The history of motorized vehicles is long and deep. They’ve taken mankind far and wide on epic journeys across continents from sea to shining sea. They’ve carried us around tracks at treacherous, torrid paces and allowed us to defy our natural bounds for decades. Mankind’s passion for the motor vehicle — whether it’s racing them, taking them to faraway lands, or crafting and customizing them to create the perfect machine — is a well-documented phenomenon. It’s therefore no surprise that there are more than a few excellent films that examine the sacred relationship between man and his car.
Some films investigate the personalities that drove motorcycle and car cultures forward. Portraying deft-handed drivers and innovative CEOs alike, these films explore the bold men who stepped outside of the straight and narrow path, the path deemed “safe,” to pursue something greater.
Ferrari: Race To Immortality
The 1950s was one of the most dangerous (and deadly) decades in Formula 1 racing history. It was also a decade of dominance for Ferrari, thanks to the efforts of several intrepid racers who piloted their red cars to victory and helped establish Ferrari as the top name in European racing. This documentary follows race car drivers like Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn, and the icon Enzo Ferrari, as they helped launch Ferrari into the realm of legend. Directed by Daryl Goodrich, Ferrari: Race To Immortality is a reverent look at the golden age of F1 racing and the dawn of Ferrari’s legendary status in the European auto circuit.
Length: 1h 31min
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
On Any Sunday
One of the very first motorcycle documentaries ever filmed, this 1971 documentary was directed by Bruce Brown and backed financially by Steve McQueen. It delves into the world of motorsports, and is often credited as the most important documentary ever made about motorcycling. Roger Ebert said On Any Sunday does for motorcycle racing what The Endless Summer did for surfing.” Which is no coincidence, as Brown directed the legendary surf documentary from 1966. The film received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and featured several motorcycle riding legends including Mert Lawwill, Malcolm Smith, Paul Carruthers, and of course the “King of Cool,” Steve McQueen.
Length: 1h 36m
Rotten Tomatoes: 84% (audience)
Ayrton Senna da Silva was one of the greatest Formula 1 racers of all time. The driver from Brazil won a total of three Formula One world championships for McLaren in 1988, 1990, and 1991 before he was killed in a wreck at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix while racing for Williams. The documentary Senna investigates the story behind this mythical figure in Formula 1 racing, a man who is often considered the most important race car driver in European motor circuit history.
Length: 2h 42m
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Here’s to the crazy ones. The renegades, the outlaws — people like Magnus Walker, a rebellious fashion designer turned-customizer of Porsches from the U.K. whose obsession with crafting incredible cars launched him into fortune and success. From his garage in downtown Los Angeles, Walker creates truly original custom one-off Porsches that people travel across the world to find.
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A
Too Fast To Race
Group B cars were the most rip-roaring, scintillating cars in rally racing in the 1980s. Cars like the Citroen BTX 4C, MG Metro 6R4, Audi Quattro S1 E2, the Lancia Delta S4 were some of the fastest, most powerful cars to ever take on a dirt track. As it turned out, they were a little too mighty. Too Fast To Race follows the rise and fall of these demonically speedy vehicles, including some archive racing footage that will blow your mind.
Length: 1h 38m
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A
Truth in 24 II: Every Second Counts
The follow-up to the 2008 documentary of the same name, Truth In 24 II follows the Audi Sport Racing team as they pursue the checkered flag at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Endurance Race. The film gets down to the nitty gritty of the legendary race, the epic rivalry between the Audi and Peugeot race teams, and the personalities and legends who make the epic race through the French town of Le Mans one of Europe’s most renowned races.
Length: 1h 28m
Rotten Tomatoes: 93% (audience)
Apex: The Story Of The Hypercar
The hypercar is the most exotic, opulent vehicle in the world. Few know what defines a hypercar, what differentiates them from supercars, and some of the most incredible hypercars on Earth. The documentary mainly follows the titans of the Hypercar industry: Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren, BMW, Jaguar, Pagani, and Koenigsegg. It pays special attention to the founder of the lattermost carmaker on that list, Christian von Koenigsegg, who has been a source of immense innovation for decades and still seeks to revolutionize the auto industry.
Length: 1h 32m
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Love The Beast
Eric Bana is a very well-known actor, but few know the other passion that inspires him. Bana is a long-time car lover. Especially his own Ford GT Falcon Coupe, which he has named “the Beast.” For 25 years, the Beast has been Bana’s best friend. After years of flirting with the idea, Bana decided to enter the Targa Tasmania Rally. Things were going smoothly, until the fourth day of the race, when something terrible happens. Full of drama and deep meditation on what it is to love a car, Love The Beast is a fascinating look at the relationship between man and motorized vehicle.
Length: 1h 39m
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
The 24 Hour War
The 24 Hours of Le Mans Endurance Race is a subject worthy of multiple documentaries. So many incredible tales, catastrophic accidents, and feats of automotive excellence have taken place on the Circuit de Sarthe. One such story took place in 1966, when Ford won the European endurance race for the first time. They did so by knocking off Ferrari, the then six-time reigning champion, shutting the prancing horse out from the podium and claiming the top three positions with their three Ford Mk. IIs. The documentary dives into the epic rivalry spawned by a business deal gone awry, a feud between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II, and an obsessive desire to to knock the Ferrari Scuderia race team from its cushy spot at the top.
Length: 1h 39m
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Dust To Glory
The Baja 1000 is an off road race held every year in the Baja California Peninsula. Founded in 1967, the Baja has evolved into one of the most illustrious off road races in the world, and was a favorite of Steve McQueen, who participated several times on the back of his trusty Husqvarna. Mcqueen’s son Chad, who has also competed in the race, appears in the film along with Mario Andretti and Sal Fish to sing the praises of the grueling and wild race through the harsh Mexican desert.
Length: 1h 37m
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
21 Days Under The Sky
Four close friends embark on an epic, 3,800-mile ride across America along the Lincoln Highway, one of the oldest surviving east-to-est routes in the country. The documentary inspects the American emblem of the motorcycle and its relationship to freedom and nonconformity. Much like Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s characters in Easy Rider, the four men who star in this film are in pursuit of something ineffable, something deep and American dream-y, and the documentary takes us along for the ride as they seek it out.
Length: 1h 10m
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
Narrated by Liam Neeson, this 2014 follows the pursuit of speed at any price. The sport of high-speed motorcycle racing survives in two remaining locations: Ireland and the Isle of Man. Over the last fifty years, more than 150 have died at these races, making them among the most dangerous competitions of speed in the world. Two pairs of brothers from Ireland have dominated the sport over the last three decades. It follows their stories, investigating what motivates them, and why they continue to pursue impossible speeds, in the wake of tremendous sacrifice.
Length: 1h 42m
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
The Best Surf Documentaries
Surfing, like driving, is a high-octane pursuit, one which has long served as a vehicle for man to test his limits. Check out this list of the best surf documentaries to learn the deep, dangerous, and beautiful history of one of man’s greatest passions.
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