They can’t all be gems. No, no, there are some terrible car movies out there! And not just bad for us gearheads, but bad films in general. We previously highlighted some of the best car movies, and now we move in the opposite direction. Here are five of the worst car movies ever.
This isn’t just one of the worst car movies but the single worst movie in history. Period. Not even the likes of Overdrive or Trading Paint can compete with the sheer stupidity that is Redline. Seriously, Frankie & Annette movies work better. The “plot” is razor-thin, the filmmakers have contempt for basic physics, and the acting is bottom-of-the-barrel awful. Just thinking about it makes me feel sick.
The Redline “Storyline”
As many reviewers have already pointed out, the plot is comically bad: a band of street racers is funded by a group of millionaires. Naturally, those millionaires wager over their high-powered supercars and who has the best drivers. Original? Gilligan’s Island was more original than this. The narrative is like a knock-knock joke, minus the punch line, and the characters are straight out of a Nancy cartoon.
Casting & “Acting”
Redline stars Nadia Bjorlin as Natasha, an auto mechanic, aspiring musician, and highly skilled race car driver plagued by her father’s death at a NASCAR race many years ago. Before Redline, Bjorlin was a soap opera actress but got the call here because she was engaged to producer Daniel Sadek.
Sure, she’s way out of her depth and talent, but even the other, somewhat more seasoned professionals in Redline reek. Tim Matheson (the guy who played Otter in Animal House) is Jerry Brecken, a high-rolling pro gambler. Angus Macfadyen plays the generically named Michael D’Orazio, a mob boss and also a high-rolling pro gambler.
I’ve seen Matheson and Macfadyen do well in other roles, but here? Matheson’s efforts look like first-take material, and Macfadyen is simply out of it: flouncing and floating around in cheesecloth outfits in one scene, trying to be a violent mob guy in the next.
The ostensible lead is Carlo, played by Nathan Phillips. USAF veteran Carlo is back from a tour of duty in Iraq whose brother, Jason (Jesse Johnson), is living with their mob boss uncle Michael D’Orazio (Gah, just typing that made my head hurt)!
Physics Beyond Belief
Car movies can and do play fast and loose with physics, but Redline takes it to an unbelievable low. Cars flip for no reason, can somehow cross great distances in mere minutes, and impossibly outrun cops. Redline doesn’t shy away from any of this, no matter how factually inaccurate it might be. Indeed, more often than not, it pulls some CHiPs-level stunt, then spends too much time on cast reactions.
All the other bad car movie tropes are here in abundance: multiple upshifts, squealing tires on gravel, the proverbial “need to go faster, so I’ll just mash down on the gas,” villainous looks between drivers, and explosions no matter what. Always explosions. It’s like this Sadek idiot spent zero time around cars. But he had, and it gets so very much worse.
Redline & The Global Financial Crisis
Daniel Sadek, who made Redline, was a third-grade dropout from Lebanon. After coming to America, he sold cars and eventually founded the subprime lending firm Quick Loan Funding. Sadek’s take-home earnings eventually reached $5 million a month. He used the bucks to buy several homes in SoCal and Vegas, build up his collection of supercars, and feed his ravenous desire for gambling. Basically, he made Redline to show off his car collection and his fiancé.
Quick Loan Funding folded in the wake of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, but not before racking up record profits. Sadek heavily borrowed money against expected profits from Redline, which then tanked, making $8.3 million against $33 million in production and marketing costs.
Redline and Quick Loan Funding was such a clown show that CNBC’s House of Cards used it as an example of the immoderation of the pre-meltdown mortgage market. Sadek lost his escrow and lending licenses over withdrawing millions from his corporate accounts to gamble in Vegas and was eventually sued by Bellagio and Wells Fargo over unpaid debts and repeated cash advances done at resorts worldwide. He was listed by Vanity Fair as number 86 in their 100 to Blame for the economic crisis, calling him “Predator Zero in the subprime-mortgage game.”
Ugh, I need a shower!
