Motorcycles in films have been present since the silent film era involving iconic silent era stars such as Charlie Chaplin in Mabel at the Wheel (1914) and Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924). It wasn’t until the formation of a biker subculture and the popularization of outlaw biker clubs that films about such groups began to show up in popular cinema.
This was most notable with the Marlon Brando starring vehicle The Wild One, which was released in 1953. That film helped propel similar lower budget movies through the 1950’s.
Author Hunter S. Thompson published a book in 1966 that took an up close look at the Hell’s Angels entitled Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.
The book was successful and propelled Thompson into the national audience. It also resulted in a large number of exploitative biker pictures being released during the 1960’s and 1970’s; with some of them even venturing into campy, satirical, and the horror genres. Easy Rider (1969) was another monumental counterculture film that dealt with bikers, but focused more on social changes, the hippie lifestyle, and drug use.
While the biker films may have peaked during the 1970’s, there have still been many films involving bikers that have been made since then. This includes the 2008 Hell Ride, which was an attempt to create a grindhouse style biker film like it was from the 1960’s and 1970’s era. There has also been the highly popular FX television show Sons of Anarchy about a California motorcycle club that ran from 2008 through 2014.
This list contains a little bit of everything, with at least one film from every decade between 1960 and 1990 and one from America, Japan, England, and Australia. This list is a varied collection of cult films and trashy pictures; all ranging between being critically hailed, being exploitative and controversial, and being considered so bad that they are great.
[Author’s Note: This list is not meant to be an all inclusive list or a best of list; it is simply fifteen cult movies that may be worth your time.]
1. MotorPsycho! (1965)
“Cyclemaniacs assaulting and killing for thrills! Bike riding Hoodlums Flat-Out on their Murder cycles” . This is an early film from well director Russ Meyer, best known for his pictures that featured ultra sexy women.
This one came out before the more popular Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The story involves a motorcycle gang, led by a mentally disturbed Vietnam veteran that goes around raping and murdering people. A veterinarian and a Cajun woman team up to pursue the gang in order to seek out vengeance for their murdered loved ones.
This one is notable because it was really Meyer’s only attempt at a straight thriller, it introduced the world to the actress Haji, and it is a sort of precursor to Faster Pussycat. Haji would go on to star in Faster Pussycat and several more of Meyer’s movies, along with other exploitation films. Meyer liked the idea of the biker gang and would switch things up in his more popular Faster Pussycat, this time featuring three super vixens as the bikers that are involved in violence and murder.
This is a must see for fans of Meyer or any of his films.
2. The Wild Angels (1966)
“Their credo is violence…Their God is hate…and they call themselves The Wild Angels” . This is a Roger Corman produced and directed film about a branch of the Hell’s Angels that head out to Mecca, California in order to find a member’s stolen motorcycle.
The group is lead by Heavenly Blues (Peter Fonda) and his best friend is Loser (Bruce Dern), the man whose bike is missing. They believe that some Mexicans stoles his bike but the cops get involved and Loser steals a police motorcycle and is shot and arrested.
The gang breaks him out of the hospital, but he ends up dying from his injury and shock. They end up having a wild funeral party for the last thirty minutes of the movie. Along the way, there’s tons of racing, drugs, violence, and sexual assaults.
The concept for this was created after Corman saw a cover of a Life magazine that had a photo of a biker funeral . Multiple future directors and stars would be involved in this film; Chuck Griffith of Little Shop of Horrors wrote the screenplay, Peter Bogdanovich was Corman’s Assistant, Monte Hellman edited the film, Richard Rush served as the properties manager, and Fonda, Dern, and Nancy Sinatra starred .
The motion picture was made on the cheap and was somewhat torn apart by the critics, but went on to shock “the major studios by pulling in more than $10 Million” .
It is notable for its cinema verite style, creating a documentary style and realistic look to the movie with excellent highway and scenic riding shots.
The epic and insane funeral scene party that takes over the last thirty minutes is not something that will easily be forgotten by someone that sees this picture; it features a swastika flag draped over the casket, lots of drugs and alcohol, Loser being taken out of the casket and sat up and having a joint put in his mouth, the priest getting knocked out and tossed in the casket, and Loser’s widow being gang raped by two of the bikers.
3. The Born Losers (1967)
“An innocent girl is first prize in the dirtiest game ever played! . This was the first of the Billie Jack films starring Tom Laughlin, who also produced and directed it.
Billie is a half breed Indian Green Beret veteran who encounters a nasty Hell’s Angels group in Monterey, California that have been raping young girls and terrorizing the local residents. The women are afraid to testify and Billie gets involved with helping one of the gang’s victims. Both are kidnapped and Billie escapes and is forced to return with his own brand of justice after the police are unwilling to assist.
This isn’t the best of the Billie Jack movies, but it’s the first and it features him taking on a biker gang. The second one titled Billie Jack is a far superior picture and its popularity resulted in AIP re-releasing Born Losers with ads that proclaimed that “THE ORIGINAL BILLY JACK IS BACK!” .
