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Reel Racing: The Top 25 Movie Schemes of All Time

Welcome to the 50th Reel Racing Article Spectacular!

It occurred to me to wonder how many entries of this article series I’d written, and it turned out last week’s edition was No. 49. So for the 50th, I decided to add a special entry in the list. Listing 50 schemes felt like too much, so I’m going to whittle it down to 25 (with five honorable mentions).

I compiled an image library of all — roughly — 150 movie-themed paint schemes that have ever run. There’s a few more than that, though some (like Tomy Drissi‘s 2013 NASCAR Cup and then-Nationwide series, now NASCAR Xfinity Series, schemes for The Counselor) are quite similar if not exactly similar to one another.

See also
Reel Racing: Multiple-Movie-Scheme Efforts

Coming up soon will be an article series that’ll serve as a living document and chronicle of movie schemes, where I’ll go through decade by decade and detail the schemes, race they competed in and more. For now, though, let’s get going with article No. 50. I’ll include some reasoning here and there.

Feel free to comment your favorites below. Rest assured, we’re diving headlong into this as the year rolls on.

Honorable Mentions (Nos. 30-26)

25. Kyle Busch, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Cup, 2009)

Flames always make for great schemes, and this just happened to be the best of three liveries made for the second Transformers movie.

24. Stanton Barrett, Navy Seals vs. Zombies (Nationwide, 2015)

It’s not every day you get to drive a paint scheme with a movie you directed on it, but Barrett did just that back in 2015. And he did it three times. This and the following scheme are pretty even given they’re really similar, but both work really damn well with the scenes and logos for the film mixed together.

23. Stanton Barrett, Navy Seals vs. Zombies (Craftsman Truck Series, 2015)

I talked with Stanton a few years back about working in both NASCAR and Hollywood for three decades. This one is similar enough to the Xfinity Series car to where I don’t need to expound on it much, but a truck has even more space to work with, and they filled it with scenes and stuff from the movie.

Plus, the military-esque No. 91 on the doors and roof look even better and more appropriate for the movie than the No. 15 on the first car.

22. Kyle Busch, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (Busch Series, now Xfinity, 2004)

Three schemes ran to promote this movie, but considering this actually recreates the scenery of Bikini Bottom with the sand and everything, Busch’s scheme wins.

21. Ward Burton, Shark Tale (Cup, 2004)

It’s funny that I’m writing this on the same evening the Air Force announced it’d jump on Bubba Wallace‘s car, complete with the Warthog shark mouth on the front. I’m a sucker for how cool those World War II planes were with that detailing, and they executed it here for the Shark Tale movie to perfection.

That is, of course, plus the accentuations of the eyes and gills, too.

20. Jamie McMurray, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Cup, 2003)

This is one that’s grown on me in appreciation over time — I guess you could say it’s appreciated as time’s gone on.

I mean, Arnold Schwarzenegger on the car is an automatic plus, but to have the wrap look like it’s peeling away to reveal the metal below is an insanely cool touch.

19. Tony Stewart, Jurassic Park (Cup, 2001)

Far better than the Bobby Labonte sister scheme, despite the weird roof number, Stewart’s Jurassic Park III scheme is awesome. You got a T-Rex ripping through the hood, two dinosaurs roaring on the sides and warning barriers — or crime scene tape, what have you — lining the bottom. Great car.

18. Tomy Drissi, Hercules (Cup, 2014)

2014 Sonoma Cup Tomy Drissi Car Nigel Kinrade Nkp
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

First off, who wouldn’t want to be bearing down on a competitor and have that person look in their rear-view and see The Rock? That’s intimidation at its finest.

See also
Only Yesterday: Damn Lies & NASCAR Statistics

It’s a simple concept, but the vibrancy of the fire, plus those chrome rims, make for a pretty perfect car.

17. Kyle Larson, Cars 3 (Cup, 2017)

Solid recreation of Lightning McQueen, though between two other schemes that same year, I guess it took the design team three tries to really get it right with Larson’s car. Good thing they did, considering it wound up in victory lane.

16. Bobby Labonte, Speed Racer (Cup, 2008)

Simple yet clean, effective execution. Speed Racer‘s car is white in the movie with the number in red circles on the doors.

They emulated that. Boom. Done.

15. Ricky Craven, Batman Begins (Truck, 2005)

Thanks to Frontstretch‘s own Jared Haas for alerting me to this scheme’s existence by me randomly seeing the above tweet about it a month or so ago. I’d seen the photos of Craven and Mark Martin with the dude dressed as Batman, for sure.

Craven’s Batman Begins scheme exemplifies the film far better than Martin’s, whose blue (?) scheme doesn’t come close to the nihilistic, dark, gritty nature of the actual movie. That’s one film I’ll legitimately sit down and watch the rest of the way through whenever I see it on TV, no matter where it’s at.

Shoutout Cillian Murphy and Christopher Nolan, who took home the Oscars for Best Actor and Best Director, respectively, for Oppenheimer 19 years after they teamed up for Begins.

14. Carl Edwards, Up (Cup, 2009)

Simple execution: the movie is about a floating house airlifted by balloons. Make the car the sky and put the house on it. Scene schemes, as I call them, are the best.

