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The Hitcher

The Hitcher theatrical poster
Directed by Robert Harmon
Produced by David Bombyk
Kip Ohman
Written by Eric Red
Starring Rutger Hauer
C. Thomas Howell
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Jeffrey DeMunn
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography John Seale
Editing by Frank J. Urioste
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date(s) February 21, 1986
Running time 97 min.
Language English
Budget $6,000,000 US (est.)
Followed by The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting

The Hitcher is a 1986 horror / thriller film, directed by Robert Harmon and written by Eric Red. The film stars Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jeffrey DeMunn and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Billy Green Bush (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday), Gene Davis (10 to Midnight), Armin Shimerman (The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) and Emmy-winner Henry Darrow make cameo appearances as police officers. The score was composed by Mark Isham. The film was #34 on Bravo TV's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

In addition to scenes shot in the studio, filming locations include Amboy, California, Barstow, California, Death Valley National Park in California, Imperial County, California and Lake Mead in Nevada.

The film spawned a sequel in 2003, The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting, with C. Thomas Howell returning to the role of Jim Halsey. A remake was filmed and released on January 19, 2007; directed by Dave Meyers with Sean Bean playing the hitcher.



Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell), a young man delivering a car from Chicago to San Diego, spots a man hitchhiking and gives him a ride. The man, John Ryder (Rutger Hauer), is a brooding, soft spoken man; when Jim passes a stranded car, however, Ryder's personality suddenly shifts. Ryder calmly states that the reason the car is stranded is because he murdered and mutilated the driver, and he intends to do the same to Jim. Ryder produces a switchblade knife and taunts Jim for several moments before Jim realizes Ryder had never put on his seat belt and that the car door was left ajar, so he knocks him out of the car's passenger door.

Relieved, Jim continues on his journey but sees Ryder with a family on vacation. He tries to warn them but it is too late, the family is dead. There is an extended chase sequence; Ryder reveals he wants Jim to kill him, putting an end to his killing spree. Jim retreats to a roadside diner, where he meets a pretty young waitress named Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and calls the police. She then serves him a cheeseburger and french fries; he starts to relax. One of the fries is a severed finger; Jim tries to flee but he is arrested. Ryder had stolen his wallet and planted it on a murder victim. Jim is jailed. Ryder later infiltrates the jail, kills the cops and unlocks the cell. Jim steals a gun and flees.

He attempts to clear his name by hassling two other officers. This fails when Ryder kills them as well. Jim contemplates suicide but resolves to keep going. After another confrontation, Jim finds Nash at a Greyhound bus station. Vengeful cops show up to kill Jim. Nash decides to help Jim and assists in their escape. While the two flee, Ryder helps them by shooting down a police helicopter, as it is in the way of his objective to kill Jim.

Jim and Nash hide out in a roadside motel. Ryder finally catches up to them and kidnaps Nash, later tying her between two trucks. The police recruit Jim to try to save Nash, but it is unsuccessful, and Ryder causes her death. He is soon arrested, but the cops cannot find any information on Ryder. As Ryder is being transferred to another facillity, Jim cannot contain the urge to kill Ryder in revenge for the death of Nash and steals a weapon, a police car and goes after Ryder. It is fortunate that Jim tracks down Ryder, as he has murdered his police escort. A gun battle ensues between the two and Jim manages to kill him.


Actor Role
Rutger Hauer John Ryder "The Hitcher"
C. Thomas Howell Jim Halsey
Jennifer Jason Leigh Nash
Jeffrey DeMunn Captain Esteridge
John M. Jackson Sergeant Starr
Billy Green Bush Trooper Donner
Jack Thibeau Trooper Prestone
Armin Shimerman Interrogation Sergeant
Gene Davis Trooper Dodge
Jon Van Ness Trooper Hapscomb
Henry Darrow Trooper Hancock


A remake was filmed and released on January 19, 2007; the director (Dave Meyers) maintained the title character: Sean Bean plays the hitcher, John Ryder. The other two main characters, Grace and Jim, are played by Sophia Bush, and Zachary Knighton.

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