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Star Drivers: 50 top truckers in the movies

Posted: January 19, 2018 by John Law

Charlize Theron took the wheel as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. (Warner Bros.)

TORONTO, ON — Action heroes. Comic relief. Horror movie villains. Hollywood has long loved the lore of truckers, giving us some memorable characters through the decades. And while they weren’t all in classic movies, they made their mark in other ways.

From the freaky to the supremely funny, here’s our list of the 50 greatest truckers in movie history:

  1. Jack Burton, Big Trouble in Little China (1985) – “Everybody relax, I’m here.” A box office flop when it was released, John Carpenter’s goofball martial arts/fantasy/comedy grew to be one of the ’80s biggest cult classics, thanks to Kurt Russell’s wise-cracking California trucker who gets mixed up with sorcerers in Chinatown. For doing it all and getting Kim Cattrall at the end, Jack is one of cinema’s top truckers.
  2. The Driver, Duel (1971) – He’s never seen. He’s never heard. But behind the wheel of the menacing Peterbilt 281 that chases Dennis Weaver in Steven Spielberg’s movie-making debut is a villain for the ages. Much like the certain shark movie Spielberg would soon make, he’s a predator stalking prey – an extension of the terrifying machine he drives. Spielberg ignored the network’s request to have the truck explode at the end because he wanted the audience to see it slowly die, like an animal outsmarted by its prey.
  3. Diane Ford, Trucker (2008) – A career performance from Michelle Monaghan in this low-budget indie flick, and one of the great depictions of modern trucker life. And to keep it authentic, she refused to take the part until she got her Commercial Driver’s Licence.
  4. Philo Beddoe, Every Which Way But Loose (1978) – With an orangutan named Clyde in the passenger seat, Clint Eastwood goofed on his tough guy image with this clunky action comedy as a brawling trucker. Ravaged by critics, but nearly 40 years later it’s still one of his biggest hits.
  5. Martin ‘Rubber Duck’ Penwald, Convoy – Kris Kristofferson tapped into the CB craze and trucker culture of the late ’70s with this 18-wheeling classic, leading a group of truckers against Ernest Borgnine and his corrupt police force. A drive-in classic that inspired many a kid to pursue the trucking life.
  6. Cledus Snow, Smokey and the Bandit (1977) – Though the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) is technically the trucker hired to deliver the bootleg Coors to Atlanta, it’s buddy Cledus (Jerry Reed) who does the heavy lifting. That leaves Bandit free to drive the Trans Am and make sexy time with Sally Field. Cledus really got the raw end of this deal.
  7. Paul Fabrini, They Drive by Night (1940) – Just before making his two most iconic films, The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart was superb in this noir thriller. He joins George Raft as two brothers dealing with personal tragedy and a crazed diva (Ida Lupino) while trying to start their own trucking business.
  8. Rusty Nail, Joy Ride (2001) – Voiced by an uncredited Ted Levine, Rusty Nail is the last guy you want to prank on the CB. In an obvious nod to Duel, he torments the trio of Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, and Leelee Sobieski while waiting for an apology. He was angry enough to spawn two direct-to-video sequels.
  9. Lincoln Hawk, Over the Top (1987) – Though it’s known more as the “arm-wrestling movie” than a trucker flick, the reason Sly Stallone competes in the World Arm-Wrestling Championship is to win a new $100,000 truck. Just about the most ’80s movie ever, with Stallone at the tail end of his box office heyday.
  10. Mater, Cars (2006) – While he isn’t technically a truck driver – he’s the actual truck – there probably isn’t a driver behind the big wheel who couldn’t quote a line or two from the lovable International, as voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. A particular fave: “Tractors is so dumb.”
  11. Jack Crews, Black Dog (1998) – What he did for dancing, what he did for road houses, Patrick Swayze tried to do for truckers. The awful movie he’s stuck in didn’t help, but Swayze still shines as the everyman action hero, pitting his wheels against big, bad Meat Loaf. File this one under cult favorite.
