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Days Of Thunder Was So Hard To Make It Killed An Era Of Cinema

The 1980s were good to the producing partnership of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. While Simpson was known as something of a shit heel in Hollywood, he got results, and with Bruckheimer helping him out, those results were worth billions. Beginning in 1983, when their first film together Flashdance, garnered $201.5 million from a $7 million budget, they were untouchable. After that the duo went on a run, producing banger after banger with Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, and Beverly Hills Cop II combining to make nearly a billion at the box office. But their 1990 film — another Tom Cruise vehicle, Days of Thunder — flopped hard and marked the end of the road for this type of now-formulaic picture.

Possibly the best cinema video essayist on YouTube these days, Patrick (H) Willems, posted an hour-long screed about the Tom Cruise NASCAR drama, and the results are typically fantastic. Give it a watch.

How One Movie Killed The 1980s

Days of Thunder made a paltry $157.9 million from its inflated $70 million budget. Considering that Top Gun cost just $19 million to make, and returned over 20 times that in theater ticket sales, it just wasn’t what Simpson/Bruckheimer, or Cruise for that matter, were used to. Why did a movie about car racing cost more than three and a half times what it cost to make Top Gun, a movie about fighter jets?

Because Simpson and Bruckheimer got too big for their britches and wouldn’t let BAFTA-award-winning director Tony Scott, uh, direct. That means the crew was just hanging out getting paid ridiculous overtime for all the wasted hours while the ship with four captains listed aimlessly toward nothing. Plus, you know, all of the cocaine.

The Simpson/Bruckheimer partnership was made for the 1980s, as they produced beautiful action-packed films populated by beautiful people, with perfect needle drops. They were responsible for some of the best films of the decade. With all of that success behind them, they were able to ask for, and get, whatever they wanted. Simpson allegedly blew studio money on his own beach-side gym to attract women, whom he would ply with gifts and experiences as a means of seduction.

It only took five months from the release of Days of Thunder for Paramount to kick the money-leaching partnership out of the house and tear up their five-film contract. Look, I love this film, but it was never going to be the massive success of Top Gun. There’s no denying that this is a 1980s movie, despite having come out in 1990. But it killed the type of movie that the 1980s were known for: Character-driven slick pictures with montages and overcoming adversity with natural talent were out, and this movie was the end of it all.

Go watch it again, just for the hell of it, with this added context. It’s great, but it’s also not. But it also is.


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