Six Iconic Motorcycle Movies
Anybody who has ever been on a motorcycle knows that riding can often feel like a cinematic experience. There’s just something magical about riding a motorcycle that seems to transcend time and space.
When you’re on your bike barreling down an open road, it’s easy to feel like you’re the hero in your own personal action film! That very thought is sure to have crossed everyone’s mind at least once while out on a ride.
When you think about it like this, it’s really no wonder filmmakers have often tapped into the magic of motorcycles and attempted to bring that thrill to the big screen. Major motion pictures have been featuring motorcycles as storytelling devices since practically the beginning of movies. In fact, what many consider to be the first motorcycle movie ever debuted all the way back in 1905.
Since then, motorcycles have proven themselves timeless, and as such, they have been featured in major Hollywood movies countless times throughout the decades. Lucky for the rest of us, this has left motorcycle enthusiasts with a plethora of incredible motorcycle action to watch and admire on the big screen.
Being a big fan of both movies and motorcycles, we thought it would be fun to go over some of the best motorcycle movies of the past century. Although there are countless films to choose from, we’ve narrowed down our personal favorites to bring you six of the most iconic motorcycle movies ever made!
The Wild One
Though motorcycles have been featured in movies since the beginning of the 20th century, it was around the 1950s when the portrayal of motorcycles and their riders begins to shift dramatically. This shift may have begun with 1953s The Wild One. This can be considered one of the first true “biker” films.
The movie portrays a version of 50s motorcycle culture that had recently begun to emerge in popular culture. The emergence of “biker gangs” in the years following WWII had yet to be explored through film, making The Wild One truly one of the first of its kind.
Starring a young Marlon Brando as an outlaw biker, this film portrays motorcycles as a vehicle for the rebellious, anti-social outlaws of society. Brando famously rode his personal Triumph Thunderbird on the set of the film (though he later rode Harley-Davidson bikes).
This film is an iconic piece of Hollywood film, as well as a must-see movie for motorcycle enthusiasts across the generations.
Electra Glide in Blue
Described by director James William Guercio as a “contemporary Western where the cowboys ride motorcycles instead of Mustangs” Electra Glide in Blue is a thrilling cop drama set in rural Arizona.
The story’s protagonist, John Wintergreen, is a motorcycle highway patrol officer with aspirations of joining the homicide division as a detective. He finally gets his chance when a murder happens under his watch, and he becomes entangled in the case.
Throughout the course of the story, the main character finds himself disillusioned with both the counterculture hippies as well as his fellow lawmen who seem to lack Wintergreen’s strict moral standards.
Packed with a unique combination of action and grit that could have only come out of the 1970s, Electra Glide is a story about a man living by his own moral code no matter the consequences. The rigid morality and steadfast self-confidence of the main character are sure to resonate particularly strongly with motorcyclists.
A film that encapsulates the counterculture of the 1960s through the lens of two motorcycle riders on an epic journey. Starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, the movie follows two outlaws on the road following a successful cocaine deal in Los Angeles.
Looking forward to celebrating their recent success at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the film’s protagonists face both the perils and triumphs of an epic journey across the country. Of the “On The Road” genres of film, Easy Rider remains one of the absolute classics.
The film deftly uses the road trip genre to help portray social commentary on the state of the country at the time. Easy Rider captures the uneasiness that the U.S of the 1960s.
The juxtapositions of the counterculture rebels and the provincial populace of small-town America provide a glimpse into two sectors of American society, and the conflict that inherently exists between them.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this movie are the circumstances of the motorcycles that were used during filming. The circumstances surrounding the choppers used in the film are a bit of a mystery.
There are disputes over who was primarily responsible for the design of the famous “Captain America” chopper that Peter Fonda rides throughout the movie.
Of the four bikes that were created for the film, three were stolen and were never seen again after filming wrapped. The fourth bike was partially destroyed in one of the final scenes of the film, but was supposedly rebuilt decades later. Although there were some suspicions regarding the chopper’s authenticity, in 2014 it was sold at an auction for a cool 1.35 million dollars.
The Great Escape
Though it’s not exclusively a motorcycle movie, 1963s The Great Escape features one of the best motorcycle scenes in the history of cinema. Based on a true story, the film follows a group of allied prisoners as they plot their escape from a German prisoner of war camp.
In the pivotal scene, Steve McQueen rides a motorcycle through hails of gunfire in a desperate attempt to escape from the Nazis. It’s a breathtaking piece of film and one of the coolest motorcycle scenes ever shot on camera.
The movie is worth a watch for the story at large, but it’s the motorcycle scene that tends to, justifiably, stand out in many viewers’ minds. When it comes to badass movie scenes, it’s hard to beat riding a motorcycle through a hail of gunfire in an attempt to escape from a band of Nazis!
The World’s Fastest Indian
An autobiographical film detailing the journey of Burt Munro, the man who broke several land speed records in his customized 1920 Indian Motorcycle.
The film chronicles his journey from New Zealand to the U.S in the pursuit of testing his motorcycle’s abilities at Speed Week in the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah.
Faced with adversity and indifference at seemingly every turn, Burt keeps his good-natured positivity intact and overcomes the obstacles laid out before him. The story of Munro and his unique take on life and extraordinary skill set makes for some incredible viewing for anyone who has ever dreamed of speed (aka most motorcyclists).
The Long Way Round
Alright, technically this is a docu-series and not a movie. However, The Long Way Round earns a place on our list because it is one of the best motorcycle adventures ever captured on camera. Equal parts thrilling and captivating, this series is required viewing for anyone who has even a passing interest in travel and motorcycles.
The series follows actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman as they journey from London to New York, traveling east to west across much of Europe, Asia, and North America on a pair of motorcycles.
Accompanied by a small camera crew, the show features some of the most breathtaking places on the planet. From the splendor of modern European capitals to the sprawling steppes of central Mongolia to the never-ending skies of Montana. The series beautifully captures the wonder of travel and the deep desire for adventure that lurks within many of us.
Long Way Round is a compelling piece of work that is sure to awaken your inner wanderlust and inspire your next motorcycle trip!
Motorcycles and Film
Motorcycles and movies have been intertwined since the beginning. Here’s hoping our love of motorcycles and the lifestyle that goes along with them will continue to provide creative fodder for years to come.
Was your favorite motorcycle movie included in our list? If not, which one do you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below!