Reel Wheels: 50 scene-stealing trucks in the movies
Posted: January 19, 2018 by John Law
The Western Star 5700 took center stage in Transformers: Age of Extinction.
TORONTO, ON — Big rigs belong on the big screen.
Comedies, thrillers, action movies, documentaries … trucks have been a part of cinema virtually from the start. Whether they’re turning into giant robots, plowing through barricades, or helping the Bandit, they’ve been a mainstay in low-budget B movies and summer blockbusters alike.
So buckle up and let’s revisit 50 of the most memorable truck scenes in movie history:
The Road Warrior (1982) – Every Mad Max movie has at least one jaw-dropping action sequence involving vehicles, but the ending of George Miller’s iconic sequel was a meticulous sequence of stunts, suspense, and all-out road rage as Max (Mel Gibson) drives what he believes is a rig filled with petrol with a group of marauders in pursuit. Visionary for its time and still a masterful piece of filmmaking.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Nazis, horses, cliffs, whips, and at least one biblical artifact all make the classic truck sequence a masterclass in action filmmaking. Steven Spielberg took all he learned from his first dabble with trucks (Duel) and amped it up to a breathless new level. One of cinema’s all-time great action scenes.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – “Yes sir, that was the worst…accident…I ever seen.” While hitchhiking in the middle of the night, Pee Wee is picked up by a loony trucker named Marge Large who regales him with the story of a trucking disaster on “the same stretch of road”. What follows gave a generation of unsuspecting kids nightmares for weeks.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003) – Fans may forever dismiss this sequel, but there’s no denying the visual thrill of the (almost) climactic freeway chase which culminates with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) trading kung fu moves with one of the agents atop a speeding tractor-trailer. If only the movie ended there.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Trucks and Terminators are a match made in movie heaven. James Cameron’s classic sequel immediately raised the bar with an early sequence that had Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong on a motorcycle desperately evading a Freightliner-cabover-driving T-1000 through the San Fernando Valley’s Bull Creek. Intense and brilliantly edited.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – The fourth film in the epic series is essentially one long truck sequence, with Max (Tom Hardy) and new partner Furiosa (Charlize Theron) sharing time behind the wheel. You’re exhausted by the time of the climactic race back to the Citadel, but director George Miller somehow manages to crank up the tension in a whirlwind of ingenious stunts and breathless pacing.
Duel (1971) – Steven Spielberg’s brilliant debut is a prolonged cat-and-mouse game between a terrified salesman (Dennis Weaver) and a deranged, unseen trucker on a Mojave Desert highway. Finally, with his car breaking down, Weaver tricks his nemesis into a fatal plunge off a cliff in a relentlessly tense conclusion. And Spielberg was never heard from again.
Licence to Kill (1989) – The overlooked Timothy Dalton era of James Bond gave us the one great 007 truck sequence. Behind the wheel of a petroleum tanker, Bond manages to evade a rocket launcher by tilting on to the left wheels, pulled off by an ace stunt driver. As a bonus, Bond also does a truck wheelie through flames.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) – For pure messy destruction, it’s hard to top T3’s manic crane sequence, which destroys a fire truck, dozens of store fronts, and about five miles of downtown Los Angeles. A spectacular scene stuck in a ho-hum movie.
Sorcerer (1977) – Crushed by Star Wars at the time of its release, William Friedkin’s loose remake of The Wages of Fear has earned some pedigree over the years. Its key sequence involves two trucks carrying nitroglycerin attempting to cross a dilapidated rope bridge in a South American jungle. Unbearably tense, it took three months and plenty of Friedkin’s sanity to film.
Breakdown (1997) – Near the end of this terrific ’90s thriller, Kurt Russell battles the slimy trucker (J.T. Walsh) who kidnapped his wife on board a rig hanging perilously over a bridge. When the fall doesn’t kill our bad guy, the truck finishes the job.
The Fast and the Furious (2001) – Dom and the gang have to save one of their own during a botched highway truck robbery. The action scenes got more cartoonish as the series went along, making this gem from the first movie a gritty highlight.
The Dark Knight (2008) – The standout action scene from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy has The Joker’s tractor-trailer flipped upside down by Batman and his trusty two-wheeled Batpod. An amazing stunt sends the truck on a face forward 180-degree flip, without CGI.
