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Flashback Friday: trucking in the movies


In its Flashback Friday series, FreightWaves publishes articles that look back at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. If there are topics that you think would be of interest, please send them to

FreightWaves covers all modes of freight transport, and seeks to broaden its coverage on an ongoing basis. However, many of the company’s first employees came to the company from various positions within the trucking industry.

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So in this edition of Flashback Friday, the topic is movies about the trucking industry. Presented below are profiles of and images from a selected movie from each decade beginning with 1940 through the 1990s. These are not necessarily the best or only movies about trucking made in those decades, but they are a representative sample.

Each decade except the 1970s is limited to one movie only. There is no question that more movies about trucking were made in the 1970s than other decades; trucking was not only important to the economy in the 1970s (as it is today), it was an important topic in popular culture. Flashback Friday will profile other trucking movies in subsequent articles.

Ratings for the movies comes from IMDb, an online database related to films, television programs, home videos and video games IMDb provides cast, production crew and personnel biographies, plot summaries, trivia, and fan reviews and ratings. FreightWaves thanks IMDb for the information provided and shared with its readers.


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They Drive By Night – 1940 (black and white)

IMDb Rating – 7.3/95 minutes

Director: Raoul Walsh

Stars: George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino

This 1940 film noir directed by Raoul Walsh focuses on the Fabrini brothers, who run a trucking business in California hauling fruit from farms to Los Angeles markets. Joe (George Raft) and Paul (Humphrey Bogart) struggle to make ends meet while trying to work for and compete against corrupt businessmen. Driving one night with waitress Cassie Hartley (Ann Sheridan), the three of them witness the death of a mutual acquaintance. The death profoundly affects Paul and Joe, who are determined to find a way to make their business pay. When one of two truck driving brothers loses an arm, they both join a transport company where later, the other is falsely charged as an accessory in the murder of the owner.


Red Ball Express – 1952 (black and white)

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IMDb Rating – 6.3/83 minutes

Director: Budd Boetticher

Stars: Jeff Chandler, Alex Nicol, Charles Drake, Sidney Poitier, Hugh O’Brian

The film is based on the actual Red Ball Express convoys that took place after the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944.

The tag line for the movie is: “From beachhead to battlefront! They carry the ammo for Patton’s Tanks!”

In August 1944, General George Patton’s Third Army has advanced so far toward Paris that it cannot be supplied. To keep up the momentum, Allied HQ establishes an elite military truck route. One (racially integrated) platoon of this Red Ball Express encounters private enmities, German resistance, minefields and increasingly perilous missions.

Almost 75 percent of the Red Ball Express drivers were African-Americans, able-bodied soldiers who had been previously attached to various units for other duties.


The 1960s were a lean decade for trucking-related movies. Was something else going on?

The Big Gamble – 1961

IMDb Rating – 5.9/100 minutes

Directors: Richard Fleischer, Elmo Williams

Stars: Stephen Boyd, Juliette Gréco, David Wayne

Vic Brennan (Stephen Boyd) is a sailor from Dublin who decides to use his family’s fortune to move to Africa to open a trucking business. He is accompanied by his wife, Marie (Juliette Greco), and a meek cousin, Samuel (David Wayne), who loses their documents, causing customs agents to seize some of their cargo.

As they proceed along the Ivory Coast, a plan occurs to Vic to purchase 300 cases of beer and deliver it to thirsty natives for sale. A German they encounter along the way, Kaltenberg, attempts to hijack it.

A feverish Samuel needs to be nursed back to health. He bravely dives into a raging river to save Vic from drowning. Their misfortune continues when the truck’s brakes fail, causing it and their goods to go off a cliff. Just as all seems lost, though, they safely reach their final destination.


Two movies are listed from the decade of the 1970s. The first is a made-for-television movie that is important because it was the first commercially released work by a then-unknown director (who went on to have a pretty good career!).