13. David Stremme, Star Trek (Cup, 2009)

Sure, Justin Allgaier drove a similar scheme, but the presumed Verizon-stipulated red drop shadow around the number kinda kills the vibe. Stremme’s went all-in on the blue-and-black coloring. Subtle, yet vibrant.

12. Mike Wallace, Cowboys vs. Aliens Mosaic (Nationwide, 2011)

You’ll see Mike Wallace again in a minute, but I love a good mosaic car (see the Red Bull Racing Shutter Speed cars from 2011). This was a super cool way to promote a movie I still haven’t seen. This scheme is probably most remembered for crashing its way to the line at Daytona International Speedway that summer.

11. Mike Wallace, Cowboys vs. Aliens (Nationwide, 2011)

Another super cool way to promote a movie, slightly cooler than a mosaic, is to have scenes from the movie on the car. This did just that.

10. Danica Patrick, Wonder Woman (Cup, 2017)

Gorgeous, gorgeous scheme. Wonder Woman remains one of the few quality efforts DC have put into theaters, and to swap the images on the sides and have the blending that this one did was *chef’s kiss*.

9. Kyle Busch, Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (Cup, 2005)

Easily the best Episode III scheme. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi on the rear bumper, Jedi and Sith along the sides and Darth Vader — plus Mustafar — on the hood, complete with a liner of lava, make this one kick-ass car.

8. Elliott Sadler, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Cup, 2006)

As I said, I love “scene schemes.” Desert beach for a Pirates entry, but M&M-themed, gets my vote as one of the best.

7. Steve Park, Mission to Mars (Cup, 2001)

Reportedly a horrendous movie, but a great car nonetheless. Another “scene scheme,” if you will, this has the red surface of Mars gracing its flanks, plus astronauts and a space rover.

6. Bill Lester, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Truck, 2006)

A true promotional paint scheme, in that it’s replicative of an actual car in the movie it’s promoting — and a NASCAR-specific movie, no less. Plus Will Ferrell on the sides doesn’t hurt things.

5. Ryan Newman, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Cup, 2008)

There are some schemes that manage to avoid being too busy and just simply flow well, and that’s the case here. I find it really interesting that not one, but two, of the Mummy films made it to NASCAR, but Newman’s takes the cake.

It’s a good-looking color palette, and the classic dragon designs snake along the sides just perfectly. Plus the red rims complement what’s an overall insanely cool car.

4. Tony Raines, Cars (2006)

Sure, Larson’s was good, but it doesn’t beat a promotional scheme from the same year the movie was released, with a number just one off Lightning McQueen’s, with the same lightning bolt down the doors that McQueen has.

Damn near perfectly executed paint scheme.

3. Robby Gordon, Spider-Man (2002)

It’s a massive shame this never got an actual diecast. Spider-Man on one side, Green Goblin on the other — a promotional scheme for a film that launched an entirely new take on what superhero movies could be in a trilogy of which all three films still hold up (yes, I will defiantly stand by Spider-Man 3).

The webbing across the door and the vibrant blue and red are just perfect. Can we get retroactive diecasts?

2. John Andretti, Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones (2002)

Hey, someone got away with it! Andretti’s car managed to use two completely different sides in an actual race. I love schemes like this, and it’s even cooler when it has Star Wars characters and planets to scatter across it.

1. Kyle Busch, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Anyone who knows me knew this would be number one. It’s a great-looking scheme. It executes its gimmick perfectly, with M&M characters wearing safari hats and an M&M itself with Indiana Jones’ hat and whip. Plus, Harrison Ford himself is on the quarter panels … doesn’t get any better.

I happened across the 1:64 diecast of this on eBay a few years back and made sure I finally landed it. Fell in love with it when it first ran when I was 10 years old, and I still love it now.

And I will also staunchly defend Crystal Skull. Not a bad movie whatsoever — it’s schlock, and it’s great.


Coming up soon, we’re going to take a look at the entire history of movie schemes in NASCAR, and I’ll do a few other things as well. I also just finished the series about Brawn GP on Hulu, which was excellent. More coming soon!

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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You’ve got to be kidding? Besides the fact that most of these cars are overdone and ugly, how could any list of the best movie theme cars not include Bill Elliott’s “Thunderbat”? Elliott’s 95 “Batman Forever” renamed Thunderbird was simple, tasteful, well done and I believe the first ever movie theme car. Unlike so many cars on this list that you have to look hard at to find the movie logo or connection, there is no doubt at a glance what movie the Thunderbat was promoting. This is coming from someone who never liked Bill Elliott.

Big Tex

I figured Jeff Gordon’s T-Rex would be somewhere on this list, but now realize it was before you were born, oh well


I agree Big Tex, the car was iconic! The only one of the cars he listed that I even remember was Ryan Newman’s.

Last edited 24 days ago by wildcatsfan2016
Deacon Blues

Congrats on your 50th Reel Racing article, Adam! Awesome piece, really (“reel-y”) enjoyed it – I completely agree with your list and, especially, your #1! Keep ’em coming!

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