Racing is one of the most-watched and most exhilarating sports in the world. Whatever form it takes, motorcycle speedway, motocross, sports car racing, drag racing, formula, or stock car racing, they are always so fun to watch. It's a spectacle of real life that's often portrayed in films over the years. All kinds of sports have been made into movies, baseball, football, and basketball are some of the most popular, but there is another sport that has incurred a number of great movie versions. That sport is car racing. In anticipation of Christian Bale and Matt Damon's biopic titled Ford v Ferrari, here is a list of ten of the best actors who portrayed race car drivers on film.
10 Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious
They wouldn't make eight movies (and a spin-off film) about a street car-racer if people didn't eat it up at the cinemas. Vin Diesel and his Fast and Furious epic films started 18 years ago, with a core cast that included Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster.
This one car racing film took home $207 million at the box office and they couldn't stop making sequels after that. Vin Diesel's character is Dominic Toretto, the name alone makes you want to be friends with him. The cool and brawny street racer turned out to be very irresistible even from law enforcement personnel, as they befriend him film after film.
9 Bonnie Bedelia in Heart Like a Wheel
Most people know her best as Holly Gennero, Bruce Willis's soon to be ex-wife in the classic film Die Hard. But she gave quite a performance portraying a drag racer nicknamed Cha Cha. Shirley Muldowney is, more importantly, the woman known as the First Lady of Drag Racing, but she rose to popularity as Cha Cha. Bonnie Bedelia was wonderful as Cha Cha in the 1983 biographical racing film titled Heart Like A Wheel. Muldowney was a trailblazer in the world of car racing, and this film is a great movie to watch if you're ever down and need an inspirational boost, race-wise or otherwise.
8 Jason Statham in Death Race
We forget that Jason Statham's character in the film Death Race was a NASCAR driver. Jensen Ames is a down on his luck guy with little left to lose and is forced to race in prison but with totally different rules and gameplay. There's not much by way of car racing in this particular film, but it's entertaining nonetheless. We also just need an excuse to include The Transporter on this list, he was the coolest driver ever in that film! Statham's rugged handsomeness and brooding aura are always fun to watch, race car driver or not, he is truly entertaining.
7 Matthew Fox in Speed Racer
Riding on the ultimate success of their Matrix trilogy, the Wachowski brothers next helmed a racing film in 2008. The title was Speed Racer, and yes, it was based on the popular anime series. There are a number of characters in this movie that are race car drivers, like the protagonist Speed Racer played by Emile Hirsch. But the best one is Racer X, a mysterious racer that looks and acts like a bad guy but is actually one of the good guys (spoiler alert: he is Speed's older brother Rex Racer). Expertly portrayed by Matthew Fox (TV's Lost), Racer X is one cool driver. Wearing his trademark black helmet with the big X in the middle, he races with a purpose and an objective.
6 Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights
Will Ferrell is too funny to get thrown out of this list just because this film is the opposite of what race car drivers are. It's a parody, so of course, it's going to be outrageously funny. But even with the senseless humor we still find heart in this film, most especially when his best friend tries to douse the imaginary flames Ricky Bobby was engulfed in. Will Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, the best NASCAR driver of his time.
Learning how to drive with a puma in the car, shake and bake (slingshot), these are just some of the antics in this wacky car racing comedy film. Special mention to Sacha Baron Cohen, who played the funniest French Formula driver ever, Jean Girard, and Ricky Bobby's nemesis.
5 Burt Reynolds in Cannonball Run
Before Will Ferrell played NASCAR's Ricky Bobby there was Burt Reynolds. He played the character named Stroker Ace in the car racing comedy film of the same name. Stroker Ace was a three-time NASCAR champion. Released in 1983, it was not well-loved by the people. Not like his other films where he played a racing driver, well, of sorts. Cannonball Run (1981) was the more successful of his roles as a racer, it topped the box office and prompted the producers to make a sequel that was released in 1984. The plot's about a cross-country race, and highly illegal to complicate it.
4 Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder
His days of doing the impossible and making a living out of it was a product of Tom Cruise's own quest (in film at least) of a persona in the movies. He was a jet fighter pilot, a bartender, a car salesman, and he also became a race car driver.
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This could be one of the best depictions of NASCAR drivers, with a young Tom Cruise (the film was made almost 20 years ago) and an eye-catching leading lady Nicole Kidman. He played Cole Trickle, an up-and-coming NASCAR driver. This character was loosely based on real-life NASCAR driver Tim Richmond.
3 Paul Newman in Winning
There are times when actors play roles that are very similar to who and what they are in real life. We sometimes wonder how that came to be. Winning is a 1969 film directed by James Goldstone and starred legendary actor Paul Newman. This is where the passion for racing started for Mr. Newman. He immersed in the role of race car driver Frank Capua and became a race car driver himself afterward. The film also presented cameo appearances of real-life celebrities in the car racing world during that time, which makes for a nice viewing if you are a fan of racing from the sixties.
2 Chris Hemsworth in Rush
Thor has range, everyone should have realized that by now. He is mighty and funny at the same time. He was a hunter, a secret extraterrestrial agent, and a race car driver. Chris Hemsworth's role in the 2013 film Rush was further proof of his acting range. He starred alongside Daniel Bruhl, who almost stole the show with his stellar performance, as they played real-life Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. In the film, Hemsworth drives for McLaren and Bruhl for Ferrari. They go head to head where on-point acting accompanied great racing action and drama and award-winning editing.
1 Steve McQueen in Le Mans
Once upon a time, he said that he doesn't know if he's an actor who races or a racer who acts. Steve McQueen, out of all the cool roles he had, is a man everybody else in his generation aspired to be. Character after character, he plays the heck out of it and knocks it out of the park. Nothing's different from the 1971 film Le Mans where he portrayed Michael Delaney, a fictional racer who won the Le Mans. The racing footage was the real deal, as they filmed the 1970 Le Mans race. The King of Cool does it again in this racing film.