By now, hopping on the bike and going for a long ride is hardly anything new to us. Yet for before we got into it, chances are, there was a TV show or movie that got us interested in riding in the first place. Movies are quite influential and have a way of inspiring us to try a new hobby, change something about our lives, or even inspire us to be better individuals.
And when it comes to making movies, motorcycle riding and the lifestyle that revolves around it also makes for a cinematic setting and interesting plot.
Chances are, you’re familiar with more recent movies, like the remake of Chips, Wild Hogs, and the very forgettable, Torque. Yet these newer movies were actually inspired by the classics that first brought the thrill and freedom of motorcycle riding to the public’s consciousness.
Today, we list the classics you should be watching which helped inspire these modern movies and set the bar for motorcycle movies to come.
This movie is one of the most iconic American counter-culture films ever made. It’s largely responsible for the public’s perception of bikers as criminal entities and a general bad influence.
Released in 1969, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper star as two drug-dealing bikers carrying cocaine through the American Southwest. They ride from L.A. to New Orleans through the open country and desert lands, and along the way they meet a man who changes their worldview in one way or another. The movie explores the prevalent issues of the 1960s and is an ideal time capsule for that period in history.
Watch it for an idea of why bikers are still largely perceived as hooligans and criminals today, but also to see their motivations for doing so. Besides the actors, the movie is also best known for its iconic choppers, often recreated by custom shops today as tribute bikes.
The Great Escape
No motorcycle movie list would be complete without The Great Escape. Though the star, Steve McQueen, is best known as an actor, he was already an accomplished rider and racer at the time.
Released in 1963, The Great Escape is set in World War II and follows the story of a group of World War II allied prisoners, and their attempts to escape a German camp. McQueen’s character is part of a large group of soldiers known for breaking out of prisons. As such, they are confined together in an ‘escape-proof’ prison camp, or so the German’s think it is.
Watch it for what was widely regarded as one of the greatest motorcycle stunts on film at the time. Spoiler alert, McQueen’s character jumps a high barbed wire fence with a motorcycle. The stunt was performed by Bud Ekins onboard a Triumph TR6 Trophy. The movie and the bike were so epic, Triumph created a modern Great Escape edition recently.
The Wild One
Many associate Marlon Brando with The Godfather these days, yet in his earlier days, he frequently played the rowdy rebel character. In fact, some claim this film is to be credited for making T-shirts (considered underwear at the time), worn by Brando in the film, fashionable.
The original outlaw biker film, released in 1953, this was said to have inspired Easy Rider. In the movie, two rival motorcycle gangs terrorize a small town after one of their leaders is thrown in jail. It’s inspired by the real life Hollister Riot that happened in 1947 in California. Because of its depiction of biker culture and violence, it was actually banned in the UK.
Watch it for the iconic 1950 Triumph Thunderbird ridden by Marlon Brando. It’s also the actor’s breakout role and led to his rise as a Hollywood icon. Triumph initially wanted to disassociate its brand from this film but has later on come to embrace it.
If you’re tired of all the period films, Akira is a refreshing change. This landmark anime movie, released in 1988, pioneered many modern animation techniques and stars the most iconic anime bike ever created.
Don’t be fooled by the animation. Akira is a very mature and gruesome film and is not recommended for minors. It’s set in Neo-Tokyo after another atomic bomb has devastated the city. Anarchy rules the streets and a member of a biker gang runs into an escapee of a secret military project while at war with another biker gang. He is promptly captured and slowly transforms into a psychic psychopath while his friends attempt to save him.
Watch it for Kaneda’s epic motorcycle and the beautifully animated motorcycle chase scenes. The fashion and brands featured in the film are very 80’s, yet the film still holds up as one of the definitive cyberpunk movies of the era.
World's Fastest Indian
Don’t let the name fool you, it’s about a record-setting Indian motorcycle, not Indian person. Released in 2005, it’s the story of New Zealander, Burt Munro, who spent years rebuilding a 1920 Indian motorcycle which set the land speed world record at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967.
It’s an inspiring story of going against the odds. The protagonist is a middle-aged man and the motorcycle he’s using is nearly 50-years old at the time. The main message of the film is that age is just a number and that newer and younger isn’t necessarily better.
Watch it for the vintage Indian Scout modified a streamliner to set a land speed record. It also gives a glimpse into the competitive world of land speed records. It’s not historically accurate, but it’s an inspiring story nonetheless.
Find them streaming online
This is just a short list of some of the essential classic motorcycle movies we think every rider should watch. Do you think we missed anything? Let us know in the comments.
We’ll be back soon with another feature about more modern motorcycle movies you should watch.