Used Cars

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This article is about the film. For the general idea of a used car, see Used car. For the song, see Nebraska (album).
Used Cars
Used Cars film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Bob Gale
Written by Robert Zemeckis
Bob Gale
Starring Kurt Russell
Jack Warden
Gerrit Graham
Deborah Harmon
Music by Patrick Williams
Dennis McCarthy (uncredited)
Cinematography Donald M. Morgan
Edited by Michael Kahn
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
July 11, 1980
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $8 million[1]
Box office $11.7 million (domestic)[1]

Used Cars is a 1980 comedy satire film. It stars Kurt Russell, Jack Warden (in a dual role), Deborah Harmon, and Gerrit Graham.

Kurt Russell portrays a devious car salesman working for affable but monumentally unsuccessful used car dealer Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). Luke's principal rival, located directly across the street, is his more prosperous brother, Roy L. Fuchs (also played by Warden), who is scheming to take over Luke's lot.

The supporting cast includes Frank McRae, David L. Lander, Michael McKean, Al Lewis, Dub Taylor, Dick Miller, and Sarah Wills.

The movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis and his long-time writing partner Bob Gale. The executive producers were Steven Spielberg and John Milius. The original music score was composed by Patrick Williams.

Filmed primarily in Mesa, Arizona, the movie was released on July 11, 1980. Although not a box-office success at the time, it has since developed cult film status due to its dark, cynical humor and the Zemeckis style.[2] It is also marketed with the tagline "Like new, great looking and fully loaded with laughs."

It was the only Zemeckis film to be rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America until 2012's Flight.


Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) is a young and cunning used car salesman in Phoenix with aspirations of running for senate. He works at the struggling New Deal used car lot owned by the elderly Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), who agrees to help invest $10,000 in Rudy's campaign if he promises to keep the business alive. Meanwhile, across the street, Luke's younger brother Roy L. Fuchs (also played by Warden) is desperate to keep his used car lot from being demolished and replaced by a proposed freeway exit. Wanting to collect life insurance money and New Deal from Luke, Roy hires his mechanic, ex-demolition derby driver Mickey (Michael Talbott), to recklessly drive Luke's 1957 Chevrolet Two-Ten coupe around the block with Luke in the passenger's seat. After the Chevy crashes back into the lot, Luke dies of a heart attack, but leaves Rudy with evidence that Roy staged the "accident". In an attempt to prevent Roy from gaining any inheritance, Rudy has his superstitious co-worker Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) help him bury Luke in the lot's backyard in an Edsel that was once New Deal's sign ornament. They explain to Roy that Luke went on a vacation to Miami.

The next night, Rudy and his friends make an illegal live broadcast of their commercial in the middle of a football game, but it goes awry when Jeff finds out the car on display is red (which he believes is bad luck) and female model Margaret (Cheryl Rixon) has her dress stuck on the hood ornament - which rips and exposes her when the hood is popped open. The commercial results in New Deal receiving a massive number of customers the next day. In one deal, Jeff cons a family into buying a station wagon by having the lot's mascot dog Toby fake being run over during a test drive. While Roy lures customers in his lot by hiring a circus animal service, Rudy counters with a live stripper show. Luke's estranged daughter Barbara Jane (Deborah Harmon) visits the lot in hopes of reuniting with him after more than ten years, but Rudy conceals the truth about her father by taking her out on a date, which inadvertently convinces her to stay in town for a while.

Rudy's gang then broadcasts another commercial in the middle of Jimmy Carter's presidential address, destroying some of Roy's used cars in the process - most notably his prized Mercedes SL. In retaliation, Roy storms into New Deal and attacks Jeff before discovering Luke's resting place. Roy brings the police to New Deal to dig through the backyard the next day, but Jim had taken the Edsel out of the pit, and he rigs it to crash on a power transformer and explode - making everyone believe Luke was killed in the fiery accident, and destroying the evidence in the process. Roy believes he now has possession of New Deal, but Rudy points out that Barbara is effectively the new owner. Barbara, however, discovers the fiasco over her father's death and fires Rudy. As a final means of shutting down New Deal, Roy has his connections in a local TV station KFUK alter Barbara's commercial to imply that she has a mile of cars; he then pushes a trumped-up charge of false advertising.

