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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

Multiple model Toyota Supras are shown parked on a road after leaving a Toyota dealership.

“I’m Ready for My Close Up, Mr. Toyota”—Supras on the Big Screen

Whether it’s sitting on the lot at your local Toyota dealership or starring alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names on the silver screen, the Toyota Supra is hard to miss. Automakers have always had something of a symbiotic relationship with Hollywood. Movies need cars, and cars need the free advertising that comes along with a cameo in a Hollywood blockbuster. Sometimes these vehicles are humble background actors and sometimes they’re the star of the show, but regardless of their roles, they’re an indispensable part of injecting a little reality into film and TV.

Look around and you’ll start to notice some infamous makes and models popping up all over the place, from the murderous Christine of Stephen King fame (a 1958 Plymouth Fury) to Back to the Future’s 1981 Delorean DMC-12. Don’t forget the pristine 1961 Ferrari 250 GT that provided Ferris Bueller and Co. with such a memorable day off (“My father loves this car more than life itself.”) The Ford Crown Victoria is the undisputed champ of automotive movie stars, though it rarely gets the chance to play the leading man. In fact, the coupe usually takes on a more antagonistic role in many Hollywood blockbusters because, more often than not, the “Crown Vic” in question is a police cruiser.

The Toyota Supra, meanwhile, has had to take a few smaller gigs that it would probably just as soon forget. These include appearances in such straight-to-video gems as WolfCop (2014) Robosapien: Rebooted (2013) and The Last American Virgin (1982). Often, these appearances amount to little more than some savvy product placement, but occasionally, a car like the Supra gets the chance to take center stage.

Below, we’ve collected some notable appearances the Supra has made over the years, ending with the car’s breakthrough role in one of the action world’s cult classics. For the purposes of this list, we’ll skip over some of the more trivial background appearances and focus on films in which the Supra has played a meaningful role. If these cameos leave you wanting more, head over to the Internet Movie Car Database (imcdb.org), where you can actually search for any credits your own favorite model might have earned on the silver screen.

ROX (2011 – present)

If this series isn’t familiar, it’s because you haven’t been keeping up with your Flemish children’s television programming. Arguably one of the Supra’s standout roles of the modern era, the Toyota earns a starring role as the eponymous transportation for a team of crime-fighting youngsters. IMDB sums it up well (and saves us from having to translate from Dutch):

“Whiz kid Rick, crafty Olivia and sporty Xavier form a top-secret special ops team in a fictitious state. Their initials form the acronym of their secret weapon, ROX, a talking race-car with Bond-like gadgets. The grim colonel gives the team various assignments to fight crime. Failure is not an option.”

“Grim colonel?” “Bond-like gadgets?” “Failure is not an option.” Sounds like this one hits all the classic action-adventure tropes. While the Supra isn’t referenced by the specific make and model, there’s no mistaking the coupe’s iconic curves. The show’s creators have confirmed that ROX is a Supra, and, while they haven’t specified a particular model, internet sleuths have it pegged as a ’94 MK IV model.

They say a car hasn’t really made it in the movie biz until it lands a speaking role, and ROX provided the Supra with a chance to follow in the treadmarks of Hollywood’s wise-cracking automotive O.G.: Kitt from Knight Rider. In fact—not to take anything away from the long-running Belgian children’s show—ROX does appear to be a sort of lighter, brighter version of the classic ’80s action series, minus Hasselhoff’s spectacularly permed hair, of course.

Beverly Hills Brats (1989)

Nothing says “rich brat” like a speedy red sports car, and the Supra fills that role nicely in 1989’s Beverly Hills Brats. The film is about as ’80s as they come, featuring cheesy synthesizer-heavy tunes, big hair, shoulder pads, and more than one Canadian tuxedo. The plotline is pure ’80s cheese as well: a Beverly Hills preteen (Peter Billingsly), upset about the lack of attention he’s receiving from his newly-married father (Martin Sheen), arranges to be kidnapped by two bumbling criminals. Remember when kidnapping was an acceptable narrative trope in a children’s movie? Those were the days; then Liam Nesson had to come along and ruin it for everyone.

The Supra is actually featured in the film’s opening sequence, where one of the main characters burns rubber out of her posh private high school’s parking lot and proceeds to race her brother through the winding streets of Beverly Hills. Hollywood excess is on full display, with shots of the Supra—featuring the license plate “SPOILED1”—racing by Rodeo Drive. Scoring the Supra’s drive is music with notable lyrics like, “private schools and swimming pools, a different car each day.”

The Supra loses the race, with the brother quipping: “Everyone knows a Toyota can’t beat a Corvette.” This might be true…if only the Corvette can stay out of the shop (editor’s note: Zing!). The intro even features a cameo from ’80s mainstay Whoppi Goldberg, who is cut off by the speeding Supra before looking at the camera to deliver the cringe-worthily meta line, “UGH, Beverly Hills brats!”