Talented mechanic and musician Natasha Martin (Nadia Bjorlin) finds herself caught up in illegal street racing competitions organized by high-stakes car collectors.
Worst Car Movies Class: Action
Fun Fact: Daniel Sadek donated his Porsche Carrera GT with the intent it be crashed in a scene. The mangled car was on display at the 2007 LA Auto Show. ~ IMDb
Driven, the 2001 Sylvester Stallone racing movie is not to be confused with the John DeLorean movie of the same name starring Jason Sudeikis, Judy Greer, and Lee Pace. That Driven was top-notch through and through. This Driven is among the worst car movies ever made.
Soap Opera Plot
This Driven centers on a young hot-shoe driver Jimmy Bly and his effort to win the CART Indycar championship. The movie starts halfway into the season, with our hero already winning five races. His brother and business manager is more concerned with money and sponsorships, putting tremendous pressure on young Jimmy. Meanwhile, other racers think his fiancée Sophia is becoming “a distraction,” so Jimmy dumps her and starts winning again.
If that isn’t soap opera enough, we have Jimmy’s double-dealing team owner, Carl Henry, who brings in former champ Joe “The Hummer” Tanto to mentor Jimmy as a teammate. Tanto’s ex, the trashy Cathy Heguy, is married to Jimmy’s (now former) teammate Memo. Despite all this, Joe and Memo are still friends.
Will young Jimmy Bly win? Despite all the obstacles laid in his way, you wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to find out that Jimmy wins it all, gets his girl back, and wins the respect of all his competitors. Oops, spoilers!
Renny Harlin Did This?
Yes, Renny Harlin was the director of Driven. Harlin had done such films as A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Deep Blue Sea. In other words, he should have known better but didn’t.
Not only is Driven poorly written, but the technical aspects are laughably bad. Some stunts are so poorly filmed you can see the wires holding the cars up. You can easily see how the cars are fake shells, or all the skid marks from multiple takes, and just plain lousy film stock – tons of film school 101 mistakes from a veteran director here.
The Cast That Couldn’t Act
Fashion model Kip Pardue (Remember the Titans) is our lead here as rookie hot-shoe Jimmy Bly. He’s passible and inoffensive. Pardue is a solid C plus (grading on a curve), but it’s the rest of the cast that really bombs.
First, we’ve got the legendary Sylvester Stallone as Joe “The Hummer” Tanto, veteran racing champion. Like everything else he’s done since Rocky, he’s terrible, hoping for charisma to carry the load here and failing miserably. Then there’s the late Burt Reynolds as team boss Carl Henry. Burt never had much range, but he’s particularly bad here. Bly’s rival Beau Brandenburg is played by veteran German actor Til Schweiger. I’ve seen him do great performances before, but not here. The fabulous Gina Gershon’s talent is wasted as Cathy Heguy Moreno, Memo’s wife, Joe’s ex.
Just How Bad Was Driven?
Let’s just put it this way: the only accolades Driven received were seven nominations at the 22nd Golden Raspberry Awards. These included Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Screen Couple (for Reynolds and Stallone), and twice for Worst Supporting Actor (Reynolds and Stallone), with Estella Warren winning Worst Supporting Actress.
Former CART champion Joe Tanto (Sylvester Stallone) mentors up-and-coming driver Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue), whose life is falling apart midseason.
Worst Car Movies Class: Action, Sports
Fun Fact: According to director Renny Harlin’s commentary, his first cut of the movie was four hours long. Leonardo DiCaprio was also originally considered for the role of Jimmy Bly. ~ IMDb
#2: Days of Thunder
Days of Thunder is not nearly as bad as Stallone’s Driven, but in a lot of ways, its failure is even more spectacular. The film hit theatres in June 1990 at a time when no one had done a serious racing movie for decades. On top of that, it was a big-budget, massively hyped star vehicle from the cast and crew that made Top Gun. With Tom Cruise in the lead, Days of Thunder was destined to be the hit that would re-write the racing genre and give it the respect it deserved. Unfortunately, it was frickin awful.
