Total Recall: Bicycle Movies

With Premium Rush hitting theaters this week, we run down some noteworthy films featuring pedal-powered protagonists.

by Jeff Giles | Thursday, Aug. 23 2012

Bikes

Like the Pink Floyd song says, "I've got a bike/You can ride it if you like." With Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who was the subject of his very own Total Recall recently) pedaling like crazy for this weekend's Premium Rush, we decided now would be the perfect time to peer into the cinematic past and find some other pedal-powered films. It's probably no surprise that bicycles aren't exactly the greatest source of screenwriting inspiration, but that doesn't mean there haven't been a few noteworthy entries in the genre -- and besides, it's hard to complain when a list gives us the opportunity to write about Rad. Grab your helmet -- it's time for Total Recall!

American Flyers

63%

Six years after penning Breaking Away, screenwriter Steve Tesich returned to cinematic bicycling -- albeit with a slightly more action-centric bent -- with American Flyers. Directed by John Badham (then riding a WarGames-fueled hot streak) and starring Kevin Costner in one of his earliest major roles, Flyers traces the turmoil surrounding a pair of brothers (played by Costner and David Marshall Grant) as they begin training for a race across the Rockies under the shadow of potentially life-threatening illness. Though it didn't do much at the box office and most reviews were rather lukewarm, Flyers resonated with critics like About.com's Fred Topel, who called it a "classic '80s sports movie" and lauded its "surprising twist, and thrilling bike scenes."

Bicycle Thieves

98%

Long before Pee-Wee Herman dashed off across the country on a madcap search for his stolen bike, Vittorio De Seca used the theft of a bicycle to help tell a far more dramatic tale. Considered a classic of Italian neorealist cinema -- not to mention one of the best all-around films of all time -- 1948's Bicycle Thieves follows the grim struggles of a desperate family man (Lamberto Maggiorani) whose efforts to provide for his wife and children are dealt a severe blow when the bicycle he needs for work is stolen. As it wends its way to its brave, thoughtful conclusion, argues Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, Thieves "manages to appeal to the better angels of our nature in a way that only deepens as we grow older along with the film."

Beijing Bicycle

63%

Adapting the loose framework of The Bicycle Thief for a story about modern Communist China, Beijing Bicycle follows a rural Chinese teen (Cui Lin) on his journey to the city in search of work. It's a journey that becomes complicated when his bike is stolen, prompting a difficult search, some turnabout thievery, and the potentially violent complications that ensue. Part of a series of films from young Chinese directors highlighting the social issues affecting modern citizens, Beijing Bicycle gave viewers what Peter Howell of the Toronto Star described as "a picturesque morality tale that slyly depicts the hopelessness of communism while pointing up the essential similarities between people of all classes."

BMX Bandits

67%

The poster promised "a high flying ride to adventure," and while this family-friendly Australian action flick from director Brian Trenchard-Smith might not quite achieve flight, it manages to add a fun twist to the old kids-sticking-it-to-the-Man formula -- and it also boasts a (very) early screen appearance by Nicole Kidman, who stars here as one of a gang of young bikers who steal a box of walkie talkies without realizing they belong to a crew of bank robbers. Hijinks ensue, of course, including an extended chase that serves as a tourist brochure for various Sydney landmarks; it all adds up to an enduring cult classic that's earned the admiration of critics like Brian Orndorf, who applauded, "Just hand Trenchard-Smith explosives, an anamorphic lens, and a game cast, and he'll whip up something appealing, preferably with a saucy Aussie wink."

Breaking Away

94%

A sensitive evocation of small-town life, the awkward restlessness of life after high school, and class struggle -- not to mention a darn good biking movie -- Breaking Away offered a solid early career break for stars Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, and Jackie Earle Haley while racking up $20 million at the box office and earning a slew of awards (including the Golden Globe for Best Film and the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) along the way. Starring Christopher as a bicycle racing-obsessed Indiana teen (patterned after real-life rider Dave Blase) whose working-class roots put him and his blue-collar friends at odds with the wealthy college kids in town, Breaking culminated in a rousing dramatization of Indiana University's venerable Little 500 race. The action proved memorable, but for most critics, the movie's true value lay in what Richard Schickel called the film's "many moments of shrewd insight into the lives of amusingly shaded but very recognizable human beings."

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