American Flyers

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
American Flyers Movie Poster Image
Good-hearted '80s biking movie has cursing, sex.
  • PG-13
  • 1985
  • 113 minutes

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Positive Messages

Family is important. Live life to the fullest.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Marcus harshly judged his mother for falling apart during his father's final illness and must overcome his disappointment and grudge. David seems to be a bit of a flake, with no real direction in his life. Both of them display great drive and grit as they train for and compete in a tough race. An angry competitor tries to run David off a dangerous high road during a race.


Racers fall and get injured while competing. A strong contender who is also a bully tries to run David off a high mountain road. A man suffers from a life-threatening illness and bleeds from his ear and nose. There is criticism of someone who didn't handle the terminal illness of a loved one well.


David and Becky have sex offscreen. They kiss. We see her briefly with her shirt off and her breasts are shown. As a joke, David pulls Marcus's riding shorts down during a ride, exposing his buttocks. A character warns that someone may hear strange sounds coming from the bedroom, signaling a "wild sexual frenzy." A 10-year-old boy who asks for the definition of "oral sex" is told that it's sex that's talked about, the opposite of "written sex," which is sex that's written about.


"F--k," "s--t," bitch," "bastard," "dumbbell," "BFD," "hell," and "ass."


A scene is shot in a McDonald's. Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, fries, and shakes are discussed admiringly.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the 1985 drama American Flyers emphasizes the importance of family against a backdrop of bicycle racing and a health crisis. The race sequences showcase the glorious Rocky Mountains and the ins and outs of bicycle competitions. There's mention of a father's death from a burst brain aneurysm and the possibility that his children may have inherited the condition, brief glimpses of a man's behind and of a woman's breasts, and infrequent language: "s--t," "bitch," "bastard," "BFD," "hell," and "ass." One man appears to be yelling "f--k," after losing the first stage of a race, but the crowd noise renders the word deliberately indistinct. A couple has sex offscreen. A 10-year-old boy who asks for the definition of "oral sex" is told that it's sex that's talked about, the opposite of "written sex," which is sex that's written about.

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What's the story?

In AMERICAN FLYERS, Marcus (Kevin Costner) comes home to visit his mother and younger brother David (David Marshall Grant) after avoiding family after his father's death of a brain aneurysm. David, a biking enthusiast, seems a bit immature and irresponsible. Marcus is a doctor and fears that David, experiencing dizzy spells, may suffer the same condition that killed their dad. Marcus persuades his brother to come home with him and, hoping to jumpstart his brother's life, they train for a major bicycle race in Colorado. He has at least one ulterior motive -- to also perform a brain scan to check for an aneurysm.  

Is it any good?

This is a good-hearted movie about family ties and setting high personal standards, and its insistent likability makes up for its flaws. On the one hand there are spectacular mountain views and well-shot race sequences, and on the other there's the flimsy character development and creaky plotting. A mother of two grown boys is depicted as a stereotypically cold and distant working woman. The director is left to push actors to smile wistfully at old family photos in order to explain deep family feelings otherwise omitted by a weak script. The score, heavy on drums, is dated and irritating. A major plot point asks us to believe that no one in the family has been wondering about an obvious health threat, so the "surprise" in American Flyers isn't all that surprising. This is one of Costner's earliest film roles as a lead character, predating Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, and his easy charm is already fully realized here.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about different ways in which family members can support each other in times of crisis, as seen in American Flyers. Marcus wants his younger brother to become more responsible. Why do you think training for and competing in a difficult race might help a person mature?

  • How do you think it might affect a person's life to know he or she has a terminal illness?

  • Why do you think someone might turn away from a loved one who is dying? Do you think it might be too painful to watch someone die?

  • How does the movie show perseverance?

Movie details

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