Transformers (2007) – Overkill soon set in, but the introduction of Optimus Prime in the first movie was a giddy thrill for fans. As a bewildered Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox watch, the blue and red Peterbilt transforms into the iconic character from many a Saturday morning.
Maximum Overdrive (1986) – Yes, it’s an unrelentingly bad movie, but this Stephen King howler still has one iconic scene as a bunch of rigs spring to life on their own to surround a truck stop, where Emilio Estevez and a group of survivors are holed up.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – As Captain America and Ultron duke it out atop a transport, Black Widow provides support with some slick motorcycle manoeuvres. One of the best action sequences in the Marvel Universe.
The Wages of Fear (1953) – Hired to deliver nitroglycerin over treacherous mountain roads, a group of four truck drivers gets whittled down to one (Yves Montand). He celebrates his big payday by driving like a maniac while heading to a party in his honor. He doesn’t make it.
Death Race (2008) – As if the insane race track wasn’t enough to deal with, the deranged prison warden (Joan Allen) adds 18-wheeled death machine The Dreadnought to the party. It goes down in flames, but not before taking out three racers.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007) – If you’re going to go completely over-the-top with your Die Hard, you might as well have a truck vs. fighter jet scene on the freeway. Of course, Bruce Willis ends up on top of the plane before it’s over.
The Island (2005) – In what may be the only Michael Bay movie you could call underrated, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are clones escaping their compound. During a pursuit, they end up on a futuristic Mack, where they unhook a bunch of train wheels onto the highway. A few fender benders result.
The Transporter (2002) – Jason Statham parachutes onto a convoy, drop kicks the driver, sends him over a cliff and takes the wheel. Without breaking a sweat. What did you do today?
Logan (2017) – In between the action and brutal violence, the final go-round with Wolverine for Hugh Jackman also offered an intriguing peak into the future with autonomous trucks. In this case, one runs a family’s horse trailer off the road. Still some bugs to work out, alas.
The Terminator (1984) – Yes, even the first Terminator flick had a gonzo truck sequence, as the cyborg is first run over by an 18-wheeler, then chases Sarah Connor down the sidewalk with it. Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) obliterates it with a bomb, but of course the machine isn’t dead yet.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977) – With the cops in pursuit, Bandit asks a convoy of trucks to do him a solid and run some interference. Because he’s got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.
Convoy (1978) – With Ernest Borgnine and the National Guard unloading on him, rebel trucker ‘Rubber Duck’ Penwald (Kris Kristofferson) goes out like a boss near the U.S./Mexico border. Or so it appears. One of legendary director Sam Peckinpah’s last movies.
Wolf Creek 2 (2013) – The only thing worse than encountering the psychotic Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) in the Australian Outback is seeing him behind the wheel of a truck. Before this insane 10-minute sequence is done the truck, some kangaroos and your nerves are destroyed.
The Rage (1997) – Horrible movie, cool truck scene. When a trucker with a cargo of logs tries nudging him over a cliff wall, Lorenzo Lamas stays under the truck until he picks the right time to slam on the brakes. Giant mess ensues. Probably half this movie’s budget was spent on this scene.
Thunder Run (1986) – If you’ve ever wanted to see a ’75 Kenworth W-900 jump over a train, this ’80s cheesefest is for you. One question, though: How, in the middle of insane, death-defying stunts, do truckers always reach for the air horn? Wouldn’t both hands be on the wheel?
Rolling Vengeance (1987) – A trucker seeks revenge against the rednecks who killed his family by building a fortified monster truck death machine. Perfect for plowing through corn fields, warehouses, and crushing Ned Beatty’s car while he’s in a saloon.
Final Destination 2 (2003) – Though a far inferior sequel to the 2000 original, it kicks off with a nightmarish premonition scene in which a tractor loses its cargo of logs on the highway, resulting in a chain reaction of gory carnage. Basically, any truck carrying logs in a movie is a disaster waiting to happen.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986) – As the opening credits roll, Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) talks up a storm on his CB like it’s the ’70s again, setting up the movie’s goofy tone nicely. “Like I told my last wife…I says ‘Honey, I never drive faster than I can see.’ Besides that, it’s all in the reflexes.”
Joy Ride (2001) – After pranking the wrong psycho trucker over the CB, Paul Walker and Steve Zahn find themselves pinned up against a tree as “Rusty Nail” steps on the gas of his rig. Just when it looks like lights out, he retreats to torment them later.
