Dyed in the wool Nascar fans are thrilled when a new racing movie comes out. It’s tough to decide which one is the best, because there are quite a few good ones. It comes down to a matter of preference, and what kind of story-line you prefer to go with your fast cars. Some are romance, others focus mostly on the cars, and others include a little bit of racing in the background. You can make your decision as you look through the top 20 racing movies of all time.
“Death Race 2000” (1975)
We go back into the 1970s for this Paul Bartel action film that amassed a cult following. The stars of this flick include Sylvester Stallone, David Carradine and Simone Griffeth. It was a futuristic attempt to show what the world would be like 25 years down the road. The setting is America in a dystopian culture that came about after civilization took a turn for the worst. The Transcontinental Road Race is the event that takes on a similar theme to the Gladiator competitions of ancient Rome. This new and barbaric form of national entertainment involves a road race that is filled with murderous plots and activities. It’s nice to be able to look backwards in time, some 43 years and say that the prediction about the future of the United States wasn’t even close to accuracy.
“Redline” has its share of fast cars and action scenes. It certainly looks like it took its inspiration from the “Fast and Furious” franchise. The plot is remarkably similar. It centers around some filthy rich dudes who loved placing wagers on their collection of supercars. They fund a street racing circle for their own enjoyment and entertainment. The film was written and produced by an auto enthusiast named Daniel Sadek, who lent his own private automobile collection for use in the making of the film. This is hard-core dedication to a passion. In fact, the title of this film is the name that had originally been chosen for the 2001 “The Fast and the Furious,” but it was discarded prior to release in favor of the one that gained popularity. “Redline” turned out to be a spectacular failure and money loser at the box office, but there were still people who thought it rocked. If you’re a fan of fast cars and street racing, then you might enjoy giving it a watch.
“Drive” is an auto racing film, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The movie is an adaptation of the 2005 novel written by James Sallis. Ryan Gosling stars alongside Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks in the story of an unnamed stunt performer working in Hollywood. He takes work on the side and serves as a getaway driver which adds a note of adventure to the film that does involve a lot of heavy driving, and doing so quickly. The film was popular at multiple film festivals prior to its official release in 2011.
“The Great Race” (1965)
“The Great Race” takes us back to a different era and is an amazing re-watch for anyone who would like to enjoy a little humor and nostalgia. It’s filled with slapstick comedy and stars Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. “The Great Race” does offer some comical driving scenes and is good for making you laugh. Other cast members are Keenan Wynn, Arthur O’ Connell, Peter Falk and Vivian Vance, of the “Lucy” show. Producers spared no expense in the making of the $12 million film which was a big hit in the mid-1960s, and it’s a classic film for anyone who enjoys combining their racing with a little slapstick funny business.
“Vanishing Point” (1997)
This film is a must-see for stock car racing fans who feel patriotic about country and the veterans who’ve served, then come back home to try to rebuild their lives. The movie is a remake of the 1971 film that gained immense popularity. The story centers around the life of a Gulf War who was also a former stock car racer. He returns after his service to deliver a hot 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner to the new owner in the state of New Mexico. He works as an automobile restoration technician who also delivers the vehicles upon completion. On the way back to respond to an emergency situation with his pregnant wife, Kowalski, played by Viggo Mortensen is pulled over by a cop, and this is where the real drama begins. Co-stars in the film are Jason Priestley, Keith David, Christine Elise and Peta Wilson.
“Speed Racer” (2008)
“Speed Racer” is the auto racing show that any anime fan can appreciate. It’s loosely based on the “Speed Racer” manga and anime series, created by Tatsunoko Productions. The Wachowskis directed and wrote the film which stars Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox, Richard RoundThitree, Susan Sarandon and a few other well-known actors. The story centers upon the life of an 18 year old auto racer who seeks to follow the career of his deceased brother in a touching drama that not only offers some exciting racing scenes, but also a darned good story to follow.
“Herbie: Fully Loaded” (2005)
This auto racing movie is for anyone who was entertained by watching “the love bug” in action. It’s a heartwarming comedy that features “Herbie” the truly amazing little VW. He doesn’t look like much of a race car, but he kicks butt on the track. The comedy film stars Michael Keaton as the father of racer Lindsay Lohan, Breckin Meyer as her brother, Matt Dillon as the competitor, and Justin Long as her mechanic and friend. This movie is not only nostalgic, but it features cameo appearances by some of the greatest race car drivers in NASCAR history, such as Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson.