The Firm (1993)

There was seemingly a brief period in the ’80s when all it took to get a greenlight for a movie was a pitch involving the phrase: “Tom Cruise as a young, hotshot _____.” Fighter pilot, lawyer, one-night brothel manager—it didn’t matter, as long as he got the chance to flash those pearly whites for the camera. Adapted from the John Grisham bestseller of the same name, The Firm follows the high-stakes world of elite law firms as a young attorney discovers that some people will pay any price to keep their secrets from coming out (*dun dun DUN*).

The film’s Supra—likely a 1985 MK II Toyota Celica Supra L-Type—is Mitch McDeere’s (Tom Cruise) humble, post-collegiate ride, featuring a decorative Boston University license plate, a faded paint job and more than a few dents. In a movie filled with vicious acts of criminal intent, the biggest crime might be McDeere’s choice to tow a U-Haul trailer with the spritely sports car, but the statute of limitations has likely passed on that one.

The Toyota gets a few brief cameos before McDeere’s new job with a high-powered law firm allows him to upgrade to a decidedly snazzier-looking 1993 Mercedes-Benz 300CE Cabriolet. While it’s definitely a step up, it’s still hard to imagine a world where a classic Supra would be seen as a lowly starter car deserving of this sort of on-screen abuse.

The Fast & The Furious (2001)

Now we can see the Supra in the flattering light it deserves. With nine films and more than $1.5 billion in profits under its belt, The Fast & The Furious franchise is undoubtedly the most successful auto-centric series of all time. While its success has made a household name out of actors like Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and of course, Ludacris, some might argue that the real stars of the show are the movies’ souped-up street racers. Even among the exotic offerings on display throughout each two-hour testosterone-fest, the 1994 Toyota Supra MK IV is a real standout, earning top billing as Brian O’Connor’s (Paul Walker) go-to racer and effectively serving as the film’s “hero car”.

As one might expect from a movie focused on heavily modified street racing culture, the ’94 Supra has more than a few upgrades over the base model. These include 19-inch Dazz Motorsport Racing Hart M5 Tuner wheels, A Bomex front spoiler with side skirts, a TRD-style hood, and a PR aluminum biplane wing. Powered by a 2JZ-GTE 3.0-L turbocharged inline-six, the Supra has plenty of power, though some purists might take issue with the coupe’s four-speed automatic transmission. (Blame this part on Hollywood, which typically opts for automatic over manual; the former is easier for stunt drivers to consistently maneuver through a course.)

These modifications give the Supra some instant street cred, but it’s the car’s distinctive exterior that sticks in the minds of many Fast franchise fans. Sporting an unmistakable coat of Lamborghini Diablo Candy Orange Pearl paint, the car was originally modified by legendary customizer Eddie Paul at The Shark Shop in El Segundo, California. The aftermarket parts and paint job are enough to make the Supra instantly recognizable, but it’s the Troy Lee-designed “Nuclear Gladiator” graphic that really puts it over the top.

The film’s Supra was inspired by film industry auto consultant and former National Import Auto Racing (NIRA) president Craig Liberman’s own ‘94 model, which he loaned to the production for several scenes. A longtime fan of Japanese imports, Leiberman traces his own love affair with the Supra back to one day in 1997. “I was in my built Mustang GT and I got smoked on the freeway by a Toyota Supra, and I said, ‘That’s it, I’m buying one.’ And that car became the car that Universal used in the first movie,” said Leiberman in a 2021 interview with the Toyota Untold podcast. Lieberman was an invaluable resource for the film, providing insight on what types of modifications were popular within the import scene and even helping to add a little authenticity to the dialogue.

The fact that the film, released in 2001, chose to spotlight a car from 1994 speaks to the Supra’s reliability. Of course, these types of street racers are far less likely to show their age, since they typically receive a level of care and attention usually reserved for a first-time parent’s newborn. But still, it’s a great example of Toyota’s legacy for quality construction. That longevity allows Supras to retain their value better than many other sports cars—though, in the case of this particular model, its fame is likely a bigger factor.

A nearly identical Supra used in the film sold at auction for $185,000 in 2015, but the specific model driven by Paul Walker is in another stratosphere altogether. The car went up for auction in June 2021 at Barrett-Jackson in Las Vegas and brought in an astounding $550,000.

Supra on the Set

From high-speed chases to moving day, the mean streets of Rotterdam to the animated confines of Daria Morgendorffer’s high school parking lot, the Supra is no stranger to life in the spotlight. With bold curves, classic styling, and the goods under the hood to back up its aggressive appearance, the Supra is ready-made for a career in the movies. This idyllic sports car can easily fill in whenever the script calls for “fast, loud and sleek.”

While your own driving adventures are hopefully a little less high-octane than that of Vin Diesel and Co., the Supra does have a way of injecting excitement into the mundane. The coupe hits the sweet spot between performance and reliability, making it the perfect choice for a more mature class of thrill-seekers—those who aren’t ready to relegate themselves to a minivan quite yet.

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