Motorcycle Movies: History and Examples

Via:  buzz-of-the-orient  •  6 months ago  •  24 comments

By:   Christopher McKittrick

Motorcycle Movies: History and Examples

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Motorcycle Movies: History and Examples

From 'The Wild One' to 'Easy Rider'


 Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda riding their chopper motorcycles, with Jack Nicholson on the back of Fonda's motorcycle. Publicity still issued for the film 'Easy Rider' (1969).

Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

A motorcycle or biker movie is any film that centers on motorcyclists as the protagonists or antagonists in the narrative. Typically, motorcycle movies depict biker gangs and culture, and often feature criminal and violent content. Though motorcycles have appeared in movies throughout the history of cinema (including silent comedies like   Buster Keaton 's 1924's film   Sherlock Jr. ), films that focused on biker gangs and culture were a later development. Biker movies peaked in popularity in the 1960s when interest in motorcycle clubs like the Hells Angels grew during the counterculture movement. 

Did You Know?

The highest-grossing motorcycle movie of all time is the 2007 comedy Wild Hogs .

Origin of Motorcycle Movies

In the United States, public interest in outlaw motorcycle gangs grew out of sensational media coverage of a riot involving biker gangs over the July 4 holiday in Hollister, California, in 1947. The events of the riot made up the basis for the plot of Columbia Pictures' 1953 film The Wild One, which starred Marlon Brando as the leader of a motorcycle gang. Brando, coming off a series of acclaimed performances in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), and Julius Caesar (1953), won over audiences as the tough-talking biker who was personified by his answer to the question, "What are you rebelling against?"—"Whaddaya got?" The film was even banned in the UK until 1968 because of its depiction of gang violence. Despite the popularity of The Wild One, the genre did not take off until the mid 1960s, when motorcycle clubs like the Hells Angels received increased media coverage. Because motorcycle movies often depict the characters on a journey, biker films are frequently similar to road movies.

In addition to narrative films, motorcycle and biker culture has been depicted in documentaries such as On Any Sunday (1971). Biker culture has also been depicted on television on shows like Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014). They have also been parodied in comedies like Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) and Wild Hogs (2007) .

Top Motorcycle Movies

Though many biker films have been made throughout cinema history, the genre hit its peak in the 1960s. These are some of the top biker movies.

The Wild One (1953)


Marlon Brando in scene from The Wild One.   Bettman/Getty Images

Director László Benedek's   The Wild One   almost single-handedly created the entire outlaw motorcycle film genre, though it would take another dozen years before it would really take off. Marlon Brando stars as Johnny Strabler, a motorcycle gang leader, who battles with another biker gang led by Chino (Lee Marvin) with a small town stuck in the middle. The film introduced many moviegoers to the concept of outlaw motorcycle gangs

The Wild Angels (1966)


1966: American actors Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, and others in a still from the film 'The Wild Angels' directed by Roger Corman.   Photo by American International Pictures/American International Pictures/Getty Images

B-movie master   Roger Corman   both produced and directed this exploitation film about a chapter of Hells Angels led by Heavenly Blues (Peter Fonda) and his friend Loser (Bruce Dern). The film also stars Nancy Sinatra and Diane Ladd.   The Wild Angels , which included real-life bikers in bit parts, featured lawless, misogynistic, and violent bikers, and it was a box office success that inspired dozens of imitators. The Hells Angels even filed a lawsuit against Corman over how the club was depicted in the film and, according to Corman, also threatened to kill him.

Born Losers  (1967)


Elizabeth James in The Born Losers (1967).   American International Pictures (AIP)

In   Born Losers , Tom Laughlin stars as a loner who is mistakenly arrested while getting involved in a fight between a motorist and a member of the Born Losers Motorcycle Club. The film also features a storyline with actress/screenwriter Elizabeth James as a bikini-wearing "biker babe" and her path crossing with Laughlin's character. Laughlin co-produced the film to great box office success. Most importantly,   Born Losers   introduced Tom Laughlin's signature character Billy Jack, a half-Navajo Green Beret Vietnam veteran dedicated to social justice. Laughlin would portray the character in three sequels that increasingly focused more on political issues.

Hells Angels on Wheels  (1967)


Jack Nicholson in Hells Angels on Wheels (1967).   Fanfare Films

In one of the Hollywood icon's first starring roles, Jack Nicholson portrays a young man who is rides with the Hells Angels after a chance encounter and experiences first-hand the club's fights, parties, and acts of revenge. Famed real-life Hells Angel Sonny Barger appears in the film in a cameo role.

Easy Rider  (1969)


Dennis Hopper (L) and Peter Fonda riding bikes in a scene from the movie Easy Rider. June 30, 1969.   Bettman / Getty Images

In what has been considered the ultimate biker movie by fans and critics, director Dennis Hopper stars alongside Peter Fonda (who co-wrote the script with Hopper) as a pair of motorcyclists who encounter various aspects of counter-culture America while smuggling cocaine from Mexico to New Orleans. The independently-produced film was a huge box office success and has since come to symbolize both early independent filmmaking and motorcycling. The film's soundtrack features music by The Band, The Byrds, Steppenwolf, and Jimi Hendrix, and is considered by film fans one of the best movie soundtracks of all time.


