Trucks are an integral part of the life of an average American. With 15.5 million trucks on American roads, trucking is very much entwined with the way Americans conduct their lives. Having such a prominent presence on the roads is bound to reflect on the big screen too. A number of Hollywood movies have been made that have reflected upon the lives of truckers—either through a full documentary like the Big Rig (2007) or romanticized, like Over the Top (1987). Let us see how trucking as an occupation and as a way of life has been treated in Hollywood.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Smokey and the Bandit was one of the very first movies that depicted heavy-duty trucks on the silver screen. This actually bears testimony to the popularity trucking gained towards the mid-1970s. Three Kenworth W-900A’s were shown in the movie. The movie begins with a shot of these trucks. The models of Kenworth W-900A used in this movie are one 1973 model and other two are 1974 models. Interestingly, none of the characters depicted in the movie are truckers. ‘The Bandit’, Bo Darville (played by Burt Reynolds) and ‘Snowman’, Cledus Snow (played by Jerry Reed) haul a cargo of Coors beer in a truck. However, this movie manifests the growing popularity of trucks. In a way, this movie helped to further popularize trucking. It was also 1977’s second highest grossing movie.
Over the Top (1987)
This movie depicts the life of Lincoln Hawk (played by Sylvester Stallone), a trucker. The movie revolves around his life and why he had to enter the World Arm Wrestling Championship in Las Vegas. He had already lost his wife to a heart disease and his son doesn’t like him too much. If he wins the World Arm Wrestling Championship the prize is a new semi-truck and $100,000 with which he can start a trucking business of his own. Trucking is quite a significant part of the movie as in one of most memorable dialogues of the movie, Hawk says:
“To tell you the truth, the truck is, you know, the most important thing for me … I need this truck.”
The truck would offer him the identity which he had so long lacked in the movie. He has been referred to as a ‘loser’ by his father-in-law who considered him not good enough for his daughter. A new semi-truck and his trucking business would be the first step to help alter this identity.
White Line Fever (1975)
This is one of the early movies that truly revolve around trucking. This Jan-Michael Vincent starred movie is about a Vietnam veteran, Carrol Jo Hummer, who returns to the trucking business that he used to enjoy in his childhood with his father. The movie depicts the struggle of a lone trucker against an organization which is using the trucking industry to conduct their crime. Interestingly, in this movie, Carrol Jo buys a repossessed Ford 1974 WT9000 cab-over rig to begin his new business. Here, trucking is considered the means through which he can earn a good living for himself and his family. This very notion shows how popular trucking had become in the mid 1970s. Rescuing the trucking industry from a corrupt organization makes Carrol Jo a hero and all the other truck drivers decide to stand in solidarity with a lone trucker’s courage.
White Line Fever aptly shows the potential of trucking as an industry and how it can be used to earn a good living. The phrase ‘white line fever’ is still used as slang for the feeling of being hypnotized by the road during night driving.
BREAKER! BREAKER! (1977)
The title of this movie comes from the popular CB radio slang. CB radio was a means of communication between truckers of the time. The truckers used to say ‘Breaker One-Niner’ when they wanted to begin communication with other truck drivers on Channel 19 . This film evokes the glorious trucking days when truckers lived and worked in a community. This movie revolves around the heroism of J.D. (played by Chuck Norris), a trucker from California. In an attempt to save his younger brother Billy, J.D. gets involved in a fight and kills the owner of the local wrecking yard by accident. However, J. D. is arrested and is sentenced to be hanged. All the incidents are relayed by his girl friend to the other truckers who come to the rescue of J.D. and Billy.
This movie bears testimony to the unity of the trucking community and how easily they can be accessed through the CB radio. The frequent use and reference of the CB radio shows how important they were in a trucker’s daily trucking life. It is also the first lead role for Chuck Norris which helped springboard a career which is still discussed to this day (especially for the memes):
The most commercially successful film of director Sam Peckinpah’s career, Convoy, is about how a convoy of rebellious truckers are evading the ‘Dirty Lyle’ Sheriff Wallace and police persecution. The rebellious truckers are led by ‘Rubber Duck’ (played by Kris Kristofferson). They form a mile-long convoy of assorted trucks, driving towards the USA-Mexico border. One of the Mack trucks is shown in the movie. Throughout the movie, CB radio is extensively used by truckers to communicate with each other. This use of the technology and devices used by the regular truckers’ shows how popular trucking and CB radio had become during the 1970s.
