The Harley-Davidson brand has almost become synonymous with the word motorcycle. Harley-Davidson choppers have been making regular cameos in Hollywood movies for over half a century. In 1953, Marlon Brando starred as outlaw motorcycle gang leader Johnny Strabler in the film The Wild One. The movie was the first of many films to follow in what is now referred to as the outlaw biker genre. These movies, for better or worse, widely popularized the rebellious and reckless image associated with motorcycle riders still prevalent today. Whether you identify with this stereotype or not, the influence these films had and how they glorified the chopper scene is undeniable. Though Brando rides a Triumph Thunderbird, his co-star Lee Marvin is often seen riding his Harley-Davidson Hydra Glide.
After World War II, real life biker gangs began forming all over the west coast. These gangs were the inspiration for The Wild One. Arguably the most notorious of these gangs was the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. When Hunter S. Thompson's book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs was published in 1966, it brought the growing national exposure to real motorcycle gangs to a peak. This exposure reinvigorated the outlaw biker genre, which up until then had seen mostly cheap copycat films aimed at exploiting teenaged American wallets.
The release of Easy Rider in 1969 epitomized the motorcycle counterculture. The film featured custom-built choppers based on hardtail frames and panhead engines. Four former police choppers - modified Hydra-Glides - were used as the basis for the choppers. The Captain America bike is widely considered the most recognizable chopper ever created, and it continues to inspire generation after generation of chopper fans. Ironically, it would have been no "easy" ride to handle that bike. With extremely long forks, no front brake, and no rear suspension, the bike was definitely designed with aesthetics in mind.
Though no chopper would ever be as iconic as the Captain America chopper became, the Harley Davidson choppers continued to shine on the screen of many popular films. Here are a few we find noteworthy. This is by no means a list of the best motorcycle films, or even the best films to feature a motorcycle, nor the best motorcycle to be featured in a film (though we think that last one should be a category at the Academy Awards, that's another conversation).
Rocky Balboa may have never been able to defeat Mr. T if it weren't for his trusty red 1978 FLH Electra Glide in Rocky III. Though it appears red in the Christmas tree scene, he is seen riding around on a black and gold model the rest of the film. Perhaps details like this don't really matter when you consider Rocky should have been dead from head trauma about halfway through the first film.
Electra Glide in Blue, a 1973 film that stars Robert Blake as cop who patrols on his Harley Davidson Electra Glide. This one gets mentioned purely for having the model of a Harley in the title.
The 1989 movie Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, while failing both critically and financially, became a cult ic, especially among biker fans. This one stars Mickey
Rourke as a character actually named Harley Davidson. The other character is actually named, you guessed it, The Marlboro Man. Product placement, eat your heart out.
In Terminator 2: Judgement Day, actor turned politician turned actor Arnold Schwarzenegger makes arguably one of his coolest movie appearances ever. Although Schwarzenegger doesn't need much help looking cool, his 1990 Harley Davidson Fatboy is the perfect accessory to complement his shotgun, which spends most of the film pointing directly toward the sky as he cruises around in tinted sunglasses wreaking havoc on all who cross him.
Many of us will never forget Bruce Willis' ic line from the equally ic film Pulp Fiction, released in 1996. After saving his enemy from brutal torture, Willis steals a beautiful '86 Super Glide from the torturer. When his girlfriend later asks him whom the bike belongs to, he tells her it belongs to Zed. When she asks who Zed is, he simply replies "Zed's dead". Zed may be dead, but that FXR Super Glide is alive and purring.
Probably the most unbelievable use of a motorcycle in film history is Danny Trejo's portrayal of motorcycle gang leader Machete Cortez in the film Machete. He literally mounts a Minigun to the front of his bike and rides through exploding ramps destroying any one who opposes him. Check out this YouTube clip if you don't believe us.
Surely, Harley Davidson choppers will continue to make appearances in Hollywood films. The element of cool they can bring to a movie is just too valuable to be passed up by any director. Though other bikes come and go, the iconic look of an authentic Harley Davidson is just too cool.
To own a Harley-Davidson is to own a piece of American history. Whether you ride, build or collect Harley-Davidson cycles, Lowbrow is your source for Harley Davidson motorcycle parts. We offer custom Harley parts and a great selection of aftermarket Harley parts. Call us today at 1-800-935-5050 to talk to one of our Harley-Davidson specialists.