Fast (And Possibly Furious) Film Stars
Film stars, fast cars - they often go hand-in-hand. And you can bet a few of moviedom's finest will stroll the pitlane as another Formula 1 season revs up. But for some actors, the petrolhead passion goes much, much further than that.
Steve McQueen once said: 'I don't know if I'm an actor who races or a racer who acts'. An enthusiast of bikes and cars, McQueen won the 3-litre class in the 12 Hours of Sebring race (and only just missed the overall win) in a Porsche 908. He was set to compete at Le Mans with Jackie Stewart too, but his film backers balked, and he settled for making the film of the race - still hailed as one of the most realistic on record. And it was into classics like Le Mans, Bullitt and The Great Escape that McQueen sated his need for speed, taking considerable driving and stuntwork duties.
Paul Newman's love for racing sparked when he made Winning in 1969. He drove competitively for almost 20 years from the early-70s, finished second at Le Mans in 1979, and set up his own Champ Car team - Newman/Haas Racing - in 1983. In 1995, at the age of 70, Newman became the oldest race winner with a class victory at the Daytona 24 Hour event. And all the while remaining a movie megastar and really rather successful purveyor of salad dressing.
'Distinction is a fuzzy thing in acting, but it's very clear in racing,' Newman said, when asked why he loved it. 'Also, I'm not a very graceful person. I was a sloppy skier, a sloppy tennis player, a sloppy football player. The only thing I found grace in was racing a car.'
Tom Cruise (Days of Thunder) flirted with the sport via his friendship with Newman, and - despite crashing a lot - showed real promise, and could have taken it further. James Dean, Gene Hackman, Tim Allen and James Garner (Grand Prix) also relished spinning the wheels, the latter competing in off-road pick-up truck events like the Baja 1000 in Mexico.
Jason Priestley took on the Gumball Rally in 1999 (in a Lotus Esprit V8), and pushed on into serious action - perhaps a bit too far, with a serious smash on the Kentucky Speedway in 2002. His recovery was quick, his enthusiasm undented, and Priestly is now co-owner of a team in the 2009 IndyCar Series.
And in this year’s 24 hour race at Le Mans, Patrick Dempsey (Grey's Anatomy), will compete in a Ferrari F430 GT. Dr McDreamy has a bit of experience, having raced in January at the Daytona 24 hour event, and a good team behind him. So he'll no doubt be hoping to emulate Paul Newman. Rather than James Brolin. Who once hit a pig at Sebring. That's racing...
Top 12 Race Movies (as voted for by LOVEFiLM members)
Former racing driver and Vietnam vet Kowalski (Barry Newman) bets a colleague he can drive a Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in under 24 hours, gets high on Benzedrine, and leads the police on a hectic cross-country chase.
No Vin Diesel this time, but Paul Walker is back undercover to infiltrate the evil empire of Miami drug baron Cole Hauser. Just about on his side are his old illegal street racing pal Tyrese and Hauser's mistress, Eva Mendes.
Tricked-out cars, caged thugs and smoking-hot navigators combine to create a juggernaut series with bigger ratings than the Super Bowl... is the official line. Jason Statham smashing up cars in prison, while Lovejoy chews the scenery and babes wiggle about a bit is nearer the mark.
Essentially a soap opera interspersed with racing footage, James Garner stars in director John Frankenheimer's love letter to Formula 1, with racing sequences that are still among the most realistic ever put on film.
Broad, slapstick spin on American NASCAR racing that sees Will Ferrell's domination threatened by his unimpressed father (Gary Cole), and a flashy new opponent (Sasha Baron Cohen, giving it everything as gay French racer, Jean).
Not a film, but still the most daredevil group of daffy drivers to ever whirl their wheels in anger: among others, Peter Perfect in the Turbo Terrific, the Gruesome Twosome in The Creepy Coupe, Prof. Pat Pending in the Convert-a-Car, Penelope Pitstop in The Compact Pussycat, and - of course - Dastardly & Muttley in The Mean Machine. It's the Wacky Races!
A legendary racing film starring a legendary actor. Steve McQueen (grabbing most of the driving duties himself) plays a racer returning from serious injury to face his chief rival in the event that almost killed him: the stamina-sapping, hugely dangerous, 24 hour contest at Le Mans.
An international spy ring hides a priceless gem in Herbie's petrol tank, at which point the self-aware VW Beetle hares off into the Monte Carlo rally, and further complicates the matter by falling in love with a sleek, sporty Lancia.
The Toy Story crew take to the track with talking vehicles and a time-honoured tale: arrogant superstar Lightning McQueen gets stranded in small-town America, only to learn life lessons from the colourful locals.
Flashy, crashy, stock-car action from director Tony Scott, with cocky hotshot Tom Cruise blazing a trail through relationships with rival Michael Rooker, mentor Robert Duvall and doctor/love interest Nicole Kidman.
Fictionalised version of the coast-to-coast, cross-America chase, studded with a celebrity ensemble who seem mostly interested in horsing about. It's a riotus, rather sprawling mess of a movie, but it still offers huge viewing fun, as demonstrated by its popularity in this poll.
Something about this nitro-fuelled flash-and-banger got everyone stoked up - it's pretty, slick, and muscular; terms equally apt for the film, the action, the cars and the cast. Whether the reunion of Vin Diesel & co in F&F(4) can recreate the magic remains to be seen, but there's little questioning the chart-topping stature of the original model.