Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Dennis Weaver
Before E.T. ever phoned home, or Indiana Jones saved his first day, there was one randomly pissed-off truck driver. All icons have to start somewhere, and, for Steven Spielberg, the road to filmmaking prominence kicked off with 1972’s Duel, a bare-bones suspense vehicle about a businessman who, for no reason, is terrorized on the open road by the unseen wheelman of an enormous rig. In spots, Duel is just as intense and white-knuckle as Jaws, the now-classic killer shark movie for which Spielberg used Duel as an audition tape of sorts.
The then-24-year-old director certainly had great source material to work with; Duel’s screenplay was written by Richard Matheson, based on his own short story. Matheson, for the genre-illiterate, is one of horror fiction’s most prolific authors, getting his breakthrough as a main writer for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone and going on to write such seminal books as I Am Legend and The Haunting Of Hell House.
Paired with Spielberg, Matheson delivered a minimalist nightmare with Duel; fast-paced, mean as hell, and well-acted by Dennis Weaver, it’s a pulse-pounder that still holds up nearly 30 years later.
1. Duel (1971)