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The Movie Driver Skill Matrix

Move over, Baby: We’ve rated the speed, skill, and coolness of Dom, Jules, Furiosa, Hoke Colburn, and the greatest car (and horse) drivers in film

(Columbia Pictures/FilmDistrict/Universal Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures/Ringer illustration)
(Columbia Pictures/FilmDistrict/Universal Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures/Ringer illustration)

Occasionally I will watch a new movie and it will end up being so good and great and fun and wonderful that I’m almost afraid to talk about or write about it for fear of giving anything away or ruining anything for anyone who’s yet to see it. (It almost always leads to me saying things like, "The movie was so good and great and fun and wonderful," as it were.) So far this year, it’s happened with Jordan Peele’s brilliant race horror movie Get Out, John Wick: Chapter 2, which somehow managed to take all the things that John Wick did well and do them even better, and Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, a masterwork in the superhero genre.

And now added to that list: Baby Driver, a Getaway Driver movie so interesting and excellent that the only thing I’m willing to tell you about it is there were several parts in it when, as a response to a thing that was happening onscreen, I gasped loudly or squealed in delight. Rather than get all the way into all of the parts of Baby Driver (which K. Austin Collins did here, and which I do not totally agree with since he didn’t call it a perfect movie), let’s do a different thing: Let’s do the Movie Driver Skill Matrix. This is it:

The Movie Driver Skill Matrix plots drivers from movies on a matrix based on what are, I would argue, the two most important variables about a person driving in a movie: does the driver drive fast or slow, and is the driver actually cool or is the driver supposed to be cool but is actually kind of dorky. The matrix, as matrices tend to, raises some questions:

I don’t understand why some of the movies I’m thinking of aren’t on this matrix. Where’s ‘Days of Thunder’? Where’s ‘Rush’? Where’s ‘Smokey and the Bandit’? Where’s ‘The Love Bug’? Where’s ‘Death Race’? Where’s ‘Taxi’? Where’s ‘Drive Angry’? Where’s ‘Locke’? Where’s ‘Collateral’? Where’s ‘Joy Ride’? Where’s the Michael Caine version of ‘The Italian Job’? Where’s ‘Ronin’? I could go on. This is the internet and I’m very angry about this.

This is an easy question to answer: All of those movies (and all of the rest of every movie that ever had a car scene) aren’t on the matrix because don’t be an idiot: How could they all even fit? Relax.

Why is Annie Porter from ‘Speed’ on here?

Because despite having (presumably) no training operating a city bus beforehand or even ever earning a commercial driver’s license, she (a) took over driving the bus after the actual driver had been shot, which is alone enough of a reason to champion her as a heroine; (b) didn’t freak out too much when she found out that there was a bomb on the bus that was going to explode if the bus went under 50 miles per hour; © kept the bus going above 50 miles per hour on the freeway in Los Angeles, and, I mean, I’ve been to Los Angeles about 20 different times and never one time have I ever been in a car that was able to get to 50 miles per hour on the freeway; (d) jumped the bus over a 50-foot gap on an unfinished part of an overpass, and I’d like to also mention here that the overpass was about 200 feet up in the air and so if she hadn’t been able to pull it off then everyone on the bus would’ve died; (e) held the bus steady enough for everyone to escape once they’d figured out a way to trick the bomber into thinking everyone was staying on the bus; and (f) just for extra credit she came up with a way to jerry-rig the bus so that it’d drive itself while she escaped with Jack. I’m not sure what else you’re looking for in a driver, really.

Why is Jules Winnfield from ‘Pulp Fiction’ on here? ‘Pulp Fiction’ isn’t a driving movie.

Let me answer that in two parts: First, Pulp Fiction isn’t a driving movie, sure, but it seemed silly to limit the scope of the matrix to only "driving movies" in search of fun and interesting movie drivers.

Second, I was actually uncertain of whether or not to include Jules on here, because there for sure is no scene in Pulp Fiction where he’s either (a) driving very fast and wild (like everyone on the entire right side of the matrix), or (b) driving slowly but in a way that served to magnify how cool he was in that moment, like, for example, Benjamin Bratt’s character, Che Rivera, in La Mission, or Morgan Freeman’s character, Hoke Colburn, in Driving Miss Daisy. But then I rewatched that scene where Jules and Vincent Vega are driving around with Martin in the backseat (Jules is the one driving, Vincent is in the passenger seat) and Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face.