  12. Carrol Jo, White Line Fever (1975) –  Jan Michael Vincent was one of the first trucker movie icons of the ’70s, using a formula which would soon become very familiar: Trucker vs. The Man. A drive-in mainstay during the summer of ’75, it’s best known for Vincent driving his Ford WT9000 through the gigantic glass logo of his corporate oppressors.
  13. Large Marge, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – “There was this sound, like a garbage truck dropped off the Empire State Building!” She’s barely on screen for 90 seconds, but mention this movie to anybody and the scene they remember is Alice Nunn freaking Pee Wee out with her spooky trucker ghost story and claymation face.
  14. Biff Smith, California Straight Ahead! (1937) – A rarity from John Wayne’s early years has The Duke leading a caravan of trucks in a race against a freight train to deliver plane parts to the West Coast. The winner gets a million-dollar contract. Part of Wayne’s Universal era, a brief period when he did non-westerns.
  15. The Pervert, Thelma and Louise (1991) – In his brief but classic scene, Marco St. John epitomizes every crude, horny truck driver women dread meeting out on the road. For his efforts, Thelma and Louise blow up his rig. “You bitches from hell!”
  16. John ‘J.D.’ Dawes, Breaker! Breaker! (1977) – In his first starring role, Chuck Norris is a California trucker going up against a corrupt Texas City judge. When he gets pinched, a small army of trucks come to the rescue, and pretty much destroy the town.
  17. Elegant John, The Great Smokey Roadblock (1977) – Yes, even Henry Fonda couldn’t resist the trucker craze of the ’70s. The Hollywood legend (though his only Best Actor Oscar would come four years later) is an ailing driver who becomes a folk hero by helping six prostitutes across the border with his repossessed rig. Actually filmed in 1974, but not released for three years.
  18. Warren ‘Red’ Barr, Breakdown (1997) – The late J.T. Walsh had a gift for playing scumbags, and few were as demented as the trucker he plays here, kidnapping Kurt Russell’s wife after their car breaks down. One of cinema’s great trucker villains. Walsh died less than a year after the film’s release.
  19. Charles Callahan, Coast to Coast (1980) – With this trucker comedy, Robert Blake made dubious history: He was among the nominees for Worst Actor at the very first Golden
    Raspberry Awards (he lost to Neil Diamond). In one of his final movies, he’s a trucker who starts falling for the escaped mental patient (Dyan Cannon) who he planned on turning in for a reward.
  20. Patrick Quid, Roadgames (1981) – In one of the unheralded thrillers of the ’80s, Stacy Keach goes full Hitchcock as a trucker pursuing the driver of a green van he suspects murdered a hitchhiker. Jamie Lee Curtis eventually joins the chase as another hitchhiker, setting up a delightfully creepy finale.
  21. Charlie Morrison, Thunder Run (1986) – Released the same year he died, Forrest Tucker returned to movies after a long hiatus as a Korean War vet who takes a lucrative gig transporting plutonium from Nevada to Arizona. Terrorists try to intercept. Found a big following on cable in the ’80s.
  22. Mario, The Wages of Fear (1953) – In one of his most memorable roles, French-Italian singer/actor Yves Montand is one of four truckers hired to transport nitroglycerin over dangerous mountain roads. He’s eventually the last driver standing, and just when you think it’ll be a happy ending….
  23. Mick Taylor, Wolf Creek 1 & 2 (2005 & 2013) – Through two gut-wrenching movies (and now an Australian TV series), John Jarrett has made his truck driving, outback serial killer one of the iconic figures in modern horror. One moment he’s like the drinking buddy you love hanging out with, the next he’s severing your spinal cord. Not such a g’day.
  24. John Matthews, Snitch (2013) – It’s almost a rite of passage for every action star to do at least one truck movie. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson checked it off the list with Snitch, a throwback to the trucking flicks of the ’70s in which The Great One goes undercover for the DEA against a drug dealer in order to free his son.
