Standard method of explaining the acquisition of illegitimate goods, usually by Honest John or Major Opportunity Businesses. Used so much in Real Life and fiction alike that it has become completely synonymous with "I acquired it illegitimately." If you really intend to lie about something's origin, then you'll have to come up with another excuse. That is, unless your friends or spouse are dumb enough to fall for it.
A variant of the phrase came from cheap, white-boxed, generic computer parts found in computer stores before the majority of them went out of business to internet companies. These not-illegal, but probably cheap knockoff items were said to have "fallen off the back of a truck in China."
The origin of the phrase most probably lies with the practice of holding "salvage auctions" for goods that were damaged in transit (say, by actually falling off the back of a truck), where the damaged and possibly-damaged goods usually sold for a tiny fraction of their normal price. The people who bought such goods could then resell them at a larger fraction of their normal price and still make a profit. Of course, it didn't take long for unscrupulous operators to realize that one could push something off the back of the truck, or simply claim that it had fallen off the truck, and sell it the same way. From there it was an easy step to simply using the phrase to mean "acquired through questionable means".
open/close all folders
This is the explanation Switch gives for the origin of the video camera he gives to Bob in Knights of the Dinner Table. Bob actually believes it and comments that it is in excellent condition considering, not scratched or anything.
The video camera did have one scratch on it. Funny how it only damaged the serial number beyond legibility.
In the British comic Whizzer and Chips, the character Sweet Tooth was once offered some cheap sweets that had "fallen off the back of a lorry".
Sweet Tooth: You mean they're stolen?
Salesman: No, they fell off the back of a lorry. And the cars behind drove over them. That's why they're so cheap.
In Small Soldiers, Alan uses this trope on Joe, the Globotech delivery man, when begging him to let his dad's store have a set of Commando Elite action figures as well as a set of Gorgonite action figures (neither of which had been officially released yet, which could have lead to a lot of trouble for Joe if word got out about the new toys being there).
Alan: What, you're telling me that, in all the time you've run deliveries, nothing has ever just...fallen off the back of the truck?
Joe: Hey, I don't like your tone.
Joe:leans closer It's too loud.
Red Dawn 1984: A literal example, several boxes of food fall off the back of a Soviet supply truck as a convoy stops for a moment before driving off. Also a subversion: It's a trap. As soon as they take the bait, they're ambushed by Spetsnatz troopers and attack helicopters.
Married to the Mob references this. The main character is sick of her husband's organized crime connections, and says angrily, "Everything we own fell off the back of a truck!"
In The First Wives Club, Brenda's Sicilian uncle reveals that when her ex-husband opened his first store, the merchandise fell off the back of one of their trucks.
In Bedknobs and Broomsticks during the Portobello Road sequence, the main characters are offered something that "fell off the back of a lorry."
The Borribles: This classic juvenile novel played with this trope. Mentions of things falling off the backs of lorries would be followed by comments about how bumpy the roads are in London, or what a useful thing gravity is. Pretty much all the characters were professional thieves of one sort or other and were using the phrase with heavy irony.
America (The Book) claims that this type of good is a major benefit of supporting organized labor in its section on lobbyists.
In White Oleander, Rina's boyfriend Sergei offers Astrid a necklace that he found "lying in the street." She isn't fooled. But she has sex with him anyway.
In The Silver Crown, many of the objects in Otto's mother's house really did fall off the back of a truck, as there's a sharp turn nearby that often leads to trucks driving into a ditch. Of course, if someone wasn't covering up the warning sign, it probably wouldn't happen nearly as often...
In The Drew Carey Show, Lewis sells Mimi some experimental make-up from DrugCo saying, "Let's just say it fell off the back of a truck." When Mimi asks where he got it, he says "Like I said, it fell off the back of a truck!" implying that it really fell off the back of a truck.
Seinfeld: Jerry buys his father a $200 organizer, but claims he got it for $50, hinting that it may have come from this source. His father is proud that Jerry made such a smart move (which is why Jerry claimed it).
Used in The Sopranos when Tony gives his neighbor a box of expensive cigars.
In Dad's Army anything that Walker supplies. Although he rightly points out: "These things don't just fall off the back of a truck of their own accord, they've got to be pushed" when defending that his job is indeed difficult.
In Everybody Hates Chris, Chris is able to sell truckloads of cookies by falsely saying they "fell off the truck this morning".
On an episode of White Collar, a career criminal caught with a briefcase full of gold coins claims they "fell off a truck." Subverted to some extent because he clearly is being sarcastic and his next line is, "I want to talk to my lawyer."
