PaddlUp's drive-in cinema
Following on from our best driving games list, the next instalment is the best films ever made to feature cars and focus on what we all love, driving! The theme of cars in films is one that has persisted throughout the decades and produced many memorable moments in cinema history.
Extravagant cars have been a staple throughout Hollywood's history with James Bond's sportscar obsession serving as a staple of the 007 franchise since its inception and the iconic DeLorean remaining the poster child for the Back to the Future films to this day.
For the purposes of this article, we'll be focusing on the driving aspect, and compiling a list of the great films to feature cars being driven exuberantly, be it on the road or on a track.
The best driving films
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
We thought we'd get this one in early. The Fast and the Furious was the humble beginnings of a juggernaut nine-film franchise and to many, the best of the lot. With other noteworthy chapters including Tokyo Drift and Furious 7, we could arguably include several of the street racing films in our list.
The cars that star in the 2001 project are some of the most memorable of the franchise. Jesse's VW Jetta, the Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by the late, great Paul Walker as well as the drag-racing duo of the iconic orange Toyota Supra and Dom's fearsome Dodge Charger.
Originally a made-for-TV movie and only the second feature film directed by Steven Spielberg, this understated action-thriller film proved to be a huge hit, eventually receiving a well-earned international theatrical release with additional footage that didn't make it to the ABC cut.
The plot follows main character Dennis Weaver on a cross-Californian business trip that goes awry. At the wheel of his Plymouth Valiant, Weaver is pursued by the driver of a Peterbilt 281 tanker truck with a serious anger management problem culminating in a tense and dramatic head-to-head showdown.
This documentary film covers the Formula 1 career of a driver who many consider to be the greatest that ever lived, Ayrton Senna. Utilising mainly home movies captured by the Senna family and archival racing footage, this movie boasts a unique feel in which there is no overarching narrator and the viewer is left to muster their own opinions on some of the more divisive topics covered in 106 minutes.
Where there is Senna, there will always be Alain Prost uttered in the same breath. The Ayrton-Alain rivalry defined each of their respective careers, epitomising everything that fans love about Formula 1 – and arguably sport in general – transcending motor racing and thrusting F1 into the public eye at the end of the 80s and early 90s.
The Italian Job (1969)
The Italian Job in its original guise sits atop many 'best film of all time' lists let alone driving-specific compendiums. Impressive practical effects – even by today's standards – a daring heist and a shocking cliffhanger (literally) ensure this film still remains a classic for any motoring fan.
If the opening scene's orange Lamborghini Miura fails to stir up feelings of nostalgia then we hate to break it to you, but you may be reading the wrong article. And who could forget the trio of 1967 Mk1 Mini Cooper S' that was allegedly brought 'up-to-date' to give the appearance of the latest 1969 models.
We couldn't ignore this one with a title like that. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (who famously can't drive himself), this film's deceptive, rudimentary title masks a deep and intriguing plot in which Ryan Gosling's nameless 'Driver' character works as a mechanic and stunt driver whilst moonlighting as a getaway driver for hire.
The automotive star of this feature is undoubtedly the 1973 Chevy Malibu, but that is bolstered by a supporting ensemble of Mustang GTs, Chrysler 300 Hemis, vintage Chargers, GTOs, and Thunderbirds. This movie is full of fantastic and unique cinematography but the opening sequence and atmospheric drive through the city while the opening credits roll has to be its finest.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Now for something a little different. This classic Will Ferrel / John C Riley comedy focuses on the world of Nascar racing and the big, hairy American winning machine that is Ricky Bobby. Shake and bake!
Ricky (Ferrel) and teammate / best friend Cal Naughton Jr. (Riley) are swiftly joined by Formula One driver Jean Girard played by Sacha Baron Cohen who quickly outperforms the pair, and a spectacular crash then sends Ricky's life into a tailspin. Plenty of infomercials, a cougar in a car and a story of redemption later and the ballad crosses this finish line in an amusing conclusion.
