Who doesn’t love a great movie? And who, among us fans of iron horses, as they are known in the parlance of our times, doesn’t especially enjoy a movie with some kick-ass motorcycle stunts in it? Alright, I see a raised hand at the back there … you, yeah you, get outta here then and go drive your Volvo or something. Ahem … now, getting back to motorcycle stunts in movies, there are the good, the bad and the ugly. Or, to simplify it even further, there are the awesome, and the ridiculous. And in today’s piece, we’re going to be looking at the latter.
The 80s and 90s were, well … interesting decades for film. The sombre, often intense and dark auteur films of the 70s, gave way (in the mainstream, at least) in the following decades to paint-by-numbers genre films. The reasons for this shift were numerous, but one of the causes of this shift (this de-volution, if you’re a film snob) was the advancement of special effects technology, which in the 80s and 90s jumped forward in a series of titanic leaps and bounds. Think, for example of the stop-motion animation in 1981’s Clash of the Titans (which is pretty damn awesome stop-motion, by the way), and compare it to the insane fluidity of Terminator 2’s T-1000, released just ten years later, or the dinosaurs in 1993’s Jurassic Park. Crazy huh?
Well, with this shift in special effects technology, going from the stone age to the space age in just a few short years, Hollywood soon figured out that a great way to get butts on movie seats (and dollars in movie execs’ pockets) was to wow the masses with increasingly crazy action sequences, over-the-top special effects and stunts that blasted way past the bounds of believability. This was particularly the case in action movies – and come on, just look at the 80s, for example; this was the decade that made Arnie a household name around the world!
Car chases have been big in action movies for many decades, but in the 80s and 90s, action movie directors were going all-out in their attempts to one-up each other in terms of who could pull off the most ridiculous stunts. And many of these stunts ended being just that: ridiculous. Just plain … ridiculous. And many of these utterly ridiculous stunts involved our good ol’ iron horses – and stuntmen who had to have had balls of titanium to pull off the kind of stuff that was needed to get these shots on film.
The thing is, though, when you’re writing your movie, and your sole aim in a scene is to simply out-ridiculous your competitors, things can get … well, stupid. Perhaps when you’re a multi-millionaire film exec and you dream up your scenes after smashing your face, Scarface-style, into a cake bowl of Colombian nose candy, you can’t see just how jaw-droppingly idiotic your feverish vision will end up looking when it’s finally played out on the silver screen. Perhaps you just never got a grasp on the basic laws of physics? Who knows? For whatever reason, the crazy motorcycle stunt scenes you’re about to see here were drawn up, looked at, green-lighted, and committed to film. And now, decades later, we can watch ‘em and laugh. Thanks, Pablo Escobar!
Cool As Ice
First up, let’s look at a movie that just oozes early 90s – and not in a good way. Put your shades on before you watch this scene, because the colors alone you’re about to see may induce fits, epileptic attacks or nausea. Or all three at once. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present … Cool As Ice, starring the one and only Vanilla Ice! Yeah, for those of you who only know about this one-hit-wonder’s Ice Ice Baby, that Queen-bassline-rip-off song catapulted the young white boy and his crazy hair to such stardom that he actually got his own movie. And in the movie, he rode a lumo yellow Suzuki GSXR1100L. In this scene, he somehow manages to get said 1100 – a big, heavy lump of a bike – to fly over a six-foot fence without a ramp. Yep, Vanilla Ice’s star-power was so extraordinary in 1991 that he could make motorcycles levitate. Check it out, yo … V-Ice and his homies are cruising along some country back road when dey peep a fly-lookin’ hoe rollin’ on a hoss. The Iceman wants some of that – and what’s the best way to a preppy-looking horse-riding chick’s heart? Why, to jump your 1100 superbike directly into her horse’s path and frighten the poor animal into throwing her to the ground. That’ll melt her heart, guaranteed!
So Vanilla Ice (riding helmetless, of course … what is it with squids and GSXRs?) cracks the throttle, rides off the road, down a dirt embankment straight at the wooden six-foot fence … and somehow, due to the time-space-warping powers of his neon orange jacket and buzz-art hairstyle, he actually bend the laws of physics. Instead of smashing straight into the fence and ending up in an ambulance or hearse (seriously kids, DO NOT try this stunt at home) as one would reasonably expect, his 550lb motorcycle grows metaphorical wings and magically flies over the fence.
