Top 7 Motorcycle Films Of All Time

by Karen Neill

Two Wheeled Inspiration

We know, we know, it’s a controversial subject, but, based on serious scientific research (by which we mean watching a few dozen DVDs and arguing about them over coffee!) here are what we think are the definitive seven films to feature a motorbike or two. The list spans several decades and we promise you that it does not feature Wild Hogs or Werewolves on Wheels at any point. So without further ado, coming in at number 7 is…

Mad Max (Australia, 1979)

Mad Max is the dystopian classic chase/revenge movie set in the Australian desert against the backdrop of a collapsing society that launched Mel Gibson’s career. It featured some badass Kawasaki Kz1000 motorbikes, modified to make them look suitably post-apocalyptic. All the chase scenes were real, filmed by stunt camera operators riding the bikes at speed. There are some cars in the movie too and the lead character played by Mel Gibson is a car driver, but the central role given to motorbikes in this dark epic with sparse dialogue means it edges it onto the list at number 7.

Electra Glide in Blue (USA 1973)

Set in the open desert roads of Arizona, this biker film classic, Electra Glide in Blue follows the story of John Wintergreen, a highway patrol policeman, and his partner who ride standard highway patrol issue Harley Davidson Electra Glides. Bored of life in the Highway patrol, Wintergreen aims to Join the Homicide department and sets off to investigate an apparent suicide that Wintergreen believes is a murder. The film takes many twists and turns along the way in the solving of the case and makes for some really good riding scenes. A Unique film that is very much of the early 1970s motorcycle culture, and well deserving of the number 6 spot on this list!

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (USA, 1991)

Directed by: James Cameron

Terminator 2 is one of the greatest action movies of all time, and arguably the pinnacle of Arnie’s career, it features him as an unstoppable time travelling killer cyborg riding around on a massive Harley Davidson with a shotgun and fighting an even more unstoppable time travelling killer cyborg who can shapeshift. It’s worth noting that even though Arnie’s character gets to have all the fun with the motorbike, his adversary is portrayed by the character actor Robert Patrick who is a real-life biker and whose recent credits include an appearance on the iconic biker TV series Sons of Anarchy. Since the motorbike featured is not the central focus of the film, despite its badassness it makes it as far as number 5 on our list.

The Place Beyond the Pines (USA, 2012)

Directed by: Derek Cianfrance

Arguably one of the best independent films of the last decade, The Place Beyond the Pines starts in 1997 and features Ryan Gosling as a motorcycle stunt rider in a travelling circus (apparently riding a Honda XR650L) who turns to robbing banks using his advanced riding skills. His life overlaps with a cop’s (portrayed by Bradley Cooper) and the knock-on effects of their interaction produce a lasting legacy. Despite its mesmerising storytelling and an engrossing plot, only one of the film’s main characters rides a motorcycle, so the number 4 slot it is.

Easy Rider (USA, 1969)

Directed by: Dennis Hopper

Produced by Peter Fonda, directed by Dennis Hopper, and starring them both, Easy Rider is a landmark counterculture film of the 1960s. It tracks the journey to Mardi Gras of two motorbike-riding hippies and explores their outsider relationship with society and the people they meet along the way. Much like riding a motorbike, the film is less about the destination and more about the journey. One of the most influential motorcycle films of all time it captures the sense of emptiness and alienation in Vietnam War-era America. It’s also worth noting that the lyrics of the Steppenwolf song Born to Be Wild featured on the film’s groundbreaking soundtrack use the words “heavy metal” for the first time in popular culture. A deserved top 3 spot on this list.

Akira (Japan, 1988)

Directed by: Katsuhiro Otomo

Widely considered one of the greatest animated and science fiction movies of all time, Akira is set in 2019 and follows several members of a bōsōzoku biker gang as some of them try to prevent and others cause a sort of psychic apocalypse. The motorcycles are styled in a way that in the 80s was considered futuristic and central to the film’s twisting and epic plot. The film went on to influence pretty much all of the anime produced since and has had an impact similar to Bladerunner on the science fiction genre. It inspired real-life motorbikes too, with Honda’s recent bizarrely cool futuristic looking half cruiser half goodness knows what NM4 Vultus owing its exotic appearance fairly directly to the bikes seen in Akira. With Akira at number 2, there can be only one motorcycle film that has been more iconic and influential and that is…

The Wild One (USA, 1953)

Directed by: László Benedek

The film started it all by creating the motorcycle film genre, which has had a huge influence on motorcycle culture over the last six decades. Starring a young Marlon Brando as a charismatic anti-hero called Johnny and Lee Marvin as his rival and an even more wild biker called Chino, the film gave rise to the legend of the outlaw biker and the alienated rebel without a cause (“What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” “Whaddaya got?”). Based on the events of the infamous 1947 Hollister Riot in California which was in its turn exaggerated by the news outlets of the time, the film no doubt inspired many thousands of rebellious young people to take up biking over the years. It also stands up as an important snapshot of history: Brando’s character rides a British motorbike, a Triumph, rather than an American one, and the film’s setting predates the advent of rock’n’roll music and the 1950s phenomenon of “the teenager” as a social class, making for an altogether colder and darker experience than the fun heady days of the late 50s and early 60s, almost echoing the seemingly pointless and frustrated rebellion of the bōsōzoku gangs of the dystopian Neo Tokyo future setting of Akira. Marlon Brando became a huge star and the film has been the main caretaker of the folklore of outlaw bikers for over sixty years.  It’s number 1 on this list, and if you only watch one motorcycle film in your life, it should be The Wild One.

Other Films to Consider

On Any Sunday (1971) an intimate look into the passion of motorcycling starring Steve McQueen.

The Worlds Fastest Indian (2005) is the story of Burt Munro and his unfaltering dream of breaking the world speed record and starring Anthony Hopkins.

Top Gun (1986) This film has become iconic for many reasons but for bikers it all boils down to one scene where Maverick is racing a fighter jet on his Kawasaki GPZ900R

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