Staying home? 7 lesser-known car movies you need to binge watch
With an avalanche of events canceled, much of the sports world shut down, and U.S. government officials urging folks to stay home in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, perhaps you’re in need of some virus-free entertainment ideas for this weekend and beyond. How ’bout a movie?
Coming up with a list of great car movies (and movies with great cars) is always fun and easy, which is why we keep doing it. We’ve already written about the 7 Greatest Racing Movies, 11 Greatest Movie Muscle Cars, and Top 15 Movie Cars, just to name a few. And here we go again.
You likely know most of the usual automotive suspects. For great on-track action there’s Ford v Ferrari, Le Mans, Grand Prix, Rush, Senna, Heart Like a Wheel, On Any Sunday, and even Days of Thunder (if you can push past the hokey storyline). The Art of Racing in the Rain is definitely worth a look, even though it’s more drama than racing (providing a nice compromise for couples who can’t agree on a genre). Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is ridiculous fun, as are Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run, and The Gumball Rally.
The Fast and the Furious series is filled with non-stop action, too, and there are plenty of iconic stars and iconic cars to watch in Bullitt, American Graffiti, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Death Proof, White Lightning, Hooper, The Seven-Ups, Gone in Sixty Seconds (both versions), The Italian Job (both versions), The French Connection, The Bourne Supremacy, the John Wick series, Baby Driver, and 6 Underground.
For something slightly different, there’s Rendezvous, a legendary short film that features a very fast Ferrari on an early-morning romp through Paris. For edge-of-your-seat frightening fun, there’s Vanishing Point, Duel, and, of course, Christine.
But you knew all that, right?
If you want to take your mind off the real-life crisis playing out around the world—and also introduce yourself to some lesser-known car films and one motorcycle flick—then wash your hands (for a full 20 seconds, please), sit back, and escape reality with one of these seven gems, listed in the order they were released.
The Racers (1955)
Based on a novel of the same name, Italian bus driver Gino Borgesa (Kirk Douglas) dreams of racing an F1 car on the world stage. He’s Kirk Douglas, so of course he gets there, but in a focused pursuit to win at all costs, he alienates his fellow drivers and pretty much everybody else. Then he meets Nicole (Bella Darvi) and his priorities change. Decent racing action (based on the special effects capabilities at the time, anyway), and hey, it’s Kirk Douglas. Bonus: you can watch it for free on YouTube.
Thunder Road (1958)
Harkening back to the days when Junior Johnson went from moonshine runner to NASCAR star, Thunder Road is the story of bootlegger Luke Doolin (Robert Mitchum), who makes high-speed illegal alcohol deliveries in his 1950 Ford two-door coupe with “a racing mill under its hood.” Raise a glass and enjoy this black-and-white film about a hard-driving Tennessee runner in an endless cat-and-mouse game with the authorities and the mob.
Elvis Presley. Nancy Sinatra. Stock car racing. Music. Sexual tension. Sounds like a hit movie, kids. We’ll let the trailer tell it: “Elvis and Nancy are a sensation. Together they’re a winning combination—on the speedway. He’s a high-flying stock car jockey with a room full of trophies [who likes] to live dangerously… Elvis has a one-track mind and a winning streak that couldn’t be broken, until he found a gorgeous groupie government agent in a slipstream. When they get together, something’s gotta give… and give… and give.” That Elvis could seriously be a star.
Long before Charlie Sheen made “winning” an oft-repeated joke, Paul Newman starred in a racing movie about a driver who dreams of winning the big one (where have we heard that before?) but runs the risk of losing his wife (Newman’s real-life bride Joanne Woodward) in the process. Newman looks every bit the part of a race car driver—which is no coincidence. While training for the movie at the Bondurant Racing School, he fell in love with the sport and became a championship racer in his 40s. Winning is where it all began. Enjoy.
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Two-Lane Blacktop is about as good as you’d expect from a movie whose biggest stars are a pair of real-life musicians, James Taylor and Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. And yes, the descriptors are hokey: “Their lives begin at 140 mph” and “The far-out world of the high-speed scene!” But hey, it has its fans. In fact, Esquire magazine liked Two-Lane Blacktop so much that it put it on its cover, along with the words “Our nomination for movie of the year,” and published the entire screenplay. Honestly, it isn’t worth all that, but it has stars and cars—a 1955 Chevrolet 150 two-door sedan drag car and a 1970 Pontiac GTO racing cross-country for pink slips, so roll with it.
Greased Lightning (1977)
Greased Lightning is the underrated, entertaining true story of Wendall Scott, a taxi driver and bootlegger who became the first black driver to win a NASCAR Grand National Series race. Fighting racism at every turn, he “would let absolutely nothing stand in his way” (there’s that theme again). Scott, played by comedy legend Richard Pryor, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015. Watch Greased Lightning and you’ll know why.
The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)
Anthony Hopkins stars as 68-year-old New Zealander Burt Munro, who after a lifetime of perfecting his classic 1920 Indian motorcycle, sets off to test it (and himself) on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. With the odds against him, can Bruno fulfill his dreams and set a land-speed record? Enjoy this uplifting true story written and directed by Roger Donaldson, who earlier in his career filmed a documentary about the real Munro.
Have a lesser-known but still beloved automotive flick you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.