Maximum Overdrive

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Maximum Overdrive
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Stephen King
Produced by Martha Schumacher
Screenplay by Stephen King
Based on Trucks 
by Stephen King
Starring Emilio Estevez
Pat Hingle
Laura Harrington
Christopher Murney
Music by AC/DC
Cinematography Armando Nannuzzi
Edited by Evan A. Lottman
Distributed by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Release dates
  • July 25, 1986 (1986-07-25)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9 million[2]
Box office $7,433,663[3]

Maximum Overdrive is a 1986 American science fiction action horror film written and directed by Stephen King.[4] The film stars Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington. The screenplay was inspired by and loosely based on King's short story Trucks, which was included in King's first collection of short stories, Night Shift.

Maximum Overdrive is King's only directorial effort, though dozens of films have been based on King's novels. The film contained black humor elements and a generally campy tone, which contrasts with King's sombre subject matter in books. The film has a mid-1980s hard rock soundtrack composed entirely by the group AC/DC, King's favorite band. AC/DC's album Who Made Who was released as the Maximum Overdrive soundtrack. It includes the best-selling singles "Who Made Who", "You Shook Me All Night Long", and "Hells Bells".

The film was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Director for King and Worst Actor for Estevez in 1987, but both lost against Prince for Under the Cherry Moon. In 1988, Maximum Overdrive was nominated for "Best Film" at the International Fantasy Film Awards.[5] King himself described the film as a "moron movie" and stated his intention to never direct again soon after.[6] In a 2002 interview with Tony Magistrale for the book Hollywood's Stephen King, King stated that he was "coked out of [his] mind all through its production, and [he] really didn't know what [he] was doing". King considers the film a learning experience.[7]


As the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, previously inanimate objects (ranging from vehicles to lawnmowers to an electric knife) start to show a murderous life of their own. In a pre-title scene, a man (King in a cameo) tries to withdraw money from an ATM, but it instead calls him an "asshole," he whines to his wife (King's real life wife Tabitha). Chaos soon begins as machines of all kinds come to life and begin assaulting humans; a drawbridge inexplicably raises during heavy traffic, resulting in multiple accidents most notably the black AC/DC van and a watermelon truck, while at a Little League game, a vending machine kills the coach by firing canned soda point-blank into his groin and then to his skull and a pilot-less steamroller flattens one of the fleeing children.

The carnage spreads as humans and even pets are brutally killed by lawnmowers, chainsaws, electric hair dryers, pocket radios, and RC cars. At a roadside truck stop just outside Wilmington, North Carolina, a waitress is injured by an electric knife and arcade machines in the back room electrocute another victim. Employee and ex-convict Bill Robinson begins to suspect something is wrong when suddenly marauding big rig trucks, led by a black semi-truck sporting a giant Green Goblin mask on its grille, run down two individuals and trap the rest of the civilians inside the truck stop's diner.

Robinson rallies the survivors; they use a cache of firearms and M72 LAW rockets stored in a bunker hidden under the diner and destroy many of the trucks. The trucks fight back, and at one point several human fatalities result from an M274 Mule firing its mounted M60 machine gun into the building. The vehicles then demand, via sending morse code signals through their car horns, that the humans pump their diesel for them in exchange for keeping them safe; the survivors soon realize they have become enslaved by their own machines. Robinson suggests they escape to a local island just off the coast, on which no vehicles or machines are permitted.

During a fueling operation, Robinson sneaks a grenade onto the Mule truck, destroying it, then leads the party out of the diner via sewer hatch to the main road. The survivors are pursued to docks by the Green Goblin truck, which manages to kill one more trucker while he is in the midst of looting a ring from a female corpse in a car before Robinson destroys the truck once and for all with a direct hit from an M72 LAW rocket shot. The survivors then sail off to safety; a title card epilogue explains that the machines are stopped with the destruction of a UFO by a Soviet "weather satellite" equipped with nuclear missiles and a laser cannon.



The film was the first to be made by Embassy Pictures after it had been bought by Dino de Laurentiis.[2] In a 2002 interview with Tony Magistrale for the book Hollywood's Stephen King, King stated that he was "coked out of [his] mind all through its production, and [he] really didn't know what [he] was doing".[7]


An array of vehicles and electronic devices are featured as antagonist characters, brought to life from the comet passing by Earth. A number of semi-trailer trucks appear as a gang who invade the truck stop. They are led by a Happy Toyz Co. White-Western Star 4800 truck which has the face of the Green Goblin from Spider-Man mounted on its grill. Most of the trucks are destroyed in the film.

