After taking us inside boxing rings, outer space and beautiful minds, director Ron Howard brings into the heat of auto racing action in Rush.
It’s the true story of the 1970s rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), a British playboy, and Austria’s serious-minded Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). The film has won raves for its intimate portrayal of the fierce competitors, focusing on the 1976 season in which Lauda defended the World Championship he won the previous year, as well as its intense and exciting racing sequences.
The film brings to mind many of the other racing-oriented films that have come before it. Here are some of our favorites:
The Racers (1955): Kirk Douglas is an Italian driver on the European race circuit whose arrogance and ambition leaves friends and partners in the dust on his way to the top. But he has a chance to redeem himself when he becomes co-driver at Le Mans in this rousing drama from Henry Hathaway (True Grit, Call Northside 777), considered to be the first picture depicting the car racing world.
Grand Prix (1966): You literally feel like you are in the driver’s seat in John Frankenheimer’s dazzling racing saga that mixes stunning you-are-there footage with soap-opera-ish storylines. James Garner is the American driver in trouble after his British partner is injured in a race. Garner goes under the auspices of industrialist Toshiro Mifune, and has an affair with his partner’s wife (Jessica Walter). Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand and Francioise Hardy also star in this hopped-up meller boasting impressive split screen sequences designed by the great Saul Bass and originally presented in Cinerama.
Spinout (1966): Elvis Presley had a need for speed in several of his outings (Roustabout, Speedway), and this film posits Presley as a part-time driver, part-time rocker who races a Cobra 427 around the country but eventually takes to the wheel of a special car for a big Santa Fe race. Shelley Fabares, Diane McBain, and Deborah Walley are the three women who seek long-time bachelor Elvis’s hand in marriage. The film has a bad rap, but we find it to be a solid Elvis outing with fun songs, well-handled racing footage and an impressive cast (which also includes Will Hutchins, Carl Betz and Cecil Kellaway).
The Love Bug (1968): The cream-colored Volkswagen Beetle Herbie was a genuine star after this Disney hit, spawning sequels and remakes—even one starring Lindsay Lohan. The original outing is still a delight, centering on a put-upon punch-bug with a personality all its own, and how nice owner Dean Jones outdoes nasty driver David Tomlinson in the big race. Buddy Hackett and Micelle Lee also chip in for some high energy laughs.
Winning (1969): This exhilarating tale gave real-life gearhead Paul Newman an on-screen chance to put the pedal to the metal. In an effort that adroitly mixes race track action with domestic complications, Newman’s driver attempts to win the Indy 500, while wife Joanne Woodward has an adulterous affair and former pal Robert Wagner turns traitor. Look for Bobby Unser and other greats in cameos.
Le Mans (1971): Steve McQueen was a well-known racing enthusiast, and in this dream project he plays a Porsche-driving racer coming off an injury, facing off against his rival, a Ferrari-riding German (Siegfried Raunch). The plot takes a backseat to the vrooming action set during the grueling 24-hour Le Mans race in France. John Sturges, veteran helmer of the McQueen starrers The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, was behind the camera.
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971): An existential road/race film from director Monte Hellman and writer Rudy Wurlitzer relies more on fascinating characters than fast racing scenes. The focus is on The Driver (James Taylor) and The Mechanic (Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson) who tool around in their ’55 Chevy, hustling for race money. Enter The Girl (Laurie Bird), a hippie who befriends them and G.T.O. (Warren Oates), the older owner of a souped-up Pontiac, who goes head-to-head with them on a cross-country dash to Washington, D.C. This moody, meditative effort received great hype before it was issued in the theaters, then tanked at the box-office. Now, it’s a classic cult film. Take a look now and see what all the much-deserved fuss was about.
The Last American Hero (1973): Jeff Bridges’ easygoing charm shines as “Junior” Johnson, a real-life former moonshiner who turns to stock car racing after his father is put into prison. Jr.’s wheel skills at avoiding the authorities throughout the Carolinas come in handy in the stock car world. Based on a series of articles written by Tom Wolfe and helmed by Lamont Johnson (The Groundstar Conspiracy), the film features Jim Croce’s “I’ve Got a Name” on the soundtrack; Quentin Tarantino saluted the film by putting the song in his Django Unchained.
Death Race 2000 (1975): Directed by Paul Bartel and produced by Roger Corman, this wild satirical look at a futuristic, cross-country race in which drivers score points for running over pedestrians is one of the greatest “B” movies ever made, an amped up, bloody, unofficial live-action version of “Wacky Races.” David Carradine is Frankenstein, the monosyllabic antihero; Sylvester Stallone plays bad guy “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo; and Mary Woronov, Martin Kove, and Roberta Collins are along for the darkly humorous ride. The film spawned two pseudo-sequels (Cannonball and Deathsport), and a latter-day Jason Statham remake.
Heart Like a Wheel (1983): Most people know Bonnie Bedelia as the feisty wife of Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies. But five years before she became Holly McClane, Bedelia delivered an impressive turn in this film bio of Shirley Muldowney, whose courage and spirit led her to become the world’s first female drag racer. Set in the 1950s and 1960s, this atmospheric effort from Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused) follows Muldowney’s gritty pursuit of the racing game and her tumultuous personal life with her husband (Leo Rossi) and fellow racer (Beau Bridges).
Any flicks we forgot that you feel should be taking a victory lap?