Todd Dills: Here at Overdrive, we strive to be your source for daily trucking news, equipment, business and regulatory information.
But today we’re here just for fun. We’re going to run you through some of our favorite trucking movies. Sometimes, it’s fun to be a little bit scared, right?
For the most part, these films are more about suspense and psychology than blood and guts, and while these movies may vary in tone, our favorite parts of all of them are the classic trucks. They’re all best watched in the dark at a lonely rest stop, so pull over, kill the lights…
Here are Overdrive’s favorite scary trucking movies. Hit subscribe and let’s get started!
On screen: Duel (1971), Universal Television
Todd Dills: First up on our list is Duel. The story of David Mann, a traveling businessman who’s in a rush to meet an important client. He draws the ire of a fuel hauler when he decides to pass the slow-moving 1960 Peterbilt 281 in his red 1970 Plymouth Valiant Signet. A dangerous game of chase ensues on the two-lane highways of southern California.
Produced by Universal Television and directed by the legendary filmmaker Stephen Spielberg in his feature film debut, Duel originally aired as an ABC Movie of the Week back in the heyday of made-for-TV movies. After some additional shooting and re-edits, the movie eventually made its way to the big screen for an international release.
Duel was shot in the days of the steel body and chassis, so don’t expect to see any fiberglass cars drifting the hills of Canyon Country in this white-knuckled thriller that stars Dennis Weaver. Fans of TV westerns may remember Weaver for his numerous roles playing cowboys in series such as Gunsmoke and McCloud.
If you want to see more about one of the Peterbilts that played the antagonist, check out the video that past “American Trucker” TV series host Robb Mariani and small fleet owner Brad Wike put together to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Duel. You can find the link to that video in the description below.
Duel was a solid start to Spielberg’s career, and his cinematic skills shine bright with sharp camera work and masterful suspense. It’s easy to see why this wasn’t his last movie.
On screen: Maximum Overdrive (1986), De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG)
Todd Dills: The same can’t be said for the director of the next movie on our list, Maximum Overdrive. Directed by Stephen King and based on his short story called, simply, “Trucks”, Maximum Overdrive was King’s one and only time in the director’s chair. The production was plagued with problems, including a cinematographer losing an eye to a mishap with a lawn mower. After filming wrapped King vowed to never return to directing. So far, he’s made good on that promise, though he of course did go on to have a very successful career writing horror novels, with many movie adaptations made of his works.
In Maximum Overdrive, a mysterious cosmic event causes machines to turn against humans and go on a killing spree. The story revolves around a group of people that become stranded at a truck stop after big rigs begin to attack and hold them hostage in the roadside diner.
The movie stars Emilio Estevez as Bill Robinson, a short-order cook on parole. After things turn deadly and the trucks begin making demands, Bill takes charge of the situation and comes up with a plan to get everyone out of there.
Other cast members include Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, and Yeardly Smith, who interestingly voices Lisa Simpson on the long running animated series The Simpsons. Smith plays newlywed Connie. Along with her new husband, Kurt, Connie takes refuge at the truck stop after being chased down the highway by a Mack B-67 hauling an empty flatbed trailer.
Naturally the classic rigs are the main attraction of this truly bizarre story. The flick’s full of vintage cabovers, medium duties and a few OEMs that aren’t around anymore.
The Happy Toyz truck, also known as the Green Goblin, is the most memorable of the bunch. It was played by a White-Western Star 4800 hidden behind a Green Goblin mask modeled after the character from the Marvel Comics Spiderman Series. The red button tuck interior adds some subtle class to this rig against the solid black paint job and blacked-out trailer wheels.
And you just can’t talk about Maximum Overdrive without bringing up the killer soundtrack courtesy of AC/DC, featuring hits suchs as “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Hells Bells” and “Who Made Who.”
On screen: Trucks (1997), Credo Entertainment Group, USA Pictures
Todd Dills: If you’re in the mood for something similar then check out the movie Trucks. It’s based on the same source material as Maximum Overdrive, but this one is a made for TV movie that originally aired on the USA Network.
