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There are so many streaming options that it’s hard for us gearheads to know where to watch our favorite flicks. Though movies can appear and disappear from time to time, here are the five best car movies (in no particular order) you can stream right now. Some are classics, and some are new, but all of them are well worth a gearhead’s time.
#1: Grand Prix
John Frankenheimer’s mid-century masterpiece follows the lives of four racers and their teams across the entirety of a season when racing was at its most dangerous. There’s romance and team politics, but the on-track action is the gold standard that makes Grand Prix one of the best car movies of all time.
If there’s a single lead, it’s James Garner as the American racer Pete Aron. Yves Montand plays Jean-Pierre Sarti, very French, very fast. The legendary Toshirô Mifune is Izo Yamura, a Japanese racing boss who will win, no matter the cost. The love interests are played by Eva Marie Saint (as Louise Frederickson), Jessica Walter as Pat, and fashion model Françoise Hardy as Lisa. And don’t forget Brian Bedford as Scott Stoddard and Antonio Sabato as Nino Barlini.
Frankenheimer puts you in the driver’s seat (literally). There are extended camera shots from the most breathtaking angles, enough to make even the most jaded gearhead swoon. How about a full lap, at racing speed, around Monaco from the perspective of a Ferrari’s radiator? The multi-pane editing technique set the trend that Hollywood followed for about a decade after.
And The Sounds!
Grand Prix is more than just wide-screen visuals. The attention paid to the sound editing is also a master class. Ferraris sound like Ferraris, BRMs growl with Cosworth V8 power, gear-changes snik-snak, and the tires squeal just right. As much as car people love to find continuity errors in car movies, you’ll find very few here.
The lives of four competitive Grand Prix drivers come to a head in this Oscar-winning and action-packed film.
Best Car Movies Class: Racing, Classics
#2: Ford v Ferrari
James Mangold’s film is a modern take on Henry Ford II getting mad at Enzo Ferrari and deciding to beat him at his own game. Ford v Ferrari chronicles the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 with Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), Ken Miles (Christen Bale), and the whole gang at Shelby Racing at the time. The much-hyped 2019 film has since earned a reputation as one of the best car movies on any streaming service.
Le Mans, Back In The Day
One thing Ford v Ferrari gets right on the money is the look and feel of Le Mans back in 1966: rural and remote and raw and rustic. There’s no dividing wall from the track either, so don’t fly off into those trees at 200 mph – good luck!
With the amount of motoring eye candy in Ford v Ferrari, don’t be surprised if you find yourself pausing to soak it all in. In addition to the up-close detail shots, the whole vibe of what the paddock was like at Riverside or inside Shelby’s race shop on a hot SoCal day is excellent.
Hot Heads & High Tension
There’s plenty of hot-headed macho energy in Ford v Ferrari. Shelby and Miles go at it, physically and verbally; Hank the Deuce blows his stack, and everyone is amped up, but that’s just how it was. Ford v Ferrari isn’t perfect, and there were a few quirks we took issue with when the film premiered, but overall, Mangold delivers in this modern telling of a classic story.
Enter the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari, which culminated at Le Mans in 1966.
Best Car Movies Class: Biopic
#3: American Graffiti
Not all good car movies are about racing. In fact, not all of “the best car movies” are even about cars. Look at George Lucas’ American Graffiti. Sure, the cars are cooler than James Dean sitting on a block of ice, but the movie is really about four teenagers in the early 1960s on their last night of summer vacation.
Before They Were Stars
American Graffiti is one of those bona fide pictures that launched a thousand careers. Dig this cast of then-unknowns: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Somers, Mackenzie Phillips, and Harrison Ford. And the rest of the cast is just as solid, if not as famous now: Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Wolfman Jack, Bo Hopkins, and Manuel Padilla Jr.
Hot Rods & Cool Cars
Milner’s Duce Coupe, Falfa’s nasty ’55 Chevy, Bollander’s showboat Impala. And that ’51 Mercury Coupe. Chopped, channeled, dropped, and Frenched, the Pharaoh’s ride still gets me.
Where Were You in ’62?
Nothing seems as important as it does when you’re 17. Everything is do or die, make or break, and American Graffiti drives that home. Looking for love, falling in love, losing love, and, most importantly, knowing who’s got the fastest car in town. It’s all in this masterful piece of cinema.
Before George Lucas made billions telling us about a galaxy far, far away, he made an unexpected hit telling us about teenagers in Modesto, California.
Best Car Movies Class: Coming-of-age
Speaking of Ron Howard and American Graffiti, guess what he eventually went on to do (besides Apollo 13 and getting into a fight with Homer on Springfield Squares). He made one of the best car movies yet in Rush. Faithful to its subject matter, Howard tells the real story of the knock-down, drag-out rivalry between James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).
If you haven’t seen Rush yet, here is a brief summary: Yes, Hunt was that much of a party boy. Yes, Niki was that cold and calculating. And yes, it really all went down like that.
You get to savor some delicious cars in Rush, and if you dig ’70s vintage GP machinery, this is your movie. And the way the cars are filmed is the best thing since Frankenheimer and Grand Prix (Howard put a camera on a wheel gun during a pit stop). The dirt and grease seem as if they are flying right out of your screen; it’s that up close and personal.
There are a lot more Niki Laudas in racing these days than James Hunts, but there are still a few. Rush is a great way to remember that even though Formula 1 is a billion-dollar business, there’s still room for guys Kimi Räikkönen … I mean Fernando Alonso, er, I mean James Hunt.
Rush follows the rivalry and odd friendship between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Grand Prix season.
Best Car Movies Class: Biopic
#5: Le Mans
Like other films on this list, Le Mans is the spitting image of racing in the 1970s. Although one of the best car movies, there are things about Le Mans that make it difficult to watch if you are a casual moviegoer.
All Action, No Talk
Only a little dialogue complements the documentary style (director Lee H. Katzin used live footage from Le Mans for the film). Unlike a standard narrative drama, Le Mans does not spoon-feed any information, requiring viewers to piece things together on their own.
Relatively Unknown Cast
Another thing that may work against Le Mans for the casual viewer is that besides the legendary Steve McQueen, there are no well-known stars in the other roles. Of course, we’re not casual viewers here at Automoblog, so the casting isn’t an issue for us, not when there are Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s to gawk at. When it comes to us gearheads, McQueen was always one of our best representatives. However, Siegfried Rauch, McQueen’s main on-screen rival, gives a performance that still holds up over 50 years later.
Best Racing Sequences of All Time
For the diehard fans, the question is if Le Mans is better than Grand Prix? Check out the racing sequences as the big 917s and 512s are dueling down the three-plus mile long Mulsanne straight before you answer. Internally, our Automoblog team debates which is better from time to time, but I aim that Le Mans is the better film.
Two racing champions go head-to-head on the world’s hardest endurance course: Le Mans in France.
Best Car Movies Class: Racing, Classics
Are These The Best Car Movies on Streaming?
For now, given how fast things come and go from our favorite streaming services. If we missed anything, get our attention on Twitter and let us know what we should add to this list. If you need more on-screen horsepower, check this list of the best car movies on Amazon Prime.
Longtime Automoblog writer Tony Borroz has worked on popular driving games as a content expert, in addition to working for aerospace companies, software giants, and as a movie stuntman. He lives in the northeast corner of the northwestern-most part of the Pacific Northwest.