  25. Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Virtually stealing the movie from Tom Hardy’s Max, Charlize Theron dishes all kinds of bad-assery by going rogue with her armoured semi during a fuel run, taking five wives of the tyrant ruler of The Citadel. A whole lot of carnage results.
  26. Iron Duke Boykin, High-Ballin’ (1978) – Yes, Jerry Reed is so synonymous with ’70s truckers, he’s on this list twice. For his follow-up to Smokey and the Bandit, he’s an owner-operator going up against the local truck boss. When he’s shot, Peter Fonda takes up the fight.
  27. Clayton Ray Davis, Steel Cowboy (1978) – If it isn’t obvious by now, 1978 was Ground Zero for trucking movies, and James Brolin wasn’t going to miss out. He follows the tried and true formula of a driver taking a risky job because his truck is about to get repossessed. Like the title suggests, it’s basically a western with Brolin in the Clint Eastwood role.
  28. The Creeper, Jeepers Creepers (2001) – The demonic creature from the horror trilogy makes his debut behind the wheel of a rusty clunker, tormenting college kids Justin Long and Gina Phillips after they see him disposing of bodies in a large pipe.
  29. Don Michael Paul, Rolling Thunder (1987) – After his trucker dad and pretty much all his family is wiped out by the lousy kids of a prominent local business owner, Don Michael Paul gets him some revenge with a killer monster truck made out of spare truck parts. The retractable drill is a nice touch.
  30. The Killer, High Tension (2003) – Fair warning, this gruesome French horror flick is a gory endurance test. And up until its dopey ending, it lives up to its title, with Phillippe Nahon as a truck-driving killer who targets a college student and her friend’s family one night. The NC-17 version is as bloody as horror gets.
  31. John Canyon, Space Truckers (1996) – Dennis Hopper drives a big rig among the stars in this sci-fi cheapie from Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon. Carrying a cargo of sex dolls, he enters the “scum zone,” and it just gets weirder from there.
  32. Tom Yately, Hell Drivers (1957) – “Well, I’m the last man to want to walk around without a head.” After years playing the villain in supporting roles, Welsh actor Stanley Baker broke through in this crime drama as an ex-con who goes up against the shady trucking contractor he works for.
  33. Teddy Bear Trucker, Vacation (2015) – In this reboot of the comedy franchise, Ed Helms thinks a trucker with a teddy bear on his grill has been stalking his family during their disastrous trip. It turns out to be Norman Reedus, and he just wants to return the wedding ring Christina Applegate left on the counter at a truck stop. He then gives them a ride back to San Francisco. He explains the teddy bear is to make the kids more comfortable. Helms: “You have kids?” Reedus: “Nope.” Helms: “Great, take care.”
  34. Flatbed Annie & Sweetiepie, Lady Truckers (1979) – Trucker movies didn’t just sweep the drive-ins in the late ’70s, they were all the rage in made-for-TV movies as well. Kim Darby and Annie Potts drive a rig to pay some bills, not knowing there’s cocaine hidden onboard which assorted lowlifes want. As cheesy as it gets but the ladies are a fun pair.
  35. Tip Tucker, Larger Than Life (1996) – Bill Murray is trying to transport an elephant to San Diego (it’s a long story), and when his truck breaks down, he tricks whack job trucker Matthew McConaughey into a lift, which he doesn’t appreciate. “You don’t do that to Tip Tucker and his Tip-Top Trucking!”
  36. Mitch Barton, Violent Road (1958) – The American remake of The Wages of Fear has Brian Keith and three other volunteer truckers trying to deliver nitroglycerin to an accident site within three days. Tagline: “To ride the load he rode you had to be more than a man!”
  37. Chrome Angel, Citizens Band (1977) – Before he was an Oscar winner, the late Jonathan Demme made a series of exploitation flicks in the ’70s. This one, about characters in a small town united by the CBs, gets a funny turn from tough guy Charles Napier as a trucker whose two wives don’t know they’re married to the same man.
