Our Six Motorcycle Movies Worth Watching
There weren’t a lot of criteria applied to these choices, in fact, a couple of them are just plain bad. But like anything in life, how good some things are is often defined by knowing what isn’t good.
Motorcycle movies have the virtue of a made-to-be filmed subject, motorcycles in motion, and for the most part, these flicks fit the bill.
Born to Ride
This is a “famous motorcycle movie” (but not necessarily a good one) featuring some stunts involving military Harleys and a love story which has John Stamos playing a motorcycle mechanic who falls in love with a Colonel’s daughter. Not ideal, but on the list for being notorious, Born to Ride is a sorry effort, but that’s part of what makes it the Plan Nine From Outer Space of motorcycle movies.
The script is pathetic, the dialog tips over into the unintentionally comedic, and the performances are, well, not entirely professional.
Electra Glide in Blue
From the ridiculous to the sublime, Electra Glide in Blue is everything Born to Ride is most certainly not. Robert Blake played a Harley Electra Glide-riding motorcycle cop, Big John Wintergreen, just back from Vietnam and looking to do some good in the world.
This darkly existential film from director James Guercio and cinematographer Conrad Hall is one of the best-looking movies ever made and the dirt bike versus cop bike chase scene is a breathtaking achievement in its own right.
Electra Glide in Blue gets it all right. Superb performances, beautiful cinematography and a coherent and interesting plot make this movie a forgotten gem.
Easy Rider is a given on this list. The 1969 classic launched the careers of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson. It’s the cool point of view, the “road movie” plot and Nicholson playing the foil to Fonda and Hopper’s quasi-hippy characters made sure that Easy Rider would enter the pantheon of great motorcycle movies and set the bar for what we want from them.
Girl on a Motorcycle
Girl on a Motorcycle stars Marianne Faithful, a woman so dissatisfied with her life that she leaves her husband to go back to her former flame, Alaine Delon.
Rebecca, the main character, played by Faithful, chucks her life of comfort and security with a boring teacher husband in search of freedom and excitement. That’s heady stuff in the year before Easy Rider made it a staple of motorcycle movie plotting. It’s a bit dated with its psychedelic and now-hackneyed camera work, but some of the riding scenes and the sight of the lovely Marianne Faithful in a skin-tight leather riding suit make it all worthwhile.
Never meant to be a “Hollywood Movie,” Roadside Prophets features the bass player from the LA punk band X, John Doe, playing Joe, a Harley-riding loner who kisses off his factory job and sets out to find Eldorado, Nevada where he plans to spread the ashes of his pal Dave.
Joe places his buddy Dave’s ashes in motorcycle gas tank, straps it on the back of his 50’s vintage bike and heads out to take care of his solemn duty. On the way, he meets up with Sam, played by Adam Horovitz of the rap band The Beastie Boys.
Guest appearances by Arlo Guthrie, 60’s hippy icon Timothy Leary, David Carradine and John Cusack make this movie a must-watch bit of entertainment.
Cusack steals the movie as an activist with an enormous appetite and a penchant for stuffing his face at restaurants and then beating the check…
The Wild One
Based loosely on the famous 1947 Hollister incident, the plot of this 1953 classic motorcycle flick revolves around a local townie girl (Mary Murphy) and the bad boy motorcycle gang leader (Marlon Brando) who wants her approval and love.
The Hollister riot went down during the Gypsy Tour motorcycle rally in Hollister, California, over the July 4 to July 6, 1947, weekend. The press at the time had a field day sensationalizing the event which reports said featured outlaw bikers “taking over the town,” and that provided the basic structure for The Wild One.
Originally, the rally was sponsored by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and attended by some 4,000 people there to race and trade parts.
Somewhere around 50 people were arrested for public intoxication, reckless driving, and disturbing the peace, and it was this event that launched the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club into the public consciousness.
This 1953 film about the incident which starred Marlon Brando was inspired by the event and based loosely on an article LIFE magazine. In what has since become an iconic photograph, a LIFE photographer staged picture featuring a drunk man resting on a motorcycle amidst a carpet of shattered beer bottles.
The Hollister event was also famous for spawning a moniker which is still used by outlaw motorcyclists today to describe their status. A representative of the AMA trying to put a good spin on a public relations disaster for the group and motorcycling in general, said: “the trouble was caused by the one percent deviant that tarnishes the public image of both motorcycles and motorcyclists.”
And there you have it…