With a week and change until NASCAR finally returns to the track after its Olympic break, racing fans might be looking for motorsports-related media to fill the gaps.
In between watching everyone from Alex Morgan to Kevin Durant compete for glory in Tokyo (albeit at incredibly weird times in the U.S.), why not catch up on some of the best racing films to ever hit the big (or small) screens?
I finally hit the 50-racing-movie mark myself back in April (my first was in the early months of 2004, which we’ll get to later), so this list has been a long, long time in the making.
I’ll restrain myself from going overboard and stick with two here.
Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020) comes from the directorial duo of Adam Carolla and Nate Adams, who worked together on Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman (2015), The 24 Hour War (2016) and Shelby American (2019). Arguably their best film of the quartet, it documents Willy T. Ribbs’ rise through the ranks of motorsports and prowess in Trans-Am racing, as well as the outright racism and discrimination he faced during that time.
The Last Race (2018) is a meditative documentary on Riverhead Raceway in New York, detailing the track’s owners’ fight to keep racing alive at the oval. It’s not just the story that’s compelling, though — it’s how it’s told. Shots from inside the cars pepper the film, with several minutes’ worth of the latter stages sitting primarily in one car as it makes dozens of laps around Riverhead.
10. Grand Prix (1966)
Nearly three hours long and incorporating so much of the drama that goes into a racing season, this Formula 1-focused film was more or less the first big-budget racing film to hit movie screens. With James Garner as the lead and a host of solid supporting actors, the racing scenes are incredibly immersive, innovative and the on-board cameras place the viewer right into the action — especially at Monza, where the high banks end up in a climactic championship battle.
9. NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience (2004)
Perhaps it’s the fact that this is the first racing movie I ever watched, as well as the first movie I ever saw in theaters, that makes this one rank so high for me, but I gave it a re-watch earlier this year and it’s held up extremely well. There’s a good chunk of surface-level narration from Kiefer Sutherland and some very basic soundbites from a number of the era’s drivers, but it’s a great introductory documentary to racing and has some fantastic camerawork and setups.
8. Cars (2006)
Pixar brought racing to a ton of young viewers in 2006, with Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen the main character in Cars. With cameos from a number of NASCAR stars and commentators, it was just the first of two films that summer that brought racing to the mainstream — especially as the focus of a film with wide appeal.
7. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
This was the second installment of that summer. While certainly a stereotypical view of NASCAR as a whole, Talladega Nights was a milestone in the same way Cars was: bringing racing to the masses. Will Ferrell’s appeal drew in more audiences of an older age who might have been averse to seeing Cars.
6. Days of Thunder (1990)
Tony Scott’s first film since Top Gun in 1986 essentially was that film, but on a racetrack. Tom Cruise’s Cole Trickle, a hothead with a penchant for aggressive driving, ended up becoming an absolute staple in the racing community and still endures today; throwbacks to the film dot the Darlington scheme field at least every other year.
5. Blink of an Eye (2019)
The 2019 adaptation of Michael Waltrip‘s novel, despite telling a story we all know very well, managed to provide a somewhat new perspective to the 2001 Daytona 500. We see Waltrip’s introduction to racing,…
Read More: The Top 10 Racing Films Of All Time