"First Reformed" is the most critically praised movie of the summer. In one of its most striking scenes, stars Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried, playing radical environmentalists, have an out-of-body experience in which they fly over the horrible pollution of the world, including acres and acres and acres of ugly, noisome scrap tires.
This is the problem tires face as far as Hollywood is concerned. Sure, we've all heard them roaring and screeching through thousands of movies. They are prominent in every car chase movie—"Bullitt," "Baby Driver," the whole "Fast and the Furious" franchise.
They are an integral part of every auto racing movie—"Grand Prix," "Les Mans," "Rush," "Days of Thunder," even "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." James Bond would be nowhere without the custom Dunlops on his Aston Martin. Same with Keanu Reeves and the bus tires in "Speed," or Michael J. Fox and the time-traveling DeLorean's tires in "Back to the Future." War epics set during World War II and beyond? You name the movie—those military trucks keep rolling along.
Some lovable vehicular cartoon characters—Lightning McQueen and pals in "Cars," Benny the Cab in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"—are pneumatically attired throughout their adventures. Tires also play an important role in the occasional heist movie ("The Italian Job," both the Michael Caine and Mark Wahlberg versions) and romantic comedy ("Two for the Road," with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney as a couple bickering through successive car trips in France).
But there's a hitch, and it's the same hitch tires have everywhere else. Viewers pay attention to the cars, not the tires. If a tire could be a movie star, it would be Rodney Dangerfield. Sure, there are tire executives and retailers who are dying to know what kind of tires Ryan Gosling is using to flee from his enemies in "Drive." However, if they dare to yell "Michelin!" or "Pirelli!" they're lucky if the people sitting next to them merely move to the next row, as opposed to running to the manager.
No, when Sean Connery triggers the ejector seat or Steve McQueen sends his Mustang flying over the hills of San Francisco, the last thing moviegoers are thinking is whether those tires are Goodyears or Bridgestones. The only times they notice tires are in movies like "A Christmas Story," in which Darren McGavin gets a flat and Peter Billingsley says, "Oh fudge," except of course he doesn't really say, "fudge."
Otherwise, environmentally minded Hollywood movie makers tend to portray tires as eyesores—acres and acres and acres of eyesores. In one movie—Quentin Dupieux's "Rubber"—a scrap tire is a serial killer. (Trust me, it is much less interesting than it sounds.)
Have tire companies' ad and marketing departments done a great job in stressing the safety, excitement and outstanding value of tires? Of course they have. But tires deserve a little something more—they deserve to be movie heroes in their own right. When Christian Bale roars through Gotham in his Batmobile, we should all realize that Batman has four round, black, polymeric co-pilots, more reliable than Robin will ever be.