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Maximum Overdrive

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Maximum Overdrive
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Stephen King
Produced by Martha Schumacher
Screenplay byStephen King
Based on Trucks
by Stephen King
Music by AC/DC
Cinematography Armando Nannuzzi
Edited byEvan A. Lottman
Distributed by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Release date
  • July 25, 1986 (1986-07-25)
Running time
98 minutes [1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$9 million [2] [3]
Box office$7.4 million [4] or $3.5 million (North America) [3]

Maximum Overdrive is a 1986 American comedy horror film written and directed by Stephen King. [5] The film stars Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, and Yeardley Smith. The screenplay was inspired by and loosely based on King's short story "Trucks", which was included in the author's first collection of short stories, Night Shift .


Maximum Overdrive is King's only directorial effort, though dozens of films have been based on his novels or short stories. 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. [6] King himself described the film as a "moron movie". He considers the process a learning experience, [7] after which he intended never to direct again. [8]


As the Earth crosses the tail of a comet, previously inanimate machines suddenly spring to life; an ATM insults a customer (King in a cameo) and a bascule bridge rises during heavy traffic, causing all vehicles upon the bridge to fall into the river or collide. Chaos sets in as machines of all kinds begin attacking humans. At a roadside truck stop just outside Wilmington, North Carolina, an employee, Duncan Keller, is blinded after a gas dispenser sprays diesel in his eyes. A waitress, Wanda June, 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. Meanwhile, at a Little League game, a vending machine kills the coach by firing canned soda point-blank into his skull. A driverless steamroller flattens one of the fleeing children, but one named Deke Keller (Duncan's son) manages to escape on his bike.

A newly-wed couple, Connie (Yeardley Smith) and Curtis (John Short), stop at a gas station, where a brown tow truck tries to kill Curtis, but he and Connie escape in their car. Deke rides through his town as humans and even pets are brutally killed by lawnmowers, chainsaws, electric hair dryers, pocket radios, and RC cars. At the truck stop, a black Western Star 4800 sporting a giant Green Goblin mask on its grille runs over a Bible salesman after a red garbage truck kills Duncan and dumps some of the junk on the Bible salesman’s car to make him so angry that he insults its “driver”. Later, several big rig trucks encircle the truck stop.

Meanwhile, Connie and Curtis are pursued by a truck, but they make it crash off the side of the road as it exploded. They arrive at the truck stop and try to pass between the trucks, but their car is hit and overturns. Bill and Brett, a hitchhiker, rush to help them, but the trucks attack them. Bill's boss Hendershot uses M72 LAW rockets he had stored in a bunker hidden under the diner to destroy many of the trucks. Deke makes it to the truck stop later that evening and tries to enter via the sewers, but is obstructed by the wire mesh covering the opening. That night, the survivors hear the Bible salesman screaming in a ditch, and Bill and Curtis sneak out to help him by climbing through the sewers. Deke finds the Bible salesman and believes he is dead, but he suddenly jumps up and attacks Deke. Bill and Curtis rescue Deke, and a truck chases them back into the pipe.

The next morning, a Caterpillar D7G bulldozer and an M274 Mule drive through the diner. Hendershot uses the rocket launcher to blow the bulldozer away. The Mule fires its post-mounted M60 machine gun into the building, killing several people. The Mule then demands, via sending morse code signals through its horn that Deke deciphers, that the humans pump the trucks' diesel for them in exchange for their lives. 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 vehicle, destroying it, then leads the party out of the diner via a sewer hatch to the main road just as the trucks demolish the entire truck stop. The survivors are pursued to the docks by the Green Goblin truck, which manages to kill Brad the trucker. Robinson destroys the truck with a direct hit from an M72 LAW rocket shot. The survivors then sail off to safety. A title card epilogue explains that two days later, a UFO was destroyed by a Soviet "weather satellite" conveniently equipped with class IV nuclear missiles and a laser cannon. Six days later, the Earth passes out of the comet's tail, and the survivors are still alive.



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]


Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that "by making the machines' malevolence so all-encompassing — so amoral — Mr. King loses the fillip of retribution in better horror films. For the most part, he has taken a promising notion — our dependence on our machines — and turned it into one long car-crunch movie, wheezing from setups to crackups." [9] Variety called it "the kind of film audiences want to talk back to, the kind that throws credibility out the window in favor of crass manipulation. Unfortunately, master manipulator Stephen King, making his directorial debut from his own script, fails to create a convincing enough environment to make the kind of nonsense he's offering here believable or fun." [10] Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "As long as King is tinkering with his crazed machines, the film sustains a certain amount of ominous tension, but as soon as the author turns his attention to his actors, the movie's slender storyline goes limp ... Worse still, the movie never really builds up any momentum or jars us with unexpected jolts of horror." [11] Writing in the Chicago Tribune , Rick Kogan gave the film 1 star out of 4 and called it "a mess of a movie," further stating that "King's direction is heavy handed and his dialogue hackneyed and stiff." [12] Paul Attanasio of The Washington Post wrote that the film "is like sitting alongside a 3-year old as he skids his Tonka trucks across the living room floor and says 'Whee!' except on a somewhat grander scale," and added that as a director Stephen King "proves that he hasn't got an ounce of visual style, the vaguest idea of how to direct actors or the sense that God gave a grapefruit." [13]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 17% based on reviews from 12 critics. [14] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade D+ on scale of A to F. [15]

In Leonard Maltin's annual publication TV Movie Guide, the film is given a "BOMB" rating. [16] Two Golden Raspberry Award nominations were given out, to Emilio Estevez for Worst Actor and King for Worst Director. [6]

John Clute and Peter Nichols [17] 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.

See also

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  1. "MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (18)". Recorded Releasing . British Board of Film Classification. September 3, 1987. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  2. 1 2 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. 1 2 De Laurentiis PRODUCER'S PICTURE DARKENS: KNOEDELSEDER, WILLIAM K, Jr. Los Angeles Times 30 Aug 1987: 1.
  4. "Maximum Overdrive (1986)". Box Office Mojo. July 5, 1988. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  5. Beday, Jeremy. "Maximum Overdrive (1986)". Allmovie . All Media Guide.
  6. 1 2 Official summary of awards
  7. 1 2 Magistrale, Tony (November 22, 2003). Hollywood's Stephen King. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 20. ISBN   978-0-312-29321-5 . Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  8. Thomas, Bob (July 23, 1986). "'Selling' his movie is a new chore for author Stephen King". Associated Press . Retrieved January 22, 2010.
  9. Pareles, Jon (July 25, 1986). "Film: By Stephen King, 'Maximum Overdrive'". The New York Times . C17.
  10. "Maximum Overdrive". Variety . December 31, 1985. Master manipulator Stephen King
  11. Goldstein, Patrick (July 28, 1986). "'Maximum Overdrive' Spins its Wheels". Los Angeles Times . Part VI, p. 8.
  12. Kogan, Rick (July 29, 1986). "King's a horror at directing". Chicago Tribune . Section 5, p. 3.
  13. Attanasio, Paul (July 29, 1986). "King's Crash Course". The Washington Post . C2.
  14. "Maximum Overdrive (1986)". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  15. "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  16. Maltin, Leonard (1994). "Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide".
  17. John Clute and Peter Nichols. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1993. ISBN   0-312-09618-6.