“Stroker Ace” (1983)
“Stroker Ace” is another auto racing film that features cameo appearances by popular NASCAR drivers including Dale Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Benny Parsons, Tim Richmond, Richard Petty, Ricky Rudd, and Cale Yarborough. It’s the story of a NASCAR driver called Stroker Ace, played by Burt Reynolds. The film is an action comedy that features a lot of fast driving and humor interspersed in among the action. Loni Anderson, Parker Stevenson, Ned Beatty, Jim Nabors, and Bubba Smith co-star with Reynolds. The movie truly has a good balance of humor and action, and the cameos by some of the world’s best race car drivers helps it out tremendously.
“Driven” is a Renny Harlin film starring Sylvester Stallone. Sly wrote the film and produced the action drama about a young race car driver who attempts to win the Champ Car World Series auto racing championship. Stallone took this film seriously and he sought to gather all the information about Formula 1 racing that he possibly could, prior to the creation of the film. He even showed up to several races to learn what he could about the sport. He tried to be inconspicuous so he could keep his work on the upcoming film a secret until it was time for the revelation. As we all could guess though, it’s only human nature to wonder what Sly is up to when you see him at a car race looking curious.
“Furious 7” (2015)
“Furious 7” is the last of “The Fast and The Furious” films. It features fast cars and the men who drive them. It became even more popular because it features that last performance of the late Paul Walker, who has co-starred in the seven films along with Vin Diesel. In this action and street race car film, Jason Statham plays the character that is seeking revenge against Dominc Toretto, played by Vin Diesel and his entire family. Walker lost his life in a tragic auto accident half way through the filming. Production was delayed because of the terrible event, and when filming resumed, Paul’s brothers Cody and Caleb assisted in the completion of the film as stand ins for their brother, completing the scenes that he was to play. The final half of the film had to be completely re-written to bring closure to the series as Brewster’s character and Walker would no longer be part of the team. What makes this film so special to fans of Paul Walker is that it is a bittersweet movie that includes his final performance as an actor.
“Grand Prix” (1966)
“Grand Prix” is a popular auto racing movie from the 1960s that has become a classic for fans of fast cars. The action film features an international cast of actors and stars James Garner in the lead role along with co-stars Yves Montand, Eva Marie Saint, Jessica Walter, Brian Bedford, Toshiro Mifune, and Antonio Sabato. The movie was directed by John Frankenheimer. Of interest to race car enthusiasts is the fast that the character played by Toshiro Mifune is the owner of a racing team that is inspired by Soichciro Honda. The film featured some excellent cinematographic effects, being shot in Super Panavision 70, which was revolutionary in the 1960s. If you’re a fan of auto racing, or a James Garner admirer, this racing film comes highly recommended as a classic.
“Cars” is the American animated film that the Pixar Animation Studios created in conjunction with Walt Disney Pictures. It’s an adventure film that both children and adults will find entertaining. John Lasseter is the co-writer and director of the final independently produced film prior to its purchase by the Disney company. It tells the story of anthropomorphic cars and includes a host of other vehicles which are brought to life in the computer generated Pixar animation style that has became so popular with audiences in recent decades. Stars who loaned their voices for the characters include Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Paul Newman and Owen Wilson in the lead voice role. The film was released 12 years ago and is on its way to becoming a classic. If you’re a fan of cars, and you believe that each car has its own personality, then this is an entertaining look at them that is a must see, and bring your favorite kid along to watch it with you.
“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006)
“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” was released the same year that the Pixar animation “Cars” made the big screen. The main character in this auto racing film is Ricky Bobby, who is played by Will Ferrell. It’s a comedy that Ferrell pulls off expertly, but there are some very serious themes that run throughout the story. The movie delves deeply into the life of the race car driver, Ricky, who has always wanted to be like his father, Reese Bobby, who abandoned his family while Ricky was still a young boy. Ricky’s mom Lucy, is played by Jane Lynch, and his father by Gary Cole. Lucy feared that her son would end up being a daredevil driver. The film follows the life of Bobby as his wife leaves him for his best friend. He develops a terrible fear of driving and loses himself, along with his ability to drive, until his father returns just long enough to help get the boy back on track, and on the “racing” track. Ricky emerges victorious in this terrifically funny, yet heartwarming look into the life of an auto race car driver who encounters Murphy’s Law in action, but ends up on top somehow.
