Tom Cruise is BACK.
No, no, not with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, which wide-released last night (July 11); but after seeing it opening night in IMAX, I can confirm that it’s fantastic.
I’m talking about the swirling rumors over the past week or two regarding a sequel to Days of Thunder being in development. Coincidentally, Dead Reckoning Part One re-pairs Cruise with Cary Elwes, who played rival Russ Wheeler in Days of Thunder.
Much like his latest adventure in the Mission: Impossible franchise (which never fails to get better and better each sequel), this article will be a two-parter. We’ll cast the major characters this week, mostly Cole Trickle’s love interest and family, and then round out the cast with racing-related characters and auxiliary members next week.
Now, the original 1990 racing production has its problems … but I’m a staunch defender of how fun it is. Director Tony Scott had Top Gun behind him with the amazing True Romance and Crimson Tide ahead, while Cruise had been nominated for an Oscar for Born on the Fourth of July the same year Days of Thunder was released.
In the years following, Cruise starred in A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire and more (and, eventually, the first Mission: Impossible film) while teaming with directors like Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut), Brian De Palma (M:I 1), Steven Spielberg (Minority Report) and Michael Mann (Collateral).
Cruise was close to 30 when he made Days of Thunder and it was his 13th film role, but just look how much he’s done since. Let’s get into how I’d cast the leads, with a chief pick alongside several honorable mentions. I won’t go so far as to come up with character names, but let’s see what we can do here.
My only parameters consisted of casting around the same ages — Cruise’s love interest, fellow retired drivers and peers will be around his current age, give or take a bit, while his parents will skew older (obviously) — with some wiggle room given that Cruise looks about 10 years younger than he actually is.
I aimed for actual, typical Cup Series driver ages, too, when considering the on-track competition (more on that next week). In addition, I listed a few notable roles or productions for each contender; even for the few I haven’t seen in the list, I highly recommending looking into checking out all of the titles below.
Director: Joseph Kosinski
As a quick note, let’s start with who should direct this picture. Kosinski is the easy choice: he directed the legacyquel to Top Gun with Cruise back in 2022 and is following that with a racing film, that being the forthcoming Formula 1 film with Brad Pitt. If that also goes well, what better way to combine star of one with content of the other than with Days of Thunder 2?
Kosinski also directions emotional scenes well; the final 10-15 minutes of his 2017 film Only the Brave absolutely rip your heart out.
Honorable mentions include Christopher McQuarrie, provided he’s willing to step away from helming the Mission: Impossible films for a little bit. That said, I want him to stick with those until they conclude; James Mangold is another option, and he turned in some fantastic racing-sequence direction in Ford v Ferrari and just took the reins of another franchise with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Myself and our Michael Massie will disagree on the fifth Indy film, but some of Mangold’s direction in that, Ford v Ferrari, Logan and 3:10 to Yuma definitely stands out.
Lead Actor: Tom Cruise as Cole Trickle (duh)
A much older Cole Trickle, but Cole Trickle nonetheless. Yes, Cruise returns as his character from the first — obviously.
I have zero notes or complaints about his performance in the first film — Cruise brought a lot of humanity to the role and it worked perfectly.
In the sequel, he’ll absolutely have a role in the style of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Maverick or Brad Pitt’s character in the forthcoming Formula 1 film from him and Maverick director Joseph Kosinski, where he takes on a role more along the lines of mentorship.
No complaints with that, either. A lot of people say that Days of Thunder is just Top Gun but on wheels. That’s totally fine. I’d be 100% okay with Days of Thunder 2 just being Top Gun: Maverick on wheels.
Lead Actress: Cate Blanchett or Halle Berry
I’m taking a page from Top Gun: Maverick‘s book, where the sequel cast Jennifer Connelly in place of Kelly McGillis as the love interest, and doing the same. Nicole Kidman would still be a great choice, but for the sake of not going “same actor, same role” as we did with Cruise, let’s get creative.
Cate Blanchett remains one of the industry’s best working actresses. She has some blockbusters to her credits, namely the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Thor: Ragnarok and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but has two Oscars and four Golden Globes as well — nearly a third Academy Award with her lead performance in last year’s Tar.