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Duel – 1971 (TV)

IMDb Rating – 7.7/90 minutes

Director: Steven Spielberg

Stars: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone

Duel is a television (and later full-length theatrical) road thriller film written by Richard Matheson, which is based on his own short story. The film is the full-length film directing debut of director, producer and screenwriter Steven Spielberg.

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Duel stars Dennis Weaver, who portrays David Mann, a terrified motorist driving a Plymouth Valiant who is stalked on remote and lonely California canyon roads by the mostly unseen driver of an unkempt Peterbilt 281.

“What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.”




Smokey & the Bandit – 1977

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IMDb Rating – 6.9/96 minutes

Director: Hal Needham

Stars: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Jackie Gleason, Pat McCormick, Paul Williams

This is the movie that probably launched quite a few trucking careers, helped make CB radios popular and brought trucking into the public consciousness in a way nothing else ever had. Other trucking movies had been released in the 1970s; Smokey and the Bandit capitalized on their popularity and took that popularity to a new level. Former stuntman Hal Needham made his directorial debut on the movie. Perhaps improbably, Smokey and the Bandit was the second-highest grossing movie of 1977. The movie that beat it? The original Star Wars…

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The film follows Bo “Bandit” Darville (Reynolds) and Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Reed) as they attempt to illegally transport 400 cases of Coors from Texarkana, Texas to Atlanta. During their run, they attract the attention of Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Smokey, portrayed by Gleason), who pursues them on their journey.

Smokey and the Bandit generated two sequels – Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) and Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983).

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The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) – 1981

IMDb Rating – 7.6/94 minutes

Director: George Miller

Stars: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston

In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline-rich community escape a band of bandits.

Mad Max 2 (originally released in the United States as The Road Warrior and sometimes known as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior) is the second installment in the Mad Max film series, with Mel Gibson reprising his role as “Mad” Max Rockatansky. The film’s tale of a community of settlers who moved to defend themselves against a roving band of marauders is a take on the “Western” movie motif, as does Max’s role as a hardened man who rediscovers his humanity when he decides to help the settlers.

Mad Max 2 was released on December 24, 1981, and received a great deal of critical acclaim. Observers praised the visuals and Gibson’s role. Other elements of the film that garnered attention include the cinematography of Dean Semler – widescreen shots of Australia’s vast desert landscapes; the sparse dialogue throughout the film; and the movie’s fast-paced, tightly edited and violent battle and chase scenes.

The movie’s comic-book style, featuring a post-apocalyptic/punk future popularized the style in both other films and fiction writing as well. Mad Max 2 became a cult film, with fan clubs and “road warrior”-themed activities that continue nearly four decades after the movie’s release. Mad Max 2 is also considered by many film critics and fans as one of the greatest action movies ever made, as well as one of the greatest sequels ever made.

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Black Dog – 1998

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IMDb Rating – 5.4/89 minutes

Director: Kevin Hooks

Stars: Patrick Swayze, Randy Travis, Meat Loaf

Jack Crews (Swayze) is a truck driver who has just been released from jail for vehicular manslaughter, for accidentally hitting and killing a motorist and his passenger on the side of the road during a trip in which he experienced a Black Dog hallucination brought on by exhaustion. Along with his imprisonment, he also lost his Commercial driver’s license. Following his release, he attempts to get back to a normal life, but this time holds a job as a truck mechanic for a local repair shop in New Jersey.

Jack is offered a job to drive a load of toilets from Atlanta to New Jersey for $10,000. He initially declines the offer, but then finds out that his house will be repossessed unless he pays off his debt. He changes his mind and teams up with Earl (Travis) to deliver the load and save his family. Jack meets up with Red (Meat Loaf), who runs an Atlanta trucking yard. Jack doesn’t know that the trailer is loaded with illegal guns and Red is hell-bent on hijacking it.


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Scott Mall, Managing Editor of Copy

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of Copy for the FreightWaves website. He also writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, material for the Blockchain in Transport Alliance and a variety of FreightWaves material. Mall’s career spans 40 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government.

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