Kick Flip. Heel Flip. Goofy Foot. Ollie. What sounds like nonsense to the uninitiated is an entire vocabulary that’s spoken fluently by skaters. And no, we don’t mean figure skaters. Skateboarding can be an action sport, a method of transportation, a means to do aerial tricks…the list goes on and on. But to a lot of people, skateboarding is first and foremost a culture. Early skateboarding culture was entwined in surfing culture on the West Coast. As its popularity grew, so did the community around it; soon we saw trick boarding, long boarding, tramp boarding, and even a military initiative called “Urban Warrior” that included militaristic training exercises performed on a skateboard.
Not everyone loved the up-and-coming skate culture, though, and there were plenty of people ready to write it off as a fad. It proved to be exactly the opposite though, and now more people under 18 choose to learn skateboarding than they do baseball. Skateboarding persists and like any culture, they have the distinct markers of their subgroup: the board of course, clothing, and a number of skateboarding movies that delinieate the history and dynamics of this unique culture. We’ve compiled a list of the best ones, so get stoked and read on.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Robert Rusler, Pamela Gidley
Director: David Winters
Stunt skaters: Tony Hawk, Tony Alva, Christian Hosoi
Thrashin’ was one of the first films to feature skateboarding as a central plot theme, and is one part star-crossed lovers, one part skateboarding rivalry.
In it, Cory, and outsider comes to Los Angeles to train and compete in a downhill skateboarding race with a skateboarding group, The Ramp LOCALS. While he’s there, he falls for Chrissy, a quintessential ’80s babe with blonde feathered hair and a sweet personality visiting from Indiana. The only problem is that Chrissy is the younger sister of Hook, the leader of a rowdy rival street-smart skate gang known as the Daggers.
Hook confronts Cory to tell him that he disapproves, which ultimately results in a number of confrontations; in one, Hook and the Daggers chase Cory through the streets, where he manages to give them the slip by skateboarding on top of a moving bus. Foiled, The Daggers burn the LOCALS’ half-pipe to the ground, triggering a climactic tussle between the two groups, resulting in a broken arm for Cory.
Cory and Chrissy argue, and she decides to leave LA for her home in Indiana, leaving Cory despondant and wondering if he’ll be able to compete in the race with his arm injury.
Gleaming the Cube (1989)
Starring: Christian Slater, Min Luong, Tony Hawk
Director: Graeme Clifford
Stunt skaters: Stacy Peralta (Skate director), Mark”Gator” McGill, Mike Vallely
Gleaming the Cube didn’t fare very well at the box office do to its limited release, but it’s something of a cult classic, and even professional skater Stevie Williams credits the film with stoking his interest in skating.
Christian Slater’s character Brian only cares about one thing: skateboarding. He is obsessed with “Gleaming the cube”, which he defines as pushing his limits to the very edge. One day, Brian’s adopted Vietnamese brother Vinh turns up dead, and while the police insist that it’s a suicide, Brian is sure it’s murder.
Using his skateboarding skills and prowess, he investigates Vinh’s death and soon learns that the company Vinh worked for is shipping weapons overseas under the guise of medical relief. Once he determines that Vinh stumbled across incriminating information and came to the same conclusion, he knows for certain that Vinh was murdered.
Starring: Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson
Director: Larry Clark
Kids is one of the darker skateboarding movies on the list, and it features skateboarding less as a central plot theme and more to develop the character of Telly, played by Leo Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was cast in the film after director Larry Clark discovered him performing skateboarding tricks in New York City.
Kids is shot as a quasi-documentary and is reflective of the great panic of the mid ’90s: AIDS. It follows a group of skate-punk teenagers in New York City as they discover sex, drugs, and independence, and as some of them contract HIV.
In a major scene that is used to expose the darker side of the main character, Telly skateboards in Washington Square Park where he bumps into a man on his skateboard, the two exchange angry words and a few blows, resulting with Telly and his friends beating the man unconscious with their skateboards.
Deck Dogz (2005)
Starring: Sean Kennedy, Ho Thi Lu, Richard Wilson
Director: Steve Paslovsky
Cameo: Tony Hawk
Deck Dogz tells the story of three Australian teens who feel misunderstood by their peers, parents, and community at large but find solace in skateboarding and skate culture. They travel across Sydney, Australia’s suburbs and skate parks in their journey to a Maroubra Beach skate competition where they aim to meet their idol, Tony Hawk.
Starring: Mike Vogel, Adam Brody, Jennifer Morrison
Director: Casey LaScala
Cameo: Bam Margera, Preston Lacey, Jason “Wee Man” Acuna
Grind didn’t fare so well in the theatres either, but like a lot of skateboarding movies on this list, it gained a lot of popularity as a cult hit among skaters. In it, a group of friends hope to get noticed by their skateboarding idol, Jimmy Wilson. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to get in to see him as his skate demo tour rolls through town. After unsuccessfully attempting to fundraise their team, “Team Super Duper” they tap into a friend’s college fund to bankroll a road trip that will take them from Chicago to Santa Monica.
When they hit California, they meet Bam Margera and his skate crew, who give Team Super Duper some advice about staying true to themselves. With a little persistence, they are able to follow their dreams all the way to the top, catching the attention of the skateboarding world.
Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
Starring: Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Bob Biniak, Jeff Ho
Director: Stacy Peralta
Narrator: Sean Penn
Dog town and Z-Boys is the only one of the skateboarding movies on this list that was documentary-shot. There are plenty of great skate documentaries out there, but this ranks high in the list of the best skateboarding movies for its honest, in-depth look of skate culture just as it was beginning to change in the 1970’s. It’s also directed by Stacy Peralta, one of the original “Z-Boys of Dogtown”, a group of skater kids that revolutionized the world of skating.
When Skip Engblom, the owner of the Zephyr surf shop on the Pacific Ocean Pier in a rundown part od town known as Dogtown begins to make and sell skate boards as well, a group of boys that regularly hang out in the shop begin to carve out their own unique style on them. Eventually, these boys–Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams, and Tony Alva, among many others–became the skate team known as the Z-Boys. When they show up at their first competition, they stun the skate world with an etirely knew style of trick skating never seen before. Soon, to be a Z-Boy became the dream of aspiring skaters everywhere, and in fact much of the B-roll from the ’70s was comprised of film shot by Z-Boy hopefuls as they hung out around the team.
Lords of Dogtown (2005)
Starring: Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsch, John Robinson, Victor Rasuk
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Lords of Dogtown is the biographical drama that tells the account of the aforementioned Z-Boys of Dogtown, namely Peralta, Alva, and Adams as they find themselves rocketed to stardom for doing the thing they love–skateboarding. As their fame grows, however, the film takes darker and darker turns, chronicling with brutal honesty the toll that stardom can take an individual, their values, and their friends.
The script was written by Stacy Peralta, who went on to form Powell-Peralta, a skate gear company. he also began filming and producing demo videos for up and comers like Tony Hawk. Tony Alva also reached a high level of success in his later years, becoming a respected professional skater. Jay Adams, the third of the original Z-Boys, is widely considered “the spark” or “seed” or modern skate culture, despite his downturn into a life of drugs, from which he has largely recovered.
These are just a few on the list of great skateboarding movies, running the gamut from lighthearted and a little campy (Thrashin’), to darkly serious and introspective (Lords of Dogtown). Maybe you’ll binge watch all of them in a single weekend and find the spark of inspiration that you need to begin making your own skateboarding movies or videos with a GoPro camera or begin working toward your certification to instruct aspiring Z-Boys.