Race Weekend Central

Reel Racing: The Highest-Grossing Films Featured on NASCAR Paint Schemes

It’s that time again!

Summer movie blockbuster season is upon us. The Flash just bombed in its opening weekend, but we have Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny next week, plus Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part I, Oppenheimer and Barbie in July and more. As someone currently in the midst of a rewatch binge of the Indiana Jones films, a quick aside: Raiders of the Lost Ark is still one of the greatest films ever made, and Arnold Toht’s melting face is an all-time practical effect.

So I got to thinking about these massive box-office returns and my brain drifted back to the list of movie-sponsored NASCAR paint schemes. With the most recent addition to the list, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, recently clearing $800 million on the big screen, I thought we’d take a look at which movies featured on stock cars made the most (and least) from ticket sales.

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These numbers are mostly taken directly from the films’ Wikipedia pages — definitely the best source on the internet, for sure. For others harder to research, I took to their Box Office Mojo pages. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is the only list member without a number, as it was direct-to-video. The other 105 films do clock in somewhere in the dollar ranges.

Let’s start on a positive note with the films that came out on top. Our lowest-grossing list will be en route next week.

First off, some honorable mentions, with the drivers who piloted schemes promoting them and the series in which they ran in parentheses:

All that said, every single installment in the top 10 highest-grossing films featured on paint schemes raked in at least $935 million or higher, with seven of the 10 crossing the one-billion-dollar mark.

10. Shrek 2, $935 million

Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart each ran Shrek 2-sponsored cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2004: Labonte in the Coca-Cola 600, where he finished 13th, and Stewart in the then-called “Nextel All-Star Challenge” (now the All-Star Race), where he finished third.

The jokes write themselves, with the franchise featuring the Smash Mouth meme song also running in the All-Star event, but I digress. A couple of green-splattered schemes never hurt anyone (besides me, given how gross that was to type). They also gave us this terrifying action figure set.

9. Finding Nemo, $940.3 million

Terry Labonte might’ve driven the Cup car, but Jason Keller‘s Busch Series (now Xfinity) scheme was better.

Nemo got cars in both series, though, spanning two of Dover Motor Speedway’s three races in the weekend spanning May-to-June 2003. Keller came home 11th, and Labonte one-upped him the next day (and next month) with a 10th-place finish.

8. The Lion King, $968.5 million

In fairness, the entire 2003 sponsorship for The Lion King that graced Bill Elliott‘s and Jeremy Mayfield‘s Evernham Motorsports Dodges (a stable with some of the all-time consistently great paint schemes, I might add) was nine years after its theatrical release.

Research serves to indicate that 2003 marked the first time it was released on DVD alongside a VHS re-release, having been initially on home media in the latter format plus LaserDisc back in 1995.

The dual schemes ran at Kansas in October 2003, finishing back-to-back in second and third place. Not bad for Dodge, either, as the manufacturer finished 1-2-3 thanks to a Newman win. The fellow Dodge and movie-sponsored car of Sterling Marlin (though he was backed by Scary Movie 3 while also simultaneously repping Coors Light’s “Here’s to Twins” campaign) ended up 34th after running out of gas.

Both Lion King schemes are pretty great, though I must admit Mayfield’s was better. No tweet of the scheme itself exists, but Getty Images has it preserved in all its glory. It probably helps that I always preferred the Evernham No. 19’s schemes to the No. 9’s. The green accents always stood out.

As we all saw, if one Evernham car was promoting something, they likely both were: from The Lion King to MAD Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” to Popeye’s 75th anniversary.

7. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, $1.027 billion

We’ve entered billion-dollar territory.

What better way to promote the return of one of the most legendary and impactful franchises ever than by slapping a space-themed paint scheme on the stock car of one of the faces of NASCAR … and then, for some godforsaken reason, putting a large image of Jar Jar Binks on the quarter panel?

Maybe they didn’t anticipate how much everyone would eventually hate the Gungan character, but it’s still a cool scheme — especially with the large visages of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor on the hood. It’s just unfortunate that Jar Jar exists.

