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Lightning McQueen
Cars character
A red car with yellow and orange lightning bolts and the number 95 on the sides
Lightning McQueen as he appears in Cars wearing his rookie paint job
First appearanceCars (2006)
Created byJohn Lasseter
Joe Ranft
Jorgen Klubien
Voiced byOwen Wilson (films, Cars: The Video Game, Mater and the Ghostlight, Cars Toons: Tales from Radiator Springs, and Cars on the Road)[1]
Keith Ferguson (most video games, Cars Toons: Mater's Tall Tales, Cars Toons: Tales from Radiator Springs, and Miss Fritter's Racing Skoool)[1]
Ben Rausch (Cars 3: Driven to Win)[1]
In-universe information
SpeciesStock car
Significant otherSally Carrera

Lightning McQueen is a fictional anthropomorphic stock car and the protagonist of the Disney/Pixar Cars franchise. He was developed by John Lasseter and co-director Joe Ranft from a story concept by Jorgen Klubien. McQueen's appearances include the feature films Cars, Cars 2, and Cars 3, as well as the animated series Cars Toons and Cars on the Road. He is also a playable character in each of the Cars video game installments. Lightning is recognizable by his red body with yellow and orange lightning bolt stickers featuring his racing number on his sides. He is primarily voiced by Owen Wilson.

In Cars, Lightning begins as a talented but cocky rookie in the Piston Cup racing series who becomes stranded in the small town of Radiator Springs, where he learns about humility and friendship from the locals. Over his professional racing career he wins several Piston Cup victories. In Cars 2, he competes in the World Grand Prix, while his friend Tow Mater is unwittingly dragged into a spy mission. In Cars 3, he struggles to come to terms with retirement and assumes the role of Cruz Ramirez's mentor.

Despite receiving a mixed reaction from critics in the first film, Lightning McQueen has become the recognizable face and mascot of the Cars franchise, being widely merchandised in the form of branded toy cars and products. He has been mentioned in commentary by NASCAR racing drivers, including Kyle Busch and Chris Buescher, and his achievements have been discussed by sports journalist Stephen A. Smith. Critics have described him as one of the greatest or most iconic cars in film.


Concept and creation

Headshot of John Lasseter
Cars director John Lasseter conceived the idea of using a racing car as the main character in the film.

The concept for Cars originated in 1998 when Danish story development artist Jorgen Klubien had the idea to write an animated feature based on a three-wheeled electric car in Denmark that had proven to be unpopular for being ugly. He thought of this as The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen, a character that is not initially accepted but later proves to be a success. He began to write the story concept with the title "The Yellow Car", which was set in a small town populated by cars rather than people. The story involved the Yellow Car struggling to be accepted by the local residents due to being different but eventually earning its place in the community. Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter liked the concept of a world inhabited by cars presented by Klubien, but felt that the Yellow Car needed to be a stronger character to create conflict in the story. He and co-director Joe Ranft began developing the various car characters in the story, while the Yellow Car was eventually replaced by Lightning McQueen.[2]

From the start, Pixar's new film project was referred to as Cars. Lasseter decided that the main character should be a racing car because it represents speed, power and individuality. The Pixar team began to focus their research on racing cars, with Lasseter attending numerous races to ensure that the film was "authentic in every single detail". The team visited Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte and met with Richard Petty. Story artist Steve Purcell said that meeting die-hard fans and experiencing the track first hand was the ideal education needed for the film's development. Lasseter took driving lessons at the Infineon Raceway from instructors at the Jim Russell Racing School to get an authentic experience of motorsport, which became invaluable for giving direction to Owen Wilson, the voice of Lightning McQueen.[3]

