Cars We Remember: Top 10 auto racing movies
At the request of readers, we update our popular top 10 auto racing movies of all-time as several new movies have made the cut. As before, I welcome reader comments if there are some movies you feel should be on the list. The new list is not in any particular order and each movie deals with auto racing as its main theme. Other car movies like all of the “Fast & Furious” chapters, “Bullitt” and “Gone in 60 Seconds” are not considered although clearly enjoyable efforts.
1. “Ford v. Ferrari” (2019): A true blockbuster with two Academy Award wins (film and sound editing). The script finds Christian Bale as Ken Miles and Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby recounting the true-to-life story of Ford taking on Ferrari for the LeMans 24 Hour crown in 1966. Mostly accurate, Bale is spectacular as the gritty “can do it all” Miles as he and Damon battle the stuffed shirt executives at Ford along the way. With the exception of some Hollywood liberties (Enzo Ferrari did not attend the 24-hour race) it is a spot-on winner and a must for race fans.
2. “Grand Prix” (1966): Director John Frankenheimer’s epic won three Oscars and featured James Garner as American driver Pete Aron and his battles both personally and in the race cars to compete on the world’s biggest auto racing stage of Formula 1. Considering the year it was released, moviegoers were treated to spectacular footage and a good story line of racing, love, triumph and tragedy. Garner was respected as one of Hollywood’s true gifted drivers and he did all of his driving scenes without the use of a double. Oscars included sound, editing and effects.
3. “Days of Thunder” (1990): With Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Robert Duval starring, how can you go wrong? In a plot similar to Cruise’s spectacular “Top Gun” (“Top Gun: Maverick” aka “Top Gun 2” debuts this June), the plot finds Cruise seeking to capture glory in NASCAR and fills the screen in the plight of a young driver learning to overcome the setbacks that stand in his way. His love for the doctor that treats him (Kidman) following an on track accident with rival Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) is noteworthy, as is Duvall’s performance as the crew chief and Randy Quaid as the car owner.
4. “Cars 1, 2 and 3” (2006, 2011, 2017): OK, OK! After numerous letters from fans, all three of the Cars movies make the “Best” list this time. I held off from including digital animation, but these films have become so popular with kids and adults I had to include them this time. All “Cars” movies concentrate on auto racing as the main theme and feature big name stars. These movies have won numerous awards, grossed millions and feature voices by Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Richard Petty, Paul Newman, Bob Costas, Darrell Waltrip and many more big names. Pop some corn and have at it.
5. “Greased Lightning” (1977): Although this move is many times forgotten, it’s still worth a spot on our top 10 as Richard Pryor, Pam Greir and Beau Bridges chronicle the difficult life and times of NASCAR’s still only African American driver to ever win a NASCAR Cup race; namely Wendell Scott. It’s the “underdog” true-life movie on this list and highly recommended.
6. “Rush” (2013): Anytime you see the name Ron Howard as director, you know your film experience will be a good one. “Rush” follows the heated competition for Formula 1 championship honors between rivals James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), the latter who nearly lost his life in a fiery crash during the 1976 season. True to life in every aspect.
7. “Thunder in Carolina” (1960): I had to keep the very first NASCAR-based film with loads of footage from the 1959 Darlington Southern 500 on the list. The film stars Rory Calhoun as the care-free racing roamer Mitch Cooper who is injured in a crash. He puts a young driver behind the wheel (Race Gentry) and he’s so good he leaves Cooper for a factory ride for the Southern 500. Sparks fly as Connie Hines, who plays Gentry’s wife and is best known as wife of TV’s Wilbur Post of “Mr. Ed” fame, is against her husband racing. Notable is “Gilligan Island’s” “Skipper” Alan Hale Jr. who also makes the film an enjoyable, nostalgic favorite.
8. “Talladega Nights” (2006): The zaniness of this NASCAR-based comedy finds Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Sasha Baron Cohen deliver a load of laughs centered on NASCAR Cup racing. You’ll see many real-life cameos from Fox Sports announcer Mike Joy to drivers Darrell Waltrip and Jamie McMurray. “Shake and Bake,” (Ferrell and Reilly) go from best friends to worst enemies. Foreigner Cohen appears on the scene as a Formula 1 champ looking for NASCAR fame. It’s a non-realistic comedy yet very entertaining.
9. “The Last American Hero” (1973): With the recent passing of the real “Last American Hero” Junior Johnson, we couldn’t leave this one off the updated list. Based on author Tom Wolfe’s Esquire magazine articles about the famous stock car racer Junior Johnson who Wolfe dubbed “The Last American Hero,” the film follows Jeff Bridges as Elroy “Junior” Jackson who turns his life around from convicted moonshiner to big time winner. Valerie Perrine co-stars as a racing groupie while Ned Beatty and Gary Busey also have supporting roles. It’s worth the watch.
10. “Heart Like A Wheel” (1983): Nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe, Bonnie Bedelia stars as Shirley Muldowney in a courageous drama that centers on Shirley’s rise to stardom as the first ever female Top Fuel drag racing champion. Muldowney plows through whatever is in her way, as Beau Bridges gives a good account of Shirley’s key to stardom, namely “The Bounty Hunter” Connie Kalitta. Get ready to experience how Shirley climbs the ladder from street racing with her then husband to the summit in a “males only” top fuel class of racing.
Thanks for all previous letters, and let me know your favorite racing movie if it’s not on this updated list.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and Gannett Co. Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.