A very special sub-genre of the sports movie, the racing film attempts to translate the thrill of pushing souped-up thrill machines around a track – or in some cases, down civilian streets – into celluloid-based entertainment. Here, in no particular order, are our 25 favourites…
Emile Hirsch stars as the titular Speed Racer – a young man who's completely obsessed with racing, to the exclusion of all else – in this live-action adaptation of Japanese Anime Mach GoGoGo. Speed Racer flopped at the box office – audiences were baffled by the Wachowski brothers following up The Matrix trilogy with this candy-coloured confection. But they were missing the point somewhat – Speed Racer's physics-defying lunacy and eye-popping palette were a perfect translation of the anime to live action.
Speed Racer (2008)
Asif Kapadia's documentary on Brazilian Formula One legend Ayrton Senna feels almost like a fictional biopic. Thanks to the vast amount of footage shot of Senna, Kapadia was able to cut the film like a feature, alternating between wide shots, close-ups and in-car views. It's particularly effective during the final act, when a series of accidents at the San Marino Grand Prix lend the film a feeling of impending doom, in the build-up to Senna's fatal crash.
"Steve McQueen takes you for a drive in the country. The country is France. The drive is at 200mph." That was the brilliant tagline of Lee H Katzin's paean to endurance racing. The plot's badly in need of a pitstop, but it's essential motorsport porn for petrolheads with a couple of hours to burn.
It was billed as Top Gun on Tarmac, but despite a recognisably slick production from Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise's NASCAR antics failed to live up to its aeronautical antecedent's stratospheric success. It's well worth revisiting for the racetrack histrionics ("He's going high!"), the impromptu desert race (in rental saloons) and to remind yourself how bad Nicole Kidman's acting was.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
With cartoon violence, nudity and gangster accents, the original dystopian B-movie starring David Carradine and Sly Stallone won't disappoint your GTA-fuelled blood lust. The real fun, though, comes from the Transcontinental Road Race itself, in which each murderous and reckless driver (from Frankenstein to Matilda the Hun) decks out their motor with guns, knives and teeth to kill innocent pedestrians. And you thought forgetting to fasten your seatbelt was dangerous.
Le Mans (1971)
None other than Elvis Presley rocks out around the racecourse in this 60s motor musical with cameos from top NASCAR drivers from way back when. The King plays a driver who gets in trouble with the tax man with Nancy Sinatra as his tax inspector/ love interest. If you like cars and you like Elvis, you've hit the jackpot. Just don't count on any hits popping up – instead you'll get treated to a song about tax.
More after the break...
The Love Bug (1968)
The Cannonball Run – based on a real event for the rich – stars Burt Reynolds as one of an eclectic mix of racers tearing across America on a coast-to-coast rally. Roger Moore drove the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr took a Ferrari, and a young Jackie Chan manned a gadget clad Subaru. Bungling brilliance ensued.
Days of Thunder (1990)
Paul Walker was replaced by a more convincing lead and Vin Diesel makes a cameo at the end – but otherwise it's a new cast for the third entry into the Fast and the Furious franchise. The use of drifting, a popular street racing trend in Japan, breathed new life into the franchise.
TT3D: Closer to the Edge (2011)
Everyone's favourite professional diver turned geezer hardman Jason Statham stars in this remake of the 1975 flick Death Race 2000. It's a very different beast to the original film, though – it's set in a corrupt and privatised futuristic prison system which pits inmates against each other for entertainment. Their weapons? Fast cars, loaded up with plenty of things that go boom. Think Roman chariot races, but with more explosions.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Burt Reynolds dons his comedic hat in this 1983 action comedy which, like Talladega Nights, revolves around the perpetually looping world of NASCAR. Duped into a fried chicken sponsorship (which sees the esteemed Mr Reynolds prancing around in a chicken suit), a plan is devised to shake off the flaky sponsor while continuing to win at all costs.
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Jackie Chan as a street racer? This slick Hong Kong action-fest features all the trademarks of a Chan movie – elaborate fight scenes, gravity-defying stunts, unbelievably psychotic baddies, women in peril – with some superb racing scenes tossed into the mix. Also: an amazing “rock” theme song sung by Chan himself!
Another comic book adaptation (and another one that has drawn ire from fans of the original material), Initial D delves into the world of Japanese drift racing: youths in souped-up street cars power-sliding around meandering mountain roads. Despite being set in Japan, it’s a Hong Kong-made movie in Cantonese – and stars Taiwanese pop idol Jay Chou as the protagonist.