“Le Mans” (1971)
“Le Mans” is another classic auto race car film that was directed by Lee H. Katzin and stars the late great actor Steve McQueen in the leading role. Auto racing fans will truly enjoy the actual footage that was taken during the 24 hour race at Le Mans in June of 1970. The movie provides fans with an accurate depiction of what it is like to be an auto race car driver in the 1970s era. There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue in the film, but there is a ton of auto racing. This film helped to kick off a wave of American interest in the LeMans 24 hour race as Steve McQueen’s appearance in any film would be enough to create a following. The actor did a tremendous job in his role as a driver and if you haven’t seen it yet and you’re a fan of auto racing, it comes highly recommended.
“Death Race” (2008)
“Death Race” is an action film that is also a thriller as well as landing firmly in the American science fiction genre. It was produced, written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson and in the lead role, stars Jason Statham, who is the king of fast, when it comes to driving. If you’re familiar with the film “Death Race 2000,” then this may appear to be a remake, but it really isn’t. In an interview with Anderson, he made it very clear, that although definitely related, the film is not a remake, but rather, a prequel that gives you more background on the original story. It took six years to bring the movie to completion because of quibbling about early screenplays. Writing was started in 2002 and the film was not completed and released until 2008, but it was well worth the time and the effort, and if you’re a Statham fan along with fast cars, then you may want to give it a shot.
“Days of Thunder” (1990)
“Days of Thunder” is an American auto racing film starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in the leading roles, along with Randy Quaid, Cary Elwes, Robert Duvall, Michael Rooker and Caroline Williams co-starring. The film was released by Paramount Pictures, directed by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Tony Scott and produced by Don Simpson. If you like a good story that involves fast cars and cameo appearances by the real heroes of NASCAR, then this is one that you really should see. Rusty Wallace, Neil Bonnett and Harry Gant appear in the film, along with ESPN’s commentator Dr. Jerry Punch. The chemistry between the actors is truly amazing and the film will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The movie “Senna” is the true story of the famed race car driver who has been named as perhaps, the greatest auto racer who has ever walked the planet. The film details his racing as well as the personal life of Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian who came onto the Formula One racing scene in the 1980s with brilliance and a definite impact on the sport. He was a gifted driver, even at a young age. Senna was a Brazilian who sought to take the title in a sport that was predominantly European. Senna had a battle on his hands from day one, and although it was an uphill battle, he fought his way through as a purist in a world of cycnics. This is a biographical film that will inspire race car enthusiasts and any hopefuls who would like to believe that they too could have a shot in the sport. Senna is a movie that gives us a real look into the sport of Formula One racing and lays it all on the table. There is a lot more to the sport than driving a car. You have to position yourself to be admitted into the race before your talent for driving is even a consideration.
“Bullitt” is a Philip D’Antoni film directed by Peter Yates that stars the well-loved actor Steve McQueen. He’s joined by co-stars Robert Vaughn, Robert Duvall and actress Jacqueline Bisset. The film is a screenplay by Alan R. Trustman and Harry Kleiner, loosely based upon the 1963 Robert L. Fish Novel, “Mute Witness.” There is a lot of fast driving in this movie, although it’s not strictly about auto race car driving. There is enough high speed auto action to qualify it for inclusion in our top 20 list. “Bullitt” is an action, crime and police procedural movie that caught the attention of audiences when it first came out. What makes it such a good film for fast car enthusiasts is that yes, there is some racing, but the story line is enough to keep you hooked throughout the length of the flick. Plus, it stars Steve McQueen and he’s the king of cool when it comes to high speeds, action and drama.
“The Cannonball Run” (1981)
“The Cannonball Run” is a 1980s classic comedy film that quickly became a favorite. This is in part because there’s a good combination of hilarity interspersed with some serious racing, a bit of action and an all star cast that just makes it a good show to watch. The film stars Burt Reynolds in the lead role, along with Dom DeLuise, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett and a ton of beloved stars in supporting roles throughout the film. This is a 20th Century Fox production that was a big hit at the Box Office. It also marked one of the final appearances of the late great actor Dean Martin.
“The Fast and the Furious”
Making number one on the top twenty list of the best auto racing films ever made, of course, is the original movie that kicked off a series of seven great racing films. “The Fast and the Furious,” starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, begins the saga of an American street racing ring. Walker first appears as Brian O’ Conner, who is an undercover cop that attempts to infiltrate the group of semi-truck hijackers who are stealing high dollar electronic equipment, led by Vin Diesel’s character Dominic Toretto. It’s the tale of fast cars and the amazing drivers behind the wheel. The story goes much deeper than that though. More than the suspense, thrill and high paced action, it’s about two guys on the opposite side of the fence, coming together in impossible circumstances to form a brotherhood. The two strangers who meet and become acquainted become more like family as Walker’s character turns from law enforcement to join the guy that will eventually become his brother in law.