Forget green screen trickery, these crazy motorcycle stunts took a ride outside the studio lot.
By James Roberts
We all know it’s green screens and CGI these days, but some of Hollywood’s most iconic stunts have involved doing crazy things in real time.
Some of the most memorable movie stunts have involved the use of street bikes and dirt bikes, featuring everything from Harleys to Hondas, and proving that for some things you just need two-wheels and a healthy sense of (mis)adventure.
Here’s six of the best stunts featuring two-wheels to hit the silver screen.
1. Steve McQueen & Bud Ekins – The Great Escape (1963)
The horror and glory of The Second World War inspired countless movies. Some great, some terrible. The Great Escape has endured in the former category by mixing a true story of Allied POWs in Germany with plenty of swashbuckling derring-do.
The film’s iconic set piece features American airman Captain Virgil Hilts, played by Steve McQueen. Breaking free of his prison camp, he gets hold of a German Army BMW R75, which was actually a 650cc Triumph TR6 Trophy painted olive green.
Chased by hundreds of German soldiers Hilts heads for neutral Switzerland, and nails a breathtaking jump over a 12ft (3.65m) barbed wire fence before being outnumbered and forced to crash into the wires.
McQueen was a petrolhead and proven racer who performed many of the film’s bike sequences, however the actual stunt was performed about 150 miles (240km) from Swiss territory by pal, renowned racer and stunt rider extraordinaire, Bud Ekins, who made the jump with a bike that really wasn’t built for jumping!
2. Arnold Schwarzenegger & Peter Kent – Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Two bikes for one here folks. In the sequel to dystopian blockbuster The Terminator, Arnie Schwarzenegger famously says, “I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle,” before relieving a local biker of his threads and Harley.
He then sets about defying physics and propelling said 780lb Harley Davidson Fat Boy through the air and onto the drainage canals of Los Angeles whilst trying to save future world saviour John Connor, who is on a Honda XR100 scrambler and being hunted by an indestructible time-travelling shape-shifting android called T-1000 in a Freightliner truck. Confused? Good.
Even 25 years on, the scale and realism of this stunt sequence remains utterly captivating. The Harley jump earned stuntman Peter Kent a place in the Stuntman Hall of Fame and alone is arguably worth the reported $50,000-plus director James Cameron spent on stunts and effects. Maybe.
3. Daniel Craig & Robbie Maddison – Skyfall (2012)
The name’s Maddison. Robbie Maddison. He was the guy responsible for doubling up as James Bond in the awesome chase sequence that opens Skyfall. Bond is suited and booted (naturally) astride a Honda CRF250, chasing a mercenary through the back alleys and over the rooftops of Istanbul before ditching the bike and taking the train.
Even by the standards of previous Bond-based spectaculars, this relatively recent addition to the 007 stunts cannon is among the best, perhaps even more so because for once Bond doesn’t get his man.
4. Tom Cruise – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)
The Tom Cruise-led Mission: Impossible franchise is now amazingly five films deep and (rubs eyes in disbelief) 20-years-old. It’s also no stranger to motorbikes taking centre stage.
Cruise’s second outing as Ethan Hunt saw some ridiculous Triumph-based stuntage, but it was in 2015’s Rogue Nation that Cruise hit the hights of two-wheeled pyrotechnics.
Riding a BMW S1000, a helmetless Cruise engages in a multi-bike chase on the freeway and in the hills above Marrakech, with a flagrant disregard for other motorists. Knee down, looking cool – the sequence features slick edits of near misses and close ups of rev counters and gear changes making it a worthy highlight.
He’s come a long was from posing on his Kawasaki Ninja in Top Gun…
5. Tom Hardy & various – Mad Max: Road Fury (2015)
OK, so the original Mad Max from 1979 is a stone cold classic, but the recent multi-award winning Mad Max: Road Fury proved that even in a post-apocalyptic nightmare, two-wheeled antics still wow the crowds.
Stunt co-ordinator Guy Norris famously stepped away from the green screen, assembling an army of top-notch stunt riders in the Namibian desert to create one of the movie’s finest moments.
Max’s armoured War Rig truck is attacked by a biker gang, spectacularly leaping over the lumbering oil tanker left, right and centre, attempting to halt Max in his tracks in a hail of fire and explosions. It’s seat of the pants stuff.
“They had to ride a motorcycle, fly through the air, and throw a bomb at the same time, and then get ready to land,” Norris told Rolling Stone magazine. “That was a really cool sequence, and I hadn’t seen motorcycles used in that way before.”
In the time-bending world of the Matrix, there’s something reassuring, about seeing a Ducati leaping through the air and getting involved in a high-speed chase.
In this scene, stunt rider Debbie Evans takes on the role of cat suit-clad Trinity, who finds herself on a speeding flatbed truck laden with sportsbikes. Luckily, she’s accompanied by The Keymaker who (naturally) has a key to everything. They need to get to safety and with an eye for automotive style, she obviously chooses the limited edition dark green Ducati 996. Her companion has the key, and off they go, leaping from the speeding truck and engaging in a very stylish chase.
The slow-mo of the bike flying through the air is particularly majestic, and with all that stark, bleached out futuristic freeway as a setting, it certainly gets the heart racing and has aged surprisingly well.