~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Motorcycle Movies You Should See

With the exception of The Great Escape, don't see any of the above
 Over on a motorcycle news site (which I won't link to because they don't link to me), I got into a bit of a comment section contestation  over motorcycle movies.   Not a big deal, no knives were pulled or bottles broken on the edge of the bar although as usual certain keyboard commandos were quick to attack me for questioning the apparent conclusions drawn by the author of the piece.  I am amazed at how quickly people are always willing to attack a person rather than their ideas but that seems to be the way of public discussion these days.

I decided the thing to do was to make my own list of motorcycle movies you should see if you have not seen them, and if you have seen them, suggest you see them again.  The list isn't long or definitive and and I've excluded some well known movies because merely having a motorcycle featured in some way doesn't mean it's a motorcycle movie.  They are not in any order of quality or greatness or social importance apart from the first two, no point in starting yet another flame war.

The Wild One

Although the movie seems corny to modern audiences, the dialog stilted, and the situations seem contrived, you have to put the movie in context.  There simply wasn't anything quite like it in the movie theaters of 1950 and it followed on the heels of a lurid, half-truth article in Life Magazine about a bunch of "straight-pipers" and the Hollister Riot.   The magazine and the movie reached millions of decent, upstanding 1950s folks and set the tone for how reactions and the image of motorcycle riders would be for decades to come.  Much of what we see in black leather jacket bike culture today grew out of a Look Magazine article and the movie The Wild One.  One of my favorite scenes:

 On Any Sunday

I am always surprised when motorcycle enthusiasts tell me they've never seen this movie.  On Any Sunday was made by Bruce Brown with the help of Steve McQueen and it's a look at how motorcycling, especially racing, was in 1970-71.  It's simple, direct, honest, and accurate.  I know, I was there.  Literally.   No movie before or since has ever done a better job of portraying the wider sport of motorcycling in a positive, balanced way; On Any Sunday makes you want to take up motorcycling as a hobby, not run from it.  To me it is the best motorcycle movie ever made.


Faster is about MotoGP racing, it's speed, complexity, rivalries, and danger.  The video quality is a bit lacking and it's very similar to "The Doctor, The Tornado, And The Kentucky Kid" and also Fastest.   All three are worth viewing and might get you started down the road of being a MotoGP fan as long as you stay away from the SpeedTV coverage of the races.   I still subscribe each year to the live MotoGP feed because the racing is so very much better than the butchered coverage SpeedTV shows.

 Hells Angels '69

It's a stupid movie but everyone should see at least one of the '60s biker flicks just for fun.  Some years ago a local station got in a rut and ran old biker flicks every Saturday night for weeks so I watched them all.  I picked this one to suggest -- "recommend" is too strong and implies quality -- but they are all equally awful. The actual fun part of watching these old films is looking at the bikes ridden, the variety of brands used by the bad guys and the good guys.   Some bikes are quite unusual.  In one film, the hero of the film, the guy running from the biker gang, was riding a Rickman Matisse enduro.  Nice!   Watch for standard characters in all this genre of movies like the biker chick with a heart, the religious character, and who will be the one to die.  One of each in every movie.  Also listen for the sound of motorcycle tires squealing on dirt roads, always a nice touch of authenticity.

One Week

One Week is a little known Canadian movie about a fellow who sets out on a trip across Canada much to the dismay of his family and fiancĂ©e.   The movie is a bit slow paced (hey, it's Canadian), a trifle odd, but intriguing.  No blood, no guts, no wild bar fights, hardly even any sex, but One Week is a movie that makes you think about what's important to you and what isn't and even challenges you to make a choice.  I've watched it twice on Netflix.


Wild Hogs

What? "Wild Hogs??"  Dumb movie.  Silly.  I only watched it because friends invited me over to see it and there was free pizza involved.  But if you look close and you know motorcycling and bike movie history you'll see that someone was paying attention when they made the movie, so there are little golden moments for the real bike enthusiast, like the one end when the legendary head of the biker gang shows up and gives advice to the Wild Hogs.  I confess I actually enjoyed the movie and I certainly had not expected to do so.

World's Fastest Indian

Based on the true life adventures of legendary land speed racer Burt Munro, the movie celebrates what is good about the spirit of motorcycling.   Munro truly is a legend in the land speed racing world, so much so that if you announce that you intend to break one of his records, now considered "sacred" by other racers, many say they will refuse to help you should you need help.   Also, find some pictures of the real Indian Munro rode to 190+ miles per hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Holy cow but he was nutz, what an accident waiting to happen!  Do this too: Buy the DVD for the movie and after you watch the movie, look in the menus for the director's original documentary about Munro.  It's better than the movie and you'll see how the dramatic movie is definitely from real life.  Good stuff!  Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays Munro in the movie, said once that of all his movie roles, the character of Burt Munro was his favorite.