Gordon finished 33rd at Charlotte in this scheme after rear end issues (make what jokes of that you will, considering the movie) derailed his day.

6. Jurassic Park (kind of), $1.046 billion

Another caveat: this isn’t exactly promoting Jurassic Park the movie, but it felt necessary to include, given that 2023 is the film’s 30th anniversary and the theme park ride this scheme showcased was based off the 1993 Spielbergian classic.

We all know the story of this car, that it dominated the 1997 All-Star Race so thoroughly that it was banned going forward, so I won’t rehash it. But in true Tyrannosaurus Rex style, it absolutely tore up the competition.

Bad pun completed. Moving on.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, $1.066 billion

Three of the first five movies I ever saw in theaters — and half of the first 10 — ended up featured on paint schemes (NASCAR: The IMAX Experience, Cars, Speed Racer, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and number five on this list).

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was the fourth movie I ever saw in theaters, and the second installment of Captain Jack Sparrow’s adventures made its way to the track as well. Virginia native Elliott Salder helmed the No. 38 “White Chocolate M&M’s Pirate Pearls” livery to a 13th-place finish at Richmond Raceway in the spring of 2006.

Between Dead Man’s Chest, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith and 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Sadler drove a movie-themed car in three straight seasons.

4. Toy Story 3, $1.067 billion

No photo has been tweeted of this scheme that I could find, so here’s a Google Images link. Best I can do.

Carl EdwardsToy Story 3 scheme is what some of these movie schemes end up being: the normal livery but with the hood design changed. Toy Story 2 got three different schemes at Atlanta Motor Speedway way back in 1999 with Johnny Benson, Kyle Petty and Bill Elliott, but in 2010, the best the franchise could manage was a slightly-altered No. 99 Aflac scheme with Woody and Buzz on the hood at Sonoma Raceway.

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3. The Dark Knight Rises, $1.081 billion

Ah, yes. One of my favorite movies on the list, one of the neater concept ideas and better executions on this list. A partnership between The Dark Knight Rises and Mountain Dew brought forth a fan vote to decide which scheme Dale Earnhardt Jr. would run, with the eventual winner being a flat-black scheme with Batman’s emblem on the hood, Christian Bale as the title character on the driver’s side and Tom Hardy as Bane on the passenger’s.

None of the fan vote options were bad; in fact, a four-car diecast set was released of the choices later on. Junebug won in the above scheme at Michigan International Speedway, snapping a four-year winless drought.

Personal favorite detail? “The Dew Crew Rises” is on the bumper of each scheme.

2. Captain America: Civil War, $1.153 billion

Probably one of the messier movie schemes, but eye-catching nonetheless. Kyle Busch ran this in the spring 2016 Talladega Superspeedway event most famous for both Chris Buescher and Matt Kenseth flipping and Kevin Harvick nearly joining them later on.

Busch finished second to Brad Keselowski in the scheme commemorating the third Captain America film, featuring Chris Evans’ Cap duking it out with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man on either side.

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of movie that could’ve lended itself to multiple cars carrying Team Iron Man or Team Cap colors and showcasing several characters on each (see how Hendrick Motorsports promoted Justice League in 2017).

1. Minions, $1.159 billion

Really, guys? Minions? The best we could do was the 25th-highest-grossing film of all time, and the top-grossing movie ever featured on a NASCAR paint scheme was MINIONS? Not a Fast and Furious film. Not any of the four Avengers films. Instead it’s the little banana-colored dudes.

OK, OK. They’re not all bad. They’re pretty funny in the first Despicable Me. But by this point, everyone was kind of tired of them. Edwards finished fourth in his third movie scheme as Joe Gibbs Racing claimed four of the top five spots.

I can at least appreciate that a couple of the minions are wearing crew headsets.

So we kind of end on a sour note, but next week we’ll be looking at an even-more-fascinating list: the lowest-grossing films to ever make it onto a paint scheme. And, by god, we will do our best to figure out why and how those movies ever made it onto a car in the first place.

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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Deacon Blues

More great Reel Racing coverage – the Dark Knight scheme is a favorite!

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