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ADV NewsOn Any Sunday: The Revolutionary Film That Changed Motorcycling

On Any Sunday: The Revolutionary Film That Changed Motorcycling

The iconic film continues to inspire going on 50 Years.

Published on 10.18.2020

The iconic movie ‘On Any Sunday’ by Bruce Brown is widely acknowledged as the incendiary that blew open doors for motorcycling in the 1970’s. Released in 1971, the documentary bottled raw emotion that many enthusiasts thought could not be conveyed in a film, earning an Academy Award nomination a year after its release. Now, close to 50 years since its debut, it is still regarded as one of the best biking films ever made.

Nearly single-handedly, the film changed the perception of motorcyclists overnight from gruff Hells Angels to nice guys next door. “On Any Sunday” was a superhit both among professionals, motorcyclists and wannabes. Bruce was credited for getting a lot of attention from common bike riding to motorcycle track and desert racing and for bringing a lot of fresh enthusiasm into motorcycles that helped seduce new two-wheel fans. 

On any Sunday Motorcycle documentary by Bruce Brown
“I think many people changed their minds about motorcyclists after watching the movie.” – Bruce Brown

Born and raised in California, Brown was on a surfboard from a young age and immersed in the culture. His monumental surfing film ‘The Endless Summer’ was released in 1966 and that project’s success allowed him to focus his lens on another passion: motorcycles. But even though Brown already had a successful movie to his credit, he still found that financing a film on motorcycling wasn’t going to be easy. Brown was subsequently introduced to the famous actor Steve McQueen.


“Even though I’d never met him, I set up a meeting to talk about doing ‘On Any Sunday,” said Brown. We spoke about the film concept, which he liked. Then Steve asked what I wanted him to do in the film. I replied by wanting him to finance it. He laughed and told me he acted in films; he didn’t finance them. I then jokingly told him, ‘Alright, then, you can’t be in the movie.’ The next day after the meeting, I got a call and it was McQueen. He told me to go ahead and get the ball rolling with the movie – he’d back it. His financial contribution was set at 313,000 US dollars.”

On any Sunday Motorcycle documentary by Bruce Brown

McQueen, one of the major stars in the film, proved to be one hell of a racer, sky-dancing in the air and playing an adrenalin-flowing role aboard his Husqvarna machine. American racer Malcolm Smith – a true Husqvarna-mounted master of his unique kind – was another star. The spontaneous Malcolm isn’t only a nice guy, but also devoted his life to riding – a hobby that turned out to be a profession. Being also a businessman, he made himself a career that became lucrative not only to the watching public, but also to himself and family. Malcolm was a successful Husqvarna dealer as well and made a ton of sales after his film performance. Through the film the Husqvarna brand also became established to a wide American audience, who became curious for more information about these motorcycles from a faraway land.

Filming the movie often proved to be a challenging experience for Brown. Some of the most dramatic shots of the movie were the extreme closeup slow-motion segments of the Grand National races. Brown deployed revolutionary filming techniques and brought substantial experience from his surfing films. These techniques included using 24-volt batteries in 12-volt film cameras to make ad-hoc high-speed cameras, shooting with long telephoto lenses to capture far-away action up close and strapping cameras on rider’s helmets long before GoPro’s were even dreamed of. He credited his lack of formal training in filmmaking as an advantage allowing him to take risks that would have otherwise been unthought-of.

On any Sunday Motorcycle documentary by Bruce Brown

When ‘On Any Sunday’ was produced, the film makers not only wanted to show the sunny side of motorcycling, but also had the ambition to include the free spirit that accompanies riding. Besides fame, some of the scenes show riders without helmets and without any protection gear – almost impossible to screen nowadays with safety hanging around every corner. The riders in the movie all have it in common that they like motorcycles. They show the audience that riding is fun and doesn’t have to be dangerous if you go at your own pace. Then, of course, there are monumental scenes when you wonder if this performance is even possible on a bike. 

It is a movie with soul. When you follow the performers around vast deserts and narrow tracks, they’re sure to take your breath away throughout the 96-minute footage. Scenes shot from a helicopter were unheard of in those days, but Bruce Brown did not spare any effort to go all-out in his ambitions. However, the movie isn’t only about stars, motocross, off-road riding and Six Days events. It covers most aspects of bike riding; from the Salt Flats of Bonneville to Flat Track racing around narrow circuits.

Many people from all walks of life took up motorcycling after seeing the film. It conveyed the fun and enjoyment that motorcycling added to people’s lives. “On Any Sunday” became a cultural classic that will tease riders for eternity  – looking around the next corner for the rest of their life!

Photos Courtesy Bruce Brown Films and Husqvarna

Author: ADV Pulse Staff

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4 thoughts on “On Any Sunday: The Revolutionary Film That Changed Motorcycling

  1. I saw this movie in 86…… I too was hooked as I moved from dirt bikes to street bikes in the 90’s and back again.
    Try and watch it every few years and you will transported back to the days of childhood dreaming for the next adventure !!!!

  2. Saw it the first time early 1071. Was working for a Honda distributer and we showed it at a Dealer Show (before the theater release). Have my own copy and have watched it Hundreds of times. BEST MOTORCYCLE MOVIE EVER!

  3. I saw it in 1971 shortly after I got my motorcycle license and I loved the film but it gets more credit than it deserves. The Japanese bikes already had the public eye so OAS didn’t start anything. It hopped on the already moving train and through the power of the media’s PR machines the film makers started taking credit for everything concerning two wheels. Today’s journalists tend to remember the past better than it happened.


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