As we get ready to go back racing again, fever is starting to build around the imminent release of Ron Howard’s movie Rush. With a few weeks to go until the world gets to see what I and some of my colleagues have already been fortunate enough to have viewed, I thought I’d run down a list (a personal list) of what I reckon are the top 10 racing movies of all time. Well… at least, the ones that I’ve seen anyway.
Oh, and before we get started, I haven’t included Senna or TT3D Closer to the Edge, as I thought the list should stick to movies rather than documentaries… so here we go:
2006 – John Lasseter – Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt
I’ve always been a huge fan of animation, and when Cars was released it combined two of my biggest loves. John Lasseter visited quite a few Grands Prix back in 2006 to promote the movie… not that he needed to. It was a huge smash. I don’t think we really need to explain the story of its success, the fact that Cars toys are still selling in huge numbers speaks volumes. Although based around NASCAR, Lasseter was smart enough to include voiceovers for important parts from famous racers in each territory so as to give it even more appeal. And when Cars 2 came out, the list of drivers wanting to take part in the film was huge. The best part of Cars 2 for me, however, was a cameo from my dear friend David Hobbscap.
9. Cannonball Run / Cannonball Run 2
1981 / 1984 – Hal Needham – Burt Reynolds + everyone cool
I’ve probably only included these as I was a huge fan as a kid. Actually it was probably because of Cannonball Run 2, which I watched religiously as a young lad… mostly because of Jill and Marcie, the Lambo girls. Wow. Anyway. Great fun, still a giggle 30 years later, and, of course, the spark that lit the fire of Gumball and all the other supercar road races that have sprung up in recent years. Classic fun and silliness.
8. Bobby Deerfield
1977 – Sydney Pollack – Al Pacino, Marthe Keller
Almost universally derided as an artsey arsefest, Bobby Deerfield is actually something of a hidden gem for the racing fan owing to its tie in with Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham F1 team in 1976. Al Pacino plays the hero, Bobby Deerfield, who for our purposes races for Brabham in Carlos Pace’s lid. The race footage is incredible, as is the behind the scenes look into the Brabham team. It’s a clear sign of Ecclestone’s business acumen that he should have allowed such brilliant access to Pollack’s crew. It’s a huge advert for Brabham and their sponsors. The story itself is a bit of an odd one. Reckless racer meets woman with mysterious and never fully explained illness. They fall in love, in the knowledge that ultimately both are facing death square in the face. It probably tries to be a little bit too profound, and as such misses the mark. It’s an uneasy watch, but at the same time bizarrely compelling. The racing footage is exquisite, though, and well worth a look.
7. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
2006 – Adam McKay – Will Ferrell, John C Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen.
A wonderful sideways look at NASCAR, Talladega Nights became a cult classic in the racing community almost over night. It takes all the things that those within racing mock themselves for, and exploits them for all the world to see. The story follows the life of Ricky Bobby, a NASCAR boltie who one day takes over the wheel from his team’s arrogant, lazy driver and instantly becomes a success. He has to face his wife leaving him for his best friend and his greatest challenge – the arrival of a French Formula 1 driver, played brilliantly by Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Ali G).
Irreverent, hilarious… it’s a comedic masterpiece of absolute silliness. Shake and Bake baby, Shake and Bake.
6. Days of Thunder
1990 – Tony Scott – Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Duvall
OK. Let’s be honest. It’s basically Top Gun with cars. But Days of Thunder remains a fan favourite and, on reflection, not a bad movie at all. Yes it’s cheesy, yes it makes the ultimate Hollywood gaff of dropping down a gear to go for the pass, but it’s just so bloody brilliant. If you need proof that it has stood the test of time, just look up the livery that Kurt Busch ran at Daytona this year. Yep… the lime green and yellow made famous in the film. Every racer, no matter his age, no matter his discipline knows the line “Rubbin is racin…” And, it seems, the movie sparked something in Tom Cruise, who over the past two decades has become something of the petrolhead, even testing a Red Bull F1 car at Willow Springs.
