How Race-Car Drivers Are Poised to Be Pop Culture’s New Mermaids

Start your engines: we have a trend

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Jaap Buitendijk / Universal Pictures

Mermaids haven’t even had a real shot at being the new vampires, and their tails are already being overtaken by tail lights.

Early this month, sites like Jezebel and io9 suggested that mermaids were on track to seize the favorite-paranormal-creature throne from vampires. Though there had been undersea trend hints brewing for a while, they had new evidence in the form of YA novels like WakePoseidon and, of course, Mermaid. The Atlantic even suggested that the mermaid boom would be a positive thing for society: while vampire stories tend to be about uncontrollable male demons preying on chaste young women, mermaids allow women to be the ones with the extra powers. (Though, to be fair, The Little Mermaid has long been used as an example of how paranormality doesn’t equal power, as Ariel gives up her voice and her world for a man she barely knows.) And it seemed like the trend-spotters were right: just last week, a mermaid sitcom idea got an NBC pilot order.

But in the race to be an actual pop culture trend, mermaids may not be quick enough.

(MORE: Cliché Corner Presents: Vampires)

Taking their place at the front of the pack is a real-life phenomenon, race-car drivers. And while we freely acknowledge that race-car drivers are not paranormal creatures like mermaids or vampires, they do boast the crucial box-office qualities of being both super fast and inhabiting a world of danger.

In the years since 2010’s critically acclaimed documentary Senna, race-car drivers, particularly Formula 1 drivers, have been on track to become the latest movie-subject of choice—and not in a jokey Talladega Nights way. Now the craze is coming together.

In pole position for the trend is Rush. The Ron-Howard-directed biopic, opening at the end of September, stars Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl as the real 1970s-era Formula 1 racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

Racing will also make cameos in the upcoming heist movie Focus—in which, according to the Hollywood ReporterRodrigo Santoro’s character owns a racing team—and in Ethan Hawke’s new Getaway (out this week), where Hawke’s character is a former race-car driver. Another recent racing movie is the indie Snake and Mongoose, starring Noah Wyle, about drag racing rather than F1. On the TV side, last night, Aug. 28, saw the Discovery channel premiere of the first part of Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans, a four-part miniseries in which the actor and auto enthusiast tries to make it through a 24-hour race.

Two separate big-name documentaries will also help get audiences ready to race. One is Paul Crowder’s appropriately named 1, which is making the festival rounds right now and will be available on VOD on Oct. 1. Michael Fassbender narrates the tale of the deadly golden age of Formula 1, the 1960s.

On the other side of the pond, the BBC has just ordered a racing documentary in which Idris Elba will take viewers to racing scenes around the world.

The timing is right for the trend. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Formula 1 racing doesn’t have a prominent place in American sports culture, which initially made Rush a tough sell for domestic audiences and studios. But the sport’s status shows signs of changing: NBC Sports Network now has a deal to air Formula 1 races, and this year’s Monaco Grand Prix was watched in more American homes than it has been in years. Just this week, the Texas location for the revamped United States Grand Prix, the Circuit of the Americas, received a boost in the form of a major investment—all part of a concentrated effort on the part of Formula 1 to move into territory that was previously NASCAR-only.

Increased interest in actual racing can only help movies about racing, and it cuts the other way too: a movie like Rush, with a popular star and acclaimed director, will likely make viewers more interested in other racing rivalries, which in turn may lead to even more car-racing movies. That fiction/non-fiction cycle is something mermaids, no matter how mesmerizing, simply can’t compete with.

(MORE: U.S. Government Confirms: There Are No Mermaids)