Cine-Cycle: The 20 Best Motorcycle Movies

Aug 24, 2018

Category: Entertainment

Motorcycle books are usually slow, contemplative tales that follow a protagonist’s journey as he comes to some deep, ponderous realization about himself. Their cinematic cousin, the motorcycle film, is generally the polar opposite. Fast paced and thrilling, motorcycle movies are not about self-discovery, they’re about mayhem, chaos, action, and speed.

That’s not always the case, but since the early ’50s, people have come to think of motorcycle movies as wild tales for the vicarious thrill-seeker. They’ve become a genre unto themselves, and their existence has been important in the zeitgeist, no doubt. Yet, a variety of motorcycle movies exist beyond the lurid Hell’s Angels pulp fictions of the ’60s and ’70s. From documentaries to anime, motorcycles have played prominent roles in an extensive and eclectic filmography. Check out our list of the 20 Best Motorcycle Movies of all time.

Easy Rider

It’s not often that you can call a movie the film of its generation, but one could make that case about Easy Rider. The Dennis Hopper-directed film follows Peter Fonda and Hopper (Wyatt and Billy) as they traverse the American south, discovering the cruelty that society can show toward those who differ from their conventions. The film is one of the most important works of art to tackle the difficulties of the 1960s in the U.S. It’s also got some damn good music on its soundtrack.

Year: 1969
Length: 1h 35min
IMDB: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%

The Motorcycle Diaries

In 1952, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was a 23-year-old medical student. Together with his friend Alberto Granado, played by Rodrigo De la Serna, Ernesto “Che” Guevara set out on a voyage to see Latin America in its raw authenticity. Directed by Walter Salles, this beautiful film from 2004 depicts the journey the two men undertook on the back of a sputtering single cylinder 1939 Norton 500. Gael García Bernal turns in a marvelous performance as the budding revolutionary who experiences a profound revelation as he catches a glimpse of the vast inequality in his homeland.

Year: 2004
Length: 2h 6min
IMDB: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

The Wild One

In 1953, motorcycle culture was not known for the rawhide and leather aesthetic. The subculture was largely unheralded. Marlon Brando’s role in The Wild One changed all that. Without this legendary film, the motorcycle culture of not just the U.S., but the U.K. too, might never have become so popular. The film, directed by László Benedek, and its main character Johnny Strabler, played by Brando, spawned the rockabilly, leather-ed up, Hell’s Angels motorcycle culture that flourished for the next 50 years.

Year: 1953
Length: 1h 19min
IMDB: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

On Any Sunday

On Any Sunday was one of the first motorcycle documentaries ever created. Debuting in 1971, the film directed by Bruce Brown received much attention and received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It featured several motorcycle riding legends, including Mert Lawwill, Malcolm Smith, Paul Carruthers, and Steve McQueen who helped back the movie financially.

Year: 1971
Length: 1h 36min
IMDB: 7.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 84% (audience)

Why We Ride

What is it that drives a motorcycle rider? What makes the racer want to compete? What makes the ton-up boy want to push his speedometer to the absolute limit? Why We Ride is a documentary in pursuit of the “passion of the riders and the soul of their machines.” The film from 2013 is directed by Bryan H. Carroll. It’s goal? To discover and distill some part of why being on a motorcycle means so much, for some people.

Year: 2013
Length: 1h 29min
IMDB: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 74% (audience)

The Great Escape

One couldn’t make a list of the greatest motorcycle movies without involving the King of Cool, Steve McQueen. In fact, it becomes hard not to have the motorcyclist/actor (and not the other way around) dominate the list. The Great Escape is a solid pick to represent his impressive filmography. The classic film directed by John Sturgess follows McQueen and a group of POWs as they abscond from a purportedly ‘escape proof’ camp. It’s a great film and it’s also got one of the greatest chase scenes in movie history.

Year: 1963
Length: 2h 52min
IMDB: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

One Week

A motorcycle journey is inherently meditative. One Week hits upon the highly contemplative nature of the two-wheeled road trip, as it follows Ben Tyler (played by Joshua Jackson) as he rides from Toronto to Tofino, British Columbia, seeking out meaning in a life that has descended into chaos. Directed by Michael McGowan.

Year: 2008
Length: 1h 34min
IMDB: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%

The World’s Fastest Indian

This 2005 film based on a true story chronicles the life of Burt Munro, a legendary New Zealander who broke several land speed records on the back of his highly modified Indian Scout motorcycle. Directed by Roger Donaldson, the film stars Anthony Hopkins as Munro, who broke records for speed by motorcycles with less than 1,000cc engines at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in the 1950s and ’60s.

Year: 2005
Length: 2h 7min
IMDB: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%

Being Evel

Another record-breaker, Evel Knievel is an American icon — and not just because his jumpsuit resembled the emblem of the United States. When you look up the word “daredevil” in the dictionary, you’ll find Knievel’s picture. In this Daniel Junge-directed 2015 documentary, narrated by Jackass-star Johnny Knoxville, Knievel’s fascinating and at times unbelievable life is chronicled, from his humble beginnings in Butte, Montana, to his death defying stunts all over the world.

