23. THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974)
Release Date: March 31, 1974
Chronology: After a string of TV movies (including Duel, which would go on to be released in theatres), The Sugarland Express was Spielberg’s first feature film made for theatres, before tackling Jaws.
Box Office: $8 million ($36 million, adjusted for inflation)
Oscars: Not nominated
Premise: Escaped convict Clovis (William Atherton), his wife (Goldie Hawn), and a police officer they take hostage (Michael Sacks) drive across Texas to get their son back from foster care, becoming celebrities in the process.
Over two hours?: Not quite
John Williams Score?: Yes, in their very first collaboration
Father Issues?: Clovis is in prison at the start of the movie, absent from his young son’s life
Surprise Appearance: William Atherton
Fun Fact: After filming completed, Spielberg bought the Dodge Polara used throughout the movie.
Best Line: “Why don’t you sit on your fist and lean back on your thumb?”
Verdict: Spielberg gets points for trying and for originality, with this being the prototype for Natural Born Killers and Thelma & Louise, and Atherton is a wonderful lead, but the movie runs out of gas in its last act. The Sugarland Express has aged well in most respects, but its unexpected and disappointing ending leave a poor last impression.
Rating: 3½ stars / 5