No, but we think he would have if our motorcycle spark plugs had been around in 1969. Here at E3 Spark Plugs, we’re motorcycle enthusiasts and we love great films and great filmmakers. “Easy Rider” chronicled the story of two counter-culture bikers who set out on a personal odyssey from LA to New Orleans to see America on the ultimate road trip-gone-wrong. With “Easy Rider”, Dennis Hopper (as director, co-writer and actor alongside Peter Fonda), changed the way films were made and helped usher in what is largely considered the “Second Golden Age of American Cinema.”
It certainly wasn’t the first motorcycle movie, and many have followed. But, this low-budget, dark horse of a motorcycle movie proved to be an unexpected blockbuster. “Easy Rider” helped rev up interest in America’s biking subculture and is considered a turning point in American filmmaking. Stuck in a financial and artistic depression, Hollywood had no idea what was in store for it when the 1970s dawned. With language, adult content, sexuality and violence restrictions loosened up, plus the swell of the anti-war counter culture and New Wave movements, filmmakers felt a new sense of freedom to experiment not only with film content, but with film production approaches as well.
Here, E3 Spark Plugs pays tribute to the late Hopper, who passed away May 29. Following are five more motorcycle movies we think you’ll want to see – including a few you might never have heard of. Some are worth seeing for their storylines, some for their acting, some for … well, we’re not sure why, except that we just can’t look away when we catch them on cable TV, even if it is 2pm on a Tuesday and there’s work to be done. Take a gander, leave a comment and let us know which is your favorite (or least favorite).
The Wild One (1952): Hollywood great Marlon Brando stars as the leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, a gang of bikers who gate-crash a legitimate motorcycle race and make off with a stolen trophy. While hiding out in small town, Johnny falls for the local sheriff’s daughter. That’s trouble enough, but more comes when a rival gang, the Beetles, rides into town.
Knightriders (1981): Many moviegoers and motorcycle enthusiasts weren’t quite sure what to make of this one, as it doesn’t exactly fit the motorcycle movie mold. Ed Harris stars as the losing-touch-with-reality leader of a traveling group of medieval fair performers who joust on motorcycles. Members begin to leave the group, seeking Hollywood fame or simply cracking under the pressure. This sends Harris’ character spiraling into a downward quest for redemption and reconnection. Stephen King, on set only because he was working with writer/director George Romero on 1982′s “Creepshow,” makes a cameo as a loudmouthed spectator.
Me and Will (1999): We can only describe this one as “Thelma & Louise” meets “Easy Rider” – almost literally. The two heroines, Will and Jane, burned out from the LA drug and club scene, bust out of rehab and set off on a Holy Grail-esque mission to find the Captain America motorcycle ridden by Peter Fonda in “Easy Riders.” Female bonding, battles with personal demons and clashes with characters they meet along the way ensue – all set against spectacular Montana scenery and a kickin’ soundtrack. As chick flicks often do, this one has a bittersweet ending that mixes victory and loss. And Traci Lords has a cameo as a waitress. Just sayin’.
The World’s Fastest Indian (2005): Based on a true story, this film stars Anthony Hopkins as Burt Monroe, a New Zealander who spends 25 years working to boost the speed of his motorcycle, a 1920 Indian, with the dream of taking for a thrill ride across the Bonneville Salt Flats. Come the early 1960s, Monroe is battling heart disease and facing his own mortality. So he does what any old timer with an unrequited dream would do – He mortgages his house, hops a boat to Los Angeles, buys an old clunker of a car with a makeshift trailer and, after fighting to get the Indian through customs, heads for Utah. With no brakes, no chute and no guarantee his old ticker will survive the drive, he can only hope the powers that be will actually let him on the flats.
Psychomania (1973): This one’s for the B horror flick junkies. A young biker makes a deal with the devil and, with help from his dear old, frog-worshipping occultist mum, dives to his death and leaps out of his grave, still astride his motorcycle. He quickly gets down to business recruiting new members for his band of zombie bikers dubbed the “Living Dead,” who willingly join via a fiendishly funny extreme sports suicide session. But as they say, the devil’s in the details, and this deal turns out to be not quite the one they expected.
So there you have it – E3 Spark Plugs’ list of motorcycle movies we hope you’ll see. It’s by no means a “top” list, but it’s got a nice range: an Old Hollywood classic, a chick flick, a true story, a zombie flick and a … well, we’re still not sure how to classify a film about Medieval-styled jousting bikers. Tells us what you think of our eclectic selection and send us your own suggestions. And be sure to send some groovy vibes Dennis’ way on your next Easy Ride.