Various other vehicles appear in brief roles. A military M274 Mule truck armed with an M60 machine gun and a Caterpillar D7G bulldozer appear in the truck stop to aid the trucks. A 1979 Rex 700 road roller attack a group of baseball players, running one over. An arcade game electrocutes a patron at the truck stop. A 1974 Chevrolet stepvan ice cream truck makes several appearances in the film, but is destroyed at the end. An aircraft similar to a Piper Seneca is seen chasing Deke briefly and then it is shown impaled through the roof of a school bus near the end of the film. The tow truck that nearly runs over Curtis and Connie was a 1968 White 9000. The older model semi-truck that chases them is a 1962 Mack B-61.[8]

"Dixie Boy" truck stop[edit]

The Dixie Boy truck stop was a full-scale set constructed ten miles west of Wilmington, North Carolina, on U.S. Route 74/76. The exact location was in Leland, North Carolina. It was convincing enough that several semi-truck drivers tried to stop in and eat there; some even tried to refuel. Eventually the producers had to put up several signs informing the truckers the set was fake and not a real truck stop. The producers also put announcements in local newspapers saying that the Dixie Boy was just a movie set.

After filming wrapped, and the set had been partially demolished by explosives, some locals bought the set of the Dixie Boy and transformed it into a working truck stop. It was fully functional for three or four years until it went bankrupt and was torn down sometime in the late 1980s. Some sign posts for the Dixie Boy still exist.

Accidents on set[edit]

When filming the scene where the ice cream truck flips over, the stunt did not go according to plan and almost resulted in an accident. A telephone pole-size beam of wood was placed inside so it would flip end over end, but it only flipped once and slid on its roof, right into the camera. Gene Poole, dolly grip on the film, pulled the cameraman out of the way at the last second.

A second incident, this time leading to serious injury, occurred on July 31, 1985 while filming in a suburb of Wilmington, North Carolina. A radio-controlled lawnmower used in a scene went out of control and struck a block of wood used as a camera support, shooting out wood splinters which injured the director of photography Armando Nannuzzi. As a result of this incident, Nannuzzi lost an eye. Nannuzzi sued Stephen King on February 18, 1987 for $18 million in damages due to unsafe working practices.[citation needed] The suit was settled out of court.


Maximum Ovedrive received overwhelmingly negative reviews, earning a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 17%. In Leonard Maltin's annual publication "TV Movie Guide", the film is given a "BOMB" rating. Two Golden Raspberry Award nominations were given out, to Emilio Estevez for Worst Actor and Stephen King for Worst Director.

John Clute and Peter Nichols[9] have offered a modest reappraisal of Maximum Overdrive, admitting the film's many flaws but arguing that several scenes display enough visual panache to suggest that King was not entirely without talent as a director.

In a recent[when?] interview discussing the television adaption of Under the Dome, King admitted that Maximum Overdrive was the worst adaptation of his work.

An episode of The Simpsons, "Maximum Homerdrive", is a reference to the film, which was Yeardley Smith's previous screen role prior to her joining the voice-acting cast of the series a year later.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (18)". Recorded Releasing. British Board of Film Classification. September 3, 1987. Retrieved July 24, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b DE LAURENTIIS REJOINS THE RANKS--AT EMBASSY: DE LAURENTIIS: EMBASSY Friendly, David T. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] November 16, 1985: e1.
  3. ^ "Maximum Overdrive (1986)". Box Office Mojo. July 5, 1988. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  4. ^ Beday, Jeremy. "Maximum Overdrive (1986)". Allmovie. All Media Guide. 
  5. ^ Maximum Overdrive Awards page at the IMDb
  6. ^ Thomas, Bob (1986-07-23). "'Selling' his movie is a new chore for author Stephen King". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  7. ^ a b Magistrale, Tony (22 November 2003). Hollywood's Stephen King. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-312-29321-5. Retrieved 2014-09-09. 
  8. ^ "Maximum Overdrive in the IMCDb". Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  9. ^ John Clute and Peter Nichols. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York, St. Martin's Griffin, 1993. ISBN 0-312-09618-6.

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