Do you have a … need for speed? Sorry, that opener sounds like a bad infomercial.
Racing games are a lot of fun because they are typically (1) shorter than real races and (2) actually let you do the racing, which is more fun than watching dozens of people drive around in a circle. For 17 hours. Or however long races are. Racing movies are a lot of fun, too, because they allow us to watch all the fun parts of racing – the finish, the in-race drama, the crashes – in a more condensed time frame.
Here are some movies you might enjoy if you like racing games like the Need for Speed franchise.
The Cannonball Run
The Cannonball Run is an unpretentious comedy following a bunch of people participating in a cross-country car race. It doesn’t have much more going on beyond that, but it’s pretty funny, the racing is solid, and it has a game cast.
The film community – particularly online – likes to slag the Cars movies a lot for being the worst things Pixar has done and for lacking the intelligence of many of the studio’s other movies. They’re designed to sell toys – which help finance those other, better projects – and give kids something to watch for a couple of hours. The first and the third ones are decent racing movies. And if you have kids, they’re something you can watch together.
Days of Thunder
Also the name of a NASCAR-branded video game, Days of Thunder is basically Top Gun with cars. It brings director Tony Scott and actor Tom Cruise together again for another movie about an up-and-coming man with an inordinate amount of talent but needing the drive to be the best. Last time, he flew planes. This time, he drives cars. It’s flashy.
Death Race (Franchise)
They are still making Death Race movies. The first one was released in 1975, and the latest one was released in 2018. They’re about races in which there are pretty much no rules – and you’re going to want to kill your opponents, lest they kill you first. The cars have weapons, the drivers are all basically using wrestling gimmicks – it’s really dumb, but it’s pretty fun.
The Fast and Furious (Franchise)
I suppose I should preface this by saying that only the first four Fast and Furious movies are actually about racing. Street racing, specifically. After that, the protagonists become superheroes fighting crime and injustice. Yes, seriously. But the first four are pretty fun movies about racing. And muscle cars. And muscle dudes.
Need for Speed
We’ve forgotten about it mostly because it’s a video game movie and most video game movies are, at best, forgettable. It isn’t the most memorable of things, but it’s an officially branded Need for Speed movie, and it’s rare that franchises actually get those. It’s about a guy who takes part in a race in order to avenge his friend, and it’s got some twists and turns – and I’m not just talking about the road on which they drive.
Rush is a fantastic movie focusing on two F1 rivals, James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The film is clever by not giving us a true protagonist. It bounces back and forth between the two drivers, showcasing the positives and negatives to both, and lets us pick for whom we wish to cheer – if anyone. And the racing scenes are really thrilling.
Senna is one of the rare documentaries that feels more like a narrative biopic than anything else. It’s edited like a narrative feature, anyway, and focuses on the career of Ayrton Senna, an F1 driver. Director Asif Kapadia also did the Amy Winehouse documentary a few years later, and in both films the most impressive thing about them is the amount of footage he gets. It helps with the editing, making it flow like a narrative movie.
Speed Racer wasn’t praised on its release, nor was it seen. It bombed both critically and financially, but in recent years has seen something of a critical resurgence. It’s a lot of fun, in a candy-color dreamscape sort of way. It’s got a lot of creativity to it, and is a visual delight. The races are pretty fun, too. Who cares if it doesn’t make a ton of sense?
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Talladega Nights is one of those mid-2000s Will Ferrell comedies that are basically all him playing the same dopey character but in different scenarios. One time, he’s a basketball player. Another, he … gets a new brother. Look, they’re not deep. In this one, he’s a famous NASCAR driver. He gets a rival, has a family, and drives. It’s simple, but if you like Ferrell or racing then you’ll likely enjoy it.