James Hunt and Niki Lauda are two highly skilled racing car drivers who first develop a fierce rivalry in 1970 at a Formula Three race at the Crystal Palace circuit in Britain, when both their cars spin out and Hunt eventually wins the race. Hunt is a brash, young Englishman with a tendency to vomit before every race, while Lauda is a cool, calculating Austrian technical genius who relies on precision. After a falling out with his father, Lauda takes a large bank loan and buys his way into the British Racing Motors Formula One team, meeting teammate Clay Regazzoni for the first time. Meanwhile, Hesketh Racing, the fledgling racing team Hunt drives for, enters Formula One as well. Lauda then joins Scuderia Ferrari with Regazzoni and wins his first championship in 1975. Hesketh closes shop after failing to secure a sponsor, but Hunt joins McLaren when Emerson Fittipaldi leaves the team. During this time, Hunt marries supermodel Suzy Miller, while Lauda develops a relationship with German socialite Marlene Knaus.
The 1976 Formula One season starts with Lauda dominating the first two races while Hunt struggles to catch up. Hunt wins the Spanish Grand Prix, but is disqualified after a post-race inspection rules that his car is too wide. Struggling to comply with F1 rules, McLaren suffers a series of setbacks on the next few races, and Hunt's situation is further exacerbated when Suzy is discovered to have a relationship with actor Richard Burton. Following his divorce, he regains his competitive spirit and his disqualification in Spain is overturned, which reinstates the points he lost and puts him back into championship contention. Meanwhile, Lauda marries Marlene in a private ceremony but begins to have concerns about the effects of his marriage on his racing career.
At the German Grand Prix, Lauda urges the F1 committee to cancel the race due to heavy rain on the already notoriously dangerous Nürburgring. At the drivers' meeting, Hunt argues that Lauda would benefit by having one fewer race in the season. The drivers vote to go ahead with the race. Both Hunt and Lauda start the race with wet weather tyres, which becomes a costly tactic due to most of the track quickly drying up. They both pit to change tyres during the second lap, but halfway through the third lap, a suspension arm in Lauda's Ferrari breaks, sending the car flying into an embankment before it bursts into flames and is further hit by other cars on the track. After being pulled out of the flaming wreckage, he is airlifted to the hospital with third-degree burns to his head and face and dangerous internal burns to his lungs. For the next six weeks, Lauda is treated for his injuries while he watches his rival dominate the races in his absence. Despite his doctor's orders, he decides to drive his Ferrari at the Italian Grand Prix to finish fourth while Hunt fails to finish the race.
The 1976 season comes to a climax at the rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix. Hunt's late rally in Lauda's absence has pulled him within three points of Lauda. At the end of the second lap, Lauda returns to the pits and retires from the race as he thought it was too dangerous, opting to stay with Marlene instead of risking his life again on the track. This opens the door for Hunt to win the championship if he can notch a podium finish (third or better). After facing stiff competition under gruelling conditions and overcoming tyre problems and injuring his hand due to the gear shifter knob breaking, Hunt finishes third, giving him enough points to win the championship by one point over Lauda. He spends the rest of the year with fame, sex and drugs, while Lauda takes an interest in flying private planes. At a private airfield in Bologna, Lauda suggests to Hunt that he focus on the next racing season, but later on realises that Hunt no longer has anything to prove. Hunt continues to race until his retirement in 1979, and becomes a motorsport broadcast commentator until his death in 1993 at the age of 45.Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt
Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda
Olivia Wilde as Suzy Miller
Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene Lauda
Pierfrancesco Favino as Clay Regazzoni
Jochen Mass as Himself
David Calder as Louis Stanley
Natalie Dormer as Nurse Gemma
Stephen Mangan as Alastair Caldwell
Christian McKay as Lord Hesketh
Alistair Petrie as Stirling Moss
Colin Stinton as Teddy Mayer
Julian Rhind-Tutt as Anthony 'Bubbles' Horsley
Augusto Dallara as Enzo Ferrari
Joséphine de La Baume as Agnes Bonnet
Hunt and Lauda appear as themselves at the end of the film in archive footage, and Lauda has a cameo at the climax of the film.
The film was shot on location in the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria. Blackbushe Airport in Hampshire, the Snetterton (Norfolk), Cadwell Park (Lincolnshire), the former Crystal Palace and Brands Hatch (Kent) motor racing circuits in Britain, and at the Nürburgring in Germany. Both vintage racing cars and replicas were used in the filming.
The financiers include Hürth-based action concept Film- und Stuntproduktion, Egoli Tossell Film, Revolution Films (GB) and Cross Creek Pictures (US). The Film- und Medienstiftung NRW funded the film with €1.35 million, additional funding was provided by MFG Filmförderung Baden-Württemberg and the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF).
Director Ron Howard originally intended for Russell Crowe to make a cameo appearance as Richard Burton for a brief scene where he confronts James Hunt on his affair with Suzy.
Some things in the film are exaggerated (like the Hunt–Lauda rivalry; in reality they had shared a flat early in their careers and were good friends), others downplayed (like Lauda's wife's shock at his disfigurement), and others invented (like Hunt beating up a reporter or the Nürburgring nickname being "the graveyard"; in fact Jackie Stewart had nicknamed it "the Green Hell"). Other inaccuracies include the British F3 battle at Crystal Palace, which in reality was between Hunt and Dave Morgan, and Hunt's overtake on Regazzoni for 3rd place in the Japanese Grand Prix when in the actual race he passed Alan Jones. Another error in the Japanese Grand Prix is that Regazzoni and Laffite finished fourth and fifth, while in the actual race it was Jones and Regazzoni who finished fourth and fifth.
The film's orchestral score was composed by Hans Zimmer. The soundtrack includes 1970s rock music by Dave Edmunds, the Spencer Davis Group (incorrectly credited solely to Steve Winwood, its lead singer), Mud, Thin Lizzy and David Bowie.
BBC Two aired the documentary Hunt vs. Lauda: F1's Greatest Racing Rivals, on 14 July 2013. The documentary provides an extensive look at the rivalry between Hunt and Lauda, featuring interviews with Lauda and former crew members of the McLaren and Ferrari teams.
The Ferrari & the Cinema Society jointly organised a screening of the film at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas in New York on 18 September 2013. Chris Hemsworth attended the screening.
Rush earned $26.9 in domestic box office, $71.3 in international box office, with a worldwide gross of $98.2 million against a budget of $38 million.
Rush has received positive reviews. As of 23 September 2013, it holds a rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 210 reviews with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10, and a rating of 92% based on 39 Top Critics reviews, with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10. Its consensus reads "A sleek, slick, well-oiled machine, Rush is a finely crafted sports drama with exhilarating race sequences and strong performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated a score of 75 based on 43 reviews, thus indicating "generally favourable reviews".
Niki Lauda was pleased with the overall look of the film. He was quoted as saying: "When I saw it the first time I was impressed. There was no Hollywood changes or things changed a little bit Hollywood-like. It is very accurate. And this really surprised me very positively."
Rush was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 28 January 2014. A Sainsbury's exclusive edition complete with a Bonus Disc of new special features was released for a limited time. The Australian Blu-ray release is bundled with the 2013 documentary 1.