Lasseter, who had previously worked on Toy Story, had for many years toyed with the idea of making a film about cars, having a particular love of cars and NASCAR racing.[4] Lasseter said that he became hooked on cars at an early age after buying Hot Wheels toy cars. He cited childhood vacations with his family on Route 66 and the animated films of Japanese producer Hayao Miyazaki as his inspirations.[5] In the summer of 2000, he and his family went on a two-month road trip that avoided interstate highways, which forced him to take a slower journey. Out of this experience, he began to develop the story idea for the film. "I discovered that the journey in life is the reward", he recalled. In 2001, he and a group of Pixar staff took a trip on Route 66. Over nine days, they toured a number of places along the route, including Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma, and studied the landscape. Lasseter conducted research about automotives, befriending design chief J Mays of the Ford Motor Company. During development, Pixar's animators also benefited from having Porsche 911 coupes delivered to Pixar's offices for inspection. Lasseter and the production team also met with General Motors designers in the early 2000s to discuss the new Chevrolet Corvette design. At that time, the story concept was very different to the final film and according to Pixar producer Darla K. Anderson it evolved over time. Cars reflects Lasseter's sadness over the decline of small towns on Route 66, which he said "died overnight" following the construction of interstate highways after World War II.[4]


Pixar's animators found it challenging to inject personality into the characters due to their rigid forms. Lasseter was of the opinion that the cars in the film had to feel like they had the weight and movement of real cars. In early animation tests, the cars featured big smiles and had less rigid tops, but Lasseter decided this needed to be changed to reflect the rigidity of real cars. The animators spent a lot of time working on the face to ensure that the characters felt like they were alive; thus the grill of the car was designed as its mouth. For the eyes, Lasseter took inspiration from the Disney short film Susie the Little Blue Coupe (1952), in which the character's windscreen panes are used for the eyes. This brought other challenges, in particular, how to get the characters' facial expressions right. In early tests, the team found that their eyes were too far from their mouths, so the animators worked to improve their expressions by repositioning the lower eyelids.[6]

Although most of the car characters were inspired by real models, Lightning McQueen was given special treatment. Production designer Bob Pauley explained, "He’s the new rookie, he's kinda sexy, he's fast, he's different". The team took their favorite parts from different models, including GT40s and Chargers, to create him. Directing animator James Ford Murphy said that Lightning McQueen posed a challenge from the start, as the team struggled to define his character. They knew that it would be difficult to create a character that was both cocky but also likeable. To solve this, Pauley compiled biographies of celebrities with cocky but likeable personalities, including American boxer Muhammad Ali, American basketball player Charles Barkley, American football player Joe Namath and American musician Kid Rock. Pauley said that Lightning McQueen was successfully drawn once they created him as an Owen Wilson character. The movement of the cars was also a defining part of their personalities. For Lightning McQueen, the team wanted to bring beauty to his movement, so they took inspiration from surfers, snowboarders and athletes like American basketball player Michael Jordan. Murphy explained: "We wanted to have that same type of feeling, so that when they're talking about 'the rookie sensation,' you're seeing that he is really gifted."[6]

Art department manager Jay Ward explained that the theme of the film is expressed in Lightning McQueen's character development. He said that, as a racing car, he is entirely self-centered and his goal at the start of the film is to reach the finish line, but by spending time in Radiator Springs, he has to learn that "life is about the journey, not the destination". He described the racing aspect as the "bookends" in his story arc: "the racing world he started in and the racing world he returns to, and he is a different character".[6] Lightning McQueen is not named after actor and race driver Steve McQueen, but after Pixar animator Glenn McQueen who died in 2002.[7]

Creating the story for the third film in the franchise presented the creative team with some character issues due to Lightning McQueen already being a champion racer. Cars 3 writer Mike Rich explained that everything had gone well for the character's career so far, but this was not the best way to begin a story. For inspiration, they decided to look at real sports celebrities like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, specifically analysing what athletes do about getting older. Their research showed that some dealt with the situation better than others, with some refusing to adapt. In Cars 3, Lightning McQueen takes the same role as Strip 'The King' Weathers, an ageing character from the first film, because, like him, he is threatened by newcomer Jackson Storm. For McQueen, Storm represents the end of his beloved sport. After experiencing a devastating crash, McQueen finds the solution in the form of Cruz Ramirez, who repeatedly reminds him of his age and helps him learn that he no longer has to train like a young man. Story supervisor Scott Morse said that the Pixar team thought it important to show the changes in his character because they felt that children comprehend circumstances above their level: "McQueen is maturing; he's evolving. McQueen's a character that kids grew up with. For kids in particular, to see somebody they're comfortable with going through an evolutionary change, it helps them understand how to do that."[8] Cars 3 director Brian Fee also cited conversations with retiring racing driver Jeff Gordon, alongside his own personal experiences of mentoring his daughters, as inspiration for the emotional core of Lightning McQueen feeling pride in helping someone else to win rather than being preoccupied with his own achievements.[9]


