Best Racing Movies: Top 5 Movies that Perfectly Capture the Thrill of Racing
Racing movies tap into our primal urges for competition and thrilling adventures. Not everyone can slip behind the wheel of a souped-up racer and attack the pavement in an after-hours street race, but anyone can appreciate the visceral excitement that energizes the racers in a good racing movie. The very best movies are able to capture a sliver of the adrenaline rush that accompanies a true race, bringing movie viewers along for the ride of their lives.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
“The Fast and the Furious,” released in 2001, follows undercover cop Brian O’Connor as he descends into the world of high-speed underground racing to find a gang of thieves who use heavily modified Honda Civics to hijack trucks on the freeway. As Brian discovers a love for street racing, he’s forced to choose between his responsibilities to the police force and the camaraderie of his adopted crew of street racers.
Vin Diesel and Paul Walker star in director Rob Cohen’s film, which brings the thrill of racing tuner cars to the movie-going public. The action never lets up in this film as it seamlessly transitions from racing sequences to action set pieces. Cohen was inspired to make the film, which topped the box office and eventually brought in more than $207 million, after reading about street racing and watching an actual street race himself.
There’s plenty of automotive love in this film as it shows viewers the true performance limits of many of the most legendary tuner cars; featured cars include a Mazda RX-7, a Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX, a Toyota Supra 2JZ and the obligatory Honda Civics.
Furious 7 (2015)
The success of “The Fast and the Furious” spawned a number of sequels, and “Furious 7,” released in 2015, is considered one of the best entries in the series. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker return as Dom and Brian, with a supporting cast including Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez and Tyrese Gibson. Dom and his gang, having earned amnesty for their crimes, attempt to settle back in to normal life.
However, when a vengeance-seeking international assassin begins targeting the crew, they’re forced to return to the world of adrenaline-filled automotive action and over-the-top heists. Director James Wan knew exactly what fans of the franchise wanted and delivered in droves; highlights of the film included a chase scene that ends with a car nitro-boosting into the air to take down a helicopter mid-flight.
The fast cars and faster action in “Furious 7” propelled it to box office heights; it earned $1.5 billion worldwide and became the sixth-highest grossing film of all time. Car lovers may cringe as they watch the movie, however; although it features more than 300 gorgeous, high-performance cars, more than 230 cars were destroyed during the filming of “Furious 7.”
Death Race (2008)
“Death Race,” released in 2008, imagines a world in which the collapse of the American economy has created a system of crowded privatized prisons. When Jensen Ames, a former NASCAR driver played by Jason Statham, is framed for his wife’s murder, he finds himself thrust into one such prison.
The prison warden, played by Joan Allen, convinces Jensen to compete in the titular Death Race, a lethal race featuring souped-up cars outfitted with military hardware. If he can win out against Machine Gun Joe, played by Tyrese Gibson, then Jensen can earn his freedom. Although panned by critics, “Death Race” was a success with audiences; the ridiculous scenes of automotive carnage may not have made much sense, but they were plenty of fun to watch.
It grossed more than $75 million at the box office. Beneath all the machine guns, armor plating and spikes, sharp-eyed viewers can spot a 1980 Porsche 911, a 2006 Ford Mustang GT A80 and a 2004 Dodge Ram 3500, among others.
“Senna” is a documentary that follows the life and short racing career of Ayrton Senna, a Brazilian Formula One racer who won the world championship three times. The film, released in 2010, begins following Senna after his debut in the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix and follows his career until his death in a racing accident in the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix.
Director Asif Kapadia stitched the movie together through archived race footage and home movies donated by Senna’s surviving family members; although the film is packed with action and drama, it offers no narration, allowing the footage to speak for itself. Senna’s rivalry with one-time teammate Alain Prost is a major focus of the documentary, along with Senna’s unfortunately prescient efforts to improve the safety of Formula One racing.
With its exciting race action, “Senna” is unusually fun to watch for a documentary, and the intimate details provided by the home video footage give viewers an unusually close glimpse into the mind of a championship racer. The film grossed $10.9 million at the box office and featured a number of high-performance Formula One cars.
“Rush,” a 2013 film directed by Ron Howard, dramatizes the real-life rivalry between two Formula One drivers who rose to prominence in the late 1970s. James Hunt, an Englishman, fuels his racing with passion and emotion; Niki Lauda, an Austrian, is a prodigy who relies on practice and precision. In 1970, the two meet for the first time on the track in a Formula Three race; they both crash during the race, but Hunt eventually wins the race.
As the two mature into Formula One drivers, they develop a fierce rivalry, each propelling the other to great heights. Competition and tragedy drive the action-packed 1976 race season, and their lives both on and off the track during this pivotal season form the bulk of the film. Chris Hemsworth stars as Hunt, and Daniel Brühl co-stars as Lauda.
The film brought in more than $90 million at the box office, propelled to success by its real-life drama and seamless blending of both racing and personal drama. Racing fans will enjoy the Ferrari and McLaren Formula One vehicles driven by the two lead racers.
Talladega Nights (2006)
In “Talladega Nights,” Will Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, a fictional driver who dreams of driving fast. The film showcases Ricky’s sudden rise to fame as a NASCAR driver after working on the pit crew for a failing driver; when he steps in for the last-place driver, he unexpectedly finishes the race in third place, propelling Ricky to instant stardom.
He uses his newfound influence to secure a driving job for his best friend, but a formidable Formula One driver and a traumatizing crash shatter Ricky’s dreams of NASCAR success. Sacha Baron Cohen, John C. Reilly and Michael Clarke Duncan also star in Adam McKay’s sports-comedy film, which was released in 2006.
Its combination of exciting stock car racing and the comedic antics of its accomplished cast helped propel the film to a $163 million box office success. As should be expected of a film about a NASCAR driver, the most notable cars in the film are the variety of stock cars that populate the races, especially Ricky Bobby’s #26 Wonder Bread car.
By capturing a piece of the excitement of real racing, racing films are often highly successful. Fans of these movies keep coming back for more, and film makers who can tap that devotion can transform niche franchises into huge moneymakers. For as long as there are auto enthusiasts and fledgling auto fans, racing movies will continue to be successful. There’s no doubt that there will be no shortage of great racing movies in 2017 and beyond.