Year: 2015
Length: 1h 39min
IMDB: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

12 O’clock Boys

In the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland, another kind of motorcycle culture exists far-removed from the leather and bearded culture. The 2013 documentary, directed by Lofty Nathan, follows the urban dirt-bike riders in Baltimore who pop wheelies and roar throughout the city. The film focuses on why young boys gravitate to the 12 o’Clock Boys as a way to escape their troubles in a sometimes harsh environment.

Year: 2013
Length: 1h 16min
IMDB: 6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

Somewhere Else Tomorrow

Issa Breibish was tired of trying to save for the epic motorcycle journey he had always envisioned. Instead, he decided simply to go for it and live off the money he made along the way. The result is a peripatetic and beautiful documentary directed by Daniel Rintz that follows Issa as he tries to circumnavigate the globe on pennies. A compelling journey follows, and you get to be a passenger.

Year: 2014
Length: 1h 47min
IMDB: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

Riding Solo To The Top Of The World

Riding Solo To The Top Of The World is a documentary from 2006, directed by Gaurav Jani, about a journey toward self-actualization. It follows Jani as he rides from Mumbai, one of the most populous places in the world, to one of the remotest places, the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh. The incredibly arid, high-altitude landscape is the perfect place for self-discovery.

Year: 2006
Length: 1h 34min
IMDB: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

Akira

The legendary 1988 anime Akira might often be placed in the genre categories of sci-fi or anime. But at heart, it’s a biker movie. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the film follows the story of Shōtarō Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang in the distant future of 2019. After a motorcycle accident, Shōtarō’s friend Tetsuo acquires telekinetic abilities, setting in motion a conflict with the military regime in charge.

Year: 1988
Length: 2h 4min
IMDB: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%

Place Beyond The Pines

Place Beyond The Pines is a film of two halves. The first follows Handsome Luke (Ryan Gosling), a tatted-up biker who tries to do right when he finds out he has a son. He does that by hopping on back of his trusted motorcycle and robbing banks throughout town. The film ultimately goes off the rails — not in a bad way — and leads us on a fraught and twisted journey. Derek Cianfrance directed this darkly compelling story.

Year: 2012
Length: 7.3
IMDB: 2h 20min
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

TT3D: Closer to the Edge

Many consider The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy to be the greatest motorcycle race in all the world. For some, it is a passion, and for others, an obsession. From director Richard De Aragues comes a 3D investigation into why riders risk their lives for this race, which has seen some 147 fatalities in its 100+ years of existence.

Year: 2011
Length: 1h 44min
IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Long Way Round

In 2004, actors and friends Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman decided to take the journey from London to New York on the back of their BMW R1150GS through Europe and Asia. The journey spanned a total distance of 18,887 miles. On the back of their rugged all-terrain motorcycles, the two men rode through Western and Central Europe, Ukraine, Western Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, Canada, and more, encountering all sorts of wild adventures. The show ran on the BBC for one season.

Year: 2005
Length: 1 Season (6 h 40min)
IMDB: 8.7
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

Hitting The Apex

“Grand prix motorcycle racing is the process of turning fire into speed. The combustion of fuel and air in the engine and the fire in the heart of a rider willing to risk everything … to win.” So says narrator Brad Pitt at the outset of writer and director Mark Neale’s 2015 documentary Hitting The Apex, which follows the stories of six bold motorcycle racers as they venture into the wild and dangerous sport of motorcycle racing.

Year: 2015
Length: 2h 18min
IMDB: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 91% (audience)

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t exactly a motorcycle movie by genre. It features garish vehicles of all kinds, from cars to bikes to monstrous big-rigs. But the George Miller-directed blockbuster also boasts some of the wildest one-off motorcycle builds to ever make it onscreen, and for that it had to make our list. So many awesome custom builds (and terrible ones) have been inspired by this insane film.

Year: 2015
Length: 2h
IMDB: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

Roadside Prophets

This inane ’90s movie may not have the same clout as some of the other films on this list, but it’s a classic in its own right. Directed by Abbe Wool, the film follows Joe Moseley (played by John Doe) as he rides through the desert on the back of his vintage Harley in order to scatter the ashes of his coworker.

Year: 1992
Length: 1h 36min
IMDB: 6.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

A young member of a prominent family has been kidnapped, and disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) is hired to investigate. Together with the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander, Blomkvist uncovers more than he bargained for, and the result is thrilling. One of David Fincher’s best (which is saying a lot), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is unpredictable and mind-bending.

Year: 2011
Length: 2h 38min
IMDB: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

The 10 Best Motorcycle Books

Love motorcycles, but look for something slightly slower? Check out this list of the 10 Best Motorcycle Books and turn the page.

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