5 for the road

| June 01, 2006

A candid look at your favorite trucker movies.

Ask most highbrow movie critics to name the best trucker movie of all-time, and they’re likely to sneer in disgust. It’s a genre most latte-sipping movie reviewers love to hate.

We can take solace in the fact critics’ opinions are often refuted by the movie-going public. Independence Day and Forrest Gump are prime examples of award-winning films panned by many critics and embraced by audiences. Sometimes the elitists forget we like to be entertained.

This is not to say that all trucking movies deserve a pity party for being underappreciated. Some are simply bad. But many do warrant a certain amount of credit for not only being entertaining, but also spotlighting a slice of Americana.

Movies involving trucks and truckers are almost as old as the film industry itself. Many silent movie classics showcased working delivery trucks of the day, and you’ll even find an actor or two credited as a truck driver, like Charlie Hall in the 1929 Laurel and Hardy short, Bacon Grabbers.

Among the earliest notable movies with truck drivers as central characters were The St. Louis Kid (1934) with James Cagney and Patricia Ellis and the 1940 melodrama They Drive By Night, starring Humphrey Bogart and George Raft. The films were the genesis of the trucker-struggling-against-corruption theme that would serve as the plot of future trucking flicks.

The next three decades saw trucking sporadically used as a centerpiece with movies like Thieves’ Highway and The Wages of Fear.

But that drastically changed during the 1970s, the heyday of the trucking movie. From the suspense-filled thriller Duel to the still-popular, cross-country smash-’em-up Smokey and the Bandit, the CB-crazed ’70s spawned no less than 12 trucking films.

Since then movies like Black Dog and Over the Top have continued the trucker tradition.

Whether inspired by real-world issues, popular music, stereotypes or simply the creativity of a screen writer, trucking movies have made their mark on society and the image of the truck driver.

In the following pages we take a look back at the classics as ranked by readers on our website, eTrucker.com. Enjoy the ride.

  1. Smokey and the Bandit
    Year of Release: 1977
    Director: Hal Needham
    Notable Stars: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Jackie Gleason

    Mix a catchy theme song, (“East Bound and Down” by co-star Jerry Reed – see sidebar on page 26); the charismatic Burt Reynolds and the one-of-kind Jackie Gleason with a fast sports car and a truckload of illegal beer, and you’ve got the key ingredients of a cult classic.

    This high-speed, freewheeling comedy was the second highest grossing movie of 1977, topped only by Star Wars. When adjusted for ticket price inflation, it ranks 61th all-time in revenues. That’s not bad considering blockbusters like Top Gun and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring fall below the Bandit and company.

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