At one time or another, most modern male movie stars climb aboard a Harley or a Ducati to look cool, with maybe a touch of the outlaw about them.
But apart from the obvious titles, there is not a great selection of true biker sagas of value out there in videoland.
The most memorable recent example of a star with a motorcycle as a prop: Tom Cruise flying into a jousting match with Dougray Scott in John Woo's "Mission: Impossible 2." But that action spy thriller was no more about bikes than it was about rock climbing.
In a real biker film, the cycle is paramount. It is the meaning, the message. The great thing about motorcycles as far as filmmakers are concerned, is their style: noisy, gleaming, streamlined.
Biker movies can be made on the cheap, as Roger Corman discovered. But their very nature - one man or babe aboard a mean machine - also militates against much dialogue, apart from the occasional shout in the wind above the roar.
The seminal biker picture, of course, is "The Wild One," directed by Laslo Benedek and released in 1953, with Marlon Brando pitted against Lee Marvin. Scandalous at the time, it seems harmless and a bit silly today. Brando's military hat adds to its absurdities.
Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider" (1969) is also dated, but Hopper's Billy and Peter Fonda's Captain America remain motorcycle icons, though Jack Nicholson, a Corman veteran, delivers the performance that lifted him to a new high.
Most biker pictures treat its lone riders as outlaws, but John Sturges' 1963 "The Great Escape" made a hero of a star who truly loved motorcycles, and collected more than 200 of them, Steve McQueen, who performed most of his own stunts in this kinetic take of a breakout from a German prison camp.
Europeans love motorcycles too, and Wim Wenders has used them in road pictures, "Kings of the Road," for example. But that is not really a motorcycle picture.
Paul Verhoeven's 1980 "Spetters" is. Rutger Hauer returned to Holland to work with its most celebrated international director, playing a motocross champion idolized by the biker slackers who are the main subjects of this downbeat but fascinating film.
The four pictures sum up the various types of motorcycle pictures.
Two more curiosities are Corman's 1966 "The Wild Angels," with Peter Fonda as Heavenly Blues, as well as Nancy Sinatra and Bruce Dern, and the 1973 "Electra Glide in Blue," with Robert Blake as a short Arizona motorcycle cop promoted to homicide.
One little known cult short is the early '60s "Scorpio Rising," made by Kenneth Anger ("Hollywood Babylon"). Bikers suit up in heavy leather to "Blue Velvet" and blast off to "Hit the Road Jack," with silent-movie shots of Christ on Palm Sunday intercut.
Here are some of the top stars (and lesser lights) who revved up their choppers over the years:
Chris Klein (and LL Cool J), "Rollerball" (remake, 2002)
Bruce Willis, "Pulp Fiction" (1994)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991)
Mel Gibson, "Lethal Weapon 3" (1993) and "Mad Max" (1979)
Sylvester Stallone, "Judge Dredd" (1995) and "First Blood" (1982)
Gary Busey, "Eye of the Tiger" (1986)
Mickey Rourke (as Motorcycle Boy), "Rumble Fish" (1983)
Robert Redford (and Michael J. Pollard), "Little Fauss and Big Halsey" (1979)
Joe Namath, "C. C. and Company" (1970)
Peter O'Toole, "Lawrence of Arabia," (1962)Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times