F1 and America – Will Audiences Find The RUSH?

Ron Howard‘s new movie Rush, which chronicles the dramatic 1976 duel between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, opened in limited release mid-September and this past weekend throughout the U.S. This movie has provided me the opportunity for a lot of thought and discussion about the success of Formula 1 here in the States and why Americans have been reluctant to embrace this form of racing. Although this is an independent film, Ron Howard is such a respected director and the public is so aware of his work that this film automatically has a higher profile than other Formula One films like Senna. So of course I am wondering if it can raise the profile of Formula One racing as well.

Although this is not a review, for the record I thought Rush was a very solid race movie. The acting was quite believable; both actors nailed it according to people that know the real drivers. As far as accuracy, and I was old enough to remember the Seventies, Howard definitely captures the feel and the look, which is good because there is nothing worse than a period movie that does not get it right. The special effects were also very believable, and although there was a chance for this film to be over the top or overly dramatic just for drama’s sake, it was nice to see a bit of restraint in Howard’s final analysis.

If I have any complaint it is that I came away feeling that the movie could have said more. More about the cars, more about the danger, more about the era, more about the edge all drivers are trying to find. In a word, just more about the RACING. Don’t take my complaint too much to heart, I had a very high bar the movie needed to reach and for the most part it did. But let’s get to the questions we’re addressing lately on AmerF1can.com, why hasn’t F1 succeeded in the States yet and will this movie be the trigger we need?

Ron Howard has clearly been immersing himself in racing in order to make this film so I was curious to see what he had to say on these points in an in-depth interview in the October issue of Road & Track Magazine.

R&T: Why do you think that F1 has never really caught on in the U.S.?

RH: Probably because it didn’t originate here and there weren’t a lot of Americans drivers, for starters. The manufacturers were elsewhere; its’s an imported sport. That’s one reason. Plus, a circuit is harder for spectators. But I think the reason that it’s starting to pick up momentum is because it’s so well televised and the world is getting smaller. I think the sport is very telegenic and exciting. It sounds kind of strange, but also the success of the show Top Gear and how it’s found its way into America, is a factor. But I think there are a lot more F1 fans that you realize, especially because of TV.

The fact that they’ve built a track in Austin, I think that’s a great invitation, and the Montreal race has remained very popular. That’s the other thing: If we get a few races in the U.S., plus Montreal, then suddenly the F1 racers will get a chance to come here, they’ll be on television more. The media will help fuel that interest. When I talk to serious NASCAR fans, they like formula 1. They don’t turn their noses up at it. It just hasn’t been accessible. That’s my entirely anecdotal experience. 

Interesting, that is almost exactly what our expert James Allen said about F1 and America as well. This is still a bit hard for me to wrap my head around. So what that we didn’t invent it? Who cares where it came from? As Americans we buy BMW’s, Mercedes, Porsches, Range Rovers, Infinities, and a crap load of Nissans, Toyotas, Hyundai’s, Subaru’s and Mitsubishis just to name a few and these are all imported as well. We are a nation of immigrants after all. You don’t have to be born here to be revered in America. The simple act of doing something difficult with intensity and passion is usually enough. I want to address this very point further and will tackle it in a future post but for now will let it be and get back to our main topic.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - One of the greatest movies ever made. if you have not had a chance to see this, make it a priority...

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – One of the greatest movies ever made. If you have not had a chance to see this, make it a priority…

First of all, can a movie change the way people think at all? The short answer is yes, absolutely. We only need to look at the movies from the 70’s, what I would consider America’s golden era. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, All The Presidents Men, Norma Rae, these are all movies which had a massive effect on the public and helped to change the consciousness of a nation. More recently: Traffic, A Beautiful Mind (a Ron Howard film by the way), Boy’s Don’t Cry, Hotel Rwanda, The Constant Gardener and for me, the mother of them all, Blade Runner. Movies that are not only telling a story but display a specific point of view, show us a new idea, ask us to look further at something we are not familiar with.

Of course all these movies are quite different from Rush I will admit; social unrest, sexual orientation, unionizing, the drug trade, racism, cloning and playing God, all intense subject matter, agreed. But then again life vs. death is pretty intense. Consider that these drivers willingly race in a sport that promises, as Niki Lauda’s character states, a twenty percent chance that they might not get out of the car at the conclusion of each and every race. Yet week after week in this film, these two literally risk their necks to compete against each other. That is intense.

