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Maximum Overdrive is a 1986 American science fiction horror dark comedy film written and directed by Stephen King. 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.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stephen King|
|Produced by||Martha Schumacher|
|Screenplay by||Stephen King|
by Stephen King
|Edited by||Evan A. Lottman|
|Distributed by||De Laurentiis Entertainment Group|
|Box office||$7.4 million or $3.5 million (North America)|
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. King himself described the film as a "moron movie". He considers the process a learning experience, after which he intended never to direct again.
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 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 kills Duncan and a Bible salesman. 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. 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 a 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 survivors.
- 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
- Giancarlo Esposito as Video player
- 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".
Maximum Overdrive received overwhelmingly negative reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 17% based on reviews from 12 critics. Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade D+ on scale of A to F.
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.
- "MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (18)". Recorded Releasing. British Board of Film Classification. September 3, 1987. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
- 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.
- De Laurentiis PRODUCER'S PICTURE DARKENS: KNOEDELSEDER, WILLIAM K, Jr. Los Angeles Times 30 Aug 1987: 1.
- "Maximum Overdrive (1986)". Box Office Mojo. July 5, 1988. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
- Beday, Jeremy. "Maximum Overdrive (1986)". Allmovie. All Media Guide.
- Maximum Overdrive Awards page at the IMDb
- 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.
- Thomas, Bob (July 23, 1986). "'Selling' his movie is a new chore for author Stephen King". Associated Press. Retrieved January 22, 2010.
- "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
- John Clute and Peter Nichols. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1993. ISBN 0-312-09618-6.