Back when car enthusiasts' attention was focused on Ford v Ferrari, rather than a microscopic nasty made of lipids and RNA, I started to do a deep dive into racing movies. That investigation led me down a rabbit hole that tunneled back into the silent film era. With so many people holed up in their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this seems like a good time to present the results of my research. Here's a trove of the best, the worst, and the most innovative racing movies from the 20th century, plus some tidbits of history that I hope you'll find fascinating.
Read the full article on Hagerty.com: https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/the-best-and-worst-vintage-racing-movies-of-the-20t...
Two Lane Blacktop. I remember seeing this film in a theater many years back and everyone watched the credits at the end scroll by. "Dialog coach" appeared and the whole audience burst into laughter.
Since the title says “Racing”, and doesn’t specify what type; I’m going to nominate 1978’s “Breaking Away” as one of the best racing movies, as well as one of the finest movies, too. Steve Tesich’s screenplay won the Academy Award, and the cast is uniformly excellent. It involves family relationships, coming-of-age and bicycles.
Trust me, you'll like it.
My favorite best / worst racing movie is "Hurricane Helldrivers". OK, its black & white, features dump trucks instead of race cars, and takes place in a mine not a race track, but still... Very memorable.
The Racers . This 1955 movie was based on the life of Rudolph Caracciola. I saw this when I was just nine years old and it spark the flame of my interest in racing, The movie had Mille Miglia footage and some of the driving was done by John Fitch. Some shots of the 1954 Monaco Grand Prix were in the opening scenes. It took me forty years to acquire a dvd of the movie. I still watch it.
Only because I'm a fan of the Chrysler Turbine Car will I mention the somewhat terrible movie from 1964, The Lively Set, starring James Darren, Pamela Tiffin, and Doug McClure. It has some interesting race scenes with some actual race drivers of various types actually doing some driving.
“The Last Run” starring George C. Scott as an aging getaway driver is well worth a watch, if you can find a copy. While not technically a racing movie it features a very rare supercharged BMW 503 and some wonderful chase scenes on narrow and winding European roads. What’s more, unlike some of the movies named in this article, the story is quite good.
Good grief! A "disclaimer" about movies and what they "might contain?" Does anyone remember long ago, say, about 20 years ago, when daily life wasn't so tedious? If you like a movie and what it contains/portrays, fine. If you don't like a movie and what it contains/portrays, fine. GET OVER YOURSELF! Everything isn't worthy of outrage!
Now, let's watch movies about racing.....!
Anybody watch "Greased Lightning" about Wendell Scott ? A very interesting movie and a driver I never heard of and I helped build and pitted a USAC Grand National Stock Car in that era and never knew anything about him until I saw the movie. Yes, it has its flaws but a great movie if you truly want to get into NASCAR racing history. Still Grumpy
I didn't see a mention of The Racing Scene. It's the story of a year with James Garner's racing team, from the time he bought the car, and assembled his team through racing in such diverse places as Mexico, England, Florida and Canada.It was the first film by Andy Sidaris, of ABC Sports. I haven't seen it in years, but it is apparently available on Amazon Prime.
When "Redline 700" came out around 1964, I thought it was one of the greatest movies ever. When I watched it again 20 or so years later I, well shall we say, changed my mind. There was another terrible movie about that time that centered around SCCA racing that I also watched after I grew up. I don't remember the title but do remember Shelby GT350s were prominent and driven by the wise guy young hero of the movie named JoJo who had one of the dumbest lines in any movie when he was trying to impress a lady: "They call me JoJo because I have Mojo." Well, at least some of the racing scenes in these movies were pretty good since they were taken from actual footage. There are other turkeys out there as well but don't want to remember.
Clambake, with Elvis Presley, the flatbottom he drove was a Mandella. Currently the Mandella is undergoing a restoration by the son of the original builder, Lou Brummett. Carson Brummett, who continues to operate at of the same location as his father going back to the 1950's, found the boat in a field in Texas. The Mandella was originally a marathon racer Lou had built and was driven by Elvis in the classic Clambake. Many are looking forward to seeing the finished product of the restoration.
