Tom Cruise rarely works with a director more than once, but in 1990, he reteamed with Top Gun helmer Tony Scott for what is essentially Top Gun with wheels. In fact, it has the same plot as most early Tom Cruise movies. The star plays a cocky upstart who excels in his field but who has a lot of Oedipal baggage, in the form of an absent father figure whose standards he’s trying to live up to. (Cruise’s character is named Cole Trickle — Freudians, have at it.) With the help of a crusty mentor and a beautiful civilian (Nicole Kidman, in the role that introduced her to American audiences and to her future husband), he rises to the top.
A tragic mishap and a sidelined buddy give him a crisis of confidence, but he regains his mojo and roars back stronger than ever. Here, Cruise shares the track with real-life NASCAR racers Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, and Rusty Wallace, among others. Plus, Cole’s story borrows elements from the biographies of other well-known drivers, with Cruise playing Tim Richmond to the Dale Earnhardt figure played by Cole’s rival, Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker). As a result, despite the movie’s by-the-numbers plotting, it feels like it gets racing’s characters right.
Next Michel Vaillant