Owen Wilson, Lightning McQueen's primary voice actor, at the 2017 Daytona 500

American actor Owen Wilson is the voice of Lightning McQueen in the Cars filmography. He was cast in the original Cars film and returned to voice the character in Cars 2 and Cars 3, while also voicing him in the television series Cars on the Road.[10] He also voices the character in the short film Mater and the Ghostlight and the Cars Toons short "The Radiator Springs 500 ½" and the Cars and Cars 2 video games.[11][12][13][14] Wilson said that he was cast in the role as a result of Lasseter and his children enjoying Shanghai Noon (2000), a film starring Wilson and Jackie Chan. When Wilson met with Lasseter, he told him about the upcoming animated project and thought that he would be suitable for the role.[15] Wilson admitted that he liked the "street cred" he got from his two sons for voicing the character.[16]


The Cars production team consulted a variety of experts, including racers, engineers and historians, to ensure that the characters in the film were designed to have the appearance of real cars. Lightning McQueen is not based on a particular vehicle. Lasseter explained that the shape of NASCAR cars was problematic due to being shaped quite flat for aerodynamics, but this meant that their designs were not very interesting. Consequently, Lightning McQueen is a hybrid based on a stock car and a Le Mans endurance racer, which has a more curvaceous body. Lasseter added that the character also has "some Lola and some [Ford] GT40".[17] His number was originally 57, a reference to Lasseter's birth year, but was changed to 95, referencing the release year of Pixar's first film Toy Story.[18]

In addition to his catchphrase "Ka-chow!", Lightning McQueen is recognizable by his red exterior, yellow lightning bolt and number 95 displayed on his sides.[19] Yet over the course of three films in the Cars filmography, he is presented with a variety of appearances. In Cars, his cocky attitude is illustrated by having stickers for headlights. In Cars 2, he again appears in his red paint but with working headlights.[20] Pixar updated Lightning McQueen's design for the sequel. Lasseter wanted him to stand out next to the other World Grand Prix contestants so flames were added to his body due to them being a common style feature of American hot-rods. His body work took a year to design and involved many contributors, including Chip Foose.[21] In Cars 3, his design varies, beginning the film with a new Rust-Eze logo. During his recovery after his near fatal crash, he is presented in gray primer. In another sequence, he secretly goes undercover at a demolition derby with the pseudonym "Chester Whipplefilter" and is masked by a layer of brown mud. His red design is later updated with a vinyl wrap in preparation for the next racing season. By the end of Cars 3, he is redesigned with a dark blue paint job in reference to his mentor Doc Hudson.[20]

For the Pixar team, these design changes are significant parts of his story arc. Fee explained that in Cars 3, Lightning McQueen "spends a lot of time in the movie trying to be somebody he's not". Lasseter explained that when he gets the vinyl wrap it is symbolic of him "getting back to who he is". Fee considered Doc Hudson and McQueen to be like father and son, thus Lightning is very emotional to discover that it meant such a lot to Doc to mentor him. For this reason, it is Cruz Ramirez who ends up wearing number 95, while Lightning displays "Fabulous Lightning McQueen" on his side in homage to Doc - the "Fabulous Hudson Hornet". Lasseter explained that his mentoring of Cruz makes Lightning realize that he is in the same position as Doc when he mentored him, adding that the color change was temporary and only for fun: "For a short time, he's going to get (Cruz) going, but he'll continue racing".[19]


Cars filmography

Cars (2006)

Lightning McQueen is a rookie racecar in the Piston Cup series and secretly disdains his sponsor, Rust-eze, hoping to be chosen by the more prestigious Dinoco team. Initially ungrateful, obnoxious, selfish, and sarcastic, Lightning believes that he doesn't need a crew chief or much help from his pit crew to win races. During the final race of the season, he blows his rear tires and finishes in a three-way tie with the soon-to-retire Strip 'The King' Weathers and perennial runner-up Chick Hicks. On the road to Los Angeles for a tie-breaker race, Lightning realizes he has no true friends. After an encounter with a quartet of tuner cars, he becomes separated from his transporter, a Mack truck named Mack, and ends up in Radiator Springs, a forgotten town along U.S. Route 66. He is soon arrested for accidentally destroying the town's main road and impounded there.

