Every Generation Has a BadA** on Wheels Movie Star

brandoIn the 1950s, a new genre in film was born, and it will simply go down as: the Badass on Wheels genre. And believe it or not, this category of film has one of the richest and most storied lineages in film history.

Originally, this Bad Ass on Wheels genre started with one movie, The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando. Now, you may be wondering why I named this as the original film of the genre. Well, the answer is simple… Brando created a new archetype character that would star in and define an entire world of films, which would include films like Smokey and the Bandit, Bullit, Easy Rider, The Fast and the Furious, and countless others.

Basically, the Brando archetype serves as the ultimate anti-hero- aka a man that bends our definition of what good and bad actually is (think of Paul Walker in The Fast and the Furious: Is he a cop or a criminal?). In order for a film in this genre to work, the movie MUST have a star that has the perfect combination of charisma and danger.

Some of the greatest actors to work themselves into the greatest Badass on Wheels conversation include:

Peter Fonda in Easy Rider

Steve McQueen in Bullitt

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2

smokeyMarlon Brando in The Wild One

Paul Walker in The Fast and the Furious

Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit

Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future…well, maybe not… That movie is just really, really good


Today, there is one star that has completely taken over as this generation’s badass on wheels title: Ryan Gosling. Wait! What?!? Believe it or not, this is absolutely true. Despite Gosling’s legion of teeny bopper fans (mostly coming from The Notebook), he also has a raw, nasty image that he has developed over the past few years. And this has been showcased in two of the coolest automotive movies of the past 25 years.

Drive (2011)

The first Gosling film that cements him as the “badass on wheels” of this generation is Drive. Speeding into theatres in 2011, Drive tells the story of a movie stunt driver (played by Gosling) who spends his days working for a down and out garage owner played by Bryan Cranston (long live Walter White!!!!). But as the night falls, Gosling’s character moonlights as a criminal driver that uses his superior driving-skills as a weapon for robberies.

driveIn the film, Gosling is simply known as “the driver.” This no-name character proceeds to tear down the boundaries of the age old genre, twisting and blending elements of the classic Eastwood “man with no name character” into a modern car chase movie character. During the film, audiences are left to question Gosling’s motives as he acts dangerously, and at times, violently.  Critic Tom Glasson writes, “Whether Gosling’s character is also a ‘hero’ or not, though depends on your understanding of the term…[He goes though] a somewhat emotionally ambiguous transformation from sympathetic nice guy to violent avenger that might seem out of place were it not just so impossibly, impossibly cool.”

Only adding to the film’s unbelievable appeal is the magnetic and dizzying world created by director Nicolas Refn, which seems to mix a number of the great elements found in Top Gun and True Romance (both classic Tony Scott popcorn movies). Recognizing the film’s classic appeal, Christopher Orr of The Atlantic writes, “Suffice is to say that the movie is an homage to old car-cult B-movies such as Bullitt and The Driver, and that it starts slowly before accelerating to harrowing velocity.”

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

The second monumental Badass on Wheels performance coming from Gosling is in the 2012 film, The Place Beyond the Pines. In the movie, Gosling embodies the classic Tolstoy “a stranger coming to town” character, playing a stunt motorcycle rider that works as part of a traveling carnival.

The film’s powerful storyline starts when Gosling’s character, Luke, learns that he has fathered a small town woman’s (played by the always sexy Eva Mendes) child. When this realization happens, Luke starts on a string of bank robberies in an attempt to put food on the table for his budding family. Unlike Drive- which has an ambiguously good and evil character- Gosling plays a full on criminal (he even sports face tattoos!!!) in The Place Beyond the Pines. But in an electric and magnetic display of acting talent that is usually reserved for all-time greats like Marlon Brando, Gosling still manages to make his title character likeable.

Critic Blake Howard writes, “Gosling is flying in Pines. Watching him as the hyper cool, tattoo covered Luke gives you a feeling like you’re caught beneath a brewing electrical storm; at times he literally made my hairs stand up. However, it’s not just Luke’s steely calm that makes the performance, it’s the frenzy with which his desperation manifests to give his son a better life that takes the character to another gear.”

Through these two movies, Gosling has added his name to a long list of bad ass legends, while creating some of the best automotive movies in recent history. If you haven’t seen either, I recommend that you run out immediately and check them out!!

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