Initially, Days of Thunder was to be titled Top Run, which should give you some idea of how new and imaginative the story was. Days of Thunder follows a young up-and-coming driver (Cruise) who is a little bit wild but knows he’s got the talent and moxie to make it to the top. Along the way, he faces adversity, tough competitors, and physical challenges, but in the end – with the help of his stalwart crew – he wins the big race and gets the girl.
The plot is as predictable and formulaic as literally every other Tom Cruise movie. It was never possible to reveal any spoilers about Days of Thunder because there are none.
Great Actors (Plus Cruise & Kidman)
The most grating thing about Days of Thunder is that it has excellent actors like Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, and Cary Elwes. But even thespians of this caliber can’t get around a paper-thin plot and characters as flat as Kansas.
And their names? Insulting 4th-grade ingenuity. Robert Duvall is crew chief Harry Hogge, not to be confused with real-life Harry Hyde. Michael Rooker is Rowdy Burns, mean and short-tempered, driving an all-black Exxon Chevy with aggression, just like Dale Earnhardt. Quaid and Elwes have generic characters that are right off the rack, and like most of their castmates, their talent is utterly wasted here.
Not so are the talents of Cruise and Kidman. Even combined, they don’t have the acting chops of a dinner plate, and their on-screen “chemistry” reaffirms that Days of Thunder is among the worst car movies to date. Cruise plays Cole Trickle, not to be confused with real-life driver Dick Trickle. Like any other Cruise movie, he’s just playing himself, pretending as if he could really drive or fly jets or whatever.
Trickle’s love interest is neurosurgeon Dr. Claire Lewicki played by Cruise’s then-wife Nicole Kidman. She is among the least convincing doctors in cinema history, and they cribbed the character name from the late NASCAR champ Alan Kulwicki.
Perhaps the best part about Days of Thunder is its late ’80s and early ’90s nostalgia. Hendrick Motorsports supplied the stockcars, there are plenty of cameo appearances from NASCAR royalty, and Hans Zimmer’s musical score is alongside the soundtrack’s main cut, Last Note of Freedom, sung by David Coverdale of Whitesnake. Yes, there are redeeming qualities, just not enough to get Days of Thunder across the finish line.
After suffering severe injuries in “The Big One,” rookie Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) and veteran Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker) put their differences aside when Trickle offers to drive Burns’ car at the Dayton 500 against hotshot Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes).
Worst Car Movies Class: Drama, Sports
Fun Fact: According to Dale Jr., Tom Cruise met with Earnhardt Sr. before filming. Rumor has it Earnhardt Sr. was offered the role of Burns but turned it down because he didn’t want to be the bad guy. ~ IMDb
#4: Baby Driver
Baby is a getaway driver in Atlanta. He survived a childhood car crash that killed his parents and left him with tinnitus, but he finds healing in music, iPods permanently jammed into his ears. Baby transports crews of robbers contracted by criminal mastermind Doc as payback for offending Doc. Baby starts dating a waitress named Debora. Even though the next job nearly gets botched, Baby’s driving talent saves the day!
With his debt paid, Baby quits the life of crime and starts delivering pizzas (and not food delivery in the awesome Initial D way). The evil Doc forces Baby to pull one last job, robbing a post office by threatening to hurt Debora and Baby’s foster father should he refuse. Yeah, it’s not much of a plot, but it’s at least partially better than Redline.
Edgar Wright Made This?
One of the most puzzling things about Baby Driver is that Edgar Wright wrote and directed it. He made Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and the delightful The Sparks Brothers. How he came up with something as trite and banal as Baby Driver is a mystery.
Great Cast, Mediocre Delivery
Ansel Elgort and Lily James play Baby and Debora. Elgort is mostly silent, brooding, and looks to be doing a dreadful Brando imitation most of the time. Debora is yet another interchangeable ingénue character that Hollywood cranks out these days, and there isn’t much James can do to beat the cliché here.
