Cool Car Cinema: 11 Best Automotive Documentary Films, Ranked
Hollywood blockbusters have nothing on the excitement, history, and heart of true automobile passion. The thrilling authenticity of actual motorsport footage and real-life interviews can’t be replicated by actors or stunt crews. That’s why nothing beats a good car-themed documentary.
Because of that, we thought it was time to share our favorites. We couldn’t limit our choices to just 10, so we’ve compiled and ranked the top 11 best automotive documentary films.
Did your favorite make the list? If it didn’t, share your favorite picks with us in the comments!
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Counting Down the Top 11 Car Documentaries
|11. Yank Tanks (2002)||This award-winning documentary might be the least popular film on this list, but it’s rich with culture. It captures the classic car craze in Cuba, where vintage vehicles roam the roads and their owners sacrifice anything to keep the cars running. Although it chronicles the lives of a different culture, it’s easy to connect with their automotive passion.|
|10. Winnebago Man (2009)||The most unique–and easily the funniest–documentary on our list is all about the crotchety, foul-mouth Jack Rebney who became infamous for his Winnebago RV infomercial bloopers. A documentary team searches him out, decades after fading into obscurity…and finds him living alone in the mountains. It gets even better from there.|
|9. Boys of Bonneville (2011)||Discover the relatively unknown David Abbott Jenkins, who single-handedly set most of the land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats that still exist 50 years later. Jenkins’ inspiring story–and his custom-made car, the Mormon Meteor–is depicted through archival footage that capture the man’s perseverance and creativity.|
|8. Dale (2007)||Multiple films have been made chronicling the “The Intimidator,” but this one is definitely the best. Narrated by Paul Newman, this glimpse into the life of Dale Earnhardt reveals his family life, reputation for misbehavior, and philosophy on racing. Whether you’re a NASCAR fan or not, you’re bound to find it insightful.|
|7. Adrenalin (2014)||Although this was only released at the end of last year, it’s already gaining traction as a must-see documentary with great footage and a great (if somewhat incomplete) story. Filmmakers Tim and Nick Hahne chronicle BMW’s stake in the 2011 Nürburgring 24 hour race while explaining BMW M’s touring car racing history. And it never slows down.|
|6. The Speed Merchants (1972)||The oldest documentary on our list, The Speed Merchants is a classic from the golden era of sports car racing. Seeing vintage prototypes from Porsche, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Matra in the World Sportscar Championship make this film a nostalgic dream–perfectly complemented by Mario Andretti’s narration.|
|5. Love the Beast (2009)||Although it’s a bit of a vanity project, actor Eric Bana’s self-made documentary on his beloved 1974 Ford XB Falcon Coupe (called “The Beast”) captures the personal struggles and vulnerabilities of a man’s relationship with his first car. While it’s not a thrilling movie, it’s a testament to mankind’s rocky love affair with muscle cars.|
|4. Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)/Revenge of the Electric Car (2011)||You can’t pick one or the other–it has to be a double-feature. Who Killed the Electric Car?, while a bit outdated now, is a stirring and inciting piece on the uphill battle faced by alternative fuel vehicles. Its sequel, while far less rousing, gives an honest and behind-the-scenes look at the growing EV market.|
|3. Dust to Glory (2005)||Dana Brown stunningly captures the physical and mental duress of the legendary Baja 1000. While his father’s documentary, On Any Sunday, was also entertaining, Dust to Glory truly captures the magnitude of the grueling desert race. With in-your-face footage, it’ll convert anyone into an off-roading fan.|
|2. Truth in 24 (2008)||Forget that this documentary was produced by Audi; it’s doesn’t detract from how breathtaking the film is. This nail-biting testament to the dedication and teamwork needed to compete in the 24 Hours of LeMans authentically captures the minute-by-minute risks, hardships, and triumphs. Its sequel is pretty good too.|
|1. Senna (2010)||Known to make grown men cry, this critically-acclaimed look at Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna and his tragic end moves the hearts of viewers who don’t even like documentaries. The film both demystifies the man while building him into even more of a legend, capturing his talent for the sport and his personal struggles. If you haven’t seen it yet, supposedly there’s a three-hour version out there, so pick that over the 100-minute version.|
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- Aaron WidmarSenior Editor
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing... See more articles by Aaron.