• E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
(1982): One of Steven Spielberg's masterpieces, this film has the most iconic bicycle scene of all time — a ride across the face of the moon. It's an instantly recognizable image — a striking symbol of childlike wonder. There's a sense of innocence in bike-riding, and this shot captures that magic in all its glory.
• Breaking Away
(1979): An Indiana classic, this charming underdog story follows four Bloomington "cutters" — what their peers call them for living in the city as sons of Indiana stonecutters rather than IU students. Determined to rise above their reputation as local bums, the shaggy teenagers hop on their bikes to prove themselves on the track, competing in the university's annual Little 500 race. Indy folks should be proud of this film, which was shot in and around Bloomington and the university's campus. Among other accolades, it won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, which was written by IU alumnus Steve Tesich. Tender, funny, hopeful and inspiring, Breaking Away
is a timeless treasure.
• Bicycle Thieves
(1948): This classic work of Italian neorealism follows a poor man and his little boy as they search the war-torn city of Rome for the bicycle he desperately needs in order to keep his job. The bike situation serves as a launching pad for a poignant exploration of post-World War II Europe and the families struggling to make ends meet.
• Pee-wee's Big Adventure
(1985): When you're a kid, losing your bike feels like an ordeal of nightmarish proportions. This film visualizes that feeling, sending the titular character on what seems like a haunted hayride through a strange, scary world to find his stolen bicycle. That's director Tim Burton's specialty — showing a funhouse reflection of ordinary, everyday struggles.
• One Day in April
(2015): Another drama revolving around the Little 500, but this one is an achingly real documentary portrait. Director Thomas Miller (an IU alumnus) follows four teams — men's and women's — as they train and compete in the 2013 and 2014 seasons of the race. He gets inside their heads and makes you feel the pressure put upon them by their coaches, teammates and family members. And through cameras built into the cyclists' sunglasses, the film thrusts you into the action on the racetrack, making you feel like you're pedaling along with them and dodging the dirt flying off their tires. It's a powerful sports spectacle of blood, sweat and tears.
• The Triplets of Belleville
(2003): This richly animated adventure revolves around a Tour de France cyclist who's kidnapped by film noir-like gangsters and taken to the teeming metropolis of Belleville. He's an amusing caricature of a cyclist, complete with impossibly muscular calves and a wire-thin waist. It's a thrill to watch him whiz through the narrow streets of Paris on his bike in what is ultimately a beautifully hand-drawn tribute to racing.
• The Program
(2015): Ben Foster delivers a towering performance in this portrait of Lance Armstrong — a champion and a cheat. The film effectively captures that duality and the way Armstrong's personal and professional success made him feel invincible. His mythic story of beating cancer and winning seven Tour de France races made him a legend, but the truth brought him back down to Earth. The Program
focuses on Armstrong's history of doping, but it suggests that his ego was even more potent than any drug he took.
• American Flyers
(1985): Screenwriter Steve Tesich's companion piece to Breaking Away
, this film follows two brothers as they bond during a trip to the Rockies and take part in a back-breaking race through the mountains. Kevin Costner delivers one of his best performances as the older brother whose career as a sports physician clashes with his younger sibling's reckless behavior.
• The Armstrong Lie
(2013): A juicier, more in-depth version of what you see in The Program
, this documentary shows Armstrong's attempt to return to cycling and his subsequent admission of doping.
• Premium Rush
(2012): Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a New York bike messenger, and the film follows him as he's chased around the city by a corrupt police officer (Michael Shannon) who wants a package he's carrying. It's silly as hell but also a lot of fun.