When it happens, Jules hollers and he even flinches a tiny bit, as he should’ve, given that a gun just went off about 12 inches from his ear. But do you know what Jules doesn’t do? He doesn’t swerve the car. Not one single inch. Not one single centimeter. He keeps it absolutely and perfectly straight. One time when I was driving home from work a bee flew into my car through an open window, and you’d have thought people were shooting at me the way I reacted to it. Jules’s non-reaction proves he is a remarkable driver.

Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Revenant’ should not be on this matrix.

You’re probably right. There aren’t any cars in it. And for a person to be a driver, that person needs a car. (That’s why there aren’t any motorcyclists on here, or pilots, or boat captains, etc.) There is a horse, though. And remember that scene where he rode clean off the cliff because he was trying to escape from the Arikara? I know the "proper" phrase is to say that someone is "riding a horse" or that someone "rode a horse," but one could argue that in that particular situation he was driving that horse. One might even argue that he was driving the fuck out of that horse. A car is easy. A car, you just steer it and it goes where you tell it to. A horse doesn’t work like that. A horse can think, and feel, and react. It should’ve slowed down when it got to the edge of the cliff. It should’ve put the brakes on like, "Nah. I’m not doing that. I’m not jumping to my horse death." It didn’t, though. It jumped. Leo was driving it so well that it decided it was worth it to kill itself rather than to interrupt the driving brilliance that was happening on its back.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Is Ryan Gosling for real kind of dorky in ‘Drive’?

Yes. I’m sorry. I know this is coming as a great shock to you, what with it being Ryan Gosling and all. And what with him being very handsome and all. And what with him wearing gloves and making a very concerned face all the time in the movie and all. And what with him killing several people in especially violently cool ways and all. And what with him basically ruining his life to save someone else’s and all. And what with that incredible first getaway scene where he plays it so absolutely, entirely, totally, perfectly cool and all. But he’s kind of a dork. Mind you, he’s kind of a dork in the coolest possible way (which I think, save his character in The Big Short, is always the frequency he’s aiming for), but a dork is a dork, even when he’s not.

What’s ‘La Mission’?

La Mission (2009) is sort of a good movie but not an all-the-way good movie. In it, Benjamin Bratt plays Che Rivera, a reformed ex-convict who is ultra-masculine and also ultra-uncompromising in his views. He finds out that his teenage son, who he’s raising on his own, is gay, and so that’s where most of the conflict in the movie comes from (the other main conflict is that Che is an alcoholic and also physically abusive, which ruins things with the woman he’d become interested in and had wooed momentarily). As far as Movies With Mexicans That Feature Cars As Characters In Them, it’s considerably better than 1994’s Mi Vida Loca and a tiny bit better than 2016’s Lowriders.

As far as the driver angle is concerned, Che works as bus driver*, so that’s one way he’s a driver, but he also spends the majority of his spare time working on custom lowriders that he drives around with the other guys in his car club, and that’s the more important way he’s a driver. (My favorite line about the lowrider culture as an extension of Latino culture that I’ve ever heard in any movie happens in La Mission. Che, while trying to convince the woman he likes to go on a ride with him, says, "The thing about lowriding: We don’t really go anywhere, we just take our time getting there.")

*Che is another in a wonderful line of movie bus drivers. There’s him, there’s Lorenzo from A Bronx Tale, there’s Chris Farley’s cameo as one in Billy Madison, there’s Ray Charles’s cameo in Spy Hard, there’s Meat Loaf’s cameo in Spice World, there’s Pam Grier in Mars Attacks!, and more and more and more, and also a whole bunch of other times when someone in a movie drove a bus for a moment just because the plot called for it. (My dad has driven a city bus in San Antonio for over 30 years. Robert De Niro’s Lorenzo in A Bronx Tale, an all-time great movie character regarding traits of nobility and pride, is legit exactly who my dad is as a person and as a bus driver. I’ve mentioned that to him several times. He doesn’t ever seem to care, which is exactly how I’d expect Lorenzo to react if you were able to give him a very flattering compliment.)

Which movie driver here pulled off the most impossible driving feat?