We then get a shot of the bike flying – but if you pause it, you can see that it’s actually a dirt bike of some sort with a fairing, street wheels and fake twin exhausts slapped on – and then Vanilla Ice pulls off a perfect landing and swings the bike around in a stylish 180° slide. And then the hottie gets thrown from her horse and lands head first in the dirt. Smooth move, Romeo. Anyway, don’t just take my word for it … here’s the scene in all its ridiculous glory:
Staying in the 90’s we move on to 1993, the year that gave every dinosaur-loving kid in the world the best gift ever: Jurassic Park. That years also, however, gave the world Hard Target, starring Jean Claude Van Damme and his amazing jheri-curl mullet. Directed by John Woo, this movie could easily be the poster for pretty much everything ridiculously over-the-top about 80s and 90s action movies. It’s just swimming in craziness, but the bike scene (one of them) just stands out for its insanity. In it, our mullet-wearing hero climbs up to stand on the seat and tank of his bike (looks like a Yamaha XT350, maybe?) and fire a pistol (with one of those special 80s/90s action movie 30 round clips) at the baddies – who are coming straight at him in an SUV, firing at him with a pistol and a submachine gun. Van Damme decides that the best way to deal with this threat is ride his bike at them, in some sort of bizarre kamikaze attack. Yeah, never mind that standing on your bike’s seat and tank and giving the guys who are trying to turn you to Swiss cheese as large and open a target area as possible to hit (yeah I know, we all know that evil henchmen in movies couldn’t bit a barn door at point blank range) – I mean, seriously, who thinks that riding your bike into a head-on collision is the best way to take out your enemies?
Jean Claude Van freakin’ Damme, that’s who. Okay, well, John Woo to be technically correct, but you get the drift. Needless to say, our greasy-haired hero’s banzai charge pays off. Not only does he successfully somersault over the SUV when his bike crashes head-on into it at speed, he manages to pop a cap into the vehicle’s gas tank, and, of course, this results in a TNT-like explosion with a titanic fireball that blows the car to smithereens. I mean, that is what happens when you shoot a car’s gas tank, right? Anyway, here you go, check out the craziness right here:
Since we’ve mentioned the 80s a few times already, we’d better throw in a ridiculous 80s bike scene. The movie in question is American Ninja of 1985, which you’ll find in any dictionary if you look up the entry for “stereotypical 80s B-movie”, and the stunt in question involves jumping a Kawasaki ZX750 (or maybe 900) over a twelve foot high wall. This is way less ridiculous than the jump in Cool As Ice, because it actually shows the bike using a ramp to make the jump (instead of doing it Vanilla Ice style and, you know, riding straight into the wall and then magically flying over it). However, like the jump in Cool As Ice you can plainly see that the bike making the jump is just a dirt bike with fairings slapped onto it – and you can tell that they only had the budget to so the jump once, and once only. The poor stuntman who actually made the jump (and again, it’s painfully obvious when you watch the scene that it’s a stuntman riding the bike, and not the lead actor) screwed up the landing in a huge way. His face smashes into the bike’s windshield, and he loses control of the bars – but they kept the near-disastrous shot in the movie because … well, they could either keep it or not have a jump scene at all. Considering some of the other ridiculous stuff that happens in the movie, this scene is pretty mild, but I guarantee that you’ll cringe hard when you see the stuntman’s head hit that windshield.
On to the early 00s now – yeah, the 00s, because a lot of that 80s and 90s ridiculousness trickled over into the next decade. The movie we’re about to look at is actually about bikers and bikes – and might be one of the worst motorcycle movies ever made: Torque (2004). There are plenty of straight-up brain-meltingly stupid scenes in this made-for-MTV-looking mess of a movie, but the one that takes the cake is the bike-fu fight scene near the end. Oh, interspliced with this scene, in which two hot biker girls fight each other using their bikes as weapons, are scenes with the lead, who looks suspiciously like a Mission Impossible-era Tom Cruise (trying to cash in, anyone?) riding a jet-powered bike at speeds of something like 300 miles an hour through the streets. And blowing people off their feet from the turbine forces of the exhaust. Oh, and check out the blatant and utterly shameless Mountain Dew™ and Pepsi™ ad placement while the girls are going at each other, replete with some sort of generic nu-metal soundtrack blaring in the background.