Disgraced chicken-hawker Kevin Spacey plays Doc. Spacey is typically a great actor, but you can’t tell that here. He’s flat. The same goes for John Hamm, who plays Buddy. I’ve seen Hamm do great work, but in Baby Driver, all we get is a coke-addled twitch. Jamie Foxx plays Leon ‘Bats’ Jefferson III, Doc’s merciless henchman, and is dimensionless. The same goes for Jon Bernthal as Griff, one of Doc’s thugs.
People screamed and shouted about how great the stunt work was in Baby Driver, about how all the driving was real and not CGI, and as far as that goes, they’re right. The problem isn’t Baby’s driving; it’s what he’s driving around.
See, when he’s bombing down that alley, for instance, and J-turning his way around dumpsters and parked cars, missing them by inches, he ain’t doing jack. Sure, that’s a real WRX being thrown around, but all the stuff he’s just missing narrowly, that’s the CGI bit. It’s a clever trick, and as soon as I realized what Wright was doing, the whole house of cards fell apart.
Baby, a skilled getaway driver in Atlanta, has a tragic past, being orphaned at a young age. Despite leaving a life of crime, trouble finds him once again when his former boss insists he takes part in another heist or else.
Worst Car Movies Class: Action
Fun Fact: Baby Driver premiered at the South by Southwest festival. If you watch the film with headphones, every time Baby wears just one earbud you’ll also hear his music in only that one ear. ~ IMDb
#5: Any Fast & Furious Movie
You tell some random person you’re into cars, and the first thing that pops into their head is, “Oh, like The Fast & Furious movies?” Ugh! No, not like that! Do people really think we’re out there boosting VCRs and dragging bank vaults around the streets of Rio? Order the current Fast & Furious box set, and you will officially have eight of the worst car movies at once.
Not Car Movies, Just Have Cars In Them
The first Fast & Furious captured the vibe of the import tuner scene; that much is true. The film helped inspire a new generation of car collectors and addressed various aspects of the gearhead scene circa 2001 but after that? Fuhgettaboutit. After that, it was off to the races of one far-fetched caper after another. Pretty soon, we’re rationalizing car chases involving submarines and putting Pontiac Fieros into suborbital flight.
As Dominic Toretto will tell you, these movies are about family, or, as he pronounces it, fambly. It’s a catch-all term for the series meant to convey that anyone on the Toretto side of the line is good, and anyone not is suspect. It’s about as deep as these movies get and, I guess, gives a veneer of acceptability to the group’s actions.
True, every Fast & Furious flick is loaded with cars, but by this point, they’re just props. Kudos to them for keeping the cars interesting and getting the right ones with the right character, though. Brian (played by the late Paul Walker) was into JDM stuff. Dom was a true blue American with a deserved affiliation for Mopar products. Various and sundry other characters were identifiable by their rides of choice: Han was into high-end Asian rides, usually customized, and Letty also favored American iron.
All that is beside the point with how Fast & Furious treated the cars. All the usual tropes that drive gearheads bazookas are present: 18 upshifts during a drag race, variable physics, unnecessary explosions. Sigh, we almost had our own gearhead series, but alas. Maybe next time.
Los Angeles police officer Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) must decide where his loyalty really lies when he becomes enamored with the street racing world he has been sent undercover to destroy.
Year: 2001 (franchise debut)
Worst Car Movies Class: Action, Crime
Fun Fact: Title rights to the 1954 film The Fast and the Furious were purchased so it could be used for the franchise. The original film from 1954 was shown in a theater owned by the grandfather of producer Neal H. Moritz. ~ IMDb
Worst Car Movies Conclusion
And there you have it, fellow gearheads, the worst car movies we could come up with. View these at your own peril! If there are any other terrible car movies we missed, let us know on Twitter.
Longtime Automoblog writer Tony Borroz has worked on popular driving games as a content expert, in addition to working for aerospace companies, software giants, and as a movie stuntman. He lives in the northeast corner of the northwestern-most part of the Pacific Northwest.