This movie also deals with the trucking community and their unity. Independent truckers are shown to join the convoy and support Rubber Duck’s cause for rebellion against the misguided wrath of Wallace. The mile-long convoy and trucker unity towards the police also refers indirectly to the problems the truckers were facing from the law and its personnel.
C. W. McCall’s novelty song, “Convoy” forms the basis of the movie. All the popular trucks from the time are referred to in the song. This shows the peak of popularity trucking had reached.
BLACK DOG (1998)
Directed by Kevin Hooks and starring Patrick Swayze, Black Dog is about a trucker who lost his CDL after a road accident and how he tries to overcome that. Jack Crews is the truck driver played by Patrick Swayze who has to take up the job of a truck mechanic after coming out from jail. However, he takes up the task of haling a cargo of toilets from Atlanta to New Jersey for $10,000. Jack selects a Peterbilt 379 to haul the cargo. Without knowing though, instead of toilets he is actually given a load of illegal guns. Jack decides to hand over the entire load to the FBI. After a lot of struggle, the honest trucker wins the day.
‘Black Dog’ is an urban myth about a hallucination truckers see when they are tired that can lead to a major accident. This was the reason why Jack Crews hit the motorcyclist, killing him and the passenger as a consequence. This reference to fatigue induced accidents makes the audience understand how hard a trucker’s life really is.
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)
This movie celebrates a trucker’s heroism and courage, along with his desire of living a carefree life. Jack Burton (played by Kurt Russel) is the truck driver who helps his friend Wang Chi rescue his fiancée, Miao Yin from David Lo Pan, an ancient Chinese sorcerer. His truck is lost in the battle but later it is found in Lo Pan’s headquarters. Not wishing to be tied down, Jack continues on his way as a trucker.
Big Trouble in Little China is not based completely on a trucker’s trucking life. However, it depicts the independence of a trucker and how habituated he or she can be with that lifestyle. A trucker’s life back then, as many veteran truckers will agree, was full of freedom. It allowed a trucker the flexibility that many romanticize about these days.
EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978)
This adventure comedy is about Philo Beddoe (played by Clint Eastwood), a trucker and his adventure to seek his supposed lady-love, who actually has no feelings for him. The trucking life forms the background of the movie but fails to be more than that. Philo earns income on the side as a bare-knuckle fighter and that becomes quite important towards the end of the movie.
The trucker is shown as an individual in this movie but not as a professional whose occupation is to haul cargo. Trucking, hence, is just a backdrop but not a prime focus of the movie.
Stephen Spielberg’s full-length film directorial debut, Duel is a horror-thriller film which shows how a truck, a Peterbilt 281 tanker truck, chases a middle-aged salesman David Mann (played by Denis Weaver). Mann is chased by the truck across the canyon roads of California. Interestingly, the driver of the truck is hardly seen in the movie. While it is really unknown why the truck was chasing Mann so menacingly, the chase is indeed thrilling. It also shows the caliber and speeds a truck is capable of.
This movie doesn’t talk either of a trucker or about trucking life. However, the ominous presence of a shabby truck refers perhaps to how pervasive trucking is in the presence of nearly every American’s life.
BIG RIG (2007)
This is a documentary on long haul truck drivers. It was an official selection to the Seattle International Film Festival. It was directed by Doug Pray. The crew would drive to different truck stops and ask the long haul drivers if they can interview them. Upon the truck drivers’ agreement, the crew drove with them for a day. The interviews were not scheduled in advance by the crew and hence, the audience got a glimpse at the real life of some truckers. Though the crew was repeatedly thrown out of the truck stops, they managed to get some truckers to agree to their proposal.
Being a documentary, the film was unscripted and thus the authenticity appealed to the people. Before it was always possible to see the trucks on the roads or the ‘scripted’ truck drivers on the big screen but with this film some of the real faces were introduced to the audience.
These are some of the best films made on trucks and truckers. Some are cult favorites and some may have also inspired many to take up trucking as a profession.
Which one is your favorite? Did we miss any movies? Leave a comment below.