Maximum Overdrive is a 1986 American science fiction action horror film written and directed by Stephen King. The film stars Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, and a young Yeardley Smith. 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. King himself described the film as a "moron movie" and stated his intention to never direct again soon after. 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.
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.
- Emilio Estevez as William "Bill" Robinson
- Pat Hingle as Bubba Hendershot
- Laura Harrington as Brett Graham
- Yeardley Smith as Connie
- John Short as Curtis
- Ellen McElduff as Wanda June
- Frankie Faison as Handy
- Leon Rippy as Brad
- Christopher Murney as Camp Loman
- J. C. Quinn as Duncan Keller
- Holter Graham as Deke Keller
- Barry Bell as Steve Gayton
- Patrick Miller as Joey
- J. Don Ferguson as Andy
- Stephen King (cameo) as ATM man
The film was the first to be made by Embassy Pictures after it had been bought by Dino de Laurentiis. 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".
"Dixie Boy" truck stop
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
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. 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 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 interview discussing the television adaptation 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.
- Killdozer! (story)
- List of American films of 1986
- Trucks, another adaptation of King's story
- Maximum Overdrive at the Internet Movie Database
- Maximum Overdrive at Box Office Mojo
- Maximum Overdrive at Rotten Tomatoes
- Entry on Retro Junk