Okay, so while the two hot women are popping instant 90°-swivel wheelies to smash their bike’s noses into each other, and doing this weird sort of motorcycle jousting stuff under an overpass (followed by some medieval knight-style bashing of each other on motorcycle-back), the lead dude is blitzing through the streets in scenes that are so blatantly CGI that it’s beyond cringeworthy; it looks like you’re watching someone’s GTA IV playthrough on YouTube with the playback speed set to 10X or something. Oh, and our lead man also happens to be chasing the main bad guy, who’s riding a chopper that also seems to be capable of sustaining speeds of 300+ mph. Never mind that without wind protection our chopper-riding thug would likely have been blown off the bike long before getting close to the speeds he’s riding at, the director (who apparently did a lot of Back Street Boys and Britney Spears music videos before this…) then decides that it won’t stretch the bounds of believability at all to have these two dudes engage in a knight-style fistfight while travelling at 300-odd miles an hour through crowded city streets. Yeah, totally believable! Here it is … don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Mission Impossible II
And now, for our finale. The KING of ridiculous motorcycle movie stunts has to be the climax of the motorcycle chase scene in yet another John Woo movie, Mission Impossible II (2000). First, before I get onto the ridiculous aspects of this sequence, I will say that a lot of it is actually pretty damn awesome, and as an action scene it’s really fun to watch. There are a lot of really cool motorcycle stunts in the sequence that are done incredibly well, and are quite believable if unrealistic. I mean, that slow-mo shot of Tom Cruise riding his Triumph Speed Triple head on at the camera through a wall of flame just oozes cool (and probably resulted in a huge spike of Speed Triple sales in 2000). However, the cool bits are, unfortunately, overshadowed by the silly ones. The jump scene on the Speed Triple that precedes the riding-through-a-fireball one is just one of these; it’s painfully obvious that the motorcycle is defying the laws of physics, and is obviously “flying” on wires. There are a couple of really awesome moments during the motorcycle chase which really pushed the boundaries of motorcycle stunts at the time – I have to give credit where credit is due. However, the shots that worked well aren’t necessarily the ones you remember most vividly. The bloopers – like the fact that both the Speed Triple and the Triumph Daytona 955i – suddenly get off-road tires, which appear out of nowhere – really let the rest of the sequence down and kill the believability of the whole scene.
The worst of it, though, is the climax of the sequence. After Tom Cruise and the main bad dude have been chasing each other around a coastal area on bikes, they finally position themselves like two medieval knights in a joust, facing each other on their motorcycles. Then they decide to do what any motorcyclist would logically do in such a situation: they pin their throttles, tearing across the dirt straight at each other in a deadly game of … chicken? Nope, not chicken. Their intent, stupendously moronic as it seems to be, appears to be to jump off their bikes at 100mph into each other. Yep. Two men jumping off motorcycles at high speed into each other. You don’t have to have crashed a motorcycle into a stationary object, even at low speed, to know how bad the injuries from such a collision can be. Indeed, you barely even have to have a rudimentary grasp of the basic laws of physics to understand that flying into a solid object at speed is, well, pretty damaging to the human body. But in this scene, the makers of MI2 expect us to believe that not only can two men who collide with each other in mid-air, each travelling at around 60mph in opposing directions, survive such an impact – they can actually continue fighting after it. And hey, why not throw a fall off a cliff in there too, while we’re pissing all over the ashes of believability. Yep, their mid-air high-velocity chest bump is just the start of the epic ridiculousness of the scene. The bikes collide too, and (predictably) explode in a giant fireball. The two men fall to the bottom of a cliff (looks like it’s around twenty to twenty-feet in height) – and then, miraculously uninjured, kick the crap out of each other for the next five minutes. It’s just … well, go on, have a look for yourself:
So that’s it, that’s our list of some of the most ridiculous motorcycle stunts ever to make it to the silver screen. Have we forgotten any? What do you think of the silliness of the stunts we’ve listed? Add your thoughts to the comments below, and keep on bikin’.