Triplets of Belleville
A gorgeously animated account of the kidnap and subsequent search for a Tour de France cyclist, Triplets of Belleville (or Belleville Rendezvous as it was known in some countries) sees Champion, a serene man mountain of a cyclist nabbed by the French mafia for use in an illicit gambling ring. The only people who can save him are his elderly grandmother, their chubby dog, and the eponymous vaudeville troupe, The Triplets of Belleville. Surreal, beautiful, and as French as Le Tour itself, no Top 10 of cycling movies is complete without this Academy Award nominated gem.
I know what you’re thinking, a rom-com about the British Tennis Grand Slam in a list of cycling films? But hear me out – Wimbledon has, in James McAvoy’s character Carl, one of the most realistic interpretations of an everyday cycling fan ever committed to film. Introduced on his turbo-trainer, in a room adorned with posters of cyclists, Carl immediately climbs off his bike and lights a cigarette. He dons his full Mercatone Uno kit to head to the bookmakers, where he comes to a screeching halt, falling off his bike as he can’t unclip properly. Most people who grew up in grass roots cycling know someone like Carl, and that’s why this character is such a joy.
ET: The Extra Terrestrial
What’s better than a bicycle? A flying bicycle! With imagery so iconic it became the logo for director Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Entertainment, ET: The Extra Terrestrial sees Henry Thomas’s Elliot and his friends working to protect the titular alien from the FBI in a bike vs car chase that culminates with John Williams soaring theme, and the kids’ soaring bikes. The scene is as magical now as it was in 1982 and led me to buy my first BMX as a kid.
To go in search of the treasure that will save their small community, Mikey and his friends must first incapacitate older brother Brand. Naturally the strap him to his chair using exercise equipment, let the air out of his new tyres, and take off on their own bikes all to the strains of Cyndi Lauper’s Good Enough. The icing on the cake is the irate older brother giving chase on a little neighbour girl’s far too small bike. It’s a scene as anarchic and chaotic as the Goonies themselves and the bickering, overly wobbly cycling and excitement at the prospect of treasure hunting is enough to take anybody back to the joy of taking off on your bike with your friends as a kid.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
“Meet the future mode of transportation for this weary western world.” – While cowboys might be famed for their horse-riding, the bicycle kind of steals the show in one of the greatest Western genre films ever made. Paul Newman’s Butch has his interest piqued by the bicycle salesman who hijacks the Sheriff’s posse-gathering speech and, the next morning, takes Katherine Ross’s Etta for a spin on the handlebars of his new bike. The Burt Bacharach penned Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head only adds to the carefree scene that emphasises the humanity behind these almost legendary great American characters.
Breaking Away is an oft-forgotten coming of age comedy drama with a cast list including Dennis Quaid, Home Alone’s Daniel Stern in his movie debut, and the wide eyed Dennis Christopher as Dave, a 19 year old obsessed with Italian bike racing. Loosely based on the story of Dave Blase, a classmate of Oscar winning writer Steve Tesich, Breaking Away encapsulates the disillusionment, fear, but overall camaraderie that teenagers feel as they face young adulthood. And yes, spoiler alert, Dave Blase did win the Little 500 bike race featured in the movie, riding 139 or the 200 laps himself.
Another cycling based movie from the pen of Steve Tesich, American Flyers is a true sports drama, featuring two brothers fighting themselves and their past to win a bike race called the Hell of the West, a fictionalised version of the now defunct Coors Classic. Featuring Jim Ochowicz’s 7-Eleven Team and a cameo from Eddy Merckx, it was a rarity – a critically acclaimed drama movie based entirely around a bike race. American Flyers did for cycling what Rocky did for Boxing, or Any Given Sunday did for American Football, blurring the line between the adrenaline of live sport, and the drama of fiction. It also made a star out of Kevin Costner.
Bicycle Thieves was voted the Greatest Film of All Time by Sight and Sound in 1952, and, fifty years later it had only fallen to #6 in the list organised by the same magazine. A masterclass in Italian neorealism, the film features all the hallmarks of the genre – an impoverished working class family struggling to survive and the injustice and disparity they suffer simply trying to earn a living wage. It’s by no means a happy film, and it could be said that the bicycle in this instance is more symbolic – the optimism it provides and the subsequent hopelessness its theft, and society’s indifference, cause, may be metaphors but they are as real as any human emotions get.
Stars and Water Carriers
A feature length documentary from Danish poet and film maker Jørgen Leth, Stars and Water Carriers may not be as famous as Leth’s other acclaimed documentary A Sunday In Hell, but the meandering nostalgia of his earlier film should not be overlooked. Set during the 1973 Giro d’Italia, Stars and Water Carriers focuses on both the heroes and those behind the scenes at such an epic event, questioning how pro-cyclists can combine ambition and teamwork to achieve their ultimate goals.
Slaying the Badger
Perhaps the antithesis of the collaborative efforts lauded by Stars and Water Carriers, Slaying the Badger is the tale of what can happen when ego trumps teamwork. Focussing on the controversial 1986 Tour de France, and based on the late lamented Richard Moore’s book of the same name, Slaying the Badger covers Greg LeMond’s attempt to become the first non-European rider to win the Tour and his rivalry with team mate and former leader, the legend Bernard Hinault. It’s a fascinating deep dive into what happens when personalities clash and a team divides in the midst of a Grand Tour.