Let’s look at a movie that has a lot in common with Rush: Top Gun. Navy pilots. Speed, rivalry, life and death. After the release of the film, the United States Navy stated that the number of young men who enlisted wanting to be Naval Aviators went up by 500 percent. So a good film plus insight into an exciting topic can equal significant interest and a change in behavior.

I have seen many movies and would consider myself a student of cinema. Movies are more powerful than books, radio, art, or any other media because they are more alive than any other media. To watch a movie is the ultimate existential experience. Because you are not actually the character you can see the bigger picture (no pun intended) and understand things the character does not know, but because a film can be so compelling (when well shot with good acting, writing and editing) you can also be right in the moment with the characters, hearing, seeing and feeling exactly what they are going through. This is what all great movie making is about, the end game if you will and when you also have a compelling subject matter you can change the audience’s reality.

Will Rush have this effect on audiences here in the US? I think it can and the only question remaining is to what degree. It still might remain a niche sport that Americans at large aren’t quite ready to love, but I think we can increase the fans for that niche sport significantly with this film and I’ll be happy with that.

Roy Batty - The Real hero of Blade Runner, if ever a movie change the way I thought about everything this was the one. The power of film is never ending...

Roy Batty – The Real hero of Blade Runner, if ever a movie changed the way I thought about everything this was the one. The power of film is never ending…

It seems Mr. Ron Howard agrees with me. Back to the October Road & Track interview.

R&T: What did you focus on to get American audiences to care about the sport?

RH: I’m not an ambassador. I think that if the movie does its job and is accessible and relatable, that ought to entice people to explore the contemporary version of the sport, the way Senna may have. I hope we entertain enough that people become curious. That would be flattering. But the movie was a labor of love by everyone on the creative side and behind the camera, too. It’s unbelievable-we have Oscar winners everywhere you look behind the camera. Everyone wanted to be involved and thought it was a cool challenge. And we made the movie responsibly enough that it’s not a product. But we all recognize that its’ an unusual subject, and movie fans, if they go see Rush, have to be ready to try something new. and I certainly hope they do.  

Very nicely said Mr. Howard. One has to keep in mind that Rush was not a movie about Formula 1 per se, and thus should not be viewed through the F1 prism. It’s a movie about a rivalry between two very different men and how that rivalry affected their lives. The story just happens to take place in front of a compelling backdrop that is Formula 1 racing.

It is said that a long journey starts with one step. F1 still has a long way to go to be considered an outright success in the States but maybe we’ll look back ten years from now and see Rush as a link in a chain of events that helped F1 become more accepted here. If so, it will have accomplished something beyond just being a good racing film.

-jp- (just a link in your chain, chain of fools – Aretha Franklin)

12 Comments on “F1 and America – Will Audiences Find The RUSH?

  1. Interesting stuff, both from yourself and Ron Howard!

    The mass media can be a huge catalyst for changing public perception. On t.v. over here the x-factor has just started again, at the same time as Strictly Come Dancing (our version of dancing with the stars) – suddenly every kid thinks their the new Justin Bieber and stats for people taking up dance lessons have gone through the roof! Again!

    Hopefully F1 can benefit in the same way. As you’d expect the film did well here. Box office figures for it’s second release weekend saw it remain the UK’s no1 film, not a surprise as it got great reviews in our press (the power of persuasion at work again!) and took over 1million, over 4million now since it opened, a decent release for our territory.

    I would hope in the States as it had a limited release that as momentum builds a lot more is made of it’s DVD/Blue Ray release. The access that a home-cinema release will bring to the millions of possible fans should be an opportunity not to be missed.

    Great thought provoking blog post again, congratulations!

    P.S. Great list of films there, Bladerunner gets the most love in this house though, I think there’s about five copies thanks to multiple releases/cuts!

    • hey Lisa

      as usual very well said and great point about not missing an opportunity with DVD/Blue Ray release. great to hear the film is No. 1, i assumed it would do well, but didn’t expect it to reach no.1

      it could not be the more opposite here. check out this link. :/ http://filmdrunk.uproxx.com/2013/09/weekend-box-office-no-love-for-ron-howards-racecars. that being said i think this is more of a word of mouth type of film. all the reviews are positive, so the potential is there for it to have a positive effect.

      im not looking for this movie to hit it out of the park, only just to expose a few more people to F1. start small and build some momentum.