Meanwhile, Rudy's luck changes when he wins a bet on a football game, guaranteeing him enough money for his campaign. Once he discovers that Barbara has been sent to court for false advertising, though, Rudy rushes in and convinces her to tell the court she actually does have a mile of cars. However, in order to avoid a charge of perjury, she must prove it in front of Judge H. H. Harrison (Al Lewis) by having over 250 cars on her lot by 2:45 p.m. Rudy spends his senate investment on buying 250 cars from Mexican dealer Manuel (Alfonso Arau) and having 250 student drivers deliver them to New Deal in less than two hours. After overcoming Roy's attempt at disrupting the resulting convoy and Jeff's superstition of driving a red car, the drivers arrive in time, with the total measurements just long enough to equal a mile; thus saving the used car lot. Rudy and Barbara are then informed by Roy's former attorney Sam Slaton (Joe Flaherty) that once the freeway ramp across the street is constructed New Deal will become the largest dealership in town.

Featured cast[edit]

Production notes[edit]

  • The movie was filmed at the working Darner Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Mesa, Arizona. The dealership served as the setting for "Roy L. Fuchs Pre-owned Automobiles", while a vacant lot across the street served as the setting for "New Deal Used Cars". The vacant lot now has an apartment complex while the Chrysler bankruptcy of 2009 caused the Darner dealership to lose its Chrysler affiliation.[2] Many local police officers worked in the film in several capacities, including the "cowboy" Shotgun role.
  • Kurt Russell produced some commercials for Darner's inviting customers to come in and shop while the movie was still being filmed.
  • In the scene where Rudy and Jeff are burying the Edsel on the lot and are confronted by Roy and Sam over Luke's whereabouts, Gerrit Graham repeated some of Kurt Russell's lines, which was not in the script. Jack Warden was so angered over the impromptu ad-libbing that he ended the scene with his own ad-libbed 'what are you, a fuckin' parrot?' directed at Graham.
  • According to Bob Gale, Jack Warden had initially passed on the role of Roy Fuchs but agreed to play the role under the condition that he be able to play Luke Fuchs, since he was interested in playing both dual roles and the role of a dead man.
  • Luke Fuch's old Edsel switches back and forth between 1958 and 1959 model years. When it is on top of the pole as a sign, it is a 1959 model. When it is dropped to the ground to bury Luke, and when it is dug up, started and drives across the lot with the dead Luke behind the wheel, it is a 1958 model. When it hits the transformer, it is again a 1959 model Edsel, with a turquoise scallop painted on the side to match the 1958 car (only 1958 models have this feature).
  • The judge's props for the music video for Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" were borrowed from Zemeckis.
  • The excerpts of President Carter's televised speech used in the movie were taken from his Oval Office address on his Administration's anti-inflation program, broadcast on 24 October 1978.[3]


Used Cars was met with positive reviews, based on 28 reviews Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 75% with the consensus: "Robert Zemeckis' pitch-black satire of American culture doesn't always hit the mark, but it's got enough manic comic energy to warrant a spin."[4] Bill Chambers of Film Freak Central gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, saying it "makes us wish that Robert Zemeckis had directed every T&A comedy of the period."[5] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "...a movie that has more laughs in it than any film of the summer except Airplane! It wipes out...just about every other recent comedy aimed, I assume, at an otherwise television-hooked public."[6]

At the time, Used Cars received the highest ratings in test screenings in Columbia Pictures history. In 2015, Leonard Maltin said, "I loved Used Cars, and I'll never understand really why that didn't become more."[7]

Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four stars, saying the film is "filled with too many ideas, relationships, and situations with plot overkill."[8]


  1. ^ a b Internet Movie Database. Box office/Business for Used Cars (1980). Retrieved on April 18, 2009.
  2. ^ a b Jarman, Max (13 June 2009). "For Mesa's Darner family, Chrysler era is over". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "Anti-Inflation Program Speech (October 24, 1978)". The Miller Center. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Used Cars at Rotten Tomatoes
  5. ^ Chambers, Bill. "Used Cars (1980)". Film Freak Central. Archived from the original on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (22 August 1980). "Used Cars (1980) review". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Gaines, Carseen (2015). We Don't Need Roads. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 January 1980). "Used Cars". Retrieved 25 January 2015. 

External links[edit]