The 80s didn’t produce many movies quite so distinctive as The Hitcher. A unique blend of action thriller and psychological horror movie with vaguely supernatural overtones, director Robert Harmon’s film sees hapless young driver Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) plunge headfirst into a nightmare after picking up psychotic hitch-hiker John Ryder (Rutger Hauer).
Here are some facts you might not have known about the movie that convinced a generation of viewers to never give a ride to a stranger on the highway at night.
10. It was inspired by a song by The Doors
The Hitcher’s screenwriter Eric Red was initially inspired to write the movie by the 1971 song Riders on the Storm, by legendary American rock band The Doors.
Red thought that “elements of the song, a killer on the road in a storm plus the cinematic feel of the music, would make a terrific opening for a film.”
9. The original version of the script was far more gruesome
The original version of Eric Red’s script, which he wrote whilst working as a taxi driver, was long enough to make a three-hour film. It was also more graphically violent than the version that would eventually be filmed by director Robert Harmon.
It was eventually decided that the film would work better with the nastier moments implied rather than directly shown on camera.
8. It could have pitted David Bowie against Tom Cruise
In Eric Red’s script, serial killer John Ryder was described as being ‘skeletal in nature,’ which led to a number of tall, thin actors being considered for the role, including Terence Stamp, Sam Shepard and Harry Dean Stanton, as well as the musicians David Bowie and Sting.
A number of young actors were discussed for the role of Jim Halsey before it was given to C. Thomas Howell, including Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez and Matthew Modine.
7. Rutger Hauer did most of his own stunt driving
Actor Rutger Hauer did most of his own stunt driving throughout the film, and if you’ve watched it we’re sure you’ll agree that is quite the achievement.
Apparently Hauer’s skills behind the wheel amazed the rest of the film’s cast and crew, and even impressed the real stunt drivers who had been hired to assist the production.
6. C. Thomas Howell was genuinely terrified of Rutger Hauer
Although he never admitted it to the late Dutch actor, Christopher Thomas Howell, who also played Tyler in the Steven Spielberg classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, was genuinely terrified of Rutger Hauer when he was shooting The Hitcher.
Howell has been quoted as saying that he found the experience “frightening [and] intimidating, almost as if he really was John Ryder and I really was Jim Halsey”.
5. Rutger Hauer injured himself performing the windshield stunt
Do you remember the scene at the end of the film when John Ryder smashes through Jim’s windshield as he slams on the breaks?
Well, Rutger Hauer performed the last part of that stunt himself, and one of his teeth was knocked out by the shotgun he was holding in his hands.
4. It was panned by critics but is now considered a cult classic
The Hitcher was completely panned by most of the critics who reviewed it at the time of its release, with Gene Siskel calling it “a nauseating thriller” and “a more gruesome ripoff of Steven Spielberg’s Duel.”
But despite the hate from many reviewers, The Hitcher has gone on to become something of a cult classic over the years.
3. A sequel was released 17 years later
Despite The Hitcher’s negative critical reception and lukewarm performance at the box office, where it made about $8 million from a budget of around $6 million, The Hitcher did spawn a sequel in in 2003, 17 years after the release of the original.
The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting saw C. Thomas Howell return to the role of Jim Halsey, but it did not see a theatrical release, with the film instead going direct to DVD.
2. It’s one of Christopher Nolan’s top ten favourite films
The Dark Knight and Inception director Christopher Nolan has revealed that The Hitcher is one of his top ten favourite films of all time.
Yes, The Hitcher sits alongside such all-time classics as Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner in Nolan’s top 10.
1. It was remade in 2007 with Sean Bean playing John Ryder
The Hitcher was remade in 2007, and saw Sean Bean fill Rutger Hauer’s boots as John Ryder, whilst Zachary Knighton took on the role of Jim Halsey. The remake was helmed by music video director Dave Meyers and produced by Transformers director Michael Bay’s own production company.
The Hitcher remake, like the 1986 film, was not popular with critics, with Empire Magazine giving their opinion that it was not as good as the original, and The Guardian newspaper advising ‘don’t even slow down for this one, certainly don’t tag along for the ride.’