This weekend the Ron Howard Formula One biopic Rush comes to theatres. At time of writing, I have yet to see the film, but friends and colleagues who’ve had a sneak preview assure me it’s well worth the price of admission. Just the ticket price that is, not the secondary mortgage required to buy a bag of popcorn and a small drink these days.
Still, with big budget special effects, it’s the kind of thing best seen on the big screen. But what if you’re after a quiet night in? What if your cat likes racing movies? What if you prefer a nice cold beer to a sack of oversalted popcorn? What then? Take heart — here’s a list of some of the other best racing movies of all time.
- Grand Prix (1966): James Garner’s primary contribution to the automotive world is, of course, the Rockford J-turn: accelerate backwards, then crank the wheel, shift gears and zoom off in a cloud of tire smoke, preferably while in a brown Pontiac Firebird. Before TV, Garner starred in this racing epic, also about Formula One of its day. Using real footage, as well as some staggeringly dangerous stunt work, Grand Prix boasts a very high level of realism, as well as cameos by nearly every racing driver of the period, from Jim Clark to Juan Manuel Fangio. The plot’s not exactly as thrilling as the racing, and the movie is stupefyingly long at 176 minutes (they could’ve called it the Fellowship of the Nürburgring), but Saul Bass’s cinematography puts you right in the action. The movie would eventually take home three Oscars and did well at the box office, too. A classic.
- Days Of Thunder (1990): Everyone’s complaint with this movie is that it’s basically just Top Gun with cars. OK, so here’s my plug for it: it’s basically Top Gun with cars. Cruise’s troubled and reckless Cole Trickle battles fear of crashing to win his first Daytona 500. I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler for you, it’s a Tom Cruise movie, and the good guy wins. This is not a very serious movie, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Possibly the best part is the scene where Cruise and his main rival race along the beach in a pair of rental cars, smashing against each other and basically beating the things to pieces.
- Senna (2010): Ayrton Senna died in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix. He was the last driver to be killed in a Formula One race, and his death is doubly tragic as it was so preventable — another driver was killed at the exact same corner the day before during qualifying. While the film of course discusses the death of the iconic Brazilian, it focuses more on the nature of his life, his ascendancy through the racing ranks, his consummate skill, his special ability to drive extremely fast in the rain. It’s a wonderful homage to a near-mythical racer, and one accessible even to people who know nothing about the history of Formula One.
- Love The Beast (2009): Eric Bana is an Australian actor best known for his roles in the Star Trek reboot, Black Hawk Down and Munich. He’s also bit weird when it comes to his car. Technically this movie is a bit less about Bana’s rally racing exploits than about his love of a 1974 Ford Falcon XB that he’s owned since he was 15, but it’s still a great flick. Jeremy Clarkson, Dr. Phil and Jay Leno all make appearances, talking about what makes us love cars so much. More important is the film’s portrayal of a connection with family and friends. Bana still keeps in touch with his childhood pals, and they all work on the Falcon (now seriously hot-rodded and race-prepped), entering it in the challenging Targa Tasmania where ... I won’t spoil it for you. Any gearhead worth their salt will come away from the film with a vague feeling of satisfaction and a strange urge to buy Mr. Bana a Foster’s at the earliest opportunity.
- Talladega Nights (2006): Yes, it’s another silly NASCAR movie. However, Will Ferrell’s ridiculous Ricky Bobby and John C. Reilly’s equally bumbling Cal Naughton Jr. go together like Shake and Bake. No, the racing is not particularly realistic. No, you won’t find hidden meanings or even any driving tips really. Yes, you will have a rollicking good time.
- Le Mans (1971): Everyone equates Steve McQueen with Bullitt. Well, after he did that pokey little art-house flick, he did this. Le Mans is not a very good movie, per se. It’s mostly just a bunch of endurance racing footage, all highly accurate and strung over the most skeletal of plots. And yet, in spite of this simple structure, it’s a movie that has stood the test of time simply because the footage is so amazing. People are nuts over it — the 911 McQueen drives in the opening sequence sold recently for $1.25 million.
- Honorable Mentions because I’ve run out of room: Bobby Deerfield (1977), Winning (1969), Cars (2006) and The Fast and the Furious (only joking).
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