The hotly anticipated Lance Armstrong biopic ‘The Program’ is due to hit cinemas on 16th October. It isn't the first time film has looked to cycling for its narrative, so we took a look back at some of the best cycling films from over the decades.
Breaking Away (1979)
As cycling grew ever more popular in the US, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood made a major picture on the sport. Enter Breaking Away — director Peter Yates’ coming-of-age tale about a group of friends in Bloomington, Indiana.
Among their ranks is promising amateur cyclist and Italophile, Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher), who worships Italian cycling and renames the family dog Fellini (much to his father’s annoyance). Disparagingly referred to as ‘cutters’ by the lndiana University students, because of Bloomington’s stonecutting history, the friends have several hostile encounters with the snobbish students, culminating in a cycle showdown at the university’s Little 500 race — a real event that takes place on campus each year.
Breaking Away won an Academy Award for best original screenplay. The writer of the movie, Steve Tesich, went on to write another cycling fiction film, American Flyers (1985), which featured a moustachioed, pre-stardom Kevin Costner. It didn’t replicate the success of Breaking Away, but still has a place in the history of cycling films. Make sure you check out the classic 'wheelie scene'.
Watch the trailer for Breaking Away here.
Vive Le Tour (1962)
In 1962, French director, Louis Malle, made an 18-minute documentary of the Tour de France. This quick-cutting film is an intimate portrait of the sport and the rigours of the Tour, seen through the eyes of the everyday man. It also serves to highlight the difference in attitudes to sport nutrition between the 60s and today, with the support riders or ‘water carriers’ stopping at bars to gather red wine, champagne and beer for the rest of the team. Malle’s film is a short but important piece of cycling documentary history.
Watch the film on YouTube.
Belle Renedez-Vous (2003)
A deliriously demented vintage cabaret show by the triplets of Belleville sets the tone for this French animated picture (known as The Triplets of Belleville in some countries) by Sylvain Chomet. It’s the story of a young boy called Champion who lives a lonely life with his grandmother, Madame Souza, and only begins to realise his potential when he receives the gift of a bicycle.
The film is available on DVD and most streaming services.
The Flying Scotsman (2006)
In this 2006 British biopic, Jonny Lee Miller plays the Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree, who twice held the World Hour Record and was World Champion in the 4000m pursuit in 1993 and 1995. The film depicts Obree’s battle with the establishment — represented here by the fictional cycling body the World Cycling Federation (WCF) — to be able to use his innovative bike ‘Old Faithful’, made from washing machine parts.
The Flying Scotsman available on DVD and streaming services.
Premium Rush (2012)
Hollywood turned to New York’s cycle couriers for the basis of Premium Rush. The movie stars Joseph Gordan-Levitt of Batman, Inception and Lincoln fame. He plays a bicycle messenger who gets tangled up in a dodgy deal and dirty cops. It is as hammy as a butcher’s shop. There are skids, wheelies and plenty of reds lights being jumped. The plot is thin but it moves at joyous speed and contains plenty of bicycles, so we can’t be too picky.
Premium Rush is available on DVD and streaming services.
My Italian Secret (2014)
Gino Bartali was a famed Italian Tour de France champion (1938 and 1948) whose true heroism wasn’t recognized until after his death in 2000. During World War II, he hid a Jewish family in his cellar and used his bike training as a cover while he transported anti-Nazi messages to the Italian Resistance. He also risked his life to literally cycle Jewish refugees to safety in a secret-hatched wagon pulled behind his bicycle. This 2014 documentary tells his incredible story.
BMX Bandits (1983)
Two Australian expert BMX bikers and a friend (a teenage Nicole Kidman) become entangled with a group of murderous bank robbers. The robbers become furious when they discover that the kids sold the radios to purchase new bikes and equipment, and resort to any means to catch them.
Check out Nicole Kidman producing some series BMX skills in this clip on YouTube.
Sadly BMX Bandits is not available on DVD anymore but it is available on Netflix.
‘The Program’ had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, 10-20 September and is released in the UK on 16 October.