Babylon 5: In the first episode, Commander Sinclair is handed a copy of every file Ambassador Delenn has concerning the Vorlons. While handing over the data card, Delenn smirks and says "Here is a copy of everything I have. It may be of use. If anyone asks, say 'it fell from the sky.'"
Black Scorpion: Darcy's corvette get's turned into the Black Scorpionmobile thanks to Argyle fitting it with all sorts of outlandish technology that he just happened to come by and had knowledge of how they function.
Taken Up to Eleven on The Young Ones, in which a truck carrying everything the boys might possibly have a use for just happens to back itself through their front windows, then be abandoned to their care by its driver. It's implied Mike had actually arranged for this to happen, making it this trope.
In Becker, Linda states that her boyfriend (who throughout the series has been stated to do illegal things) found a big bag of money after it fell off the back of a truck. Linda, not believing him, leaves him believe he stole it. It later turns out it did fall out of an armored truck, and after returning it got a thanks from the city.
On an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie and Dee find a set of speakers that literally fell off the back of a truck. Unknown to them, hidden inside the speakers was a package of cocaine belonging to some local mobsters.
Modern Family references this trope when Cameron objects to Mitchell lying their way out of a burdensome social engagement, but later begs him to take care of it. Mitchell's response is "You're like a mob wife. You complain about what I do, but have no problem wearing the fur that fell off the back of the truck!"
The Bucko and Champs song Here Comes Christmas Bob contains the line in the chorus:
Here comes Christmas Bob
Selling cheap prezzies in the pub
If you've got the cash, then you're in luck
Get a VCR off the back of a truck.
In Transformation stories, this is typically how the main character gets hold of the body-warping device.
During their stint on WCW, the bad boy tag team the Public Enemy would show up in WCW merchandise promos by saying, "You won't believe what fell off the truck this week!"
The Nameless Mod: Winquman, the PDX quartermaster, is told by his supplier that the PHAT Rifle he got fell off the back of a truck. The World Corp storyline reveals it DID come off the back of a truck — it was stolen from it.
Arona Daal from Startopia uses this line when selling you medical supplies in the second mission, claiming "it fell off the back of a [hospital] trolley."
The Mech Commander 2 manual (which is referred to in-universe as a "Tactical Data Display") was obtained by Sgt. Cash from his usual suppliers. Lt. Diaz tells you to say it "fell off the back of an armored personnel carrier" if anyone asks.
In World of Warcraft one Ethreal smuggler will sometimes try to sell passing players an item that he says fell off the back of a pack mule.
In Fallout 3 the DLC Operation: Anchorage includes this trope when successfully talking your way into a gauss rifle. The armorer actually says "if anyone asks, it fell off a truck."
In Second Empire, a webcomic starring the Daleks in one of their interminable internal wars, one of the characters notes the head scientist got excellent prices for some stuff that happened to "fall off the back of a cargo ship".
The Simpsons: This trope is zanily parodied, as is usual in the show. When Homer is asked how he acquired a truck, he answers, "It fell off a truck-truck." It is immediately used again in the same scene, where Bart drives a truck-truck and is asked where he got it. He answers, "It fell off a truck-truck... -truck." Maggie then drives onto the scene with a truck-truck-truck.
Class of 3000: "Where did you get that rocket?" "It fell off the back of a truck!"
The Fairly Oddparents: Timmy cannot tell anyone about Cosmo and Wanda, but he gets all this great stuff from them. So when people (like his parents or friends) ask him where he got XYZ, he responds, "Uh... Internet?" This is usually sufficient (only because Timmy's parents and friends are rather dim-witted.) Except at one point, when his father asks: "And where did you get the internet?" Later, trying to restore his parents' faith on him, Timmy brought a lie detector to prove he didn't steal the stuff he got from "Internet". It backfired when Timmy's Dad asked where Timmy got the lie detector.
Rugrats in Paris: Angelica's explanation for where she got Dill's new pacifier. She actually pulled it out of another baby's mouth.
A literal example is implied in Ed, Edd n Eddy, when the kids are all gaping at the Eds' newest scam, a prize grabber machine, and wondering where it came from (unaware as of yet that it was the Eds' creation.)
Jimmy: Did it fall out of a truck?
Sarah: That's how my brother was born!
In Futurama, the head of the robot mafia gives his girl a white fur coat, saying noting other than it just came from Burlington Coat Factory.