Bikes on Film: Moments that Pedalled Their Way to Oscars Glory

In Cycling

It may have lost out to The Shape of Water in this year’s best film category at the Oscars, but the coming-of-age drama Call Me By Your Name certainly won the unofficial Proviz prize for most beautiful cycling scenes. The film tells the story of 17-year-old Elio Perlman at his family villa in Italy where he meets Oliver, a handsome doctoral student working for Elio’s father. The pair’s relationship plays out over the course of a summer and they’re forever popping on their bikes to head into town or the stunning Lombardy countryside. 

But, Call Me By Your Name isn’t the first Oscar-nominated film to feature key cycling scenes. To celebrate Oscar season, we chose six of our most favourite on-screen cycling moments.

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  1. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
  2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  3. The Wizard of Oz
  4. Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves)
  5. Breaking Away
  6. The Great Muppet Caper

E.T The Extra Terrestrial and one of the most famous bikes on screen

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

There was only ever going to be one winner. If you’re a child of the 80s, then you’ll know that no other film made kids want to get on their bikes quite like E.T. did. It wasn’t just the flying sequences, which technically still hold up well after more than 30 years, but the way in which the kids used their bikes during the famous chase scene that inspired an entire generation.

Iconic bike moment: it has to be the chase scene at the end of the movie as Elliot, his older brother and friends race their Kuwahara BMX bikes to get E.T. to his spaceship before the cops catch them. Watch closely and you’ll see that eight-year-old Elliott’s stunt double is a little bit bigger than him. Eight fully-grown BMX stunt riders were brought in for the scene, although none of them were credited at the end of the film.

E.T.  bicycles were a huge sales hit. Universal Studios signed an exclusive licensing agreement with the Osaka-based maker Kuwahara and the US distributor Everything Bicycles, owned by Howie Cohen. After the film was released Kuwahara mass-produced three type of E.T. bike and Cohen ended up taking orders for Elliott’s Model 3003 from more than 1,000 retailers, telling in an interview that: “I remember tears of happiness flowing down my cheeks. The excitement of inclusion of BMX bicycles in this movie was way beyond my expectation or imagination.”

Did you know? Team GB has E.T. to thank for Olympic gold medallist Chris Hoy. “I was watching E.T. when I was six years of age,” Hoy said in an interview with The Telegraph. “I’d never seen a BMX bike before and it was the scene at the end where they are getting chased by the police and they’re all hammering through the streets in their BMX bikes. And I just thought, ‘wow, I’d like to give that a go.’”

Oscar glory: nominated in nine categories, including best picture, best director. It won four, including, unsurprisingly, best visual effects.


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

A 1969 Western starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford might seem an unlikely contender for this list, but for the inclusion of three glorious minutes. It tells the story of real-life Wild West outlaws Robert LeRoy Parker, (known as Butch Cassidy) and his partner Harry Longabaugh, (the Sundance Kid), who go on the run after a series of train robberies.

Iconic bike moment: Paul Newman attempts to impress Katharine Ross with his new-fangled contraption – the bike. Newman did all his own tricks in this scene, except crashing into the fence, which was carried out by the film’s cinematographer Conrad L. Hall. The whole thing was supposed to have been done by a stunt double but apparently he couldn’t stay upright. Which seems pretty crucial in the stunt double stakes. Set in the 1890s Wild West, the bicycle is referred to on several occasions as ‘the future’, although later Newman throws it away declaring: ‘The future’s all yours, you lousy bicycle.’ The scene is also memorable for its soundtrack – the Burt Bachrach-penned Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, sung by B.J. Thomas.

Did you know? Newman’s co-star Robert Redford originally thought the choice of music ‘stupid’, telling an interviewer: “Suddenly there was a scene where the guy was singing Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head and it wasn't even raining. Well, how wrong was I?”

Oscar glory: nominated for seven Oscars. Won four, including best cinematography and original song for the tune Redford thought ‘stupid’.


The Wizard of Oz

Bikes on Film - Six Movies That Pedalled Their Way To Oscar GloryFlying monkeys? Check. Catchy tunes? Check. Good witch versus evil witch? Double check. We could go on. Widely regarded as one of the best movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz is one of only a handful to feature in UNESCO’s Memory of World Register, a collection of documents, manuscripts and audio-visual materials (among other things) that are considered of universal value. It was also lauded for its use of Technicolor, although temperatures on set were said to be sweltering, due to the intense lighting that was needed.

Iconic bike moment: granted, in a film with so many cultural references you might be hard pressed to remember the bike scene. But it’s there. Miss Almira Gulch is a local socialite (although socialites in the late 1930s are a lot scarier than today’s crew) who turns up at Dorothy’s house – on her bike – with an order from the sheriff allowing her to have Toto the dog put down for biting her. Toto is shoved in her bike basket to face his destiny, but the clever pooch jumps out and escapes. Later, when the tornado hits Kansas, Dorothy watches objects and people spin past her window – as you do – including the mean Miss Gulch, still pedalling furiously.

