The 1970s marked a golden age of movies about truck drivers. Classics like Smokey and the Bandit, Every Which Way but Loose and Convoy captured the adventure of the open road, inspiring more than a few people to get a commercial driver’s license and put money down on their first rig.
Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Kris Kristofferson set the standard for CB-talking truckers willing to dispense some down-home justice on corrupt sheriffs and businessmen, but there have been many other trucking heroes on the silver screen. Here are six trucker movies you might not have heard about but are well worth watching. Some of them can be downloaded in their entirety on YouTube:
White Line Fever (1975)
This was one of the first films to celebrate the lifestyle of over-the-road trucking. Independent driver Carrol Jo takes on an evil corporation that is forcing truckers to haul illegal cigarettes and slot machines. The movie’s climactic scene involves car chases, heavily armed security guards and Carrol Jo’s 1974 Ford rig, nicknamed “Blue Mule.”
Fun Fact: “White Line Fever” is a term describing the mental detachment truckers sometimes experience after hundreds of miles on the Interstate.
Breaker! Breaker! (1977)
A clean-shaven Chuck Norris stars as a truck driver whose friend is attacked and paralyzed by a police officer. Norris and his fellow truckers seek revenge and expose a small-town scam involving a crooked judge and stolen cargo.
Fun Fact: Breaker! Breaker! is Chuck Norris’ first starring role. He makes the most of it by destroying an entire town with his rig.
Jerry Reed follows up his Smokey and the Bandit performance by playing a tough owner-operator named Iron Duke in this 1978 flick about trucker exploitation. Iron Duke and his sidekick, played by Peter Fonda, organize their trucker friends against a local fleet boss. Things start to go wrong when the pair try hauling illegal liquor to a lumper camp. Car crashes, gun fights and many explosions ensue.
Fun Fact: Just like in Smokey and the Bandit, Jerry Reed wrote and sang this movie’s title track.
The Great Smokey Roadblock (1978)
Henry Fonda plays a 60-year-old driver whose rig gets repossessed while he is in the hospital. He steals back his truck and does an old friend a favor by transporting six prostitutes across the state line.
Fun Fact: Susan Sarandon plays one of the prostitutes. Robert Englund—later of Freddie Krueger fame—portrays a hitchhiker named Beebo.
Over the Top (1987)
This Sylvester Stallone movie is about arm-wrestling, but it is also about trucking. Stallone plays a down-on-his-luck driver who enters a Las Vegas arm-wrestling contest in an attempt to start a new life. The grand prize is $100,000 and a brand new semi that the hero hopes to use to start his own fleet.
Fun Fact: Over the Top was a critical and commercial flop, but ranks high on IMDb’s list of “Epic Trucking Movies.”
Black Dog (1998)
Patrick Swayze is a truck driver and an ex-con who is tricked into hauling illegal firearms in a Peterbilt 379. Numerous attempts are made to hijack the load before Swayze hatches a plan that will get the FBI off his back and free his wife and daughter from a hostage situation.
Fun Fact: Meat Loaf and Randy Travis play supporting roles as Swayze hauls his load from Atlanta to New Jersey.
Rolling Vengeance (1987)
Fans of 18-wheelers and monster trucks will love this version of the classic trucker-gets-justice-the-only-way-he-can tale. Don Michael Paul plays a Canadian trucker who must avenge the murder of his parents and sisters by a corrupt family that is above the law. He naturally does this by constructing a massive, Big Foot-style truck that mows down everything—and everyone—in its path.
Fun Fact: Ned Beatty, of Superman and Deliverance fame, stars as the evil bigwig responsible for killing off the trucker’s family.
They Drive by Night (1940)
This thriller starring George Raft and Humphrey Bogart may be the first trucker flick to gain mainstream success. Bogart and Raft star as brothers who run a one-truck business hauling goods in and out of Los Angeles. There’s murder, corruption, forbidden love and at least one truck bursting into flames as the brothers struggle to build their trucking company and stay out of trouble.
Fun Fact: Bogart was on the brink of a legendary career when he starred in They Drive by Night. Within the next few years, he’d have lead roles in classics like The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and The Big Sleep.
Coast to Coast (1980)
Dyan Cannon stars as Madie, a well-to-do but neurotic woman who escapes a state mental hospital and meets a moody, over-the-road driver played by Robert Blake. The trucker is reluctant to help Madie out until he secretly learns of the reward for returning her to the hospital. Somewhere along the Interstate between New York and California, the pair falls in love and wards off several bad guys along the way. The climactic scene involves a semi barreling through a lavish outdoor dinner party hosted by Madie’s greedy, no-good husband.
Fun Fact: Blake earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actor of 1980 for his portrayal of trucker Charles Callahan.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Horror and comedy converge in this movie directed by Stephen King. Ex-con and truck stop employee Emilio Estevez uses firearms and rocket launchers to fight off a fleet of big-rigs that have strangely come to life. The ensuing battle scenes feature several classic vehicles, including a M274 Mule and a Western Star 4800 decked out in a giant Green Goblin mask.
Fun Fact: Maximum Overdrive’s soundtrack consists entirely of AC/DC songs, including “Hell’s Bells” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
Christmas Comes to Willow Creek (1987)
Not all movie truck drivers are angry, revenge-seeking cowboys. Some of them are nice guys just trying to help each other out. Tom Wopat and John Schneider star as brother truckers who must deliver Christmas presents to the troubled town of Willow Creek, Alaska. Along the way, the brothers contend with a severe blizzard as well as Schneider’s estranged wife, who is about to go into labor. Because Christmas Comes to Willow Creek is a made-for-TV Hallmark movie, a holiday miracle occurs and everything works out just fine in the end.
Fun Fact: This movie was a reunion for Wopat and Schneider, who played outlaw cousins Bo and Luke in The Dukes of Hazzard.
For decades, Jimmy Hoffa was one of the most influential men in the country as boss of the powerful Teamsters union. This underrated movie starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Danny DeVito follows Hoffa’s rise to union president, his under-the-table dealings with the Mafia and his mysterious 1975 disappearance. If you are interested in the history of the trucking industry, this film is a must-see.
Fun Fact: Despite a big budget and an all-star cast, Hoffa was a flop with critics and moviegoers. Nicholson earned a Razzie nomination for Worst Actor of 1992.Sources: Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB.com, www.Truckerflicks.com