The greatest documentaries tell intriguing stories and dive into the life or lives of the people or events it’s portraying. Whether the stories are widely known or coming to light right before you, the idea is to stir empathy and relate through passion. It’s no surprise, then, that laser-focused race car drivers and meticulous mechanics make perfect subjects for deep-diving films.
They’re true artists of their craft, blurring the lines of man and machine — not in the physical sense, but through the heart and soul they dedicate to their passion. And the greatest stories of people bringing that passion to life — whether by hammering out sheets of metal, building high-power engines, or tracing the perfect line around a race track — can inspire similar adrenaline-inducing emotions. Some of the documentaries on this list are long, some are short, a few stories see speeds in excess of 200 mph while others idle in a garage, but each tells the story of a motorized passion, perfectly.
Love the Beast
Actor and racer Eric Bana turns the camera on himself, allowing us an introspective look into the life-long relationship the man has with his car and the friendships that have grown from it. Heavy-hitting gearheads like Jeremy Clarkson and Jay Leno weigh in; even Dr. Phil contributes an odd yet accurate analysis of Bana and his Ford Falcon XB.
Director: Eric Bana
Starring: Eric Bana, a ’73 Ford Falcon XB, Jeremy Clarkson, Jay Leno,
Arguably the greatest F1 driver of all time, Aryton Senna enjoyed a meteoric rise to the pinnacle of motorsport. Archival footage and interviews reveal a hero’s life full of tumultuous relationships, incredible skill behind the wheel, an international cult following and a tragic and untimely death. What heights his career could have reached will never be known, but this documentary poetically reaffirms he had — and still has — no equal.
Director: Asif Kapadia
Starring: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost
Few cars in the history of the automobile garner a following quite like the Porsche 911. Fewer still are the followers who can claim a level of obsession equal to Magnus Walker. Harvesting parts from donor 911s, Walker creates vintage-style Porsches, faithful to the original but in a spirit all his own.
Director: Tamir Moscovici
Starring: Magnus Walker, the Porsche 911
On Any Sunday
The director of the iconic surf documentary The Endless Summer turns his lens towards two-wheelers to reveal a taboo (at the time) culture. Friends, family and the entire motorcycle lifestyle — casual riders, racers, motorized nomads — are at the center of one of Bruce Brown’s greatest works.
Director: Bruce Brown
Starring: David Evans, J.N. Roberts, Mert Lawwill, Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith
Dust to Glory
The son of director Bruce Brown, Dana Brown has deep roots in motorcycles and racing. Brown (the younger) focuses his attention on the racers of the Baja 1000 and the race’s own family legacies — and the fact that even over generations the fabled desert race has not gotten any safer.
Director: Dana Brown
Starring: Chad McQueen, Mario Andretti, Robby Gordon, Sal Fish
In a bygone era of Formula 1, safety was of no real concern. For years drivers died almost every season, safety standards became antique and speeds doubled. It all came to a head in the early ’90s when Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna died over the same race weekend: from there, safety standards rose exponentially; more modern measures have since saved the lives of countless drivers. In 1, some of the best drivers over the decades are thoughtfully interviewed, their monologues set parallel to stunning archival footage.
Director: Paul Crowder
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Niki Lauda, Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti, Jenson Button, Eddie Jordan, Bernie Ecclestone, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi
One of the best modern-day uses of IMAX filming, Super Speedway goes in depth into the world of CART racing, with fantastic onboard and driver-POV shots.
Director: Stephen Low
Starring: Mario Andretti, Paul Newman, Michael Andretti
On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter
A sequel of sorts to his father’s Any Sunday, Dana Brown works with Red Bull to discover just how far motorcycle culture has come since his father’s film. Speeds have risen, popularity has grown and new heights have been reached. Red Bull Media helps to capture modern motorcycle culture in fantastic fashion.
Director: Dana Brown
Starring: Travis Pastrana, Mickey Rourke, Robbie Maddison, Ashley Fiolek
TT: Closer to the Edge
TT: Closer to the Edge focuses on Guy Martin, arguably the best road racer to never win the Isle of Man TT, and his quest to finally take a victory at the infamous race.
Director: Richard De Aragues
Starring: Guy Martin, Ian Hutchinson, John McGuinness, Michael Dunlop, Keith Amor
Shinya Kimura, Chabott Engineering
Some artists work with paint, others clay. Shinya Kimura sculpts with metal, but his finished works of art happen to have two wheels and an engine. He’s meticulous in his craft yet has a laid-back demeanor, and these two qualities combine in the fluidity of the styling and character of his motorcycles.
Director: Henrik Hansen
Starring: Shinya Kimura
The Ferrari 250 GTO Speaks for Itself
Sometimes the love of cars and driving ignites with a spark, a moment. Other times it can run in the family like a dominant gene. Derek Hill, accomplished racer and son of American F1 legend Phil Hill, inherited his father’s race-winning Ferrari 250 GTO and love for driving on the limit. Hill expertly narrates the story of his family’s 250 GTO, while the car provides the operatic soundtrack for the short film.
Starring: Derek Hill
When Playboys Ruled the World
If you’re a fan of James Hunt and his off-track antics, Barry Sheene was Hunt’s equivalent in the two-wheeled world. Coincidentally, they both were at the top of their sports at the same time and, unsurprisingly, both were good friends. When Playboys Ruled the World looks at the lives of two individuals at a point in history when they both dominated life on and off the track.
Director: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna
Starring: James Hunt, Barry Sheene
Greasy Hands Preachers
Greasy Hands Preachers is a gritty and stylized look at some of the best motorcycle builders in the world. The film follows multiple builders and captures all the characters that fill their shops, assist at races and go on rides. It’s a film that provides a window into a world that is rarely seen.
Director: Clément Beauvais, Arthur de Kersauson
Starring: Deus, Roland Sands
Hitting the Apex
At the pinnacle of every sport, there always has to be one contender who is the absolute best. Apex follows six of the fastest riders of all time in MotoGP. The film reveals a constant battle among the riders and other internal struggles each rider aces to physically and mentally fight to stay on top.
Director: Mark Neale
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Casey Stoner, Marco Simoncelli