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For more than 30 years, John Kiesewetter has been the source for information about all things in local media — comings and goings, local people appearing on the big or small screen, special programs, and much more. Contact John at

Cincinnati-filmed 'The Bikeriders' roars into movie theaters this weekend

three men in various black suits stand on a step and repeat and smile at the camera
Chris Pizzello
Austin Butler, Mike Faist, and Norman Reedus pose together at the premiere of the film "The Bikeriders" at the TCL Chinese Theatre, Monday, June 17, 2024, in Los Angeles.

Cincinnati and Southwestern Ohio provide an authentic backdrop for Jeff Nichols' film about a violent 1960s Chicago motorcycle gang filmed here in 2022.

Director Jeff Nichols found all he needed for The Bikeriders, his bloody drama about a 1960s Chicago motorcycle gang, in Greater Cincinnati’s old row houses, root beer drive-ins, bars and backroads lined with corn fields, barns and stainless steel silos.

“Cincinnati is one of the oldest cities off the East Coast. It has a wonderful collection of old architecture and they’ve done a good job at not tearing it down,” says Nichols, who also wrote the film adapted from Danny Lyon’s The Bikeriders book, a 1968 collection of photographs and interviews about the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club.

The Bikeriders opens in theaters Thursday afternoon, June 20. A December release was postponed due to the Hollywood actors’ strike.

Courtesy Focus Features
Tom Hardy (left), Austin Butler (top) and Jodie Cromer star The Bikeriders.

The events, characters, setting — and even the Midwest accents — are based on not just Lyon’s black-and-white pictures, but also his reel-to-reel recorded interviews. “We met in 2014 and I got his blessing. He gave me all the audio, which was critical. We gave it to the actors for their accents,” Nichols says.

The story of The Bikeriders is told through Kathy (Emmy-winner Jodie Comer for BBC America’s Killing Eve), who falls in love and marries the charismatic loner Benny (Austin Butler, fresh off his Oscar-nominated performance as Elvis).

Kathy tells Danny (Mike Faist from West Side Story as author-photographer Lyon) about seeing Benny leaning over a pool table during her first visit to a biker bar:

 “I never felt so out of place in all my life. That’s when I saw him for the first time.  He took my breath away. Five weeks later I married him . . .  I thought I could change him, you know? Not to be different, but to be … I don’t know, like, he’s wild! I thought he’d get over that.”

Throughout the film, Benny is torn between Kathy and his love for the motorcycle gang, the freedom of riding with the fictional Chicago Vandals behind their leader Johnny (Tom Hardy from Mad Max: Fury Road and The Dark Knight Rises).

Johnny, a truck driver — apparently the only character who is employed — started the club as an outgrowth from dirt bike racing. Soon they had a clubhouse to hang in when they weren’t joyriding through the countryside to nearby towns.

Crews members and extras from Greater Cincinnati who helped make The Bikeriders attended the premiere Wednesday night at Mariemont Theatre.
John Kiesewetter
Crews members and extras from Greater Cincinnati who helped make The Bikeriders attended the premiere Wednesday night at Mariemont Theatre.

The Greater Cincinnati audience may recognize the Mockbee building on West McMicken Avenue in Brighton; Junker’s Tavern on Langland Street in Northside; Jolly’s Drive-In root beer stand on Brookwood Avenue in Hamilton; Edgewater Motor Sports Park in Cleves; Middletown’s Lakeside Inn restaurant on Tytus Avenue; and various bridges or street corners.

But this cinematic ride isn’t for everyone. There’s plenty of violence, blood and profanity. (What did you expect? It’s about a motorcycle gang!)

At its core, Nichols brings to life the various personalities of this close-knit group of people from Lyon’s book, given to Nichols by his “coolest” brother 20 years ago.

“It’s not just the photos. It’s not just the interviews. It was the ingredient list for putting together a sub-culture,” says Nichols, who also directed Take Shelter, Midnight Special, Mud and Long Way Back Home.

The star of the show is Cromer, the British actress known for playing Villanelle in Killing Eve, Rey's mother in Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and Marguerite in The Last Duel. She pauses with distant gazes as she recounts her unlikely life with the violent Vandals during “the golden age of bike riders.”

Variety gushed that Hardy and Butler “are cool personified in The Godfather of biker movies.” Actually, I saw a lot of Tony Soprano in Hardy’s Johnny, the flawed leader who can keep the guys in line until the Vandals’ success spawn clubs throughout the Midwest with young punks and strung out Vietnam War veterans into guns, marijuana and drugs.

Director-writer Jeff Nichols interviewed on the Mariemont Theatre red carpet Wednesday.
John Kiesewetter
Director-writer Jeff Nichols interviewed on the Mariemont Theatre red carpet Wednesday.

Again Cincinnati plays a huge supporting role in delivering an authentic period piece. The Bikeriders roll through what genuinely looks like Chicagoland in the late 1960s — as the Cincinnati area perfectly played 1980s Texas for Robert Redford’s The Old Man and the Gun; 1970s Washington, D.C., for Regina King’s Shirley; 1950s Manhattan for Carol; 1940s New York for Lost In Yonkers; and the 1920s for Eight Men Out.

Nichols was so appreciative of the support from Film Cincinnati and the filmmaking community here that he flew in after going to the Los Angeles premiere Monday to attend the Cincinnati premiere Wednesday at Mariemont Theatre for those who worked on the movie.

“It was very important for me personally to be here to celebrate with the Cincinnati film community,” Nichols says. He thanked the Mariemont audience for helping provide "the DNA" for the movie. The people who helped us make the film is why it feels the way it does. I don’t know if we’d be here without all of your hard work.”

The Bikeriders was one of the bigger films made in Greater Cincinnati, says Kristen Schlotman, president and CEO of the nonprofit Film Cincinnati. The production was here “more days,” and spent more money than many films, she says. Producers are attracted here by the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit, which provides a refundable tax credit of 30% on production, cast and crew wages plus other eligible in-state spending. Ohio’s film commissions are urging the legislature to double the state’s $50 million tax credit program in the next biennial budget, she says.

“We’re showing what we can do with the (film industry) infrastructure we’ve built up here over the years,” Scholtman says. “We’re ready to take the next step.”

Nichols told the Mariemont gathering that audiences for the film in Rome, Paris, Berlin and Los Angeles “loved the work you did. And fingers crossed we make some money this weekend.”

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.