The 7 greatest racing movies, according to Hagerty readers
Hollywood is all about drama and excitement, which explains why a good number of films revolving around cars have a racing base. Last week on the Hagerty Forums, we asked readers to call out their favorite racing movies. Here are the top seven picks.
The Steve McQueen classic. Most commenters noted that the opening scenes of McQueen puttering around in a Porsche 911 set the bar for the rest of the flick. From there the plot doesn’t really climb, but the exhaust note certainly does. The feeling of true race cars at full speed was not faked; footage shot during the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans was used to create the fictional race portrayed in the film.
The usage of genuine on-track footage carries over to the second-most-mentioned flick, Grand Prix. The 1966 movie centered around F1 racing—specifically, racing at the storied Monaco Grand Prix. Director John Frankenheimer’s initial plan to use standard camera tricks to capture 180-mph footage was left behind in favor of developing a rig attached to the side of a camera car that could remotely pan and tilt.
The Fast and The Furious
Love it or hate it, the effects of this street racing movie are now being felt in the car market. Even with the late Paul Walker playing lead, the cars were the stars that kicked off the seemingly never-ending stream of The Fast and The Furious sequels—and now, spinoffs. These films brought tuner culture out from the shadows and into the limelight. Jokes about import cars aside, some of the vehicles featured in the film were the real deal and packed big horsepower.
Ron Howard’s 2013 spectacle focused on the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt that grew large during the 1976 Formula 1 season. The racing of this era was a gauntlet, with racers risking everything each time they strapped into the seat of their open-wheeled racers. The reality of this massive risk is documented in the film, as it shows real footage that recorded Lauda’s Nürburgring crash, which left him disfigured for life. There is also CGI mixed in, which might be why some viewers preferred the more classic movies—although their plot lines were significantly less developed.
Heart Like a Wheel
Road and street racing movies seem to get all the glory, but Heart Like a Wheel tells the story of Shirley Muldowney, who broke through the glass ceiling of the NHRA and got her competition license for top fuel drag racing. The racing plays second fiddle to the story of Muldowney’s struggles to advance her racing career, but anytime we get to hear a nitro-fueled Hemi cackle and watch a slingshot smoke the tires, we’re happy.
The Brazilian Formula 1 phenom that was Ayrton Senna quickly marched through the lower ranks of racing before becoming a crowd favorite on the F1 circuit. The arc of his short career is documented in period footage, from his time in karts to the drama between him and Alain Prost. Unfortunately, we know how this one ends and it isn’t happy. A fitting tribute to a man who took life’s checkered flag too soon.
On Any Sunday
“Action-packed” is an understatement for On Any Sunday, which attempts to document the high-octane, throttle-twisting lifestyle of 1970s motorcycle enthusiasts. Bruce Brown (of Endless Summer fame) followed three of the top names of the era—Mert Lawwill, Steve McQueen, and Malcolm Smith—in an attempt to capture the “why” of motorcycle racing. Similar to the other mentions on this list, much of the racing is real and filmed in the heat of the action, which gives the film authenticity beyond belief.
Of course, if you want to chime in and have your voice heard, be sure to join the Hagerty Forums and take part in each week’s Question of the Week. This week we’re out to determine the best 1970s cars and are expecting a wide range of answers.