Ranking the Greatest Racing Movies
Note: Documentaries were not included in these rankings, and the movie's central plot had to be about racing in some way, shape or form.
15. Greased Lightning (1977)
Richard Pryor played legendary NASCAR driver Wendell Scott in this biopic. Scott was the first Black racer to win a NASCAR race.
Scott's story should be much more well-known to the masses, and if there's ever a way to reboot his story, we'd be fans of a studio jumping at the opportunity.
Want to see why Pryor was such a big star? Watch this movie, and you'll know right away.
14. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
The brilliance of this contemplative British film about a talented schoolboy runner in reform school starts with the man who directed the picture, Tony Richardson.
Two years after this film was made, Richardson brought home the Academy Award for Best Director with "Tom Jones" starring Albert Finney, a film that also won Best Picture.
"The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" is now celebrating its 60th anniversary, and this movie is definitely worth a watch.
13. Breaking Away (1979)
Bicycle racing drama "Breaking Away" was a critical surprise and commercial hit in 1979. Steve Tesich won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and the film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Peter Yates), Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Barrie) and Best Music (Patrick Williams).
Somehow, Tesich has not one but two bicycle racing films to his credit. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1985 film "American Flyers" starring Kevin Costner.
12. Cool Runnings (1993)
The story of the Jamaican bobsled team making it to the 1988 Olympics will not make it onto any critically lauded lists, and that's OK. Because the movie is just a lot of fun, which is what it's supposed to be.
Led by a cast of up-and-coming actors and the late John Candy, "Cool Runnings" is a movie you can watch with your family repeatedly.
And the Jimmy Cliff cover of "I Can See Clearly Now" is one of the film's highlights.
11. Chariots of Fire (1981)
"Chariots of Fire" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, one of seven Academy Award nominations for the film about two British runners gunning for the 1924 Olympics.
It also contains one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, by Vangelis, and opens with arguably the most iconic racing scene of all time.
Yes, the one on the beach.
10 Days of Thunder (1990)
We will give critics of "Days of Thunder" their main argument — that it's essentially "Top Gun" set in the world of NASCAR. And it also shares the same star, with Tom Cruise leading the way. Oh, and it also has the same director, Tony Scott.
So we'll give them all of that and still say that if you want an action movie to light up your living room, "Thunder" brings it. Mainly because of the movie-star charisma of Tom Cruise approaching the peak of his movie-star powers.
9. McFarland, USA (2015)
The pantheon of Kevin Costner sports movies stands above all other Hollywood actors, and the Disney film "McFarland, USA" where he plays McFarland High cross country coach Jim White is among his very best.
Costner's turn as White, a disgraced former football coach leading a group of underprivileged Latino runners, is pretty brilliant in that it hits all the notes we need from a sports movie.
This means you're going to cry at some point.
8. Rush (2013)
One of the greatest rivalries in racing history was between a pair of Formula One drivers — British driver James Hunt and Austrian driver Niki Lauda.
Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard found two perfect actors to play those roles, Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Lauda.
"Rush" wasn't Howard's only foray into sports films. He also made the boxing drama "Cinderella Man" starring Russell Crowe.
7. Seabiscuit (2003)
Any mention of the incredible horse racing movie "Seabiscuit" should also come with a comment about Laura Hillenbrand, who wrote the nonfiction book the movie is based on.
"Seabiscuit" and Hillenbrand's other nonfiction book, which was the basis for the film "Unbroken," sold over 13 million copies combined.
"Seabiscuit" benefits from a stellar cast that brings the tale of an underdog horse in the 1930s to life. Tobey Maguire fresh off his first turn as Spider-Man stars alongside Academy Award winners Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper.
6. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
It doesn't all have to be serious with racing movies. You already know this if you've seen the 2006 comedy hit starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.
Something epic about "Talladega" makes it so infinitely rewatchable. We credit the director-actor duo of Adam McKay and Ferrell, who need to be in the discussion of all-time best pairings in those roles.
Just check the stats.
5. The Jericho Mile (1979)
The only made-for-TV movie to make this list, "The Jericho Mile" would probably also make any list we put together for best prison movies.
It's crazy for us, in 2022, to think of American audiences staying up one night to watch "Jericho" and wondering what, exactly, they'd just seen and how in the world a movie on television was better than anything they'd seen in movie theaters.
One big reason? It's the first film directed by Academy Award winner Michael Mann, the creator of the television series "Miami Vice" along with the director of hit films like "Ali," "Heat" and "The Last of the Mohicans."
4. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Don't get it twisted. The "Fast and Furious" saga began with a movie about street racing at its core. It even included a series of races in the desert called "Race Wars" that triggered the film's final act.
"The Fast and the Furious" is great because it catches a series of rising stars right as they're breaking into Hollywood, led by Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Paul Walker. Over 20 years later and hitting the nitro toward the 10th film in the franchise, we're still down to race for pink slips.
3. Personal Best (1982)
You may have never heard of "Personal Best." That's OK. Better late than never. It's a movie about 30 years ahead of its time when it came out in 1982. We'll give it up for Roger Ebert's four-star review on this one.
"This is a very physical movie, one of the healthiest and sweatiest celebrations of physical exertion I can remember," Ebert said. "It is filled with the uncertainties, risks, cares, and rewards of real life, and it considers its characters' hearts and minds, and sees their sexuality as an expression of their true feelings for each other."
2. Ford v Ferrari (2019)
Put Matt Damon and Christian Bale in a movie together, and we're going. If you tell us it's about one of the more famous moments in auto racing history, we may go twice.
"Ford v Ferrari" is about the saga of Carroll Shelby building a car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The film is gripping in every way and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
1. Without Limits (1998)
There were actually two biopics about the late long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine that came out in succession. "Without Limits" is not only the far better of the two films but one of the more criminally underrated sports films of all time.
At the heart of "Without Limits" is the performance of a young Billy Crudup as Prefontaine, backed up by veteran actor Donald Sutherland as University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman. Sutherland was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film.
This movie will leave you ready to run for gold in the Olympics. Or do something great.