Race Weekend Central

Reel Racing: Ranking Crashes in Motorsports Films

Considering we’re coming off a weekend at Talladega Superspeedway in which both Blaine Perkins and Daniel Hemric ended up flipping, this felt like an appropriate topic to touch on.

Perkins, of course, barrel-rolled six times down the backstretch, and Hemric slid down the turn 4 banking on his roof, the latter needing cleanup crews to roll the car back over. It marked the first time since 2016 that two different cars ended up inverted in the same race in NASCAR’s top three series.

Racing movies can struggle at times to execute crash sequences well, and nothing can replicate the real thing, of course. That said, there’s some pretty stark examples of both good and bad crash demonstrations in these productions.

See also
Blaine Perkins Taken to Hospital After Multi-Rollover Wreck

I write this with the full admission that I may have missed one or two along the way, but I have good faith I’m including all of them. Any movies with more than one significant crash sequence have those scenes encompassed in one slot, and a franchise like the Cars films has all of its entries grouped together.

Most of these involve cars flipping (because what’s more spectacular for audiences than an automobile going end-over-end), but a few of them are a little more grounded (pun intended).

1. Rush

It certainly helps that Rush is the chronicle of Niki Lauda’s and James Hunt’s real-life rivalry during the 1976 Formula 1 season and that the crash sequence depicting Lauda’s accident is based off the real footage.

Of course, it takes a skilled director and crew to pull off a replication of such an incident, which Ron Howard and co. did exceptionally well here. The movie’s sequence takes up-close liberties, as well, but that’s all in service of the finished product.

It touches on the camaraderie of the drivers, as multiple competitors involved in the accident come to Lauda’s aid as his car burns, and the abject fear that Lauda no doubt experienced with some other close-ups of the cockpit.

The painstaking effort to replicate the actual crash is admirable, down to a couple of cuts to a fan filming with his personal video camera on higher ground in the trees — referring to the actual angle the crash was filmed from.

Rush does remain what I consider to be the greatest racing film ever made, so that probably helps its case here.

2. Grand Prix

There’s only a couple accident sequences in Grand Prix despite its three-hour runtime, but one in particular is iconic and the other is violently jarring (yet still realistic).

The stellar opening scene takes place at the Monaco Grand Prix and culminates in a sequence featuring Pete Aron’s (James Garner) car tumbling into the Mediterranean Sea. There’s a reason this clip has nearly 8 million views on YouTube:

A later portion takes place during the climactic race at Monza and ends with one driver’s car taking flight off the high-banked curve of the circuit, crashing through the trees and exploding upon landing.

Personally, I’m hoping that Joseph Kosinski’s upcoming F1 film takes some notes from Grand Prix and keeps almost everything practical while making the racing as realistic as possible.

3. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

This might get me some comments, I’m sure of it, but 3-5 on this list are all kind of interchangeable.

Talladega Nights gets the nod over the next two films by just a hair, the pure hilarity of “The Long One” at Talladega giving it an edge.

Sure, it’s ridiculous, defies physics and is played for comedic effect, but some of the damage effects are pretty solid. And having an over-the-top crash at that specific track works given the bizarre incidents we’ve seen there over the years.

See also
Reel Racing: 'The Legend of Hallowdega' Lives

4. Days of Thunder

I still believe Days of Thunder is over-hated amongst the general viewing public. Like Talladega Nights, its wreck sequences are a little exaggerated, but for the time that was the norm, and its gritty style makes it work.

Honestly, the barrel-rolls Cole Trickle endures aren’t that unrealistic, nor is the damage, so it makes its way into the top five on this list.

5. Ford v Ferrari

There aren’t really a ton of crashes in Ford v Ferrari, as it’s an excellent showcase of director James Mangold’s ability to depict racing action, but there’s one violent rollover as the climactic race begins.

We’re following Christian Bale’s Ken Miles, of course, and a red car ahead of his No. 1 Ford machine overturns into the hay bales and sprays debris across the track.

It definitely looks a little awkward, but overall works for how quickly it happens. The 24-hour event has certainly seen its share of weird wrecks over the years.

6. Le Mans

Just like the other Le Mans-themed film just above it, Le Mans focuses more on a couple of competitors and the racing action — but even more so. This and Ford v Ferrari are essentially tied.

If nothing else, this one especially shows the brute violence of crashes at Le Mans, especially with how rudimentary some of the track limits — haybales and metal guardrails — were half a century ago.

The documentary Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans also showcases a few behind-the-scenes shots and comments on filming the crash scenes as well, which show the dedication toward making the sequences as accurate as possible.

7. Trading Paint

For as subpar a racing film as Trading Paint is, not even able to be saved by the cast of John Travolta and Michael Madsen, it somehow lands in seventh in terms of its crash portrayal. The clip itself isn’t on YouTube, but it shows up just past the 1:35 timestamp in the trailer.

It’s not a bad sequence by any means: Travolta’s character’s son gets turned ahead of him, and with no time to take evasive action Travolta slams into the car’s driver’s side and the two machines explode as well.

8. Iron Man 2

Okay, yeah, this isn’t a “racing movie” by conventional means, but it does have its famous Formula 1 scene culminating in Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash causing havoc on the streets of the Monaco Grand Prix.

No tumble into the sea this time, but we get Whiplash slashing the right-front off of a Ferrari and sending it into the catchfence before he separates Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark’s front axle completely and sending it end-over-end.

The cars aren’t accurate to the time period, and it’s a superhero movie, so it does take some extension of belief, but it’s cool to see motorsports show up in one of these things — especially an early Marvel entry.

9. Cars, Cars 2 & Cars 3

Look, it’s an animated movie, so it automatically drops down the list — things are bound to look more cartoonish and artificial regardless. If nothing else, the initial “Big One” in the first installment gets some props for a multi-angle, pure-chaos portrayal of an accident happening with little to no avenues of escape on a close-quarters track.

Cars 2 barely exists. We will acknowledge it as little as possible here.

Cars 3 has merit, but there’s a point where Lightning McQueen’s career-changing crash does pass the point of realism (or what little realism there is in an animated film with anthropomorphic cars with eyes for windshields) when McQueen ends up flipping 15 times during that crash.

10. Herbie: Fully Loaded

I nearly gave the bottom spot to the Cars films, but the downright silliness and of-the-time CGI that Herbie Fully Loaded features in its climax dropped it down to the bottom of the list.

It’s not a *good* movie, per se, and the very entertaining cast of Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dillon, Michael Keaton and Justin Long saves it to some degree, but it ends in the most 2005 way possible: Dillon’s Trip Murphy’s Cheetos machine smacks the wall and then launches off of Jeff Gordon‘s No. 24, inverting midair as it turns into a CGI stock car and landing on its roof.

We get a few close-up shots to avoid showing more of the subpar visual effect … and then it somehow gets more ridiculous when Herbie wall-rides up the catchfence to win.

About the author

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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Herbie is the best actually

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