Long-haul trucking. There’s always been something romantic and very American about this notion — the open road, the trucker’s Spartan lifestyle, experiencing the nation’s majestic scenery on 18 wheels. And how about those CB radios? Like most romantic notions, this subject makes for good movie fodder. Yes, even truckers occupy a certain segment of the cinematic ether. From villains to heroes to antiheroes, fine actors have portrayed truckers on the silver screen for decades.
Which is precisely why they deserve their very own list. And while the below entries are by no means meant to represent a comprehensive ledger detailing every truck-related film in cinema history, they should be sufficient to make up a “greatest hits” of those famous trucks and truckers who entertained us all.
Every Which Way But Loose (1978)
No list of iconic trucking movies would be respectable without this Clint Eastwood-starring classic sitting firmly at the top. Eastwood stars as tough-guy trucker Philo Beddoe as he travels around the country with his trusty monkey Clyde, searching for romance and bare-knuckle brawls. Having said that, the plot itself takes a well-deserved backseat to the sheer awesomeness of witnessing, among other gloriously incongruous sites, an orangutan doing laundry.
Many people cite Joy Ride as a modern example of an effective movie featuring a psychotic trucker. But whatever success that 2001 film enjoyed was built on the back of Duel, Steven Spielberg’s TV thriller broadcast in 1971. The plot itself is simple: a decidedly non-alpha-male businessman (Dennis Weaver in full-on 70s moustache/glasses mode) tries to escape a murderous and never-seen big-rig driver. Only one man can prevail; the onus is on Weaver to man up.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Few in this day and age are likely aware that bootlegging – as in the same kind popularized in prohibition-era America – was still going on well into the 1970s. But those who have seen this Burt Reynolds vehicle (pun intended) know better. The plot follows a maverick trucker (Reynolds) who signs on to transport a rig full of Coors beer across state lines, which was illegal at the time. The thrust of the film involved Reynold’s Bandit trying to outfox all smokeys (trucker slang for the cops) and deliver his sudsy payload whilst still icy.
Many critics felt those involved had too good of a time during production of the film and that the negative effects of such freewheeling behavior can be seen on screen. But when a movie features characters with names such as Buford T. Justice, how can it take itself even the slightest bit seriously?
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Trying to explain the plot of this John Carpenter-directed, Kurt Russell-starring martial arts action/fantasy/comedy to the uninitiated is likely an exercise in futility (the floating eyeball blob alone could take up a couple paragraphs). All the viewer needs to know is that Russell stars as Jack Burton, a badass trucker looking for his buddy’s missing green-eyed girl in San Francisco’s Chinese underworld. On top of all this, Russell has perhaps some of the greatest one-liners in cinema history. Have we paid our dues, Jack? The check is in the mail.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Once, when asked by a reporter why he only directed one movie, famed horror novelist Stephen Kind replied, “Have you seen Maximum Overdrive?” Those words don’t inspire much confidence in his directorial debut, especially when you consider King was working off his own short story. However, the film – which sees Emilio Estevez do battle with an army of evil, driverless big rigs – holds up due to its B-movie charm and 80s kitsch.
Tough, funny, scary and psychopathic, the above showcases a nice cross section of the many different types of trucker movies on offer. And while no one wants to see the day when sinister big rigs overtake society, it’s nice to know that on the other end of the spectrum there is Clint Eastwood, gravel-voiced tough guy, driving around with his trusted monkey.
Sean Clark is the Social Media Coordinator for NextTruckOnline.com, a marketplace for used commercial trucks, used freightliner trucks, the kenworth w900 and more.