Race Weekend Central

Reel Racing: The Future of Motorsports in Movies & TV

That’s kind of a wide-ranging title, isn’t it?

We won’t go that broad, I promise. I just want to take a look at what’s next for racing in media, thanks to some recent announcements involving Dale Earnhardt, Brad Pitt’s Formula 1 film and more.

First off, the one that happened Tuesday (May 14), where it was revealed that Amazon Prime Video is set to release an upcoming, four-part docuseries on Earnhardt. More notably, it’s a co-production between NASCAR Productions and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries. The latter organization brought us 2013’s Rush, still for my money the greatest racing film ever made.

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I figure it’ll align with a lot of what we’ve seen lately in terms of multi-part sports documentaries. We saw both The Last Dance and The History of the Seattle Mariners in 2020, both phenomena in their own right — the former was a guaranteed-hit ESPN production (about a current NASCAR owner, coincidentally) that happened to take off even more because of COVID-19. The latter did the same — a six-part production from SB Nation‘s Jon Bois and Alex Rubenstein about the weird history of one of MLB’s most fruitless teams, which has nearly five million views on its excellent, all-in-one Supercut edition.

I love both (the Mariners’ doc slightly more), but it feels like an evolution in long-form storytelling that’s come to fruition thanks to the rise of streaming. Sure, tight, 90-to-120-ish-minute documentaries are great, especially if they’re able to tell the story properly. But if there’s more, then by all means go longer.

It means I can’t as justifiably rank it in my year-end movie lists, but that’s just me.

Other examples within sports include SB Nation‘s follow-ups The History of the Minnesota Vikings, The History of the Atlanta Falcons and Captain Ahab: The Story of Dave Stieb; ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America and Once Upon a Time in Queens; and Ken Burns’ Baseball. As much as I like movies, it’s a step in a good direction for long-form content. Keep it to a film runtime if the content doesn’t extend beyond that, but given the generational footprint the Earnhardts have in NASCAR, it feels pretty fitting to me.

The other bit of news I want to touch on is the revelation, within the past week, that Joseph Kosinski’s F1 film — the Brad Pitt starrer — is going to have a budget of $300 million or more.

That number ranks it, roughly, in the top 15 or so most expensive films ever made. It’s currently called “Apex” and, though that could change, is still working on production. That budget puts it in the company of movies within the Marvel, DC Comics and Fast & Furious universes, among others.

We can look at this on two levels.

Kosinski probably has a blank-check level of reliability right now, considering his Top Gun: Maverick made about a billion and a half dollars at the box office (its budget was under $200 million). Hell, Maverick was in theaters for damn near six months, which doesn’t happen for almost any movie anymore. Marvel movies might get a couple months, tops. Dune: Part Two, as great and successful as it was, is either already out of theaters after two months or on its way off screens.

The first level is the monetary one, which, sure, $300 million is a lot of money. It’s being distributed by Apple.

Apple — guess what — has a lot of money.

Pitt brings audiences in as the leading star, and it’ll also draw F1 crowds who could care less who’s in the title role — the subject matter and Lewis Hamilton‘s casting will cover that. And, on top of that, Kosinski became a household name due to Maverick‘s success, Jerry Bruckheimer is still a draw as a producer and it’s an action sports drama. People love those.

I think they’ll be fine in terms of box office. Even if it just breaks even, that’s a lot of butts in seats.

I wouldn’t say Pitt’s career ever really declined, but it’s felt like he’s had a renaissance of late. He also didn’t star in a whole lot between, like, 2015-18. Between the advent of things like Letterboxd, “Film Twitter” (as people like to call it) and some popular recent roles, like his Oscar-winning turn in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (QT’s best, as I watch it more and more), a sci-fi role in Ad Astra, action hero extraordinaire in Bullet Train and others like Babylon, I think he’s had a resurgence.

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That all said, add in Kosinski coming off the success of Maverick, a co-star in Damson Idris that himself earned recognition for starring in the FX series Snowfall, an Oscar-nominated actress in Kerry Condon and a stellar crew, and I think it’s set up for success.

You can hold me to this. I’ll admit I’m wrong if it bombs at the box office (which it won’t, because I’ll singlehandedly go see it three times in IMAX like I did Maverick).

It’s undergone some delays due to the strikes last year and is pioneering technology in which they’re supposedly rigging up mini, high-definition cameras to the inside of the HALO and cockpits for the closest possible views of the drivers. All that said, I don’t care how long it takes them. They could wait until 2026 to release this, and I’d be thrilled.

Whatever happens, I’m pumped for the future of motorsports in movies and TV.

And I’ll close with a quick call to go see movies in the theater. This is related to Apple and its streaming service releasing the Pitt F1 movie, but the trend of movies hitting streaming just weeks after their theatrical debuts is not a good thing.

It’s a good time to be at the movies. Get to the theater, y’all.

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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Bill W.

So eventually I will need Prime,Netflix,Paramount + ,Peacock,hulu and a few more I don’t know about to watch a Nascar race.

Deacon Blues

Thanks for another awesome update on upcoming projects, Adam, and for the reminder to readers to support their local theatres!

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