For some initial, subjective, thoughts… What makes a great motorcycle movie?
First and foremost, it’s the writing. A motorcycle movie can go from cool to camp if the script isn’t any good. There were a number of motorcycle gang movies made in the 1960s and each one is campier than the last, which is why none of them made this list.
Acting is another important element. Talented actors are what make a good movie great. 1977’s “Viva Knevel” could have been a great motorcycle movie, if it didn’t star Evil Knevel. Knevel’s acting was laughable at the best moments, but oftentimes so outrageously bad it was hard to stomach the scene.
Also, a great motorcycle movie has to have cool bikes. Who can forget Wyatt and Billy’s retro Harley Davidson Hydraglides? The motorcycles in a motorcycle film should be special, unique, or otherwise crave-worthy.
FYI– It’s unfortunate, but they don’t make the Hydraglide anymore – not since the 1950s. Many people have replicated the motorcycles from Easy Rider. This number of these done has made it possible to purchase a similar bike, but you’ll need to find a good source of motorcycles that are for sale by owner, as you can’t currently purchase a replica directly from Harley Davidson. American Listed is a good option here in Texas but you may need do your own homework depending on your area.
Finally, a great motorcycle movie has to be memorable. If it’s forgettable, it didn’t make this list. We sought to add recognizable titles that have been universally enjoyed since its initial box office success.
Although all movie lists are debatable, we believe the following 5 films truly stand-out and fit the criteria outline above.
1. “The Wild Angels” (1966)
Actor Peter Fonda plays “Heavenly Blues,” a motorcycle gang leader from Venice, California. In the film, Blues and his gang consorts party hard. This film went on to become the 16th highest grossing film of 1966. The first of its kind, Wild Angels set the tone for more progressive films, such as “The Trip” and “Easy Rider.”
2. “Easy Rider” (1969)
Easy Rider has its boring moments, but who can deny its impact? This film inspired multiple generations to climb on their motorcycles and hit the open road to experience America’s rough-and-tumble countryside in a whole new way. Written by Jack Nicholson and staring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, “Easy Rider” was an easy choice for our number two spot.
3. “Mad Max” (1979)
Futuristic motorcycles? Check! Mad Max made crotch-rockets look cool, and since its box office success it has inspired more than a few speed-demons to pick up their own Kawasaki K-1000 (the same bike that was used in the film). Overall, Mad Max has it all – incredibly stunning cinematography, quality acting, motorcycle stunts, and it’s one of the most memorable films on this list.
4. “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004)
Before he was “Che” Guevara, he was simply Ernesto, or Fuser to his friends. “The Motorcycle Diaries” is about the 8,000 km motorcycle trip taken by Guevara and Alberto Grandado. Its inspiring true events unfold as both men become brow-beaten and poverty-stricken by the journey, and yet they persevere, and the watershed journey helps shape the futures of both men.
5. “The Wild One” (1953)
Shot entirely in black and white, this classic film stars Marlon Brando. Brando plays Johnny Strabler, the deadly leader of a vicious motorcycle gang. This is the movie that launched Brando’s career and also spurned countless other movies with “rebel” types as the lead characters – see anything staring James Dean.