They each did something truly impressive and unbelievable. We’ve already talked about the incredible things that Hugh Glass, Jules Winnfield, Annie Porter, the Driver in Drive, and Che Rivera all did. That leaves us with:

  1. Cleo Sims in Set It Off: Once the police had her cornered in the final chase of the movie, she took stock of the situation, realized it was over for her, hit a switch to make her lowrider car drop down lower, then drove headfirst at the police barricade they’d set up to stop her. She died. It was sad.
  2. Baby in Baby Driver: Again, I don’t want to spoil anything for you here, so I’ll just mention that clip they show in the trailer where he double-whips a car around two trucks in the same motion. It was incredible, and not even the best part.
  3. Dominic Toretto in the Fast & Furious franchise: LOL. Pick a thing. How about the time he defeated a submarine with his car?
  4. Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road: LOL. Pick a thing. How about the time she toppled an oligarchy with her car?
  5. Frank Martin in The Transporter: LOL. Pick a thing. How about the time he drove his car up on its two left wheels to squeeze through two 18-wheeler trucks?
  6. Louise in Thelma & Louise: She drove her car off a cliff because her and Thelma thought it was a better ending than being arrested.
  7. Hoke Colburn: He drove that old white woman around all that time, and was so overwhelmingly charming that by the end of the movie, with Miss Daisy realizing she’s dipping into dementia after years and years have passed, she tells Hoke that he’s her best friend. (A tiny sidebar: There’s a scene in the movie where Miss Daisy teaches Hoke to read in a cemetery. It’s a little uncomfortable to watch now, but a very dumb thing happened while I was doing so: As she teaches Hoke to read, she has him figure out what the first and last letters are of the name he’s trying to find on a tombstone. Hoke asks her if he needs the middle letters and she says no. He wanders off to find the tombstone he’s supposed to be looking for, and in my head as it was happening I was feeling bad and guilty for watching Morgan Freeman have to play a character that didn’t know how to read or spell. I was also, truth be told, feeling very smart and righteous because in my head I knew exactly how to fully spell the name he was looking for. Except the thing was, it turns out that I had spelled it wrong myself. I thought it was "Bower." It ended up being "Bauer." I was very embarrassed for myself.)
  8. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver: He was a taxi driver in New York.
  9. Lightning McQueen in Cars: He stopped literally just inches short of winning the Piston Cup, the most prestigious racing trophy in his specific movie universe, to go back and help out Strip "The King" Weathers, a legendary racer who’d crashed on the last lap of the championship race. His nemesis, the loathsome Chick Hicks, ended up winning it instead, blowing by McQueen as he reversed away from the finish line to help Strip. (Honestly, he should’ve just went on ahead and crossed the finish line and then gone back to help Strip. I suppose that makes for a less moving moment, though.)
  10. Marty McFly in Back to the Future: I don’t know. Probably the thing about how he drove back in time and then forward in time.
  11. Charlie Croker in The Italian Job: The chase scene through the tubes.
  12. Memphis Raines in Gone in 60 Seconds: Big picture: Orchestrating the heist of 50 cars in a single night. Small picture: Outrunning a helicopter.
  13. Jason Bourne in Jason Bourne: THE LAS VEGAS CHASE SCENE.
  14. Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: Ricky Bobby catches a whole bunch of [REDACTED] for being a big-time idiot, but it took no small amount of courage from him to get back in the car and race again after that devastating, devastating crash he had.

None of those are the most impossible thing, though. The most impossible thing was:

15. John Matrix in Commando: He pushed a Chevy Blazer to the edge of a mountain, hopped in it, then drove down the mountain with not only no brakes, but also no power steering, which is honestly more unbelievable than someone driving backward in time.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Is John Matrix’s Mountain Drive the most impossible driver feat of all if we include movies that weren’t included on the matrix?

Much as I’d like to say yes, the answer here is no. The most impossible driver feat ever pulled off in a movie is when Clark Griswold packed up his family and drove them across the country in 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation. One time one of my kids vomited so much in his car seat while he was sitting in it that it looked like he was in the nastiest, tiniest Jacuzzi. Another time, a different one of my kids threw a Power Rangers action figure at me WHILE I WAS DRIVING. I would rather go on a road trip in a car filled with snakes and spiders and bears than on a road trip in a car filled with my children.