ABC Movie of the Week/Duel

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Airdate November 13, 1971
Writer(s) Richard Matheson
Director Steven Spielberg
Network ABC
Style 90-minute action mystery thriller drama
Company Universal TV
Origin USA

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Duel (1971) is a TV movie about an ordinary driver terrorized by a mysterious stalker in a big rig. It aired as part of the ABC Movie of the Week.

Along with Brian's Song and That Certain Summer, Duel is one of the three most famous self-contained (non-pilot) ABC Movies of the Week. This is due partly to its own merits and success—it is one of the highest-rated TV movies of the series; it was one of the first to receive multiple awards nominations; and it is one of the very few American TV movies ever to receive a general American theatrical release.

More importantly, however, it heralded the arrival of one of the most distinguished careers in film and television history. Although he had directed several episodes of such TV shows as Marcus Welby, M.D. and Night Gallery, as well as a segment of the Night Gallery TV pilot movie and a feature-length Columbo movie, this was the first standalone feature-length movie ever directed by Steven Spielberg. He would, of course, go on to become arguably the most successful film producer/director of all time, and certainly the most powerful and famous producer/director in the world from the late 1970s through the early 21st century. He has thrice broken the record for film box office grosses—Jaws in 1975, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982 and Jurassic Park in 1993. Although that most recent box office record has since been broken by Titanic, Spielberg's combined box office grosses (including such other films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Indiana Jones trilogy, Schindler's List, Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan and War of the Worlds) make him, far and away and without even a close second, the highest grossing director of all time. As he has also produced most of his own films since E.T. as well as such hits as Poltergeist, Gremlins, The Goonies, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Men in Black, he is also the highest grossing producer of all time. He is, along with Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, one of very few directors whose name is well-known worldwide and even amongst people who know very little about film and television. When, in 1997, AFI released its list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, Spielberg beat out Hitchcock, Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, David Lean, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, John Huston, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, William Wyler, George Stevens and Charles Chaplin as the director with the most entries on the list—five (Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. and Schindler's List) compared to his competitors' three or four apiece—and Spielberg is one of only three (along with Lean and Coppola) amongst those names to appear in the top 10, with Schindler's List ranked ninth. (It's important to note that this first AFI list was compiled before the release of Saving Private Ryan, which has since appeared on other AFI lists.) In television, Spielberg has been involved with many big budget hit TV series and miniseries of the 1990s and 2000s, ranging from family cartoons (Animaniacs) to war stories (Band of Brothers) to sci-fi (Taken) to westerns (Into the West).

Duel is more than just an important stepping stone in Spielberg's career, however. As the work of a director, it would also display many of the directorial trademarks—camera angles and cinematographical tricks—which would later appear in his theatrical film debut The Sugarland Express and in his career-making Jaws. In addition, actors and characters from the film would later appear in similar roles in such films as 1941 and Close Encounters. Duel is thus unquestionably a Steven Spielberg film, and the first to be able to make that claim. Lauded at the time as a landmark in TV movies in its own right, Duel is also historically important for having formally introduced to audiences one of the most significant names in the history of American cinema.

Cast: Dennis Weaver (David Mann), Eddie Firestone (Cafe Owner), Gene Dynarski (Man in Cafe), Tim Herbert (Gas Station Attendant), Charles Seel (Old Man), Alexander Lockwood (Old Man in Car), Amy Douglass (Old Woman in Car), Shirley O'Hara (Waitress), Lucille Benson (Lady at Snakerama), Cary Loftin (The Truck Driver), Dale Van Sickle (Car Driver)


Plot Overview


Behind the Scenes

Allusions and References


DVD Release

Awards and Accolades


(2 Nominations/1 Win)

  • Nominated: Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Entertainment Programming - For a Special or Feature Length Program Made for Television
Jack A. Marta
  • Won: Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing
Jerry Christian, James Troutman, Ronald LaVine, Sid Lubow, Richard Raderman, Dale Johnston, Sam Caylor, John Stacy & Jack Kirschner

Golden Globes

(1 Nomination)

  • Nominated: Best Movie Made for TV

Other Awards

  • Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Awards, USA
    • Nominated: Best DVD Classic Film Release (2004)
  • Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival, France