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Buzz of the Orient
1  seeder  Buzz of the Orient    6 months ago

The seed mentions The Wild Hogs as being the biggest money-making movie motorcycle movie. I actually have the DVD.


Ray Liotta (Shoeless Joe in Field of Dreams) and Marisa Tomei are also in the movie, and there is a cameo part with Peter Fonda.

On TV I recently watched a 4 part series about the beginning of the Harley-Davidsons, called Harley and the Davidsons.

1.1  Tacos!  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1    6 months ago
the biggest money-making motorcycle movie

is Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I am forced to admit that I bought a HD Fat Boy because the one in that movie looked so damned cool. 

Paula Bartholomew
1.2  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1    6 months ago

Loved this movie.

2  Kavika     6 months ago

The 1949 Indian Chief. A bike that I had was exactly like this one and I sold it in 2000/01

Harley Davidson bikes...pttttt


Buzz of the Orient
2.1  seeder  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Kavika @2    6 months ago

In the TV series there was a lot of rivalry between the manufacturers of Indian and H-D bikes, but I have read that they were actually good friends and were often invited to each others' houses for dinner.

I never owned a motorcycle - a biker friend suggested I should buy a Ducatti.back in the early 70s.

3  JohnRussell    6 months ago

My interest in motorcycle movies is low, but I remember that Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello used to go at it with these guys


Paula Bartholomew
3.1  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  JohnRussell @3    6 months ago

I had a mad crush on Eric Von Zipper.

It Is ME
4  It Is ME    6 months ago

"Wild Hogs" was a riot !

Just your average guy trying to have fun.


5  zuksam    6 months ago

My favorite Motorcycle movie is "On any Sunday", it's a documentary by the same guys who filmed "Endless Summer". It's just a fun film to watch on a winter day when you can't go riding. It's available to watch free online.

6  cjcold    6 months ago

Rode with the Iron Horsemen at one point in my chronically misspent youth. Came to the conclusion that I wasn't an outlaw biker in my soul so rode lone wolf until taking the high side hard and gave up riding motorized two wheelers for good. 

Now ride a Trek mountain bike which is plenty fast and dangerous enough for me in my old age.

6.1  cjcold  replied to  cjcold @6    6 months ago

Don't forget your helmets kids. Drain bammage is a terrible thing to live with.

The People's Fish, Still "Hand Of The Queen"
8  The People's Fish, Still "Hand Of The Queen"    6 months ago

I don't really watch movies about motorcycles but I do ride a Harley. Damn that's a fat rear tire. It has short drag pipes on it so everyone for a mile knows where i am at. One of my neighbors claims they can hear it from in Church when I ride by on Sundays.


Dean Moriarty
8.1  Dean Moriarty  replied to  The People's Fish, Still "Hand Of The Queen" @8    6 months ago

I still ride a little too. 

Me on my Aprilia 1000 with loud racing pipes. 


But these days I spend a lot more time on my mountain bike. 


9  Kavika     6 months ago

The World's Fastest Indian.

Burt Monro set numerous land speed records on this Indian Scout. 

Indian Motorcycles honors Burt and the Indian Scout with this classic model.

Anthony Hopkins plays Burt in the hit movie, ''The World's Fastest Indian''.


Perrie Halpern R.A.
9.1  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Kavika @9    6 months ago

That was a great movie. 

Paula Bartholomew
9.2  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Kavika @9    6 months ago

I gained possession of a 8 foot tall Chief Pontiac Indian statue.  I got it home but had no idea how to get it out of the house and into the house.  I went to the local biker bar and announced that I would buy a drink for anyone who would help me offload an "Indian".   I got six volunteers who thought I was referring to a motorcycle.  The look on their faces when they saw what my  Indian was, they all cracked up but helped me anyway.

Paula Bartholomew
9.2.1  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @9.2    6 months ago

Make that out of the truck and into the house.

9.2.2  1stwarrior  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @9.2.1    6 months ago

Wuz wondering how you wuz gonna do that :-)

9.2.3  Kavika   replied to  Paula Bartholomew @9.2    6 months ago


10  Kavika     6 months ago

Tribute to Indian motorcycles by a real Indian, Arvel Bird. 

Dean Moriarty
10.1  Dean Moriarty  replied to  Kavika @10    6 months ago

Wow that's much better music than I was expecting. They rock out pretty good. 

10.1.1  Kavika   replied to  Dean Moriarty @10.1    6 months ago
Wow that's much better music than I was expecting. They rock out pretty good. 

Arvel is really good. A fun concert to attend as well. 

The People's Fish, Still "Hand Of The Queen"
10.1.2  The People's Fish, Still "Hand Of The Queen"  replied to  Kavika @10.1.1    6 months ago

Pretty cool but so is a koala on a quad bike.

11  1stwarrior    6 months ago

And, then there's the War Pony - 





2009 Harley Heritage Softail Classic.


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