Truckers form a high-speed “rocking chair” around Burt Reynolds’s Trans Am to fool sheriff Jackie Gleason. A motorized barbarian horde chases Mel Gibson’s tanker across a post-apocalypse wasteland. Clint Eastwood drives his rig over the bikes of a pesky motorcycle gang as if they were speed bumps.
Trucker movies are made not of the joys and frustrations of a routine thousand-mile-haul, but of moments like these – violent, high-speed action sequences played for laughs or thrills.
“It has to be more exciting than the real thing, or it won’t do well,” says driver Robby Gaines of East Bernstadt, Ky., a soon-to-be owner-operator who has loved trucker movies all his life. “Nobody would want to drive a truck all week, then go to the movies just to see the same thing he just saw on the road.”
HOLLYWOOD TRUCKER IMAGES
20 NOTABLE TRUCKER MOVIES
Truckers rescue an astronaut taken hostage in Mexico. Written, produced and directed by Overdrive founder Mike Parkhurst.
Truckers: Richard Egan, Sonny Liston, future Overdrive writer Charles Napier
White Line Fever
Young trucker fights back against the mob.
Trucker: Jan-Michael Vincent
A trucker drives into an Australian Outback murder mystery.
Trucker: Stacy Keach
Big Trouble in Little China
Two-fisted trucker goes beneath Chinatown to get his rig back.
Trucker: Kurt Russell
Trucker hauling weapons is chased by a crime lord.
Trucker: Patrick Swayze
Hippie comedy about a trucker who drops out.
Trucker: Alan Arkin
CB conversations link several storylines, including one about a trucker with two wives.
Trucker: Former Overdrive writer Charles Napier
Desperate men truck nitroglycerin through Amazon jungles.
Trucker: Roy Scheider
A waitress is determined to become a trucker.
Truckers: Deborah Raffin, Cloris Leachman
The Road Warrior
In the devastated future, a wanderer agrees to drive an embattled village’s truck.
Trucker: Mel Gibson
Interplanetary haulers fight pirates and killer robots.
Trucker: Dennis Hopper
Truck Stop Women
Poster blurb: “No rig was too big for them to handle! Double-clutchin’, gear-jammin’ mamas.”
Trucker: Claudia Jennings
Smokey and the Bandit
A runaway bride, a bumbling sheriff and an illegal load of Coors.
Truckers: Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed
Truckers take on a crooked sheriff named Dirty Lyle.
Trucker: Kris Kristofferson
Every Which Way But Loose
Bare-knuckle brawls, a foul-mouthed old lady and an orangutan named Clyde.
Trucker: Clint Eastwood
The rise and fall of the boss of a fictional truckers’ union.
Trucker: Sylvester Stallone
Mother Trucker: The Diana Kilmury Story
Based on a true story about a Canadian trucker who fought union corruption.
Trucker: Barbara Williams
Four-wheeler Dennis Weaver is terrorized by a murderous big rig. Directed by young Steven Spielberg.
Trucker: Carey Loftin
Tourist Kurt Russell believes a trucker made off with his wife.
Trucker: J.T. Walsh
Three young people are menaced by a psycho trucker.
Trucker: Ted Levine (uncredited)
Early ’70s trucker movies, designed to appeal to hippies (Deadhead Miles), rural drive-in audiences (Truck Stop Women) or truckers themselves (Moonfire), had strong counterculture appeal, as did Overdrive in those days. Their audiences were not mainstream.
That changed with the CB craze and Smokey and the Bandit, the blockbuster trucker movie, second only to Star Wars at the 1977 box office. Suddenly, trucker movies were major star vehicles for Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Kris Kristofferson.
Crazes don’t last, and by the mid-’80s, the “trucker movie” had disappeared. Movies about truckers continue to be made, ranging from science fiction (The Road Warrior) to thrillers (Road Games) to action-adventure pictures (Big Trouble in Little China) to labor-relations dramas (Hoffa). Yet the happy-go-lucky lawbreaker embodied by Burt Reynolds nearly 25 years ago is Hollywood’s most enduring image of the American trucker.
Trucks are popular in action sequences, too. Indiana Jones commandeers one in Raiders of the Lost Ark, James Bond commandeers one in License to Kill, and the troopers chasing The Blues Brothers hitch a ride on one – car and all. A surprise hit of 2001, The Fast and the Furious, has spectacular high-speed truck hijackings.
“There is something about trucks in movies,” says Simon Lewis, an Englishman who grew up loving American trucker movies. “A bit like locomotives, I suppose, something about the size and power of the machine. It suits a big screen.”
Sorcerer,, starring Roy Scheider as the leader of a group of desperate men hauling truckloads of nitroglycerin through the South American jungle, is a favorite of retired sheriff’s deputy Tom Chenevert of Dunstable, Mass. The tension in Sorcerer comes from truckers vs. the weather, the landscape, the roadway, the load – even each other – so the movie relies less on stunt driving than on smart driving, Chenevert says.
Gaines says the trucking community sometimes misses the point of trucker movies. Black Dog, for example, was criticized because hero Patrick Swayze is willing to haul illegal loads for a price. When Gaines saw the movie, he says, “I saw a man that loved his family and did what he had to do to save his home.”
Why are four-wheelers fascinated by trucking movies? “Americans love the open road, or the myth of it at least, and truckers have always been a part of that experience,” says Adam Miller, a Denton, Texas, history teacher. “The whole scene – truckers, rigs, gas stations at night, motels, diners, truck stops, neon, coffee, highways, deserts, radio – really speaks to some deeper fascination. The myth exists at every crossroads, at every truck stop and on every highway. Trucking movies let us peek into that myth a little closer. Some are goofy, some are trite, but there is a larger story being told. It’s about the freedom of the independent driver, the lure of the road, the late-night haul and the friends you make along the way.”