There would end up being four Billie Jack movies made and the first one would be AIP’s highest grossing film until the 1979 release of The Amityville Horror, grossing over $11.5 million in rentals . The whole series of motion pictures would go on to become “one of the most successful low-budget franchises of the 1970s and set the pattern for stories about returning veterans” .
4. Hell’s Angels on Wheels (1967)
“The shattering true story of the Hell’s Angels of Northern California! The violence…The hate…The way-out parties…Exactly as it happens!” . Jack Nicholson plays “Poet,” a gas station attendant that ends being invited to ride with a Hell’s Angels group led by Buddy (Adam Roarke).
Poet soon learns that everything isn’t taboo with this group, including murder. Things get even more complicated when a love triangle forms between the two and Buddy’s girlfriend, leading to a brutal confrontation that will only leave one of them alive.
This film was put together after the huge success of Wild Angels. They brought on Richard Rush to direct an almost four week shoot and to “crank out another $150,000 independent quickie” .
The cinematography was done by future famed cinematographer Laslo Kovacs, who would work on Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Ghostbusters, Mask, Say Anything, and 70 plus more movies. In this one, he created an “artsy travelogue…juxtaposed against slugfests…; unprovocative dance sequences that looked as if they’d been lifted from a laugh-in skit; and stagy fights reminiscent of the Sharks versus the Jets in West Side Story, complete with borrowed riffs from Leonard Bernstein’s orchestration .
This picture did great at the box office and it is also credited with the development of Nicholson’s “shit-eating grin” that has become somewhat iconic for the actor .
5. Hell’s Angels ‘69 (1969)
“This was the RUMBLE that ROCKED Las Vegas! For a wild, wicked weekend and the deadliest gamble ever dared!” . A pair of brother’s plans an Ocean’s 11 type heist of $600,000 from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas disguised as bikers and using the Hell’s Angels as a cover for the robbery. They get in good with a chapter of the Hell’s Angels and convince them to take a trip to Vegas, not knowing of the brother’s robbery scheme. Can they escape the Angels before they discover their plan?
The film is mostly notable because it featured actual members of the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angels. The president of the chapter, Ralph “Sonny” Barger, was able to broker a deal for the group to star in a movie due to the success of Thompson’s book on the Angels . He also negotiated a deal for them to act as security guards at a Rolling Stones concert outside of San Francisco where a fan was notoriously stabbed to death by an Angel member .
The motion picture is somewhat slow but is worth getting a glimpse into the world of a real biker gang and the culture of riding, partying, womanizing, and fighting that goes on.
6. Stray Cat Rock: Female Boss (1970)
This Japanese film follows a gang of female bikers and was popular enough to have five movies produced in the series and stars Meiko Kaji, who takes over the gang after their leader is killed. Kaji was a popular actress who is also known for the Lady Snowblood series and Female Convict Scorpion.
This came out during a time in which Nikkatsu studios was trying to compete with similar motion pictures being made by Toei Studio, so they tried to make them look more youth-oriented in order to attract a younger audience. The director stated that he “tried to infuse those movies with the culture of the time. I spent a lot of time visiting places where people hung out.
At the time, protest songs were popular, so I included them in the soundtrack. I remember, one day I noticed a big fuss near the west entrance of Shinjuku station. Activists were gathering and protesting against the US-Japanese Security Treaty. These people were like the hippies in the States. I found them interesting. Cinematic. I wanted my film to be this modern” .
Nikkatsu was the smaller studio, but became known for producing some of the “best looking, hippest, [and] most fashionable exploitation films in the…market” .
7. Pink Angels (1972)
“Catch the Pink Angels … if you can!” . The ultimate genre bending outlaw biker film, as we watch a group of transvestite bikers make their way to Los Angeles for a ladies drag cotillion ball. Along the way, they get in a food fight at an A&W restaurant, get pulled over by the cops, have a picnic with fine china, get hassled by another group of bikers and pretend to be straight.
This movie is one that could be considered weird, insulting, hilarious, and possibly factual all at the same time. The producer said they were attempting to make a motion picture cinema verite style, a documentary style film. And it does play off that way at times, trying to show how the characters would act in various situations. But it is rather hilarious and there are tons of funny moments and dialogue in this.
It includes a hitchhiker screaming “Jesus Christ, your all faggots,” one of the bikers telling a cop that “this is one all American red blooded faggot you can’t scare.” They all have “69” patches on their jackets. There is also a funny scene where one biker debates on which bathroom to choose, he ends up going into the men’s and then another biker comes out of the women’s bathroom.
Despite being light on plot it is amusing and the filmmaking is done rather well for a low budget picture, there are many good shots of them riding their bikes and various close ups. The ending is somewhat surprising and shocking compared to the rest of the movie, ending on a note similar to Easy Rider. In some ways it is the weird transvestite version of Easy Rider.