A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Days of Thunder is a 1990 movie starring Tom Cruise as a cocky but untested stock car racer who dreams of winning the Daytona 500. There is some sexism on display when a stripper is hired to dress like a police officer and grab Cruise's character's crotch while taking off her top and making sexually suggestive comments; later, he thinks the doctor taking care of him is also a stripper and moves her hand to his crotch, much to the delight and hilarity of the men gathered around him. There is some profanity, including "f--k" and "s--t," and, unsurprisingly since this is centered on stock car racing, lots of images of company products and brands. Overall, it's a formulaic blockbuster movie from the early 1990s. However, it's worth noting that the movie is prescient -- intentional or not -- in discussing and showing the effects of concussions on athletes, a topic that has been increasingly scrutinized in recent years.
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What's the story?
Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) is a cocky but untested race-car driver who wants to leave the Formula One Indy cars behind so he can get into the stock-car-racing circuit. With the help of team owner Tom Daland (Randy Quaid) and veteran pit crew leader Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall), Trickle gets the chance to prove his worth. While skilled at racing, Trickle nonetheless has a fiery temper that easily gets him in trouble both on and off the track and is constantly being needled by his soon-to-be archrival Rowdy Burns. But as Trickle improves and starts to win races, their careers are put on hold after an accident during a race leaves both men hospitalized with concussions. It's while in the hospital that Trickle meets Dr. Lewicki (Nicole Kidman), who soon becomes his love interest. As he begins to recover from his injuries, Trickle must overcome the fears he now has of racing, especially as Burns' condition seems to be getting worse, with Trickle's career on the line as Daland betrays him and begins paying more attention to Russ Wheeler, a hypercompetitive rookie willing to do whatever it takes to prevent Trickle from winning.
Is it any good?
It's a cheesy Hollywood blockbuster with some ridiculous dialogue, but you could do a whole lot worse than DAYS OF THUNDER. Despite the formulaic script, it's obvious that the filmmakers cared enough about racing to try to imbue the movie with as much accuracy as possible without sacrificing the action. It hasn't aged as badly as so many other blockbusters from the past, and, with its discussion of concussions and their effects on athletes, there's even a certain amount of prescience at work, at least with that topic.
The characters aren't terribly deep, and even with an actor like Robert Duvall, not much emerges beyond the simplest of archetypes. Still, for the purposes of the story, the action, and the visual thrills of the races themselves, they don't have to be. It's a sport-centered action movie that never loses sight of what it is and what the audience expects, and while you could easily substitute any sport for stock-car racing and have a basically similar storyline, it's still an entertaining movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies centered on a sport. What are some other examples? How are they similar to and different from each other?
How does this movie address the dangers of stock car racing and concussions in particular?
In what ways is this movie's storyline similar to other Hollywood blockbuster movies?
- In theaters: June 27, 1990
- On DVD or streaming: May 25, 1999
- Cast: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Duvall
- Director: Tony Scott
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Sports and Martial Arts
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
- Last updated: May 15, 2020
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