Hush (2008) – With his girlfriend sleeping next to him, a driver nearly causes a collision with the truck behind him. As the truck pulls in front of him, its cargo area briefly opens, revealing a woman in a cage screaming for help. It’s the start of a long, bloody night in this British horror flick.
Alluda Majaka (1995) – Utterly loony Tollywood flick reaches its crescendo when Indian actor Chiranjeevi uses the horse he’s riding to slide under a truck while being chased. And an internet meme was born.
White Line Fever (1975) – Long-haul driver Jan Michael Vincent has had enough of the corrupt local trucking industry after his home is torched and his wife loses their baby. So he revs up Blue Mule, takes a bullet to the face, and crashes through the company’s two-storey glass sign. Accomplished nothing, but it sure looked cool.
Silent Thunder (1992) – When Stacy Keach finally finds the trucker who killed his son, they play dueling rigs on the freeway, eventually ditching their trailers to speed things up. A vintage 1973 Kenworth W-900 doesn’t survive the day.
Big Rig (2007) – In a documentary full of insights on the life of truck drivers, the story of Doug – driving a rig with a metal hook for a hand just six months after a major accident – hammers home the toughness this life requires. “When you come that close to death…you’re a changed person.”
High Ballin’ (1978) – With the local trucker boss’ goons on his tail, Jerry Reed gets some help from Peter Fonda by setting their cargo of cars ablaze and cutting them loose. Because that’s how Easy Rider rolls.
Damnation Alley (1977) – Searching for the source of a radio transmission after World War 3, a group in the heavily armored Landmaster stop for fuel, only to find the place overrun by man-eating cockroaches. Poor Keegan (Paul Winfield) survived the apocalypse only to become roach food.
Heat (1995) – Michael Mann’s cops-and-robbers classic gets started with Robert De Niro’s gang using a massive rig to put an armored car on its side. During the heist, one of his henchmen opens fire on the guards, infuriating him. His need for payback will be his downfall.
Black Dog (1998) – Patrick Swayze vs. Meat Loaf in a big rig battle royale. It ends with Loaf well done after he flips over, gets hit by a train and explodes. Like a bat out of hell, he was gone…
The Great Smokey Roadblock (1977) – Henry Fonda has a cargo of six prostitutes in the back, including a young Susan Sarandon. Do you think a roadblock on the bridge of four cop cars is going to stop him? More accurate title: Mostly Mediocre Smokey Roadblock.
Drive Angry (2011) – On a quest for undead criminal Nicolas Cage, Agent ‘o Satan William Fichtner plows through a dozen cop cars with a truck carrying hydrogen, then calmly steps out onto the hood of one of them as the truck explodes. And that’s not the most over-the-top thing in this movie. Not even close.
The Hitcher (1986) – Psycho hitchhiker Rutger Hauer ties Jennifer Jason Leigh to two trucks with his foot on the clutch of one. If the cops shoot him, she’ll be torn in two. Even C. Thomas Howell at the height of his ’80s power can’t save her.
Gone in 60 Seconds 2 (1989) – Officially, this sequel was unfinished and unreleased due to the death of star and producer H.B. Halicki during filming. The available footage is virtually one marathon chase sequence, with a ’74 Inernational Transtar II obliterating dozens of parked cars. The pure mayhem matches The Blues Brothers.
Deadly Encounter (1982) – Larry Hagman lands a helicopter on a Peterbilt 281, then tells his lady passenger “I wouldn’t stand up if I were you” as they approach an overpass. JR was never cooler.
Transporter 3 (2008) – When two transports are blocking the road during a chase, Jason Statham simply pops his Audi onto two wheels and drives between them. The car behind him goes around the trucks, but then ends up going off a cliff. Don’t mess with Statham.
Over the Top (1987) – Before he arm wrestles an assembly line of cartoon villains to win a new truck, Sylvester Stallone uses his old one to ram through the front gate and front door of his rich jerk of a father-in-law. Cue the Kenny Loggins soundtrack.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – The Vulture targets a convoy carrying alien weaponry left over from the first Avengers movie. Spidey, still learning what his new Stark-designed suit can do, tries intercepting and inadvertently gets trapped inside the truck. A great scene showing the webslinger isn’t ready for prime time yet.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984) – Right after the opening credits, undercover cop Eddie Murphy does the Neutron Dance in the back of a truck during a chase through a seedy Detroit neighbourhood. All those wrecked cars are probably still there.
John Law is an award-winning entertainment writer.