Badass Motorcycle Rebels

Clarisse Loughrey

Come on. You can tell me the real reason you're excited to see The Place Beyond the Pines. You can try and tell your friends you're a huge fan of Sean Bobbitt's stark cinematography techniques or that you thought Blue Valentine was a poignant ode to the death of love, but really you just think Ryan Gosling looks super cool on that motorcycle. And we don't blame you, it's a solid fact that he does. Cool enough even to join the ranks of these famous motorcycle rebels. 

The Wild One (Laslo Benedek, 1953)  

We might as well start here, with the definitive icon of motorcycle rebels everywhere, the incomparable Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler in The Wild One. The leather jacket, the sideburns, the titled cap, the manly pout; often copied but never quite mastered. Elvis Presley borrowed the sideburns for Jailhouse Rock, James Dean idolised him enough to buy his brand of motorcycle, and I'm sure The Gos took a few tips from Strabler for The Place Beyond the Pines. Which is comforting considering I worried Shia LaBoeuf had killed the trend dead with his horrifying copycat look in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004)

Now here's a movie celebrating a real life motorcycle rebel: Gael Garcia Bernal plays the young Ernesto Guevara (you might know him better as Che), as he travels across South America. His journey reveals the continent's brutal social inequality and becomes the trigger for his transformation from rebellious youth to fully-fledged revolutionary. The motorcycle part of this rebel comes from the fact he rides around on a motorcycle. Obviously. 

Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1963)

Sure Kenneth Anger might not really be a fan of dialogue in his movies, but who cares when he tells his stories with a soundtrack as rad as Scorpio Rising. 'Blue Velvet', 'Hit the Road Jack', 'Leader of the Pack'; all perfect ways to narrate Anger's musings on motorcycle subculture, facism, and religion. You won't be surprised to learn this guy was a major influence on the careers of both David Lynch and John Waters. On a side note, I've learnt playing 'Blue Velvet' is the number one way of telling people that the party is over and you want them to leave. 

Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969)

What would this list be without our two favourite hippies Wyatt and Billy? A disgrace, that's what. 

The Loveless (Kathryn Bigelow, 1982)

This movie is a stand-out for two reasons: firstly it's the first feature length movie by Kathryn Bigelow (albeit with some help from Monty Montgomery, who went on to play The Cowboy in Mulholland Drive). Second it features Willem Dafoe in his first major role as drifter and motorcycle gang leader Vance. It's a stylish, campy ode to '50s biker flicks littered with lingering glances and ice-cool quips. "I'm a regular joe. I've got an itch between my legs, and an afternoon for a heart": I'm pretty sure it's physically impossible to say that sentence without sunglasses and greased-back hair. 

Cry-Baby (John Waters, 1990) 

Is it fair to say Johnny Depp was the Ryan Gosling of the '90s? It's hard not to fall for Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker's charm, especially in the moment he rides up on his motorcycle and manages to win over the good girl with his mastery of the single teardrop. Swoon-a-licious. While Cry-Baby might lack the glorious trash of Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble, it works as a perfect kind of 'John Waters-lite': for those days when your stomach's feeling a little too sensitive for Divine's antics. 

God Speed You! Black Emperor (Mitsuo Yanagimachi, 1976)  

Yes, this is where the band got their name. If you didn't know that fact before, now you have all the tools needed to be the coolest kid in town. The original God Speed You! Black Emperor is a Japanese New Wave documentary which follows the exploits of motorcycle gang The Black Emperors. Apparently the motorcycle club subculture became a huge deal in Japan during the '70s, where it was known as Bōsōzoku. It basically involved pimping the hell out of your ride, making a lot of noise, and speeeding around the streets of Japan being as reckless as possible. Why, look at all the facts we're learning. 

Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)   

Speaking of Japan, you'll probably be far more familiar with this movie, considering its monumental impact on both the anime industry within Japan and its popularisation beyond its shores. If you've not see it, Akira basically answers the question 'What's cooler than a guy on a motorcycle?' with 'A guy on a motorcycle with psychic powers'. It's also one of two movies in our list which see motorcycle rebels set into the future (can you guess the other one?)

Mad Max (George Miller, 1979)

Did you guess it right? Yup, our second film on this list to take place in the future is good old Mad Max. However, considering this film was set 'a few years from now' in 1979, I guess it's meant to have already taken place? Which means if you're having a bad day, you can at least take comfort in the fact that we all survived Mad Max times. Getting back to the bikes, this film featured a pretty badass bunch of villains. I mean, Jesus, their leader was called Toecutter. I wouldn't want to mess with that name itself, let alone the man attached to it. 

Quadrophenia (Franc Roddam, 1979)

OK, so technically we're dealing with a scooter here, but we couldn't exactly miss a shout-out to this rebelious mod and his Vespa? 

The Girl on a Motorcycle (Jack Cardiff, 1968)

There's so many trashy '60s exploitation movies about motorcycle rebels to choose from, it can kind of be exhausting. Plus, they all of course have insane names like She-Devils on Wheels and Angels from Hell. However, if you're to pick just one, it might as well be this. Because of Marianne Faithful. If there exists a plot beyond that leather catsuit, it's something to do with one woman's psychedelic motorcycle ride from her husband's bed to her lover's. In a leather catsuit. 

Beach Blanket Bingo (William Ashner, 1965)

To finish off with a twist, here's a classic slapstick parody of the motorcycle rebel, Harvey Lembeck's Eric Von Zipper. It's straight up The Wild One, that is, if Marlon Brando was also moonlighting as one of the Three Stooges. The man clicks his fingers at people more than he talks, and when does talk it's probably to call one of his gang "You stupid!". Von Zipper was a recurring character in the Beach Blanket series of movies otherwise known as 'The Most 60s Thing Ever Created'. It's a world where teenyboppers regularly go to the beach to do the twist in polka-dot bikinis, giant hair, and terrifyingly white smiles. Sure it's silly. But it's the best kind of silly.

Who are your favourite motorcycle rebels? Lets us know in the comments!

Follow Clarisse on Twitter: @clarisselou  

Unconventional by Tradition

Discover how urban creatives helped us design our new packaging.

Read more