There have been some great motorcycle films made over the last 30 years. But every time one of them gets mentioned, it sends Scottie into a 20-minute conversation about the brilliance of David Essex in Silver Dream Racer. So I’m going to try one last time to convince him that perhaps there are other, better motorcycle films created since the days of Betamax.
So here are the greatest ever films featuring motorcycles in my own humble opinion. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments, especially if you have better suggestions which I’ve managed to miss and can add into the article. If you want to buy any of the films listed, just click on the titles which will take you to Amazon, and any purchases you make will then earn us a small affiliate percentage to go towards the costs of keeping the site running.
So, what are the world’s best motorcycle films of all time?
There have been plenty of documentaries about the Isle of Man TT over the years, for obvious reasons. And we should also probably mention the exploits of George Shuttleworth, played by George Formby in the 1935 film No Limit.
But although the heroics of Hailwood, Dunlop, Hislop et al will always live on, this 2011 film combines great cinematography and editing with a structure which means even non-motorcyclists start to take an interest in what happens to Guy Martin, Ian Hutchinson, John McGuinness, and the rest of the TT stars.
It’s not that the TT has got better, necessarily, but that the film makers, and availability of decent cameras and equipment have never made it look so good:
What Closer to the Edge did for the TT, Faster did for MotoGP almost a decade earlier. Back in 2003, this documentary looked back at the 2001 and 2002 seasons, with the young, dominant Italian Valentino Rossi in the middle of his classic rivalry with Max Biaggi. It was followed by ‘Fastest’ (the link above goes to a handy doublepack with both films), and ‘The Doctor, The Tornado and The Kentucky Kid‘, but this was the first film I knew which really communicated what was great about motorcycle racing to non-fans, and non-motorcyclists. See also the approach of the British Superbike focused I,Superbiker.
An obvious choice, but one that we had to make. Burt Munro was born in 1899, spent 20 years modifying his 1920 Indian Scout to start setting speed records in New Zealand, and went on to travel to Bonneville Salt Flats, setting records in 1962, 1966 and 1967. Not only did he set his last speed record at the age of 68, but most of the modifications he made and parts he used were built by himself.
Being a movie for general release, some details were changed and amalgamated from the real life of Munro, but nothing that detracts from the celebration of his achievements.
#2 Mondo Enduro:
Technically as much a series of episodes as much as a film, but technically also far more entertaining than The Long Way Round. And it’s for the simple reason that Mondo Enduro features 7 normal blokes riding knackered DR350s around, and filming with a new Hi8 and old Super8 camera, versus two relatively well-paid actors accompanied by an ever-present producer and sponsored support vehicles.
In the early 90′s, that meant jackets, jeans and battered lids, home-made panniers occasionally falling off, and the occasional rider being forced to drop out after running out of cash.
#1 On Any Sunday:
Yes, it’s a popular, somewhat legendary motorcycle documentary which meanders about a bit, particularly at the start. But firstly, Steve McQueen could actually ride a motorcycle extremely well (and part-funded the film). Plus it also featured great names such as Dave Aldana, and the off-road racing style which would eventually impact on road racing with the likes of Kenny Roberts. Or indeed the David Essex, Beau Bridges rivalry in Silver Dream Racer.
Honourable Mention: Torque:
Two slightly similar bike films arrived in 2003 and 2004. Biker Boyz was the first, focusing on a father and son in an African-American bike club. It’s not great, but it got blown into the weeds in 2004 by Torque.
There have been a number of terrible films featuring bikes over the years. Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man sticks out in my mind, partly because I’ve found avoiding Harleys to be easier than avoiding cigarettes. And Hell Ride manages to be atrocious on pretty much every level.
But somehow, Torque manages to veer between crap, and so crap it’s actually fun. If you can accept that absolutely no attention has been paid in any way to any of the physics or handling that a motorcycle has ever shown, and you tend to watch films more than slightly drunk, then it’s actually strangely enjoyable for a few odd moments.
And fortunately for all of us, someone on Youtube has put all of those moments together, so you don’t need to wade through the whole film.
More motorcycle films:
- Mad Max (from David on Facebook): Mel Gibson’s post apocalyptic cop takes on a biker gang
- The Motorcycle Diaries (from Alan in the comments): Che Guevara and friend on a Norton 500
- Little Fauss and Big Halsy (from Tony on Facebook)
- Psychomania (from Neil on Facebook)
- The Leather Boys (from Neil on Facebook): ’60s British bike action
- Easy Rider (from Malcolm on Facebook): Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper cruising America
- Stone (from Malcolm on Facebook)
- I bought a Vampire Motorcycle : Boone meets a Carry On horror film
- Dhoom: Indian bike action film which apparently kickstarted a craze for street racing.
- Stone Cold: Terrible action film starring former NFL player Brian Bosworth as a cop infiltrating a biker gang.