Days of Thunder > Top Gun

Top Gun: Maverick is the latest summer movie to postpone its release. Time to revisit Tony Scott’s other high-octane Cruise machine.

Well shit! Top Gun: Maverick, the latest victim of Hollywood’s unfortunate but necessary mass-rescheduling wave in response to the pandemic, has been pushed all the way back to December. Gotta admit, I was pretty stoked to indulge in this particular title come July — though much more as a Tom Cruise Stan (not to mention, an ardent Miles Teller enthusiast) than out of any love or nostalgia for Top Gun

So here’s what I recommend if you’re looking to fill the Maverick void: skip that Top Gun OG rewatch and check out Days of Thunder, Tony Scott’s superior Tom Cruise-starring ode to speed.

To be honest, the original Top Gun never really did it for me, despite my general hard-on for premium 80s cheese, a borderline maniacal devotion to the Tom Cruise ouvre, and of course, the insatiable #a e s t h e t i c of director Tony Scott. Don’t get me wrong, Top Gun undeniably has its pleasures. It’s just never worked on me. Maybe it’s the total lack of chemistry between Cruise and Kelly McGillis. Maybe it’s the overt fist-pumping military propaganda of it all. I know for sure it’s largely to do with the aerial dogfight scenes, which, for me, never quite deliver on the excitement they’re meant to.

Days of Thunder, on the other hand, is a totally different story, ‘cause it’s about cars. 

I’m not really a car guy in real life, but I love cars, car chases, and car races in movies. Every racing scene in Days of Thunder fucking DELIVERS, and the drama between the racing is breathtaking. Cruise’s renegade driver Cole Trickle is an infinitely more interesting, albeit no-less steely-eyed or absurdly-named Hollywood protagonist than Top Gun’s Maverick. And the character provides a slightly broader canvas upon which Cruise can play to both his acting strengths and singular weird charisma.

The supporting cast is also quite strong. Robert Duvall is great (as always) as Trickle’s driving coach, and we get wonderful turns from John C. Reiley, Randy Quaid, and Michael Rooker (who modern audiences will know as Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy).  

Cary Elwes is also quite delightful as shithead racing rival Russ Wheeler (best name in the movie). He’s no Val Kilmer/Iceman, but his smarmy presence and punchable face is no less utilized for maximum effect.

Then there’s the queen Nicole Kidman, clearly flexing her acting chops and starpower early in her career while serving as a captivating love interest, one with whom Cruise shares plenty of chemistry. The story of Cruise and Kidman’s now-defunct offscreen relationship takes on a sinister tinge years later, what with their breakup marking the beginning of Cruise’s scientology-induced public freakouts and all, but watching their shared romantic allure pop off is still a sight to behold.

More than anything, Days of Thunder is some of Tony Scott’s finest work as an aesthete and reveler in his own cinematic brand. It came out in 1990 when the “90s” weren’t a thing yet, so it’s very much an 80s movie, and gloriously so. It’s got all the pristine new-wave visuals that Tony Scott popularized in Top Gun, but it’s a tad grainier, with more moody lighting and a dank, sun-scorched, sorta chillwave quality. Like all of Scott’s best stuff, it visually fuckin’ rips. And if that’s not a case for this movie, I don’t know what is.

You can rent Days of Thunder on Amazon.