If, like us, you can’t wait until December 25 to see Ferrari — the new Enzo Ferrari biopic starring Adam Driver in the titular role and Penelope Cruz as his wife Laura — or you just need more high-octane content, we’ve rounding up the best racing movies of all-time for your viewing pleasure. Now, these aren’t the best car-chase movies. There’s no campy Fast and Furious content in this list, and no points awarded for wild stunts or cool modified cars. (Sorry Mad Max: Fury Road.) These are the absolute best movies of all-time about motorsport, about chasing the chequered flag and the drivers who put their lives on the line for glory. It’s hard to capture all that in a movie, but these nine films absolutely do.
But First, FERRARI
Michael Mann, the director that brought us Heat and Miami Vice, is bringing his particular brand of high-stakes machismo to Ferrari, which premiers in Canadian theatres on December 25. Mann is on-record saying this is not a “racing movie” but, it’s about Enzo Ferrari, and, well, Il Commendatore himself was all about racing — and winning. Mann says it’s a film he’s wanted to make since he was a student, and as Patrick Dempsey told Book For Men, his attention to detail was impeccable. Judged by the trailer alone, we’re already willing to call it: the driving scenes in Ferrari are among of the finest ever put on film.
Ford v. Ferrari
Of course you should re-watch Ford v Ferrari. It’s the perfect aperitif to the Enzo biopic, highlighting just how powerful the house that Enzo built had already become by the late ‘60s. This is one of those films that could’ve been a cringe-fest of motorsport clichés, but the script cuts through it. The cast — Matt Damon, Christian Bale, and Jon Bernthal are you kidding! — turns a good movie into a great one. Initially released in 2019, Ford v Ferrari gets even better upon second viewing.
Way before there was Drive to Survive on Netflix, there was Rush. Director Ron Howard approaches his Apollo 13 zenith with this one, an unlikely Hollywood blockbuster that tracks the Formula 1 rivalry between British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian ace Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Despite the fact this is one of the great motorsports rivalries, Hunt and Lauda are hardly household names and Formula 1 was practically nowhere in America when Rush was released in 2013. It’s a minor miracle this movie got made, but we’re so glad it did.
Race for Glory
Wow! This one is coming out of nowhere, but it’ll hit theatres on January 5 and the potential is undeniable. Race for Glory tracks the deadly Group B rally era, which any car enthusiast will know all about, since Group B brought us some of the wildest, scariest cars the world has ever seen. Few drivers could tame these 600-horsepower off-road beasts and many lost their lives trying, which is why Group B rallying was eventually cancelled. “Daniel Brühl (The King’s Man) and Riccardo Scamarcio (A Haunting in Venice) star in a true David vs. Goliath story spotlighting the intense rivalry between Germany (Audi) and Italy (Lancia) at the 1983 Rally World Championships,” according to the official blurb. Special shout out here to the Lancia 037 that features prominently in the trailer; this Italian monster is one of our top 10 all-time favourite cars.
This is a heavy dose of ‘90s action-movie cheese, but two things make Thunderbolt stand out. The first one is Jackie Chan, who plays a character only he could pull off: a mechanic/racer who not only knows how to turn a wrench and hit an apex, but also kick-butt when a criminal gang kidnaps his sister. The film’s second standout feature is the sheer number of incredible and rare Japanese cars from the 1990s golden-era. Anyone who played Gran Turismo games on Playstation will appreciate the Spoon-tuned Honda Civic, the original NSX, Nissan GT-Rs, Subaru WRX, and the twin-turbo Mitsubishi GTO. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride.
The Last American Hero
This is the underdog of great NASCAR films. The favourite is the Tom Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder. Both are absolutely worth watching, but we’re highlighting The Last American Hero because it’s criminally underappreciated. It’s based on the life of moonshiner runner turned stock-car racer Junior Johnson, as told through Tom Wolfe’s famous 1965 feature published in Esquire. The brief reads: “He is a coon hunter, a rich man, an ex-whiskey runner, a good old boy who hard-charges stock cars at 175 m.p.h. Mother dog! He is the lead-footed chicken farmer from Ronda, the true vision of the New South.” The film adaptation, released in 1973, stars a young Jeff Bridges who absolutely nails it.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
“You can’t have two number ones because that makes 11.” Talladega Nights is the perfect antidote to the seriousness of the other films on this list. We laughed harder upon re-watching it than we did in 2006 when it was released. Even by the lofty standards set by other Will Ferrell films, this one is so quotable; you’ll be annoying everyone around you for days. John C. Reilly and Sacha Baron Cohen co-star.
We’ve got to include John Frankenheimer’s triple Academy Award-winning Formula 1 film on any list of the best racing movies. In 1966, Frankenheimer raised the bar for driving scenes, strapping cameras directly onto racecars as they went flat-out, thereby giving audiences a never-before-seen view of what it was really like to race these terrifying (and deadly) machines. Fair warning though, Grand Prix is long, and probably features more racing than dialog. With its very-1960s split-screen shots and Frankenheimer’s particular aesthetic sensibility, you get a racing film that borders on art.
It’s delicious mood piece that’s not about racing, but certainly involves racing. Drive follows an un-named character played memorably by Ryan Gosling and that satin jacket. The chemistry with co-star Carey Mulligan is undeniable and the soundtrack kills. Director Nicolas Winding Refn and Gosling reportedly spent nights together just driving around at night, listening to music, and paired down the script until the sun came up. Special shout out to Gosling’s beat-up hot-rod too, an unglamorous 1973 Chevy Malibu which the actor wrenched on himself. A near-perfect film.