In Radiator Springs, Lightning meets a tow truck named Tow Mater, who takes a liking to him immediately. The local judge Doc Hudson, Sally, and the other townsfolk vote to have Lightning repave the road that he destroyed as community service. He rushes and fails to repave the road properly at first before reluctantly starting over. In the process, Lightning learns about the history of Radiator Springs and begins to relate to the town and its inhabitants. He becomes best friends with Mater, falls in love with Sally and becomes less focused on himself. He also learns a move called "turn right-to-go-left" from Doc and how to drive backward from Mater, which he later uses in the tie-breaker race.

During the final lap of the race, Lightning witnesses Chick Hicks perform a PIT maneuver on The King, causing him to suffer a rollover crash. He forfeits the win to help The King finish the race and is praised for his sportsmanship, so much so that Dinoco race team owner Tex Dinoco offers to hire him to succeed Weathers. Lightning declines, choosing instead to stay with Rust-eze out of newfound loyalty and respect for them. Tex instead offers to do him any favor whenever he needs it, which Lightning uses to get Mater a ride on the Dinoco helicopter. He establishes his racing headquarters in Radiator Springs, reunites with Mater and Sally, and becomes Doc Hudson's pupil.

Cars 2 (2011)

Five years after the events of the first film, Lightning McQueen, now a four-time Piston Cup champion, returns to Radiator Springs to spend his off-season with his friends. His stay is interrupted when Mater inadvertently causes him to participate in the inaugural World Grand Prix, sponsored by former oil tycoon Miles Axlerod, who hopes to promote his new biofuel, Allinol. Lightning is reluctant to bring Mater along, but agrees after being persuaded by Sally.

The night before the first race in Tokyo, Lightning and Mater enjoy exploring the city together. Later at a pre-race party, Lightning is briefly embarrassed by Mater, who mistook wasabi as pistachio ice cream. After losing the first race on account of Mater's secret involvement with spies Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell, Lightning angrily tells him he does not want his help, causing Mater to feel hurt and leave. Soon after, Lightning receives a note from Mater telling him that he left before he could apologize and begins to regret his actions. Lightning wins the second race in Porto Corsa, Italy; more cars suffer engine damage in the race, causing controversy and increased fears over Allinol's safety. In response, Axlerod decides to remove Allinol as a requirement for the final race in London. Lightning chooses to continue with Allinol on account of Fillmore telling him the fuel is safe, unknowingly endangering himself.

Before the London race, Lightning considers dropping out so he can look for Mater, but is persuaded by Axlerod to continue. After completing a few laps, Lightning spots Mater in the pits and tries to apologize for his outburst in Tokyo, but when he approaches him, Mater speeds away because of a bomb planted in his engine. Lightning catches up and realizes that Mater was telling the truth about being on a spy mission. McQueen apologizes to Mater and inspires him to confront Miles Axlerod, who is revealed to be the mastermind behind the plot to discredit alternative fuel so that he can profit from oil. Mater forces him to disarm the bomb. Following the arrest of Axlerod, Lightning happily declares that Mater can come to all future races. Back in Radiator Springs, it is revealed that Lightning's Allinol supply was switched with Fillmore's organic fuel by Sarge prior to the start of the World Grand Prix, thereby protecting Lightning from danger during the race in London. A mini Grand Prix is held in the town, featuring all of the World Grand Prix contenders.

Cars 3 (2017)

Five years after the events of the second film, Lightning McQueen, now a five-time Piston Cup champion and racing legend, races in the series with his long-time racing friends Cal Weathers and Bobby Swift. High-tech rookie racer Jackson Storm appears as the first of a new generation of racecars and begins to win race after race. Lightning pushes himself too hard while trying to compete with Storm in the season's final race and damages his engine, causing him to lose control and suffer a rollover crash.

