Vansploitation is a term used for a genre of American independent films from the 1970s in which vans are a "key element to the plot", and that often feature comedic stories about college-age people. The "short-lived" genre emerged in the United States in the early 1970s, exploiting the popularity of vans with young people, was very popular in the mid to late 1970s, and disappeared in the early 1980s. Vansploitation films were originally made mostly for young audiences. Blue Summer (1973) is credited as the first film of the genre which continued with films like The Van (1977) and Van Nuys Blvd. (1979), the latter having been called "the most technically competent Vansploitation film".
Defining qualities of the genre
Coffman argues that the mere appearance of a van in a film does not make it a vansploitation film. The van has to serve a special purpose in the story, which is summed up in the trailer of Van Nuys Blvd.: "Freedom, fun and fine transportation". Often, vans were highly customized, up to the extent of having an entirely custom body in Supervan. Besides the van itself, van culture (wardrobe, magazines, meetings of van drivers) is also often featured prominently.
The van (or vans) must provide the engine that drives the plot forward and/or provide the stage in which the action of the plot actually takes place. (...) The characters in Vansploitation films generally have goals oriented toward spending as much time in their van as possible, or in putting money into improving their van's performance and/or appearance via customization. (...) In short, most van movies are about getting laid (in a van) and winning road games or other competitions (also in a van).— Jason Coffman, article about the Vansploitation genre.
Most vansploitation movies were about harmlessly rebellious young people outwitting the stodgy authority figures bent on stopping them from having a good time.— Scott Ashlin, review of the film Twister's Revenge.
The Van was one of those typical American exploitation movies. Central to the theme was a young man who gets the notion to forget about college and buy an expensive Dodge van.
The genre follows two earlier ones that also dealt with car-related topics popular in youth culture at their respective times: In the 1950s, films featuring Hot Rods became very popular, and they were followed by motorcycle films in the 1960s (for example, The Wild Angels and Easy Rider). As the popularity of vans in youth culture increased in the early 1970s, the first vansploitation films were created. Multiple factors are credited with creating the "customized van craze". For example, in 1975, the song "Chevy Van" by Sammy Johns sold about three million copies, and is credited for an increase in van sales the following year. The song (among others by Sammy Johns) was used prominently in the soundtrack of The Van (1977).
Coffman names six films as "essential texts" for the vansploitation genre:
1973: Blue Summer (aka Love Truck), directed by Chuck Vincent
1978: Mag Wheels (aka Summer School), directed by Bethel Buckalew
- "Gutterfilms.com: Article about vansploitation films". Retrieved May 27, 2016..
- "Hemming's Daily: Note about the film "supervan"". Retrieved May 27, 2016.
- "AV Club: Article about the film "supervan"". Retrieved May 27, 2016.
- "Jason Coffman: A brief guide to vansploitation cinema, page 1".
- "Jason Coffman: A brief guide to vansploitation cinema, page 2".
- "Chromjuwelen: Article about the van used in Supervan, mentioning it was a "Vansploitation" film". Retrieved May 27, 2016..
- "Balls Academy: Review of "The Van", talking about vansploitation". Retrieved May 27, 2016..
- Barris, George (1996). Barris TV and Movie Cars. MBI Publishing Company. p. 75.
- "Moviefone: Review of the film "Supervan"".
- "Biography of Sammy Johns, written by Linda Seida". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 10 June 2016.