      • Another great example of how the U.S.A & the U.K. differ on F1 then!

        Hopefully it will strike a chord with those who love the sport and spread with positive word of mouth in time for the dvd then.

        Though if audiences struggle to warm to the excitement surrounding F1 back then, even if this is a dramatised account, goodness knows what they’ll make of Vettel’s current domination, or worse still the procession of pretty cars it can still sometimes fall into, though this year, especially the early part of the season,was far more gripping!

  2. John-Pierre,
    Great insight and nice piece of writing to get your point across.

  3. Whenever someone starts a sentence with the words, “No offense but”, you know that someone is going to take offense to what is going to be said. But I’ve never been one to mince words so here it goes.
    No offense but…
    To some, Canada is just the northern extension of the US. In so many ways we are influenced by the US media, movies, TV and government policy. But there is one slight difference. Our education system and news media is slightly better when it comes to global information. (From what I read, Europe’s is even better yet) F1 is a global sport. F1 fans (here that I have met) are usually slightly more informed intelligent fans. Not so much for the average racing fan in North America. (This includes NASCAR fans in Canada) They know their drivers, they know their drivers sponsors and they know their TV schedule as to when the racing starts. It isn’t 8 AM EST! In Canada F1 is more popular (Given our small population) than in the US.
    I’d be willing to bet that more Americans know who Dale Earnhardt was than where Bahrain is. Hell I’d bet more Americans know when his birthday was and when he died, than where Bahrain is. The truth is, if it doesn’t happen within the US, they don’t really care to know about it. It’s just the way the American education system has evolved. I don’t blame them, they just haven’t had the exposure to the global community as many Europeans get.
    Here is some proof of that. Please smile when you watch these.

    Miss Teen USA South Carolina

    Kelly Pickler, “Europe is a country….isn’t it?” “I only hear what I want to.”

    What Americans know about the world (and other things).

    Still smiling?
    All of this reflects in sport as well. European football is one of the biggest sports in the world… but rarely seen on US TV.

    As for Rush, will it help, maybe, I hope so, it can’t hurt. The movie Driven didn’t help CART at all. But if you put Cole Trickle (Days of Thunder) and Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights) in the movie Rush, it might sell like gangbusters in the US. 🙂
    Again no offense but it’s just the way I see it from up here in Canada. 😛

    • Doug

      LOL!!!!! Well i just don’t have any words to respond to what i have just witnessed. I would be extremely funny if it was SNL skit. but oh my my, that could be the most tragic thing I have seen in quite some. and yes i have a smile on my race.

      and as to your observation about us americans, sadly you are right. Shit, that means i have a lot of work cut out for myself if i want to get everyone on the F1 band wagon. 😉

  4. On a side note, let’s see how much money Rush makes compared to these. It would be nice to see it kick a$$ world wide. I have a lot of respect for Ron Howard so I would like to see it succeed.

    Domestic Total Gross: $32,720,065

    Days of Thunder
    Domestic Total Gross: $82,670,733
    $157,920,733 worldwide

    Talladega Nights:
    The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
    Domestic Total Gross: $148,213,377
    $162,966,177 worldwide
    Sources, Wikipedia and Box Office Mojo

    • well according to Lisa Rush is number one in the UK so that is if not predictable still good to know. looking at your numbers though 32 mill does look doable for it to match Driven and it could match 150 mill world wide but it has had a slow start here in the US 10-12 mill i think.

      • Won’t do final figures as Rush is still at the cinema but can say, according to the BFI (British Flim Institute), Rush opened in 2nd with a £2,099,308 take before moving up to no1 last week (1m+) and is still at no2 this week, taking just under 1m.

        Talladega Nights opened with £1,033,749 with a September release back in 2006.

        Bearing in mind UK consumers had less recession worries and more disposable income back then, but also that it’s a sport that our population has less affection for it is interesting to note audiences steadily GREW for Ricky Bobby as word-of-mouth came into play, so here’s hoping for the same for Rush in the U.S.!

        Driven opened with £144,591 in 2001(We like Stallone, but not that much!)

        Senna opened at no8 in the box office with £375,173, not bad for a limited release documentary (67 cinemas!!)in the middle if summer (June 2011)!

        So yep, we are very predictable and still love Formula 1 over here in Blighty!

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