 Dust To Glory

Dust to Glory covers the running of the 2003 Baja 1000 off road race and gives a look inside the world of two and four wheel off-road racing.   Seeing the then-and-now footage of guys like J.N. Roberts and Malcolm Smith is great fun (see them in OAS circa 1971).   Guys like Smith and Roberts were super fast when they were young and I'd be most of those old guys...the ones still with us...are now only really fast. 
My original 2005 review of Dust To Glory is here.

Any of the Duke Videos about the Isle of Man TT race

The Isle of Man TT race has been going on for over 100 years now.  It crazy dangerous, 37 miles of twisting public roads ridden absurdly fast.  The POV shots from the race bikes lapping at an average of 130+ mph are mesmerizing.  A few years ago 9 times World Champion Valentino Rossi visited the race and when asked if he'd want to compete he just laughed and pronounced it too dangerous.  Too dangerous for a man who regularly races at speeds up to 210 mph.  Duke Video does a fine job of covering the event each year.  Buy the latest edition, grab something to drink, and imagine yourself riding even half that well.

Then Came Bronson (TV movie)

Then Came Bronson was a TV series from 1969-70.  The pilot was a made-for-TV movie by the same title.  The story revolved around "Jim Bronson," a newspaper reporter who finds life is offering more questions than answers so he quits his job and sets off from San Francisco on his Harley Sportster to see America and sort things out.  The laconic character of Jim Bronson was played by Michael Parks and is based on the real life person of Birney Jarvis.    Birney Jarvis was a reporter, a Hells Angel, a blue water sailor, boxer, and general larger than life character.  The adventures of Jim Bronson were in keeping with Birney's life.   More importantly, Then Came Bronson was probably the first movie or TV series to portray motorcycling in a reasonable light and Bronson's wanderings and philosophical bent motivated lots of young men to see the Harley Sportster oe motorcycles in general as a ticket to freedom.

Now, friends, there are lots and lots of other motorcycle movies out there, some good, most lousy.  Goodness knows that biker movies are a dime a dozen and most are not worth even their share of the dime.  The common thread is bad acting and a music sound track intended to be radical but that often sounds like a garage band demo tape.  There are other motorcycle racing films out there, too.   On Any Sunday II is floating around but it's just crap, a pale imitation of it's namesake.   Most racing themed flicks seem clumsy with fake action scenes but can be fun because they are about motorcycles, more or less.

And there are dramatic films that more or less feature motorcycles but frankly, put me off.  I never saw Motorcycle Diaries because Che Guevara was a murderous thug who doesn't deserve to be remembered well in any sense, and I never saw Electra-Glide in Blue because, frankly, the movie just didn't appeal to me.  The poster shot of the dead cop sitting in the road might have something to do with that.   I saw Easy Rider when it came out several hundred years ago now, and have never understood the cult following of the movie.  Silly losers do drugs, ride around, and finally get shot. It's 60s philosophical pretentiousness with motorcycles added.  If you can watch Easy Rider for free I suppose it's worth the time but no more so than Chopper Chicks In Zombie Town could be.


The City Mouse in the Country said...

I'm looking forward to seeing "1 week" in that I like odd little movies.

A movie I wish had been made was for "Dream Rangers" (search YouTube). Sadly that's actually a commercial for a bank but should have been a real movie.

WooleyBugger said...

Dust to Glory and one Week are two I've never heard of or seen The rest, I have enjoyed many times and own a couple. I did like Wild Hogs in that it just a clean, fun movie with a lot of great bikes. Actually more realistic to most of todays riders.

Worlds fastest Indian is hands down the very best motorcycle movie ever made in my opinion. I have it on Disc, had it been on tape I'd have worn it out long ago.

Gary France said...

My christmas list just got a bit longer. Thanks for the suggestions Doug as I have seen many of these, but a couple I had not even heard of.

Trobairitz said...

One Week was a really great movie. Netflix has it streaming right now too as well as Faster.

I'm proud to say I have seen most of these although I still need to see two - The Wild One and Hells Angels '69.

So far I like your choices.

Canajun said...

Let me add my endorsement for One Week. I loved that movie - and not only because it had a Norton in it. Have seen most of the others but there are a couple I'll add to my must-watch list.

Dan Diego said...

Yes! Heck, yes! Great choices. Have seen almost all of those and will look for the others.

Good post.

My next motorcycle flick will be the one about the guy(s) who ride through the Himalayas.

Here's my list:


Drifter said...

Hey Doug, you missed a cult movie in the your list - "Easy Rider". I liked wild hogs too - fun movie. And the last dialog - "lose the watch" - was cool. Particularly when I think I was the only one in the theatre who got the context of the dialog :).

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