Did you know? Margaret Hamilton played both Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West – Miss Gulch’s alter ego in Munchkinland.

Oscar glory: nominated in six categories including best picture (it lost to Gone With the Wind) and visual effects. Won two for best original score and original song.


Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves)

Post-war Italy is not an easy place for a working class family. This Italian masterpiece directed by Vittorio De Sica follows the misfortunes of a poor father Antonio, and his son Bruno, as they search Rome for his stolen bicycle. Without it Antonio will lose the job that is keeping his family one step ahead of abject poverty. The film’s take on humanity led the Vatican to add it to its best films list.

Iconic bike scene: it would be tempting to choose the inciting incident as our iconic moment – the point at which the bicycle in question is stolen – but instead we picked its final, heart-breaking scene. The bicycle has slipped through Antonio and Bruno’s fingers on several occasions, when finally Antonio sees an unattended (not his) bike in a doorway. After much soul-searching, he tells Bruno to take the streetcar and wait for him. He then steals the bike. He doesn’t get far, though, before someone spots him and he is surrounded. Antonio only avoids being dragged to the police station when Bruno reappears and one of the men takes pity on the boy. We defy you not to find something in your eye by the time the credits roll.

Did you know? De Sica chose to work with amateur actors on the film and Lamberto Maggiorani (Antonio) was, in fact, a factory worker. He returned to his job after filming but was eventually fired. His wife convinced him to try his hand at more films but he never quite found his fortune.

Oscar glory: nominated for two, and won one for special foreign language film award.


Breaking Away

Another coming-of-age movie with bikes, this one stars a young Dennis Quaid. It tells the story of an American teenager (played by Dennis Christopher – you don’t have to be called Dennis here, but it helps) obsessed with Italian cycling and his attempts to woo Robyn Douglass, by pretending to be Italian. The only trouble is she has a boyfriend. It’s got fights, bike races, cheating, rivalry and romance. What’s not to love?

Iconic bike moment: this being a film about a young man’s obsession with bikes, there are a few to choose from, but we’ve chosen this gem. A professional Italian cycling team has come to Bloomington, Indiana, and Christopher’s character gets the chance to compete, only to have his Italian dreams shattered when he discovers that they’re terrible cheats. No cultural stereotyping here, please. The scene is a lovely blend of Indiana scenery overlaid with the dramatic tones of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Sinfonia.

Did you know? The Little 500 race that forms the film’s climax is a real event. It takes place every April at the Bill Armstrong Stadium on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington and attracts more than 25,000 fans. The film was inspired by Dave Blase, who, in his senior year in 1962 rode 139 of the Little 500’s 200 laps. Blase went on to become a technical advisor on Breaking Away and can be seen in this scene as one of the riders. He also played the track announcer later on.

Oscar glory: nominated for five Academy Awards, winning best original screenplay.


The Great Muppet Caper

Bikes on screen - The Muppet Caper features a classic Kermit and Miss Piggy scene cycling through the parkIt isn’t easy being green, but in the Muppet world you can always get on your bike and chase your blues away. The second live action musical Muppet film and the only one to be directed by creator Jim Henson, Caper sees the gang travel to London to stop a jewel heist. This is the only film on our list that didn’t win its Oscar category, but, come on, it’s the Muppets. On Bikes.

Iconic bike moment: Kermit and Miss Piggy renew their courtship while pedalling through London’s Battersea Park to the tune of Joe Raposo’s Couldn’t We Ride. Before too long they’re joined by the rest of the Muppet mob. This was not the first time Kermy had been seen on his bike (most notably in The Muppet Movie), but it was the first time that multiple members of the Muppet crew cycled together. No mean feat when you’re a puppet. Muppets creator Jim Henson used animatronics, remote control, marionettes and an army of puppeteers to create the sequence. When applying for the film to be considered for a visual effects Academy Award, Henson outlined the work involved saying that “…the puppet’s feet on the pedals had to turn in time with the beat of the music and both to be in time with each other and travel at realistic speed.”

Did you know? The end of the scene in which all the Muppets are seen together was created by hooking all the bikes together and pulling them. One of those pulling was Jim Henson’s teenaged son Brian who had also helped create part of the system of rods and marionette wires that controlled the scene.

Oscar glory: nominated for best original song. Sadly Kermit and the gang lost out  to Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do) from the Dudley Moore film Arthur. It would be another three decades before Kermit got his gong with the song Man or Muppet from the 2011 film The Muppets, starring Amy Adams and Jason Segel.