On screen: Joy Ride (2001), New Regency Productions, Epsilon Motion Pictures, Bad Robot
Todd Dills: Coming up third on our list is Joy Ride, a tale about a prank that goes too far. The story follows two brothers played by the late Paul Walker of Fast & Furious fame as Lewis, and Steve Zahn as his rabble-rousing older brother Fuller. Lewis sets out on a road trip heading home from Berkley, California to New Jersey with the plan to pick up Leelee Sobieski, as Venna, in Boulder, Colorado. As Lewis sets out on his trip, he learns that Fuller has landed himself in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct in Salt Lake City. Lewis detours to bail him out and the two brothers continue the road trip together.
Along the way, older brother Fuller buys a CB radio at a roadside service station and has it installed in his brother’s 1971 Chrysler Newport. It doesn’t take long before he starts using it to get laughs off truckers. Things take a wrong turn when the brothers draw the attention of a driver going by the CB handle “Rusty Nail”, voiced by Ted Levine, who horror fans will remember as Buffalo Bill in the psychological thriller Silence of the Lambs. After some goading from his older brother, Lewis disguises his voice and pretends to be a woman named Candy Cane. He sets up a romantic rendezvous at a cheap motel and gives the driver a fake room number. Left humiliated by the ruse, Rusty Nail goes on a murderous rampage and sets out for revenge by terrorizing the three travelers and everyone in his path with his vintage Peterbilt 359.
The cast has several notable names that were popular at the time of the movie’s release. Relatively unknown at the time was J.J. Abrams, who produced and co-wrote Joy Ride. He would later go on to write, produce, and direct installments of the Star Trek and Star Wars movie franchises. It’s safe to say that J.J. Abrams has cemented his legacy in Hollywood since his time working on Joy Ride.
If you’re interested in more of the sadistic tales of Rusty Nail, then check out Joy Ride 2 and 3, but be warned these sequels are more about shock and gore than the original.
If it’s more trucks from the Joy Ride series that you want to see, then check out this antique Freightliner cabover that appeared in Joy Ride 3. You can find the link to this video in the comments below.
The next two movies on our list of favorite scary trucking movies take place in Australia. The desolate terrain of the outback creates an eerie backdrop for these films. The unfamiliar landscape and trucks create an extra level of intrigue for the American audience.
On screen: Road Games (1981), Essaness Pictures, Australian Film Commission, Film Victoria
Todd Dills: First up is Road Games, a slow burn spine-tingler about a dangerous game of cat and mouse between a truck driver and a serial killer on the isolated highways of southern Australia.
Road Games stars Stacy Keach as an owner-operator running a reefer route in a Mercedes-Benz 2224 cabover. He becomes obsessed with a green van on his route believing that the driver is up to something sinister, as bodies begin to pile up along the highway. Legendary scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis costars as a hitchhiker along for the ride. Curtis was already well on the path to becoming a horror icon. By 1981 she had already played Laurie Strode in the first Halloween movie, a role she would reprise several more times over the next 40+ years.
On screen: Road Kill aka Road Train (2010), Screen Australia, ProdigyMovies, South Australian Film Corporation
Todd Dills: Wrapping up our list is a story that could easily be adapted into an episode of the Twilight Zone. Road Kill, released as Road Train in Australia, is about four friends on a road trip across the Australian outback who find themselves being tormented by a driverless road train.
The term road train is used in Australia to describe a tractor trailer that pulls double or triple or more trailers. There aren’t many railroads in the remote parts of Australia, so road trains are the preferred mode of transportation for large volumes of freight.
This movie stars a 1989 Freightliner FLC with a sweet button tuck and penchant for murder. Adorned with a hood ornament shaped like Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates to the underworld in Greek mythology, it’s clear that anyone who encounters this truck is in the fast lane straight to Hades.
Some might consider this a horror movie about alt fuel, but you’d really have to watch the movie to get what we mean.
What are some of your favorite movies about or involving trucking? Let us know in the comments below. Check out our website at Overdriveonline.com. While you’re there, sign up for the newsletter for all the latest trucking industry news.
Who know. Maybe you’ll get a tip on a good movie there, too. Over and out.