When people mention the year in film for 1977, everyone stampedes towards Star Wars. There’s good reason for that, considering it was one of the biggest hits of all time and spawned careers, sequels, and an entire movie effects industry. However, a lot more happened in 1977 than just Luke Skywalker leaving his desert home on Tattooine.
Smokey and the Bandit was the fourth-highest grossing film of the year (after Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever, and of course the aforementioned battle against the Death Star). It raked in more than $126m at the box office and was even nominated for an Oscar (for Best Editing, losing again to that pesky George Lucas flick).
The 70s was a different time, and it wasn’t uncommon for a fun little comedy to take the top spot without being a massive release like we see today. The times were also different then because Coors beer, the MacGuffin for this picture, was not distributed east of Texas. The movie’s plot involves rich Texans Big Enos (Pat McCormick) and Little Enos (Paul Williams) offering to a trucker known as the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) $80,000 to drive from the Southern Classic in Atlanta to Texarkana, pick up 400 cases of Coors, and smuggle it back to Atlanta in a little over a day.
This got us thinking. Just in case we have a need for Coors and the grocery store is plum sold out, could we drive from Atlanta to Texarkana and back again in less than 28 hours?
The Answer: That’s a big 10–4!
First of all, the movie declares that it is 900 miles from Atlanta to Texarkana, making the run 1800 miles total, round-trip. However, a quick visit to Mapquest will tell you that the shortest route is 621 miles, making the entire trip only 1242 miles total. Let’s chalk this up to the same squishy movie geography that showed the von Trapps easily hiking from Salzburg to Switzerland.
Even if the Bandit and his pal Snowman (Jerry Reed) took the inexplicably long route of 900 miles, they would only need to maintain an average speed of just under 65 miles per hour to meet the deadline. Hell, even my mother could make that drive. (Incidentally, if they took the short Mapquest route, they’d need an average speed of less than 45 miles per hour, which would make for some extremely boring chase sequences.)
Of course, the Bandit had to factor in some time to buy a brand new Trans Am, drag Snowman out of bed, load all the beer onto Snowman’s truck, fill up the gas tank, grab a couple bites to eat at a choke-and-puke, and have a nice roll in the hay with Carrie (Sally Field) about half-way back from Atlanta. Still, even if all that took him four hours, the Bandit and Snowman would only have to drive 75 miles an hour on average to make it back to the Southern Classic to deliver the Coors. (Or drive a quite reasonable and comfortable 52 miles an hour going the shorter, real-world route.)
Considering Snowman claims his cruising speed would be about 90 miles per hour, and he was clocked at 96 miles per hour by a Georgia State Trooper at one point in the film, these guys would have made it with hours to spare.
But what about the final bet at the end of the film?
It seems ludicrous to question the validity of traveling math in a movie like Smokey and the Bandit. It’s just meant to be a whole truck-load of fun, isn’t it? However, there’s one piece of information that everyone seems to forget. At the end of the film, Big Enos and Little Enos bet the Bandit that he can’t run up to Boston and bring back some clam chowder in less than 18 hours for double or nothing.
To me, this is the more interesting challenge. The distance is never mentioned in the film (and considering the wormhole they drove through to make the 621-mile trip to Texarkana 900 miles, there’s a possibility something similar could be happening here). However, according to our trusty Mapquest calculations, Boston is a whopping 1077 miles from Atlanta. More over, Mapquest estimates that it would take more than 18 hours just to drive one way, and that’s not even taking into account the Boston traffic.
To make this 2154-mile drive, round-trip, the Bandit would have to average a blazing 120 miles per hour! Plus, he’d be driving in Big Enos’ Cadillac, and not his Trans Am he drove for much of the film (and that little sucker was only cruising at 110 miles per hour, according to one scene).
Not even the Bandit could pull that off.
So, beer runs to Texas for everyone, right?
Considering Texarkana was a dry city in 1977 and currently only allows alcohol sales in restaurants, I wouldn’t try to pick up any cases of Coors there. However, it’s an entirely doable trip. However, if you happen to cross a sumbitch Texas Sheriff looking to rope a young dancer into a shotgun wedding for his son, you might want to get leadfooted real quick.