Hot List: Racing through Tinseltown

While waiting for Ron Howard’s Rush, we pick the Good, the Bad and the Driven of racing movies...
Liam Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl as James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Rush
Liam Hemsworth (Hunt) and Daniel Bruhl (Lauda) © Studio Canal
By Justin Hynes

The Champs…

Grand Prix (1966)

The daddy of them all in our opinion. Director John Frankenheimer’s film follows four drivers taking part in an F1 championship – Pete Aron (James Garner) an American on the comeback trail; Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand), a French champion nearing the end of his career; Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford) recovering from a smash at Monaco, and Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato), a cocky rookie. For us, this is probably the best motor racing movie ever, with a solid script, great action sequences and neat cameos from the likes of Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham.

Top Scene: Oozing class from start to finish, Saul Bass’ super stylish title sequence gets the motion picture underway.

Le Mans (1971)

Frosty movie legend Steve McQueen plays American sportscar racer Michael Delaney who is racing at Le Mans despite an accident the previous year that claimed the life of a fellow driver. Delaney gets involved with his widow, despite the fact that he might have been responsible for her husband’s death and yadda, yadda, yadda. The thin plot here is an irrelevance really, a way to mark time between the exquisite driving sequences.

Top scene: In a movie of limited dialogues this scene where McQueen utter the famous “racing is life” line hits the nail on the head.


Liam Hemsworth as James Hunt in Rush
Liam Hemsworth as James Hunt in Rush © Studio Canal

Winning (1969)

Again, the plot is nothing to write home about – fanatical racer meets girl, marries girl, ignores girl to focus on racing cool cars, girl beds his rival, fanatical racer feels bad about that and tries to get girl back – but it’s the racing sequences, shot at the likes of Road America and Indianopolis that make this a classic. Plus, Paul Newman as up-and-comer Frank Capua.

Top scene: We revisit another opening sequence, featuring great racing footage and a triumphant Dave Grusin soundtrack.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Utterly daft and screamingly funny, this sees Will Ferrell plays the titular NASCAR racer who comes up against villainous French F1 racer Jean Girard (played with camp abandon by Sacha Baron Cohen).

Top scene: Too numerous to mention but we’ll choose the family dinner scene.

Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda in Rush
Winning ways: Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) in Rush © Studio Canal

…And The Chumps

Days of Thunder (1990)

Tom Cruise plays Cole Trickle, a maverick racer who must learn, via assorted trials and tribulations, that he can’t fly solo but must work as part of a team… wait a minute… maverick…fly solo… hot shot… it’s the same plot as Top Gun but with stock cars!

Top scene: The bit where Robert Duvall explains to Cruise that “rubbin’ is racing”.

Driven (2001)

Now this one is a genuine, Christmas dinner-shaped, gobble, gobblin’ turkey. Sly plays ex-racer Joe Tanto who’s brought out of retirement to mentor young hot shoe Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) who is losing focus in his battle to win some championship or other. So far, so predictable, but soon after the start Driven loses all sense of reason, as Stallone picks up coins with his rear tyres to show he’s still got the chops and showcars are taken off stands and raced through city streets. It’s pure genius… if genius means taking a film about F1 and turning it into Rocky V on wheels.

Top scene: The utterly ridiculous race through the street of Chicago between Stallone and Pardue.

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