The Hitcher (1986)
A roadside urban legend; the kind of naggingly violent myth that haunts your dreams as you roll past eager thumbs on the side of highways. Just as Duel endowed big rigs with a sense of menace, The Hitcher unsettled any remaining remnants of goodwill towards hitch-hikers. Directed by Robert Harmon, The Hitcher follows a young man named Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) as he is stalked across the highways of the West Texas desert by a murderous hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer). Like Duel, The Hitcher is an anxiety-dream of a movie; a work of art fuelled by the nagging “what-ifs” that plague the lizard brain of every motorist.
Available on Hoopla, Tubi, Pluto TV, Shout TV.
Obsession, bad luck, and poor driving skills: these are the threads that tie Duel to Rob Reiner’s 1990 Stephen King adaptation. When novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) gets caught in a blizzard on a windy Colorado road, he careens down a hill and falls unconscious. Luckily (well, in relative terms) for him, he is rescued by a nurse named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who transports Paul to her remote home. As Paul comes to, he learns that Annie just so happens to be his biggest fan. He lets Annie read his latest manuscript as a gesture of thanks.
But upon discovering that her favorite character dies, Annie flies into a rage, revealing to Paul that she has no intention of letting him leave without righting this heinous wrong. A tense game of cat and mouse between a tenacious everyman and a wily maniac, Misery and Duel are the perfect double bill for those with a taste for tension.
Available to stream on HBO Max, HBO Now, Max Go, DirecTV, Cinemax Amazon Channel, Spectrum On Demand.
The Fugitive (1993)
A key part of what makes Duel so terrifying is that David Mann is … just a guy. He’s no one special. He doesn’t have any day-saving skills at his disposal other than his gut instinct. Which is all that most of us would have if presented with similar circumstances. In The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harison Ford) may be a prominent vascular surgeon, but all his fancy medical knowledge leaves him high and dry when he’s wrongfully arrested for his wife’s murder. Playing everything by ear, Kimble is forced to evade the authorities and do their job for them, solving his wife’s murder while skirting death row. Full of sweaty, kinetic action, and a multi-pronged game of cat and mouse, The Fugitive is the 1990s B-movie through and through and perfectly pairs with Duel.
Available on Tubi.
If you (correctly) believe that the only thing missing from Duel was Kurt Russell asking where his wife is every three seconds, well buckle up because we have the big-rig adventure for you! In Breakdown, Russell stars as Jeff, a man making his way cross country with his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan). Shorty after Jeff exchanges words with a truck driver, their car breaks down in the desert. Amy hitches a ride to go get help, but never returns. What’s more, soon the locals start telling Jeff they never saw his wife in town. As the mystery deepens, Jeff falls down a sinister small-town rabbit hole and uncovers secrets that people would kill to protect.
Available on Paramount+ Amazon Channel, EPIX Amazon Channel, EPIX Roku Premium Channel.
Joy Ride (2001)
This is a rental rather than a streaming pick but we promise you it’s worth it. The 2001 thriller stars Paul Walker as Lewis, a college student on a road trip with his childhood friend Venna (Leelee Sobieski) and his older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn). When the brothers pull an uncouth prank on a random truck driver (voiced menacingly by Ted Levine), the three find themselves in way over their heads. The truck driver, known only by the code Rusty Nail, launches into an interstate game of cat and mouse with deadly consequences. With a chilling, anonymous villain, the dread of the open road, and a vintage car circa 1971, the Duel homages are bountiful. If you’re looking for a 2000s riff on the road rage formula, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one better than Joy Ride.
Available to rent.
There are many titles on this list that we would argue are thoughtful, prestigious pictures that also excel at delivering tension and excitement. Unhinged is a bit different. Featuring a sweaty Russell Crowe in a role that can only be described as John Goodman-esque, Unhinged certainly lives up to its name. The film follows Rachel, a single mom having a bad day who honks at the wrong stranger on the road. As it turns out, the man behind the wheel (Crowe) is deeply unstable, horrifyingly violent, and, now, completely unhinged. He sets his sights on Rachel and begins stalking her through the city streets, determined to have his revenge for the perceived slight. Barrelling at full speed through any sense of realism, the film is gleefully over the top and the exact type of bonkers, 80-minute action movie that we all crave sometimes.
Available on Amazon Prime Video.
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