The sport and/or art of driving a car very fast has been the subject of countless fantastic scenes in movies, but some films dare to make it the center of attention. Across all sports entertainment, racing is one of the most dynamic displays of technical skills, physical capability, and death-defying willingness to risk it all.
Racing lenses itself to just about every art medium with ease. From chase sequences in action novels to the immensely popular video game genres, it’s one of the most common sports in adaptation. Racing films span the entire spectrum from wacky comedy to gripping drama and far beyond, with only the central competition to connect them.
Ford v Ferrari
James Mangold of 3:10 to Yuma, walk the lineand Logan fame, directed and produced this stellar 2019 drama. Inspired by a true story, the film follows the rivalry between the American and Italian racing teams at a 24-hour endurance race in France. Though the race is the focus, the human drama is the real driving force. Matt Damon and Christian Bale star as a dedicated mechanic and his hot-tempered driver. Mangold is well-known for his masterful symbolism of him, and, despite his name, Ford v Ferrari is one of the smartest movies of the decade. The personalities are just as important as the racing action, and the magic under the hood is in its metaphorical significance. There’s something for everybody in Mangold’s masterful take on the genre.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Will Ferrell is a hit-or-miss lead when it comes to studio comedies. Mankind has collectively moved past the era of his cultural dominance and into a more casual relationship with his work. Back in 2006, however, a pitch like “Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver” was enough to secure $72.5 million. The resulting film stars Ferrell as Ricky Bobby, a gifted driver, and generally terrible person. He marries a shallow smoke show, infuriates his bosses, misuses his best friend, and becomes an arrogant jerk as he rises through the ranks. Ricky becomes a legend, but, when a new racer takes the #1 slot, everything crashes around him, and he’ll have to go back to basics to get it all back. It’s mostly a framework to hang borderline sketch comedy about NASCAR fans and driving mishaps, but the central story is often deeply personal. The film’s a little uneven, but there’s some great stuff in this strange racing comedy.
New Initial D the Movie
Anime is another great home for the racing genre, and there’s no racing anime more iconic than Shuichi Shigeno’s Initial D. There have been multiple anime adaptations of the manga series, as well as a live-action film in 2005, but the 2014 anime trilogy is arguably the best way to experience the story. Those who haven’t seen the anime have almost undoubtedly seen the occasional drift compilation set to the series’ incredible soundtrack. The film has no shortage of those iconic moments, complete with a grounded and thrilling storyline. Based on the true story of Keiichi Tsuchiya, Initial D tells the tale of the birth of drift racing on mountains in the Kanto region of Japan. Fans should tune in on all three films to get the full story, but the second is probably the best.
The World’s Fastest Indian
Sir Anthony Hopkins stars in Roger Donaldson’s adaptation of the life story of Burt Munro. Munro was a New Zealand-born speed bike racer who broke a variety of incredible records in the 50s and 60s. Several of his accomplishments have not been eclipsed to this day. This 2005 film puts Hopkins in the role of a man who is rapidly feeling the cold hand of time pulling him away from his dreams of him. Munro must struggle against his waning health, his financial difficulties, and the advice of everyone who cares for him in pursuit of setting a new land-speed record in his heavily modified Indian Scout motorcycle. The most powerful aspect of the film is unquestionably Hopkins’ performance of it. Donaldson was evidently moved by the story, working on the project for more than twenty years before it reached proper production. Not enough people have seen this moving journey, but it ranks amongst the best in the genre.
The Wachowskis took on one of the most iconic series of early anime and turned into the unquestioned best adaptation of the genre. The visually spectacular journey of Speed and his family of him, competing in impossible races, and battling the corporate owners is perfectly executed. Underneath the flashy CGI and absurd action setpieces, lies a simple but strong narrative of creativity and ambition standing alone against the world. The spirit of Tatsuo Yoshida’s original manga is alive and well in this adaptation, but it also functions beautifully as a racing film. Though so much of it is absurd, there’s a real heart that gets to the core of the sport in a way that some more grounded films simply can’t. Speed Racer is a bizarre and fantastic entry in a wide genre that deserves as much recognition as it can get.
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