Top 10 Motorcycle Chase Scenes In Movies

John Burns
by John Burns

Or, Top 5 James Bond Motorcycle Chase Scenes

The original plan was Top 10 James Bond Motorcycle Chase Scenes. Sadly, it seems like there are only about five or six good ones, which surprises me since James has been fleeing bad guys or in hot pursuit of them ever since Dr. No in 1962, in everything from submarine Lotuses to jetpacks to forklifts. One of the best things about old Bond films now is checking out the period vehicles. Why not begin, then, with Thunderball, from 1965.

WARNING: The scene from The Great Escape where Steve McQueen’s character flees the Nazis isn’t in here. It was too obvious and I’ve already seen it a hundred times…

Pre-Release Honorable Mention: The latest Mission: Impossible film, Rogue Nation, will be released this summer. Like many Tom Cruise movies, it looks like it will have some crazy motorcycle chases in it. Shame nobody can ever find a helmet anymore…

10. Thunderball – 1965

Innocently tooling along in his Aston-Martin DB5, Agent 007 is about to reach into its console of tricks to shake off the evil Dr. Somebodyorother, when a rider on a BSA Lightning mounting rocket launchers roars up from behind and spares him the ammo. The rider turns out to be the lovely Luciana Paluzzi, but Wikipedia says the actual rider was 1967 125cc GP Champion Bill Ivy, in a blonde wig. And that the scene was filmed at England’s Silverstone circuit. All properly British, including the title song by Tom Jones.

9. For Your Eyes Only – 1981

Speaking of Bond, James Bond, and serious riding talent, the character riding the Yamaha TT500 down the bobsled run has plenty, but seems to be asking himself if it’s going to be enough halfway down it judging from his body language. Veteran cameraman and professional skier Willy Bogner, Jr. designed the ski chase on the bobsled track of Cortina d’Ampezzo, where he rigged himself to the bobsled, skiing backwards and forwards with the camera. Not sure who the motorcyclists were, but Wiki says stuntman Paolo Rigon, one of the bobsledders, was killed when he became trapped under the sled on the final day of filming.

8. Cool As Ice – 1991

I’ll admit it’s not much of a chase and it’s even less of a movie, but the fashions from a simpler (minded) time and the hopping a GSX-R over a fence have this one firmly embedded in the Kim Kardashian-smooth surface of my cerebrum. Vanilla Ice has gone on to become a pretty good if not always aboveboard home remodelling guy. Kristin Minter, the girl who slugs him, seems to keep busy also.

7. First Blood – 1982

There’s a fortune to be made in Hollywood differentiating between two- and four-stroke motorcycle noises, or is there? Nobody seems to care. In this, the first of the Sylvester Stallone Rambo installments, our misunderstood hero is chased into the wilderness aboard a vintage Yamaha XT250 that sounds like a YZ, by Brian Dennehy in a police cruiser that’s decidedly second-hand by the time he’s done with it. This ain’t over man… (sorry, no embedding this one.)

Anyway, I guess it’s better for your thumper to sound like a Single than for it to sound like the wailing four-cylinders in these guys’ DRs in Black Rain. Then again, I am all for artistic license.

6. The Matrix Reloaded – 2003

Frankly most of the riding, on fake LA freeways, doesn’t look much different than our average commute, but a car hauler happening by with a load of new Ducatis at just the right time under a convenient overpass is too good to pass up. AMA Hall of Famer Debbie Evans won Best Overall Stunt by a Stuntwoman for her 2003 performance aboard the green 996 Ducati she chose out of the load on the transporter (why green?), Keanu Reeves would go on to launch his own motorcycle brand, and I knew Laurence Fishburne looked familiar when I met him at a BMW function a few years later. As for the plot, well ahhh, I have enough trouble with James Bond.

5. Mad Max – 1979

Who knew the futuristic 1979 hit from down under would become modern Southern California minus the open spaces? You really can’t pick out one particular chase scene, because practically the whole hour and 47 minutes is one big chase, as the previously unknown Mel Gibson seeks revenge upon the mobile band of nasty moto-miscreants who destroyed his happy home – mostly in his supercharged Ford XB Falcon GT Australian police car, but often on and in pursuit of various period Z1000 Kawasakis and other things, usually with cinematographer David Eggsby and a big old camera on the pillion. They really don’t make ’em like this anymore. The movie was so successful they were able to later hire Tina Turner to star in and sing the theme for Beyond the Thunderdome.

4. Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997

It’s already a pretty good chase with Pierce Brosnan as Bond and Michelle Yeoh on the ill-fated BMW R1200C, when Pierce deadpans “Let’s take the highway” and the action becomes elevated above the streets of Bangkok. In an otherwise forgettable Bond movie (the first one following the death of producer Cubby Broccoli), it’s a swell chase if for no other reason than Bond really is forced to “lay `er down” to escape the bad guys.

3. Never Say Never Again – 1983

After Diamonds are Forever, Sean Connery said he’d never play Bond again, but 12 years later he made this one at age 52, hence its title. Not the best Bond but one of the campiest. What can I say, I like the pre-CGI effects, when it’s just a man in a tuxedo, a fogged-up faceshield and sheer riding talent that outwits SPECTRE. The motorcycle morphs from a tricked-out Yamaha Seca Turbo to some sort of dirtbike for the big-air shots, and there’s a Renault R5 Turbo involved as well, which seemed pretty trick at the time…

2. Electra Glide In Blue – 1973

This film has it all: terrible “acting,” a worse soundtrack and Robert Blake. The chase scene looks like something my kid would’ve made in high school, which is to say it’s excellent, and the best part is that the leader of the motorcycle gang is our own Editorial Director Sean Alexander. Okay, Sean wasn’t even born in 1973, but it could’ve been him. This chase really does have it all, including a happy ending, as Sean winds up exactly where he would’ve wanted to.

1. Skyfall – 2012

Skyfall may be a late-model Bond film – released 50 years after the original Dr. No – but the riding over the rooftops of Istanbul’s Sultanamet neighborhood, with the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque as background, is all real-live Robbie Maddison and CRF250R Honda. Which is nice, it almost takes us full-circle back to Bill Ivy and his BSA. Okay, get back to work.

Maddison’s done some other interesting motorcycle riding as well.

John Burns
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