With this weekend's 97th running of the Indianapolis 500, with the new Indy 500 based Pixar movie Turbo due out this summer, and having just seen the first previews of Rush, Ron Howard's new high-budget racing movie about the 1977 Grand Prix season and the championship battle between Nikki Laude and James Hunt, I decided it was time for my list of best racing movies ever.
Unfortunately, it is easier to put together a list of bad racing movies. From Sylvester Stallone's hideous Driven to Tom Cruise's hokey Days of Thunder, movie makers have a difficult time capturing the real thrill of auto racing. But there are a few exception:
1. LeMans. This Steve McQueen movie is a love affair with auto racing. With limited dialog, and utilizing in-car cameras during the actual running of the 1970 24 Hous of LeMans, this movie captures more of the appeal and on-the-edge skills of racing.
2. Cars. Okay, its a cartoon. But its a wonderful cartoon. Only hope that Pixar's Turbo, out this summer, will come close to the enchantment of Cars.
3. Senna. This documentary follows the amazing and ultimately tragic story of Ayrton Senna, one of the most talented drivers ever to strap himself into a race car. It is more than just racing. It captures Senna's magnetic personality that made him a large-than life hero in his home country of Brazil - and around the world.
4. Grand Prix. The story is a little too much like a soap opera to be a great movie, but the movie captures the Golden Age of Grand Prix racing in the mid-1960s. And the opening sequence at Monaco is sensational. So too is the racing in the rain at Spa in Belgium. The English driver who has to overcome injuries and climb back into his car to fight for the championship foretells events a decade later when Nikki Laude suffered severe burns, but returned to the cockpit 42 days later to race for the championship. It is that story which is the basis of Ron Howard's Rush, due out this fall. Howard's track record gives the promise of perhaps the best racing movie ever.
5. Winning. Again, this movie has a bit too much soap opera to be a great movie. Filmed at the 1968 Indy 500, it still holds up very well after all these years. Paul Newman does much of his own driving. And any movie with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward is worth watching. David Grusin's score is a added bonus, as is the introduction of Richard Thomas, who shortly after this movie became known to the nation as "John-Boy Walton."