After being rebuilt, Lightning decides to continue racing. He heads to the Rust-eze Training Center and trains with Cruz Ramirez, a yellow high-performance coupe, during the off-season in the hope of increasing his top speed and beating Storm. Lightning's new sponsor Sterling, a successful business car, tells him he will have to retire if he loses his next race, with Sterling planning to profit off Lightning's retirement merchandise. After several unsuccessful attempts at training, Lightning asks Mater for help, who gives him the idea to seek out Doc Hudson's old crew chief and mentor Smokey, a Hudson pick-up truck, and eventually meets him at the Thomasville Motor Speedway.

After completing training with Smokey, Lightning runs the first half of the Florida 500 with Smokey as his crew chief before pulling out and giving Cruz her chance to become a racer with him as her crew chief. Cruz and Lightning share the victory due to Lightning starting the race, and the pair receive a sponsorship under the merged Dinoco–Rust-eze brand. Lightning decides to continue racing but spends the rest of the season as Cruz's mentor and crew chief.

Short films

Mater and the Ghostlight (2006)

Lightning McQueen appears alongside Mater in the animated short film titled Mater and the Ghostlight.[22]

Miss Fritter's Racing Skoool (2017)

An animated short film titled Miss Fritter's Racing Skoool was created for the Cars 3 DVD and features characters from the film. It was released on DVD on November, 7, 2017.[23]

Pixar Popcorn shorts (2021)

Lightning McQueen appears alongside other Pixar characters in a series of mini short films titled Pixar Popcorn, which was released on Disney+ in January 2021.[24]

Animated series

Cars Toons (2008 - 2014)

Lightning McQueen appears in the animated series Cars Toons, which premiered on the Disney Channel on October 27, 2008.[25] The first series of shorts titled Mater's Tall Tales centers around Mater reminiscing to Lightning McQueen about his past hero days. The shorts feature a common feature of cutting back to a scene in which McQueen says that Mater's story never happened and Mater replies that McQueen was there too.[26] This was followed in March 2013 with the release of Tales from Radiator Springs, a series of three shorts on the Disney Channel titled "Hiccups", "Bugged" and "Spinning".[27] The shorts feature Keith Ferguson as the voice of Lightning McQueen.[28] In 2014, another short titled "The Radiator Springs 500 ½" was released on Disney Movies Anywhere, in which Lightning McQueen is challenged to race by off-road racers.[29]

Cars on the Road (2020)

An animated spin-off series titled Cars on the Road premiered on Disney+ on September, 8, 2022. The plot involves Lightning McQueen (voiced by Wilson) and Mater setting off on a road trip to the east of Radiator Springs to meet Mater's sister.[30]

Video games

Lightning McQueen also appears in video games. On June 6, 2006, a Cars video game based on the first Cars film was published by THQ titled Cars: The Video Game. It features 30 races and playable characters from the film.[31] In 2011, a racing game titled Cars 2: The Video Game was released, featuring a number of playable characters from the film including Lightning McQueen.[32] Warner Bros. Interactive released the racing game Cars 3: Driven to Win based on Cars 3 and developed by Avalanche Software on June 13, 2017. Alongside other major characters, Lightning McQueen is a playable character.[33] In the third game he is voiced by Ben Rausch.[1] The character also appears in numerous other Cars themed video games, including Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures, Cars Mater-National Championship and Cars Race-O-Rama.[34][35][36]

Theme parks

Lightning McQueen in Cars Land

Lightning McQueen is a character at Cars Land, a themed section of Disney California Adventure, which debuted on 15 June 2012 and features a ride named Radiator Springs Racers.[37] On March 31, 2019 an interactive show named Lightning McQueen's Racing Academy debuted at Disney's Hollywood Studios, featuring Lightning McQueen as a physical vehicle.[38] At Walt Disney Studios Park in Disneyland Paris, Lightning McQueen is one of the characters encountered by guests on a Cars themed tram ride named Cars Road Trip, which debuted in June 2021.[39]

Disney On Ice

In 2012, Lightning McQueen appeared alongside five other vehicles from the Cars franchise in "Disney On Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy" at the Von Braun Center. The vehicles were custom created for the ice show as real cars that could be driven on ice. Their designs were built up from golf carts and featured animatronics including moving bumpers and blink headlights to represent the characters.[40]


