15. DUEL (1971)
Release Date: November 10, 1971 (TV), April 22, 1983 (theatres)
Chronology: A feature originally made for television, Duel aired in November 1971 on TV and was later released in theaters, making it the first movie Steven Spielberg directed that was released theatrically.
Box Office: Nothing, it was initially just released on the small screen in North America, although it showed theatrically in other countries around the world in 1973. Box office numbers for Duel’s foreign grosses, or for its eventual 1983 release in North American theatres, are not available.
Oscars: Having already aired on TV, Duel was ineligible for Oscar consideration
Premise: An influence on every truck movie from Maximum Overdrive to Joy Ride, Duel begins innocently enough, as businessman David (Dennis Weaver) – on a long drive through the California desert – passes a slow-moving truck. The truck driver (whose face we never see) proceeds to play with, stalk, and terrorize David in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Over two hours?: Nope, a lean 90 minutes
John Williams Score?: No, they hadn’t met yet
Father Issues?: No
War?: Not unless you’re counting the war between David and the truck driver
Surprise Appearances: None
Fun Fact: David drives by an exterminator named Grebleips — “Spielberg” in reverse
Best Line: “You can’t beat me on the grade!”
Verdict: It’s one long car chase, but when the action’s this intense, you don’t really care about character development or falling action. Spielberg’s masterful skill for creating suspense is fully formed right from the start, and Duel features some of the most nail-biting scenes of his career. The lack of variety in the bulk of the plot does wear a bit now and then and the ending doesn’t really make any kind of sense, but ultimately, Duel is a gripping and fun ride.
Rating: 4 stars / 5