Image Credit: Everett CollectionTom Cruise carried on a big-screen love affair with high-velocity vehicles in films ranging from 1986’s Top Gun to this week’s Knight and Day. But no role ever captured the star’s hankering for horsepower better than hotshot NASCAR driver Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder, which raced into theaters 20 years ago this week. “Tom really does love to drive fast and dangerously,” says director Tony Scott (Top Gun, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), who credits the star with dreaming up the movie’s premise along with producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. “Cruise and Jerry and Don went to a school where you learn to race Porsches. That’s where it all began. They said, ‘F—, yeah! Let’s do a motor-racing movie!”

Of course, fast cars weren’t the only object of Cruise’s affection on the Thunder set. The star’s future wife Nicole Kidman was just 23 when Cruise (then 28) handpicked her for the part of his on-screen love interest. “Tom and [screenwriter Robert Towne] had seen Dead Calm, and they both had [the hots] for Nicole,” laughs Scott. And while their characters steamed up the screen, Scott says the couple — who married later that year — played it cool during the shoot. “They kept their distance on set, but there was an obvious, very strong connection that grew over the course of the movie. And you know the story from there.”