Maximum Overdrive is a 1986 American science fiction horror 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 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 one of 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 passes through the tail of a comet, previously inanimate objects suddenly spring to life and turn homicidal. 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", and 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 a 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; a driverless steamroller flattens one of the fleeing children, but one named Deke Keller manages to escape on his bike.
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 Western Star 4800 sporting a giant Green Goblin mask on its grille, run down two individuals (including Deke's father) and surround the truck stop, trapping 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 in the form of both a Caterpillar D7G bulldozer which drives through the diner and a M274 Mule which fires its post-mounted M60 machine gun into the building, killing several including the waitress when she rants at them. The Mule then demands, via sending morse code signals through its horn, that the humans pump the truck's 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 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 one more trucker after he steals 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 two days after the machines' rampage, a UFO was destroyed by a Soviet "weather satellite" conveniently equipped with class IV 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
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".
When filming the scene where the ice cream truck flips over, the stunt did not go according to plan and 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, and 17 others, on February 18, 1987 for $18 million in damages due to unsafe working practices. The suit was settled out of court.
Maximum Overdrive 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 an interview discussing the television adaptation of Under the Dome, King admitted that Maximum Overdrive was the worst adaptation of his work.