What’s the best racing car movie of all time? It’s a difficult question, that’s for sure, because there are plenty of racing movies to choose from.
The best racing car movies of all time
With the release of Le Mans ’66 in UK cinemas tomorrow (Friday 15th November), however, it seems like a perfect opportunity to look at motorsport on the big screen and decide on a few favourites.
We won’t say which one is best, but we’re confident every movie here deserves a place on our list – wouldn’t you agree? Let the arguments begin…
The three-time world champion Ayrton Senna is undoubtedly one of the greatest drivers of all time, and to some, even though his title tally doesn’t match the likes of Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, or his fiercest rival Alain Prost, he is the greatest. The documentary Senna, directed by Asif Kapadia, beautifully illustrates Senna’s life, from his early kart races and his first world championship, to his controversial clash with Prost at Suzuka in 1990 and his fatal accident at Imola in 1994.
Directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, Rush tells the tale of one of the grittiest rivalries in motorsport – that of James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Both drivers rose up through the junior ranks before breaking onto the big stage in the early 1970s. Their animosity towards each other pushed them both to extremes, contributing not only to their success but also their failures – Hunt fell into the world of drugs and alcohol, while Lauda’s insatiable appetite for winning arguably resulted in his near-fatal accident at the Nürburgring in 1976. If you’re a fan of Formula 1, you need to watch Rush.
Talladega Nights, 2006
Directed by Adam McKay, who’s directorial debut was the incredible Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, comedy sensation Talladega Nights illustrates the life of a fast but perpetually confused fictional NASCAR driver named Ricky Bobby, as played by Will Ferrell. Filmed at tracks across North Carolina, including Charlotte Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, Bobby is a NASCAR legend with the world at his feet who faces a new rival, Jean Girard. Making the switch from Formula 1 to NASCAR, Girard, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, is intent on making Bobby’s life as difficult as possible. It’s a dramatic tale that features more NASCAR clichés than you can shake a stick at. Interestingly there are some real NASCAR drivers in the movie, too, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray.
Days of Thunder, 1990
While not a true story (it’s not about Jeff Gordon, as some seem to believe), it is an absolute ‘90s classic. Days of Thunder (directed by Tony Scott)follows the dramatic entrance of Cole Trickle, played by action man Tom Cruise, to the competitive NASCAR grid (Cruise wanted to perform his own stunts, as he does in many films, but he was refused for insurance reasons). His ambition was to win the Indy 500, but with a stalling single-seater career he makes the switch to stock cars and the Daytona 500. That ambition gets the better of him, resulting in a high-speed crash and a stint in hospital with serious injuries. It doesn’t take long for Trickle to be back on his feet, however, and with the bit between his teeth he makes his ultimate push for the Daytona 500 crown.
Le Mans, 1971
If you’re looking for realism, you’ll appreciate Le Mans. Starring Steve McQueen and filmed on location from June to November 1970, the film’s director Lee H Katzin didn’t just use footage from the 1970 Le Mans 24, he actually entered a Porsche 908/2 (the same car that McQueen raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring) fitted with full size film cameras to capture onboard action. McQueen himself was due to enter the race paired with Jackie Stewart in a Porsche 917, but the race organisers refused entry to the car – a crying shame!
And if you’re curious to know what happened to the 908/2 video car, it finished the race in ninth position and second in class, despite carrying a considerable amount of extra weight and having to stop for the reels of film to be changed! Sadly, it was disqualified after the race for failing to cover the minimum race distance.
An interesting, and little-known fact from Le Mans is that due to the cost of the Ferrari and Porsches, when cars were required to crash for movie purposes, the crew used mule Lola T70s clad in Ferrari and Porsche bodywork.
Grand Prix, 1966
A 1960s Formula 1 epic, Grand Prix follows four fictional racing drivers though an imagined 1966 season. While Hollywood legend James Garner starred as the main racer, Pete Aron, the film included appearances from Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill, Phil Hill, Chris Amon, Lorenzo Bandini, Bob Bondurant, Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Dan Gurney, Jo Schlesser, Jochen Rindt and many more – can you imagine it a modern motorsport film had most of the F1 grid on the credits?
It was the ninth highest grossing film of 1966, pulling in $20,845,000 in US and Canadian box offices, and was awarded three Academy Awards.
The Fast and the Furious, 2001
You might argue The Fast and the Furious shouldn’t be included on our list, but name a noughties film that made cars look cooler. The film begins with a criminal crew in three modified Honda Civics stealing a considerable amount of electronics from an HGV, after which undercover officer Brian O’Conner, played by Paul Walker, attempts to infiltrate the circle of street racer Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel. The only way to gain Toretto’s trust? But street racing, of course. If you haven’t seen The Fast and the Furious, might we recommend you have a day-long movie marathon, to take in all eight films and the single spin-off, totalling 1,094 minutes, or just over 18 hours.
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