Bo Darville is known as The Bandit, a truck-driving legend from Atlanta, Georgia. A business man, Big Enos Burdette, and his child-sized but fully-grown son, Little Enos hire him to get 400 cases of Coors Beer and bring it back within 28 hours, something that's never been done before, for $80,000. His partner, Cledus Snow (known as the Snowman), initially objects because it's bootlegging, illegally transporting the beer east of Texas. Eventually Bandit talks Cledus into driving the truck, while the Bandit drives a new Pontiac Firebird Trans Am as a police blocker.
Along the way, they pick up Carrie (her last name is never mentioned in any of the films), a runaway bride, who was going to marry Junior Justice, son of the stubborn Sheriff Buford T. Justice of Texas. Bandit informs Carrie of their situation, giving her the handle Frog, and Justice pursues them, trying to capture the Bandit and bring Carrie back to marry Junior.
Eventually, Bandit has a whole lot of cops on his tail, and he needs to get away. He comes up to a broken bridge, and turns around. He then realizes he can't get past all these cops so he turns around again and uses the broken bridge to jump the river. They then return to the road.
Bandit then goes to the bus station. He drops off Carrie. She then realizes she doesn't want to leave him, and he doesn't want her to leave, so she joins them for more adventure on the road.
With only a few minutes left, Bandit is running from cops in cars and helicopters. Cledus helps him lose the cops, and they make it back to Atlanta just in time. Little Enos then lets them take his red Cadillac, but bets them double-or-nothing to bring back some clam chowder from Boston. Then, Buford shows up, finds the Bandit, and follows him away, forgetting Junior, who chases the car on foot.
- Burt Reynolds as Bandit
- Sally Field as Carrie/Frog
- Jerry Reed as Cledus/Snowman
- Mike Henry as Junior
- Paul Williams as Little Enos Burdette
- Pat McCormick as Big Enos Burdette
- Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice
- Alfie Wise as Patrolman - Traffic Jam
- George Reynolds as Branford
- Macon McCalman as Mr. B
- Linda McClure as Waynette
- Susie Ewing as Hot Pants (as Susan McIver)
- Laura Lizer Sommers as Little Beaver (as Laura Lizer)
- Michael Mann as Branford's Deputy
- Lamar Jackson as Sugar Bear
- Ronnie Gay as Georgia Trooper
- Quinnon Sheffield as Alabama Trooper
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
- Bruce Atkins as Man Little Enos pays off (uncredited)
- Warde Q. Butler as Sheriff (uncredited)
- Darin Chambers as State Police Tidwell (uncredited)
- Curtis Credel as Country (uncredited)
- David Donovan as Teen Car Thief (uncredited)
- Michael Goodrow as Teenager in Hot Rod (uncredited)
- Pat Hustis as Tow Truck Driver (uncredited)
- Ben Jones as Trucker with the redhead (uncredited)
- Ingeborg Kjeldsen as Foxy Lady (uncredited)
- Joe Klecko as Trucker (uncredited)
- Fred Lerner as Member of M.C. Gang (uncredited)
- Michael McManus as Trucker 'Silver Tongued Devil' (uncredited)
- Mel Pape as Nude 'Smokey' (uncredited)
- Bill Rampley as Policeman / Bodyguard (uncredited)
- Bill Saito as Truck Driver (uncredited)
- John Schneider as Cowboy Extra in Crowd Scene (uncredited)
- Sonny Shroyer as Motorcycle Cop (uncredited)
- Paul Sorensen as DOT Inspector (uncredited)
- Gene Witham as Leader of the Gang (uncredited)
- Hank Worden as Trucker (uncredited)
Hal Needham originally planned the film to be a low-budget B-movie, with Jerry Reed as the Bandit. When Burt Reynolds read the script and said he'd do the role, Jerry Reed was recast as the Snowman, with Reynolds as the Bandit.
The name Buford T. Justice was the name of a real Florida Highway Policeman, known to Burt Reynolds' father, who was also the inspiration of the word "sum'bitch," a contraction for the phrase "son of a bitch."
Jackie Gleason was given quite free rein over ab-libbing dialogue and giving suggestions. For example, there was one scene in a barbecue joint where Bandit was getting lunch for everyone. Justice, who had not yet seen the Bandit's face, walked in, the fact that Bandit was inside unknown to him. This was not in the original story, it was Gleason's idea.
Director Hal Needham was more known in Hollywood as a stuntman and had trouble getting studios to take him seriously. It wasn't until Burt Reynolds joined that people did take it serious.
Five black Trans Ams were used for the film. Also, they used three Kenworth W900A semi-trucks for the character of Cledus Snow.
The theme to Smokey and the Bandit, "East Bound and Down", was performed by Jerry Reed (a country singer/actor who played Cledus Snow). It was written by Reed and Dick Feller, and they both did most of the music in the film.
Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film a good 3 out of 4 rating. It was the second best film of the year, only beaten by Star Wars.