The 24 Hours of Le Mans isn’t just a special race, it’s a legendary one. Not only is it the pinnacle of endurance motor sport, Le Mans is a cultural phenomenon ranging back 93 years, one that has transcended competition by innovating aerodynamic, engine, and braking technology in production cars.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans has been profiled by several Hollywood films and documentaries, and ahead of the first race day on June 18, we’d like to share some of our favorites with you. Check out our Le Mans primer for all the event specifics, but if you’re looking for something to build anticipation before the tricolor flag waves, look no further.
In 2008, Audi Motorsport was on top of the world. The brand’s race cars had dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans for seven out of the previous nine years, and it was on the cusp of its fifth straight victory. Audi ended up winning in ‘08, and a documentary crew was on hand to capture the whole thing.
Narrated by professional face-kicker and Transporter star Jason Statham, Truth in 24 follows Audi’s legendary Le Mans run by documenting its efforts at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1,000 Kilometers of Monza leading up to it. Neither resulted in an overall win for the automaker, but Audi made up for it by finishing first, fourth, and sixth at Le Mans. A sequel called Truth in 24 II was released in 2012.
Michel Vaillant (2003)
Michel Vaillant is French picture centering on two rival teams at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but what makes it special are the methods used to film it. Le Mans officials actually allowed two cars with six drivers to enter the 2002 competition, meaning that most of the racing footage is authentic. The squeals of the tires, the roars of the crowd, the screaming of the engines … all real.
The story might be a little hard to understand if you don’t speak French, but let’s be honest, the racing is really what you’re here for. The visuals in particular are vibrant and crisp, a trademark of screenwriter Luc Besson, who penned The Fifth Element, The Transporter, and Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior. The film is loosely based off the Michel Vaillant comic that has been running since 1957.
This one is technically a miniseries, but we’re giving it a pass for its up close look at the mentality of a Le Mans driver and how the event is managed behind the scenes.
The fanbases of Grey’s Anatomy and professional motor sport rarely collide, but they actually did in this 2013 series. The documentary follows Dempsey — himself a pro-am racing driver— as he entered the 2013 Le Mans contest with his own team. His car of choice? A Porsche 911 GT3 RSR running in the LMGTE-Am class.
Dempsey and his co-drivers ended up finishing 28th overall and fourth in-class in 2013, but the Dempsey-Proton Racing team is far from done. In 2016, the group’s GT3 RSR will tear up the track in the LMGTE-Pro class.
Our Return (2016)
Audi’s dominance over the Le Mans field ground to a halt in 2015, when Porsche’s stunning 919 Hybrid took first and second place over its domestic rival. It was the 17th overall victory for the brand, but it was its first since 1998, making the occasion even more noteworthy. Much like Truth in 24 did for Audi, Porsche’s Our Return chronicles the automaker’s run to Le Mans gold.
A brilliant mix of modern and classic footage, the documentary follows the three-year journey of Porsche’s Le Mans team as it worked tirelessly to achieve its former glory. The group was noticeably absent from the endurance race from 1998 to 2014, but when it returned, it did so with a bang.
Will Porsche gain its 18th overall victory in 2016 or will Audi come back with a vengeance? Can Toyota’s 986-horsepower TS050 Hybrid spoil the party? Will Ford celebrate the 50th anniversary of the GT40’s first Le Mans win with another triumph? We can’t wait to find out.
You didn’t think we were going to leave out the Le Mans movie, did you? This 1971 Steve McQueen classic is revered by gearheads not for its story or characterization, but for its simplistic purity. Le Mans is comprised almost entirely of race footage, and 36 minutes go by before McQueen’s character even speaks. Also, much like Michel Vaillant, it’s all real, having been filmed at the 1970 Le Mans race.
As corny as it may sound, this is one of those films that actually gets better with age. Le Mans’ gritty focus, lack of CGI effects, and penchant for real stunts help it stand out from today’s over-the-top blockbusters, and McQueen’s passion for racing definitely comes through on screen. Unfortunately, the movie was a flop when it debuted in American theaters, but like the race itself, the spirit of Le Mans will live on in the hearts of racing fans forever.