That’s not very good social distancing, Dom.
As more and more of us limit our social outings in an attempt to flatten the COVID-19 curve, we’re hunting for activities to keep us occupied at home. For those who love cars, there are a few options, and possibly one of the easiest (and safest) is a good old-fashioned movie marathon.
Together—or at least through a bunch of Slack messages and video calls—the team has come up with 10 very watchable films to check out during these uncertain times. Some of these are pretty standard-bearer titles in the car movie genre, but we’ve thrown in a few surprises. Got your own recommendations? Share them with the class!
Table of contents
- The New Hotness: Ford v Ferrari (2019)
- The Fastest and Furiousest: Fast Five (2011)
- The Historic Hollywood Drama: Rush (2013)
- No Ma'am, We're Musicians: Blues Brothers (1980)
- The Tom Cruise Choice: Days of Thunder (1990)
- The Visual Stunner: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
- The Modern Motor Musical: Baby Driver (2017)
- The Documentary: Senna (2010)
- The Radwood Special: Romeo + Juliet (1994)
The New Hotness: Ford v Ferrari (2019)
As the latest big-ticket car flick—and an Oscar-nominated one at that—Ford v Ferrari is an easy recommendation. It tells one of the most well-known stories in the automotive world, of Ford’s failed buy-out of Ferrari and its subsequent mission to embarrass the Prancing Horse on its own turf at Le Mans.
FvF stars Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, the racer-turned-builder tasked with leading the GT40 program to success. The former chicken farmer enlists hot-headed British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to lead the development of the car, which went on to win Le Mans four consecutive times in various forms.
Filled with drama, heart, and plenty of on-track eye candy in the form of ’60s era racers, Ford v Ferrari is rounded enough that it can even keep the non-petrolhead entertained. So you know what to suggest for the next movie night.
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal
Run Time: 152 minutes
What We Love: The visceral action shots, Damon and Bale’s performances
What We Don’t: It feels 152 minutes long, a reminder of the Old Boys Club
The Fastest and Furiousest: Fast Five (2011)
Let’s get this out of the way now: with eight films in the Fast & Furious franchise, obviously we’d be including one of them. A ninth is on the way too, though Dom and Co couldn’t fight off COVID-19, and it’s delayed until 2021.
So why the fifth installment in this long-running franchise? There are a bunch of reasons. For starters, it ushered in more or less the current team, with Dominic, Brian, Mia, Tej, Han, and Roman. It also introduced Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs character to bounce off Vin Diesel’s—literally. (The less we talk about 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw, the better.)
Being in the middle of the series, Fast Five manages to blend more of the feel of the earlier movies with what’s increasingly become superhero flicks that happen to feature cars. It does have an exotic locale, but that works in its favor too: Rio de Janeiro is all colorful beauty.
But really, it’s all about the safe chase for us.
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson
Run Time: 130 minutes
What We Love: Slicker, slightly more down-to-earth action than later F&F movies
What We Don’t: Does anybody believe Vin Diesel could go toe to toe with The Rock?
The Historic Hollywood Drama: Rush (2013)
As any motorsport fan will tell you, the sport is rife with real-world dramatic tales. In the world of ’70s Formula One, that meant one thing: the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
The two star drivers couldn’t have been more different. Hunt was the British playboy, Lauda the cerebral Austrian. Heading into the 1976 season, Lauda was the defending champ at Ferrari, with Hunt ready to mount a new challenge at McLaren. A disastrous crash at the Nürburgring mid-season nearly killed Lauda—a priest went so far as to read him his last rites bedside. Despite permanent damage to his face, ears, eyes and lungs, Lauda recovered, returning to the grid after only missing two races.
The movie shows the stark contrasts between two racing greats, as well as the common bonds they had. Lauda was actively a part of the movie’s production, advising the screenwriter and helping Brühl nail his Austrian accent. Lauda sadly passed away in 2019.
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde
Run Time: 123 minutes
What We Love: Fantastic cinematography, a vivid reminder of how dangerous the sport was
What We Don’t: Jumbled race editing
No Ma'am, We're Musicians: Blues Brothers (1980)
Maybe you want something not produced this millennium. Good: for that, we have Blues Brothers. (And other titles further down this list.)
Starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as two blues-loving dudes “on a mission from God” to save their former orphanage, subtlety isn’t this road trip movie’s forte. It’s messy. It’s stylish. It’s predictable. And we love it for that.
It’s also full of celebrity cameos, and epic musical numbers from the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles and more. Peppered amongst all that is a love for the automobile, specifically cop specials. Well, maybe less love for all the cruisers that end up as part of the mother of all pile-ups.