5. The World’s Fastest Indian
2005 – Roger Donaldson – Anthony Hopkins, Iain Rea, Tessa Mitchell
OK, not strictly a “racing” film, but The World’s Fastest Indian deserves a high billing on this list. If you haven’t seen it, the movie is the real life story of Burt Monroe (Hopkins), a New Zealander who set the land speed record on a 1920 Indian motorbike in 1967 at Bonneville. Hopkins puts in an Oscar-worthy performance as Monroe, and it is surprising that the film didn’t gain more traction. It’s a great movie, and well worth pulling up on Netflix.
1969 – James Goldstone – Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Robert Wagner
Like Bobby Deerfield, it’s a racing film where the racing plays second fiddle to a personal story, and just like Bobby Deerfield the story doesn’t exactly draw you in. Paul Newman is masterful as our hero Frank Capua who, in his ambition to take on the Indy 500, risks losing his wife to his rival. The counterpoint to all of this is the role of his step-son, who seems wise to the fact that his Mum is a bit of a cow and his racing Stepdad is a bit of a dude. Again, and like Deerfield, the racing scenes are glorious and knowing what we do about Newman the racer, it has proper pedigree.
3. Le Mans
1971 – Lee H Katzin – Steve McQueen, Siegfried Rauch, Elga Andersen
It’s a classic, but the plotline and script are horrific. Forget all of that, though… it’s one of the greatest racing movies ever made. Filmed beautifully, Le Mans gives over a phenomenal impression of the stress and emotion of racing at the highest levels. It’s also a snapshot in time of one of the greatest eras of Endurance racing. The film was a labor of love for McQueen, himself a tidy racer, and his love of the sport flows out of the screen. It’s not something you’re going to show your new squeeze if you want them to fall in love with the sport… or you. They’ll be asleep or out the door within the first 20 minutes. But if you have racing in your blood, you’ll already own a copy. On Blu Ray. And DVD. And VHS.
2. Grand Prix
1966 – John Frankenheimer – James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand
It’s funny how many people still slag this film off. Yes, it’s crushingly long and yes the story and script are a bit dodgy… but it was always, for me, the greatest racing film ever made. The racing footage is beyond compare. Considering when it was made, the on board scenes are astounding. The editing remains fresh and crisp 50 years on. And the sound… it gives you shivers. Few realise the film was a critical success too, picking up three Oscars (Best Sound Effects, Best Film Editing and Best Sound.) No other racing movie can claim such an accomplishment. It has always been one of my favourite movies, and it always will be. And personally, I don’t even mind the storyline. Cameos from all the major drivers of the day, incredible race footage and racing around the Monza banking… it doesn’t get much better.
2013 – Ron Howard – Daniel Bruhl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde
Is it a cop out to put this at #1? Is it because I work for NBC which is owned by Universal, who are putting out the film? Is it because it is flavor of the month?
Rush is, quite simply, the best racing movie ever made. I was blown away and, in its finale, moved to tears. It is the movie that racing fans have been waiting 50 years to see… possibly even longer. Hyperbole? Again, no. Rush is a masterpiece.
First the negatives… if you are a racing nut there are a few little elements that will annoy. There’s a bit of poetic license used in the season’s ebb and flow, and you may want to pull your hair out when Paul Ricard clearly isn’t Ricard, when Monza quite clearly isn’t Monza… but if these things annoy you then you’re missing the point. Look past your inner geek and simply enjoy the spectacle of what is an awesome movie.
I get the feeling most non-F1 fans will go to see Hemsworth. But they will leave remembering Bruhl. This may be pitched as focusing on James Hunt, but Rush is Niki’s tale. If Daniel Bruhl isn’t nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, I’ll be shocked. I don’t think I’ve seen an actor so become his subject since Tom Hardy’s breakthrough performance as Bronson. Bruhl doesn’t just play Niki Lauda… he IS Niki Lauda.
Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is perfect, the pace of the film is fast but allows sufficient breathing space, the script is nailed, the casting and performances are spot on… and it looks glorious.
Ron Howard has taken a story we all know and a sport we all love, and has produced a staggering work of beauty, brutality and brilliance.
I loved every minute of it… and I have a feeling you will too.