The Top Gun team of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, and superstar Tom Cruise reunite for this excursion into stock-car racing that incorporates the vroom and rumble of deafening car engines with a rehash of the same elements that worked so effectively in Cruise's Top Gun, The Color of Money, and Cocktail. Cruise plays stock-car driver Cole Trickle, a young fireball on the Southern stock-car circuit who has loads of talent but no conception of how to channel that talent in to racing success. When Tim Daland (Randy Quaid) commissions veteran stock-car racer Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) to built a car and hires Cole to drive it, Harry must instill in Cole his philosophy of winning and teach him how to channel his raw talent into success – or, as Harry puts it, "controlling something that's out of control".
Thunder Afloat is set during the first world war. Wallace Beery plays an veteran tugboat captain who harbors a grudge against younger ex-pal Chester Morris. When Morris joins the navy as an officer, he runs across Beery, who resparks the feud. Both men bury the hatchet and work shoulder to shoulder when German U-boats threaten innocent shippers. Though the action takes place in 1918, the film was intensely topical in 1939 given the renewal of maritime hostilities in Europe and the Far East. Thunder Afloat made money by the bushel basket, as did most of Wallace Beery's formula vehicles.