Best racing films

Rush (2013)

See past the fact that the plot is mostly bunkum, and some of the CGI is a bit shonky, and there’s much to like. Thor, sorry, Chris Hemsworth does an OK impersonation of James Hunt, despite looking like Tiff Needell in a fright wig, but the film belongs to the brilliant Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda.

Le Mans (1971)

There are some members of this parish who think this film is a snooze-fest (the author among them…), but there’s no denying the fascination attached to it; as much for how it was made as for what appears on screen.

Heart like a wheel (1983)

This biopic of Top Fuel drag racing superstar Shirley Muldowney and her rise to prominence isn’t historically accurate, not least thanks to the appearances of non-period cars, but it is a compelling story. ‘Cha Cha’ reputedly didn’t get on with Bonnie Bedelia who portrayed her, but she has since softened her stance on the film.

Senna (2010)

OK, so it’s a documentary, but it is a remarkable one nevertheless. Some might argue that Ayrton Senna is brazenly deified in this film, and that Alain Prost is presented as a pantomime villain, but it is impossible not to feel a lump in your throat when the film climaxes at Imola in 1994. 

Un Homme et une Femme (1966)

Director Claude Lelouch had intended making a documentary about motor racing several years before shooting this gorgeous movie, only to run out of money. Some of his footage appears here, along with fresh stuff shot at Montlhéry and elsewhere. Ignore the ’80s sequel, though, as it is rendered unwatchable thanks to the synth score. 

Checkpoint (1956)

This crime drama could easily be placed in the worst film category were it not for the fabulous Mille Miglia footage (spliced with staged stuff shot on the Brecon Beacons…). The acting is wooden, the dialogue laughable, but it is the only film ever to feature the mighty Fairthorpe Atom in a supporting role. 

The last American Hero (1973)

This film starring Jeff Bridges is based on Tom Wolfe’s novel of the same name. It tells the fictionalised story of moonshiner turned NASCAR legend Junior Johnson with authentic – if not always age-correct – race footage interwoven throughout. A good movie, and one largely overlooked today.

Winning (1969)

Forever in the shadow of Grand Prix and Le Mans, this Indy-centric flick wasn’t one of Paul Newman’s best. It did, however, turn him on to racing for which we should all be thankful. There is also footage of the wondrous Holman Moody Honker II, perhaps the only race car ever painted in metallic lilac. 

The Green Helmet (1961)

Set in Italy and shot in, er, Wales, this isn’t a brilliant film. It isn’t even in the same time-zone, but it does feature Sid James as an Australian mechanic and Jack Brabham in a speaking role, so it cannot be all bad. Throw in some corking race footage and it’s a fun time-whiler.

The Pinchcliffe GP (1975)

This stop-motion epic remains the most popular Norwegian film of all time. No, wait, come back! Seriously, this might not be a ‘real’ racing movie, but it has better wheel-to-wheel competition and more plot intrigue than most. Which is why we love it.