Baby Driver (2017)
Baby Driver's driving and action sequences are some of the best you are likely to see in the world of TV and film. Couple this with an intriguing plot and star-studded cast including Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx and you have a recipe for a top-tier driving flick.
In addition, the automotive cast features a blend of high-performance machines and true classics including the opening chase scene's Subaru Impreza WRX, a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat that appears during the movie's dramatic conclusion and a Chevrolet Impala Convertible in an epilogue scene.
Le Mans (1971)
This 1970s classic depicts a fictional 24 Hours of Le Mans with Steve McQueen starring in the leading role. Much of the feature was filmed on location with McQueen originally hoping to compete at the event alongside three-time Formula 1 World Champion Jackie Stewart in the legendary race itself but unfortunately, their entry was rejected.
A Porsche 908/2 McQueen had previously raced at Sebring was entered into the race by the production company and fitted with cameras to capture race footage. With the iconic Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s featuring throughout, the film is a homage to the great race and an anachronism of 1970s motorsport.
The Cannonball Run (1981)
As we recently discovered in our interview with Shmee150, The Cannonball Run is a classic motoring movie and a firm favourite among automotive enthusiasts and therefore, rightfully earns a place on this list. Many of the era's biggest stars were on the cast list including Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Jackie Chan and Dean Martin.
Based on the 1979 running of the Cannonball Run, which at the time was unofficial and unsanctioned, the movie features a Ferrari 308 GTS, a Lamborghini Countach and an Aston Martin DB5 among other cars on the journey of a lifetime, travelling from Connecticut to California.
Cars was the last project Pixar produced independently before it was bought out, like many, by Disney. The movie boasted an impressive line-up, spearheaded by Owen Wilson and complimented by myriad motorsport cameos including Dale Earnhardt Jr. Mario Andretti, Michael Schumacher and Jay Leno.
Remembered for its ludicrously modified 1997 Peugeot 406 (with wings included enabling it to glide over jumps), this French comedy film is something of a cult classic, with a satisfying conclusion as the main character competes at the French Grand Prix in a Formula 3000, ironically sponsored by the Police.
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Known primarily for the sheer amount of different cars that are featured in the movie, Gone in 60 Seconds either damaged or completely destroyed a total of 127 cars over the course of its 105-minute run time, 93 of them in a 40-minute car chase. The incredible list of cars includes a Ford Mustang, a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, a Lamborghini Miura, and a Ferrari Daytona 365 GTB/4.
Selected by our CEO, Tim Mayneord, this is the epitome of a modern classic. Directed by Hollywood legend Ron Howard and with Thor himself, AKA Chris Hemsworth playing James Hunt, this movie was destined for success. The 1976 Formula 1 season is one that has been etched into the sport's folklore and is a worthy topic for a feature film. Nicky Lauda's terrifying Nordschleife crash, his inspirational recovery and the intense rivalry between the iconic duo translate perfectly as if they were originally written for the silver screen.
Days of thunder (1990)
Think Top Gun on four wheels. Days of Thunder, as with several of the films we have covered, centres around Nascar and main characters played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The film boasts enviable action sequences of the time period and an excellent score by Hans Zimmer.
Ford v Ferrari / Le Mans '66 (2019)
The most recent film on our list is arguably one of the greatest. Ford v Ferrari, or Le Mans '66 in the USA, chronicles the story of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles in their endeavours to build a Ferrari-beating Le Mans car in the shape of the Ford GT40, culminating with the great race itself and the inevitable politics that come with manufacturer motorsport involvement.
TT3D: Closer to the edge (2011)
The launch pad that thrust Guy Martin onto our television screens as a presenter went by the title of Closer to the Edge. At the 2010 Isle of Man TT, a documentary film crew spent time with Guy and Ian Hutchinson recording the events that unfolded during the two-week event with the former's perilous crash highlighting the dangers of the TT to an entirely new audience.