Iconic Motorcycles and Scooters in Movie History

Since the end of World War Two, motorcycles have been a part of American and world pop culture. Although no where as all intrusive as the car in culture, the motorcycle is still there.

The first iconic appearance of a motorcycle in a movie has to be from 1953’s “The Wild Ones” written by John Paxton and Frank Rooney, directed by Laslo Benedek and starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin as rival motorcycle gang leaders.  The film was based on a true story about two motorcycle gangs that terrorized a small town in California. The movie features a scowling Brando, as thug Johnny Strabler, riding his personal bike in the movie: A British 1952 Triumph Thunderbird 650cc.

The war picture “The Great Escape” from 1963 also has an iconic motorcycle. The movie was written by Paul Brickhill and James Clavell and directed by John Sturges with an all star cast including Steve McQueen. It is McQueen that is featured in the motorcycle parts of the movie.  McQueen plays Hilts “the Cooler king” an American flyer held prisoner by the Germans. He escapes from the prison camp and steals a German military motorcycle (actually a British 1963 TT Special 650 Triumph that was painted German Army gray).  In his last seen Hilts makes two jumps over two sets of barbed wire. Unfourtunely he is entangled in the wire and recaptured.

Perhaps the most famous two movie motorcycles of all time have to be from 1969’s “Easy Rider”. Written by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, who also starred in the film, and Terry Southern. Hopper also directed this rambling tale of two drug dealers that travel from Southern California to New Orleans. The film also featured performances by Jack Nicholson, and a then unknowns: Toni Basil and Karen Black.

The two bikes the stars rode were heavily customized 1950 and 1952 Harley Davidson Hydra-Glides. Actually four of the former police motors were bought at auction for $500 each and then customized by chopper builders Ben Hardy and Cliff Vaughns.  Two each of the bikes were done as virtual twins so that filming would not stop in case one or the other broke down.

1979’s “Quadrophenia” written by Dave Humphries and Martin Stellman, directed by Franc Roddam features a young Sting and Ray Winstone in speaking roles. It also famously has a 1963 Lambretta Scooter with the main character of the movie driving it off a cliff at the end.


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