Race Weekend Central

Reel Racing: The (Short) History of Motorsports Movie Franchises

Before we go anywhere with this, happy 20th anniversary of my first movie in theaters, which was NASCAR: The IMAX Experience.

I revisited it 20 years to the day that my 6-year-old self went to the theaters for the first time at the Science Museum of Virginia’s dome and it holds up! Highly recommend everyone give it a rewatch.

With all of the sequels and prequels and reboots constantly cycling in and out of theaters nowadays, I realized I hadn’t written much about racing movie franchises … and there isn’t but so much to say, because there’s only been a couple multi-movie motorsports installments.

And with last month’s blockbuster sequel tentpoles hitting theaters, from the excellent craft of Dune: Part Two to the insanely fun Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (who knew we needed to see Godzilla suplexing Kong or Kong beating up two Hollow Earth apes with a baby Hollow Earth ape?), this felt right (don’t worry, the baby Hollow Earth ape was fine). This month, we have prequels (The First Omen) and original fare (Civil War), so we moviegoers are doing damn well right now.

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Racing movie franchises?

Not so much. As I’ve elaborated on before, the most common motorsports films are either direct-to-streaming or TV-aired documentaries, plus the very occasional theatrically-released film. Even then, as we saw with Blink of an Eye, Rowdy and Rookie Season in the past five years or so, they’re severely limited in engagement. At least the first two, I believe, were one-night-only Fathom Events showcases. Rookie Season was a really random release in March 2022 and played for like a week, about a far less widely-reaching subject. Go figure.

Either way, let’s roll our way through a quick overview of what franchises do exist. And there’s, like, two. One, if you’re really a stickler for the same cast.

The One Racing Movie Franchise to Rule Them All: Cars

Unfortunately (or fortunately, or in between, or a bit of all three), our lone, true, franchise-by-definition example is Cars. Owen Wilson holding back on the “wow” bits as he voices Lightning McQueen through three movies, multiple countries and a trio of films in varying quality.

The first Cars is great! I saw it in theaters when I was eight, bought it on DVD and probably watched it five or more times. Haven’t seen it in God knows how long, but that experience stuck with me — as someone who’d loved NASCAR since 2002 and who was still a kid, seeing characters representative of the sport I loved and those talking cars becoming characters we cared for was amazing. And, of course, those of us who saw it as little kids later made further connections with NASCAR history.

There’s also little touches that stand out upon later review. In one of the opening scenes, there’s a white No. 84 car with Apple branding (1984 being when the company began) that stands as the only real company … along with the likes of Leak Less, Nitroade and more.

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It’s also the perfect introduction of how cars interact as people would with the race day environment, from Bob Cutlass and Darrell Cartrip commentating to the fans, souvenir merchants and more (there’s a Winnebago dressed as Elvis, which opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms as to how the King crossed over into the car world and a bunch of other things too horrifying to think about).

Cars 2 … yeah, we won’t talk about that one. Not good!

Cars 3 is fine. Not perfect, but it does kind of predicate the Next Gen’s introduction into NASCAR. It’s a decent watch and a solid return to form for the franchise, teased by Pixar with the clip of McQueen’s particularly violent wreck.

Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy and Cheech Marin are the four primary voices that appear in all three feature films.

The Other Kinda, Sorta Racing Movie Franchise: Herbie

The beloved No. 53 Volkswagen has six feature films to its name, plus a TV series and some other stuff here and there. Herbie Fully Loaded is probably the best-known simply in terms of recency.

I’m not gonna pretend to have seen all six films or any media involving the Love Bug besides Fully Loaded, but in terms of cast consistency, ain’t much: Jim Douglas shows up as main character Dean Jones in three of the films as well as the television series, and besides that there isn’t much carry-over.

However, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been notable names involved in them. The legendary Don Knotts showed up in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Cloris Leachman in Herbie Goes Bananas and the GOAT Bruce Campbell, of all people, in Disney’s The Love Bug. I’d love to see Ash Williams from The Evil Dead fight off a possessed Herbie.

Fully Loaded probably has the most stacked cast. An early-career Lindsay Lohan, just off the success of Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, is joined by rising star Justin Long. We also have main roles going to the legends Matt Dillon (The Outsiders, The House that Jack Built, There’s Something About Mary) and Michael Keaton (too many iconic roles to name).

It’s also got plenty of cameos, including Allen Bestwick, Tony Stewart, Benny Parsons, Kasey Kahne and others, as it’s a NASCAR-focused film playing off the sport’s popularity at the time. It’s nowhere near perfect, but after finally watching it a few years ago it has this weird charm to it that makes me like it more than I probably normally would.

Racing Movies: Days of Thunder Past?

Not sure if my play on the X-Men movie title really worked, but that all brings us to the potential for a second Days of Thunder film. There’s certainly been near-constant talk and rumors of it over the past two years since the success of Top Gun: Maverick, which was helmed by producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Tom Cruise.

Those two were, of course, two of the driving (get it) forces behind Days of Thunder. Tony Scott, who directed that as well as Top Gun, True Romance (which on every rewatch makes me believe it’s one of the greatest films ever made) and Crimson Tide, has since passed away. Joseph Kosinski, however, has ridden the success of Maverick into directing the Formula 1 film starring Brad Pitt that’s currently in production.

I’d take all the money in the world to beg Kosinski to stay in the racing sphere and give us Days of Thunder 2, and I wrote a few articles on a hypothetical casting for it last year.

Kosinski, though. The dude knows how to make a damn good action movie (Maverick) with affecting emotional connections (Maverick, Only the Brave) and headed up the movie that I believe truly brought theaters back after COVID had mostly subsided. He’s got this in the bag.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Follow @adamncheek

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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Kevin in SoCal

1984 wasn’t when Apple began, it was when Apple introduced the Macintosh computer.

Deacon Blues

Thanks for mentioning the IMAX NASCAR film – a cool movie – and sharing meaningful personal and family history about it, as well as covering these other great movies!

Last edited 1 month ago by Deacon Blues
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