I remember "Thunder Road" one of my favorite movies of my teen years. So, at age 60, or so, I found the movie once again and was so very disappointed at how totally HAMMY the acting (particularly Robert Mitchum) was. The whole movie stunk! I guess, "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." Applies here.
"A Man and A Woman" is one of the greatest films ever made, period. But don't watch the terrible version dubbed in English, which destroys much of the beautiful dialogue. The subtitled original is far, far better. The film is also notable for introducing what has now become a cliche, but was beautifully done in this movie: a man and a woman running towards each other on the beach. And the racing scenes really are wonderful.
But the greatest car stunts ever performed, bar none, are in the original, and I stress original, version of The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine and featuring an over-the-top performance by Noel Coward basically playing Noel Coward.
A forgotten "so bad it's good" car movie is The Wraith. An '80s movie so '80s it should be taught in pop culture history classes. Charlie Sheen's film debut (so take that for what you will), but the real star is the Dodge prototype M4S Turbo Interceptor, apparently powered from beyond by a big jar full of lightning bolts and ectoplasm... though it was never explained why a revenge-mobile from another dimension had a Chrysler logo emblazoned across the hood.
Le Mans, by far my favorite. No dialogue for like 35-40 minutes. Just the sights and sounds leading up to the race made me feel as though I was there in person. Ford v Ferrari, second. I remember doing a high school English term paper on Shelby and Le Mans in my senior year, 1967. Cool teacher, let us write on whatever we wanted. I managed a "A".
So is there a list that you suggest? Outside of reading the full article and trying to compile a list as a reader, I was expecting a quick reference of what was suggested as the best and worst in a handy list format.
"The Great Race," while tongue-in-cheek family entertainment with a pie fight and a cheesy indoor studio set of the two rival's cars floating on styrofoam, er, "ice" chunks across the Bering Straight, I adored the film and all-star cast as a kid and still do. Loosely historic, too! Stars Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, and Keenan Wynn.
WIKI: The 1908 New York to Paris Race was an automobile competition consisting of drivers attempting to travel from New York to Paris. This was a considerable challenge given the state of automobile technology and road infrastructure at the time. Only three of six contestants completed the course. The winner was George Schuester with the American team, driving a 1907 Thomas Flyer.
While not technically a racing movie, I believe Bullitt has some of the best automotive chase scenes ever shot. San Francisco streets were designed to be filmed and racing through them was a stroke of movie genius.
Some trivia: Steve McQueen was scheduled to do all the Mustang (Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT), driving using a highly modified and strengthened car, but was replaced by professional stunt driver Bill Hickman, who also drove the black 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum R/T in the chase. After McQueen missed the curve at the bottom of Chestnut Street and had to back up before charging up the hill, the director was afraid McQueen would injure himself, delaying completion of the movie and pushing its cost over budget, so he replaced him with Hickman to make the rest of the chase scenes. If you look closely in the final scene of the chase, when the Charger crashes into the gas station, causing a massive explosion, you can see that the Charger actually misses the gas station (unplanned) and continues on in the background.
I remember finding the surviving charger on a dirt driveway outside of Tucson about 6 years ago. What an amazing find and story, since the original paperwork like the other charger went up in smoke in a fire. The owner had painstaking document the mounts for the cameras and other features with the help of surviving crew members. My friend almost fell over when he said he wanted $500k for it, but then again I was surprise too to see it sitting uncover on a patch of dirt in Tucson. it went to SEMA a few months later and I think that helped him generate enough interest to get it sold. I think he got about $450k out of it. However, seeing the McQueen Mustang last year the charger was a extreme high degree of restoration than the Mustang that had a hard life after the spot light.
I have my DVD copies of Le Mans and Grand Prix. Watch them at least once or twice a year while "hibernating" over the winter. If for nothing else but to watch the vintage race cars in action and reminisce trips to Watkins Glen and Mid Ohio. And the acting is pretty good too! Wish I could find a film about the Can Am series from the 60's and 70's. That would be a good watch as well.