Other dramatic turns include Carol, Nightmare Alley and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as well as a more lighthearted role in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Blanchett’s versatility extends across all aspects of film — independent to blockbuster, serious to comedic.
I can’t think of a better actress to take on the role.
Meanwhile, Halle Berry is a close second and no stranger to action, having been a part of the X-Men, John Wick and James Bond franchises. Her part in the third Wick film, while not taking up a huge part of the runtime, left an impact as an absolute badass.
Other potential castings:
1. Jennifer Connelly (Top Gun: Maverick, Only the Brave)
2. Laura Dern (Marriage Story, Jurassic Park, Blue Velvet)
3. Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Mission: Impossibles 3, 4 & 6)
Cole’s Parents: Anthony Hopkins & Helen Mirren
If Cole’s dad isn’t named Richard in order to pay homage to the late, legendary Dick Trickle, we have a huge problem.
Here, let’s go ideal-scenario and cast two of the most legendary older actors working today. Both members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, both Oscar winners (Hopkins two, Mirren one) and both incredibly revered in the industry.
Other potential castings:
1. Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Tomorrow Never Dies, The Two Popes)
2. Don Johnson (Brawl in Cell Block 99, Django Unchained, Miami Vice)
3. Kurt Russell (The Thing, Bone Tomahawk, Tombstone)
4. Tom Waits (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Outsiders)
1. Nancy Allen (Carrie, Robocop, Blow Out)
2. Piper Laurie (Twin Peaks, Carrie, The Hustler)
3. Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, Everything Everywhere All At Once, True Lies)
4. Geena Davis (A League of Their Own, Thelma & Louise, The Fly)
The Rest of Cole’s Family: Miles Teller, Zoey Deutch
To kind of cover every base possible, let’s cast a younger actor and younger actress for Cole’s son and daughter.
Let’s just go with Miles Teller as the younger Trickle. He’s already teamed up with Kosinski three times (Only the Brave, Top Gun: Maverick and Spiderhead) and with Cruise once (Maverick). Teller’s dramatic chops, from Whiplash to Bleed for This, are just as good as his comedic ones (War Dogs).
Teller’s multifaceted performance in Maverick delivered, and I don’t think he’d be the worst choice resemblance-wise to play Cruise’s son.
For Cole’s daughter, I’d cast Zoey Deutch. Deutch is the daughter of Lea Thompson of Back to the Future fame, and the first role I saw her in was Everybody Wants Some!! — a Richard Linklater-directed film that served as a spiritual sequel to his films Dazed and Confused and Boyhood.
Deutch is phenomenal in that film, becoming one of the best up-and-coming stars, and has since shined in more independent fare — from leading roles in Flower to a supporting role in The Year of Spectacular Men, the latter directed by her mom.
She and Glen Powell (more on him in a second) teamed back up after Everybody Wants Some!! on Set It Up, a wonderful little Netflix rom-com I revisit about once a year. She also ventured into franchise territory with Zombieland: Double Tap, and tacked on a stellar lead performance in Buffaloed two years later.
More recently, her 2022 lineup featured three wildly different (but all great) performances: a supporting role in the period crime drama The Outfit, a semi-comedic lead role in the satire Not Okay and a co-lead in the Christmas rom-com Something from Tiffany’s.
Other potential castings:
1. Glen Powell (Top Gun: Maverick, Everybody Wants Some!!, Set It Up)
2. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Bullet Train, Nocturnal Animals)
3. Temple Baker (Everybody Wants Some!!, The Iron Orchard)
1. Kathryn Newton (Lady Bird, Blockers, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania)
2. Lily Collins (Mank, The Blind Side, Okja)
3. Samara Weaving (Ready or Not, Babylon, Scream VI)
That’ll do it for the first part of the casting. Next week, we’ll figure out who’s best to play the rest of the characters, from Cole’s friends, to his crew chief, to NASCAR personnel and to random cameos in the film. Have castings of your own? Tell me below.
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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