILE AT A TIME COULD PULL THAT ISH OFF?!?!?!
THIS IS BRASILLLL!!!!
Okay, sorry, I blew my nitrous a little too early. Classic buster mistake. To look at this a little more analytically, however, Dom has it all. He’s obviously a master of the ten-second race, as he can downshift artfully and punch the throttle at just the right moment. We also know he’s a high-level drifter, since he’s worked his way to the top of the racing scene in Tokyo Drift. Alone, this isn’t enough to justify a number one spot, however.
The reason Dom deserves the crown is because he’s able to translate this racing skill into whatever the situation calls for. He’s a skilled combat driver, as we’ve seen him fire weapons while driving, or use his car (or safe) as a weapon. He can drive evasively, and he can also chase down people running from him.
Essentially, Dom’s the total package.
No Dom, but I do put out a fresh Corona for you. Thanks for being a legend.