In December 2015, a Pixar Cars Mechanical Institute exhibit launched at Petersen Automotive Museum, featuring interactive displays involving Lightning McQueen and some other Cars characters.[41] The exhibit included a full-sized replica of the character with displays about his parts, such as his engine and suspension. Jay Ward, creative director of the Cars franchise said that it was necessary to ensure that Lightning McQueen was not dissected to avoid upsetting children, noting that he is "a living character who happens to be a car".[42]


Lightning McQueen has been widely merchandised as part of the Cars franchise. The character has been reproduced by Mattel as a die-cast toy car amongst hundreds of Cars toy vehicles since 2006.[43] In 2011, Mattel released a Lightning McQueen Alive toy, a three-inch reproduction with moving mouth, shoulders and a voice.[44] To coincide with the release of Cars 3, Mattel released a series of toy cars and toy sets, including a 20-inch Lightning McQueen and a "Movie Moves" version featuring dialogue and light effects.[43] In 2011, a Cars toy range called Appmates was launched by Disney, which featured physical toy cars used with a companion iPad app to explore Radiator Springs.[45] Lightning McQueen was included in 2013 in the first playset expansion of Disney Infinity.[46] In 2017, Sphero released a remote-controlled animatronic Lightning McQueen, which featured a moving mouth and eyes and touch-sensitive surfaces.[47]


Critical response

Lightning McQueen's debut in Cars received a mixed response from critics. Lisa Schwarzbaum writing for Entertainment Weekly said that McQueen's story arc, in which he learns that loyalty and community are more important than personal advancement, was nothing new and had already been done in numerous films including in Over the Hedge and by Michael J. Fox in Doc Hollywood.[48] Paul Arendt of the BBC also noted the similarity to Doc Hollywood and expressed boredom over an "arrogant racing car" learning a lesson about community and teamwork.[49] Nick Schager of Slant described his story arc as the "maturation of narcissistic stock car rookie" and thought his character development was a simplistic transition from "materialistic, self-involved jerk to noble role model".[50] Philip French of The Guardian described Lightning McQueen as a "cocky, callow, young racing car, a flashy red affair" but noted the many positive lessons that he learns over the course of the film.[51] Mick LaSalle writing for the San Francisco Chronicle opined that the film raises too many questions about the motivations of its protagonist, describing him as an "armless, legless, cumbersome creature, inhabiting a lonely landscape in which no real connection is possible".[52] Conversely, Michael Agger of Slate praised the "heartwarming on-screen bondings" in the film, particularly scenes involving McQueen and Mater, and a dating sequence with Sally.[53] The Washington Post's Stephen Hunter found similarities to Lightning McQueen in the boxing stories of the 1930s as a "champ who's really a chump" who learns lessons in humility and respect. He also likened him to American racing driver Jeff Gordon.[54] Jeff Otto of IGN found Wilson's vocals "a bit irritating" and commented on the lack of chemistry between Wilson and Bonnie Hunt's Sally.[55]