  38. Cooper, Deadhead Miles (1973) – After knocking out a truck driver and stealing his rig, Alan Arkin ditches his partner and tries living the life of an independent trucker with his yellow Peterbilt. Before the craze really hit, this was one of the first movies to show the trucker experience, even as a comedy. Typically loony performance from Arkin, and a cool cameo from Ida Lupino and George Raft from They Drive By Night.
  39. Nick Garcos, Thieves’ Highway (1949) – Richard Conte is a war vet who comes home to find his dad has been crippled by a slimy produce dealer (Lee J. Cobb) and forced to sell his truck. He goes into business with the guy who bought it, aiming for some payback.
  40. Robert Morgan, Moonfire (1970) – Charles Napier again, this time joining Richard Egan and ex-heavyweight champ Sonny Liston(!) as truckers who realize their operation along the Mexican border is being run by a former Nazi. This one’s a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 candidate, but Napier makes it a guilty pleasure.
  41. Eddie Kennedy, The St. Louis Kid (1934) – James Cagney wasn’t quite top of the world yet, but he was still in classic form as a trucker caught up in a union dispute after head-butting a dairy owner following an accident. The mob eventually gets involved.
  42. ‘Bugs’ Raymond, Quick Millions (1931) – Spencer Tracy’s first starring role has him as a villainous truck driver leading the local racketeers. When the woman he covets chooses to marry someone else, he decides to kidnap her on her wedding day.
  43. Steve Randall, Desperate (1947) – Rugged little thriller has Steve Brodie as an indie trucker forced to flee after a botched job involving stolen goods results in a dead cop. He must then convince the police he’s the killer or his kidnapped wife (Audrey Long) will be murdered. Some well-made noir, and one of Brodie’s few starring roles in a career or more than 200 films.
  44. Jackie Scanlon, Sorcerer (1977) – In-between Jaws movies, Roy Scheider gave one of his best performances as driver marked for death by the mafia, and while in hiding accepts a gig to transport nitroglycerin across 200 miles of dangerous jungle terrain. Scheider and director William Friedkin were at odds, and the tension shows.
  45. Willa Barnes, Willa (1979) – In this made-for-TV flick, the late Deborah Raffin is on her own after her husband abandons her and her two kids. She’s a waitress by day, but what she really wants to do is drive trucks.
  46. Cliff Jordan, Speed to Spare (1948) – Richard Arlen is a stunt driver who takes a job driving trucks for his old friend. It doesn’t take long for him to make an enemy of the trucker whose run he takes over, and soon finds his rig being sabotaged.
  47. Harry Miller, The Long Haul (1957) – Best known for musical and biblical movies, Victor Mature goes gritty as an American ex-serviceman driving a truck in Liverpool while aching to return to the U.S. Things get messy when he starts a relationship with the girlfriend (Diana Dors) of the local crime boss. Some fine noir just as Mature was winding down his acting career.
  48. Sea Bass, Dumb and Dumber (1994) – Yes, that’s Boston Bruins great Cam Neeley as the obnoxious trucker who horks a loogie into Harry’s burger at a truck stop. As revenge, Harry and Lloyd stick him with their bill. Neeley would reprise the character in My, Myself & Irene and Dumb and Dumber To.
  49. Jack, Blacktop (2000) – Meat Loaf gets back behind the wheel as a trucker who gives a ride to an angry Kristin Davis after she leaves her boyfriend. Problem? He may be a serial killer, and none of Kristin’s pals from Sex and the City can help her. Tedious flick but the Loaf gives it his all.
  50. Mike Kelly, Truckers Woman (1975) – In the mid ’70s, they couldn’t crank out cheap trucker flicks fast enough. Some went on to become B-movie classics (Convoy). Most…well, ended up like Trucker’s Woman, forgotten by all but the most die-hard fans of trucker flicks and bad movies. So treat yourself and enjoy Michael Hawkins giving this painful dialogue and howler of a script his earnest best as he searches for clues to his dad’s death. As the tagline says, he’s a “gear-jammin’, hell-fightin’, tender-lovin’… Truckin’ Man!”
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