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown
Run Time: 133 minutes
What We Love: A true cult classic
What We Don’t: The sequel
The Tom Cruise Choice: Days of Thunder (1990)
Days of Thunder can be summed up pretty simply: Top Gun plus NASCAR. And what’s wrong with that?
Tom Cruise sticks to his early-career script here as young hot shot Cole Trickle, with a preternatural gift for whatever the movie calls for. He needs an older mentor to reign in his wild ways on track (Robert Duvall’s Harry Hogge) and a smart woman to do the same thing off it (his future wife Nicole Kidman). Trickle must learn the unique challenges of the big stock cars to find success at the Daytona 500, all the while fighting off competition both in and outside his team.
The story is about as deep as the treads on a race slick. That’s not the point though: Days of Thunder is about the spectacle, and the quotes. Rubbin’ is racin’, after all.
Impressively, the team raced the movie cars on several occasions to get authentic race footage. None of them achieved Trickle’s level of success, though.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Nicole Kidman
Run Time: 107 minutes
What We Love: ’90s cheese at its best, the days before the mega-polish of modern NASCAR
What We Don’t: ’90s cheese at its best
The Visual Stunner: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Fury Road is essentially one long car chase. A beautifully shot, action-packed, smart social commentary of a car chase, but a car chase nonetheless.
Tom Hardy stars as the eponymous main character of few words. It’s Charlize Theron’s intense Imperator Furiosa, however, who is arguably the center of the film. She drives the brutal War Rig, an enormous Tatra-Chevrolet combination with two V8 engines. The film’s baddie, Immortan Joe, drives something called a Gigahorse. It’s a grotesque pairing of two 1959 Cadillac Devilles in total steampunk glory. Oh, the Veyron has a W16 engine? Pfft, Gigahorse has two V16s.
The sheer ingenuity of all these creations, and the lack of CGI, is what puts Fury Road firmly on this list. The amount of work put into the 80-plus car roster is simply astounding—but spoiler alert, there definitely aren’t that many left by the end.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Run Time: 120 minutes
What We Love: Visually stunning from beginning to end
What We Don’t: A little depressing right now
The Modern Motor Musical: Baby Driver (2017)
Sticking with the more practical, less-CGI theme we’ve got another modern option. That simple description sells 2017’s Baby Driver short, though.
This super-stylish heist film blends its musical score with the on-screen action in a way few films do. Songs peak as a scene crescendos, sure, but character actions, scene cuts, and even gunfire synch with the beat. We challenge you to not crack a smile to the opening credits alone, with lyrics from the song appearing on telephone poles in time.
There’s story-based reason for all of this: our main character Baby has tinnitus, and he copes with it by enveloping himself in tunes.
The driving stunts themselves, like Mad Max, are mostly practical. Baby puts his red Subaru WRX through the sort of workout that would make Ken Block blush.
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx
Run Time: 113 minutes
What We Love: The blending of music and visuals is unparalleled
What We Don’t: We want more
The Documentary: Senna (2010)
Ayrton Senna would’ve turned 60 this year. As the film about the great Brazilian driver turns 10, it’s worth a first viewing or a rewatch for its sheer breadth.
Composed of clips from Formula One, interviews at the time, Senna family videos and more, this documentary showcases the multi-faceted nature of one of F1’s best. From his steely on-track determination, his religious convictions, and his humanitarian efforts, Senna was so much more than the “if you no longer go for a gap which exists you are no longer a racing driver” quote so many throw around.
Senna also pushed for increased safety in the sport. His death at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, just a day after fellow driver Roland Ratzenberger also passed, lead to the creation of the FIA Expert Advisory Safety Committee. Senna’s friend Sid Watkins headed it, and for 20 years there were zero deaths in the sport.
Starring: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost
Run Time: 106 minutes
What We Love: A deep look at one of the most famous drivers in history
What We Don’t: The reminder of the shortcuts that lead to his death
The Radwood Special: Romeo + Juliet (1994)
We said there’d be surprises on this list. Hear us out.
Romeo + Juliet isn’t typically brought up in petrolhead chats. Baz Luhrmann’s modern redo of the Bard’s classic is an acquired taste, to put it mildly.
But it was the 1990s, and you know what that means: lots of cars from the Malaise era up to then-modern times. It’s a postcard of the era, all Venice Beach neon and Hawaiian shirts. As millennials, we remember the era fondly and are just now getting to the age where we can afford to celebrate it: witness the breakout success of Radwood. Now who will be the brave soul to build a replica of the Montagues’ bright yellow Chevy pickup for whenever the next meetup takes place?
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Lequizamo
Run Time: 120 minutes
What We Love: It’s so, so ’90s
What We Don’t: Uh, that same thing
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