Film critic Roger Ebert noted that in Cars 2, Lightning McQueen is "eclipsed" by the supporting character Mater.[56] Matt Fowler of IGN also commented on this, stating that he is reduced to playing the "straight man", but thought that giving Mater the main role in the film was a positive move because he felt that McQueen is a "dry character". He also opined that Pixar had forced him into additional scenes just because he had been the main character in the first film.[57] Empire's Ian Freer felt that the relationship between McQueen and Mater is too simple and too direct, particularly McQueen's expectations for his friend to change in order to fit into his lifestyle.[58] Simon Reynolds of Digital Spy found their friendship to be lacking in warmth.[59] A.O. Scott writing for The New York Times also criticised Lightning's racing exploits being upstaged by Pixar's "redneck Jar-Jar Binks".[60] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone thought that McQueen's determination to not let his career break his friendship with Mater was one of the film's strengths.[61] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle praised the "recognizable earnestness" in Wilson's vocal performance.[62]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian found the story concept of Cars 3 to be "a bit contrived" by presenting a story arc about a character that is still a champion but also struggling with the idea of being replaced by a younger generation. He noted that Lightning McQueen appears no older than in the first film.[63] IGN's Eric Goldman applauded the depth in McQueen's character, stating that his story arc is "filled with allegory and metaphor" and praising the film for its detailed portrayal of what it means to be an ageing athlete.[64] Jeremiah Vanderhelm writing for The Michigan Daily commented that his story had already been done in other films like Rocky Balboa and Creed and felt that the film should have spent more time developing McQueen's struggle instead of trying to focus on both him and Cruz.[65] Simon Abrams of The Hollywood Reporter questioned whether children could really relate to a character who is being forced into retirement. He noted that although the story makes McQueen a sympathetic character due to being "soft-spoken and neurotically obsessed with going back to his roots", children would struggle to relate to him because the newcomer Jackson Storm is too fast to beat.[66] Robbie Collins writing for The Telegraph described the film as a "profound victory lap" for Lightning McQueen, noting the emotional significance of losing his mentor Doc Hudson and the "touching contemplation of legacies" shared with Cruz.[67] Julia Alexander of Polygon praised Cars 3 for bringing the franchise back to its roots, noting that the film focuses entirely on Lightning McQueen, who had been sidelined in Cars 2. She commented that the film makes it clear that he is "the star of the universe" and felt that it is "the righteous conclusion longtime fans have been waiting for".[68]

Court case

Disney and Pixar won a legal case on November, 30, 2010, brought by stock car driver Mark Brill, who alleged that the design of Lightning McQueen misappropriated his own car. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals upheld the lower court judgement based on the Vanna White v. Robot-With-A-Blond-Whig case. The verdict was based on an analysis of whether the audience would mistake the car in the film for Brill's car. The court decided that, "a fictional, talking, driver-less red race car with the number 95 on it cannot be construed as a likeness of a driver of a similarly colored/numbered race car."[69]


Lightning McQueen has been described by critics as one of the greatest or most iconic movie cars.[a] In 2011, Liam Lacey writing for The Globe and Mail opined that Lightning McQueen should change his catchphrase to "ka-ching", due to the success of Cars merchandise, which had earned almost $10 billion from the first film alone.[76] In motorsport, the Japanese team APR Racing drove the Lightning McQueen-based livery No. 95 Toyota MR-S during the 2008 Super GT Series.[77] In April 2021, fifteen years after the release of Cars, "Lightning McQueen crocs" trended on Twitter, after the Crocs shoe company released a limited edition pair of adult crocs designed in the character's likeness.[78] In October 2021, Wilson appeared in a sketch on Saturday Night Live which involved him recording Lightning McQueen's dialogue for a fourth Cars film. In the script, the character is increasingly presented as the villain of the story.[79] In November 2023, he was added as a DLC car in the vehicular soccer video game Rocket League.[80] A debate over Lightning McQueen's status as the greatest of all time raged with fans on social media in November 2023, eventually involving American sports journalist Stephen A. Smith, who opined that he could not be regarded as such in comparison to Strip 'The King' Weathers.[81] In February 2024, NASCAR racing driver Kyle Busch referred to the character after being in the middle car in a three-wide finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He commented, "I hate that we had a Lightning McQueen-style finish there", referring to a moment in Cars when the character finishes in a three-wide race by sticking his tongue out to reach the finish line.[82] In May 2024, Chris Buescher made a similar joke after losing to Kyle Larson in a close photo finish at Kansas Speedway by commenting, "Guess I should've pulled a Lightning McQueen and stuck out my tongue."[83]


  1. ^ Sources that cite Lightning as among the greatest or most iconic movie cars include:[70][71][72][73][74][75]


  1. ^ a b c d "Lightning McQueen - Cars 3: Driven to Win". Behind the Voice Actors.
  2. ^ Hill, Jim (2011-07-06). "The Roads Not Taken With Pixar's Cars Films". HuffPost. Retrieved 2024-05-18.
  3. ^ Wallis, Michael (2006-05-26). The Art of Cars. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0811849005.
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  11. ^ Haar, Kara (2017-06-14). "'Cars 3': Meet the Voices Behind the Vehicles". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2024-05-15.
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