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Easy Rider is a American road movie written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Terry Southern, produced by Fonda and directed by Hopper. It tells the story of two bikers (played by Fonda and Hopper) who travel through the American Southwest and South with the aim of achieving freedom. The success of Easy Rider helped spark the New Hollywood phase of filmmaking during the late sixties. The film was added to the Library of Congress National Registry in 1998.

A landmark counterculture film, and a "touchstone for a generation" that "captured the national imagination", Easy Rider explores the societal landscape, issues, and tensions in the United States during the 1960s, such as the rise and fall of the hippie movement, drug use, and communal lifestyle.Easy Rider is legendary for its use of real drugs in its portrayal of marijuana and other substances.


The protagonists are two bike-riding drug dealers: Wyatt, nicknamed 'Captain America' (Fonda), and Billy (Hopper). Fonda and Hopper have said that these characters' names refer to Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. Wyatt dresses in American flag-adorned leather, while Billy dresses in Native American-style buckskin pants and shirts and a bushman hat.

After smuggling cocaine from Mexicomarker to Los Angelesmarker, Wyatt and Billy sell their contraband to "Connection," a man (played by Phil Spector) in a Rolls-Royce. With the money from the sale stuffed into a plastic tube hidden inside the Stars & Stripes-adorned fuel tank of Wyatt's California-style chopper, they ride eastward in an attempt to reach New Orleans, Louisianamarker, in time for Mardi Gras.

During their trip, Wyatt and Billy meet and have a meal with a rancher, whom Wyatt compliments for his ability to provide for his large family. Later, the duo pick up a hitch-hiker (Luke Askew) and agree to take him to his commune, where they stay for a day. Life in the commune appears to be hard, with hippies from the city finding it difficult to grow their own crops. (One of the children seen in the commune is played by Fonda's four-year-old daughter Bridget.) At one point, the bikers witness a prayer for blessing of the new crop, as put by a communard: A chance "to make a stand," and to plant "simple food, for a simple taste." The commune is also host to a traveling theater group that "sings for its supper" (performs for food). The notion of "free love" appears to be practiced, with two women seemingly sharing the affections of the hitch-hiking communard, and who then turn their attention to Wyatt and Billy. As the bikers leave, the hitch-hiker (known only as "Stranger on highway" in the credits) gives Wyatt some LSD for him to share with "the right people."

While jokingly riding along with a parade in a small town, the pair are arrested by the local authorities for "parading without a permit." In jail, they befriend ACLU lawyer and local drunk George Hanson (Jack Nicholson). George helps them get out of jail, and decides to travel with Wyatt and Billy to New Orleans. As they camp that night, Wyatt and Billy introduce George to marijuana. As an alcoholic and a "square," George is reluctant to try the marijuana ("It leads to harder stuff"), but he eventually relents.

While attempting to eat in a small rural Louisianamarker restaurant, the trio's appearance attracts the attention of the locals. The girls in the restaurant want to meet the men and ride with them, but the local men and police officer make mocking, racist, and homophobic remarks. One of the men menacingly states, "I don't believe they'll make the parish line." Wyatt, Billy, and George leave without eating and make camp outside of town. The events of the day cause George to comment: "This used to be a hell of a good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it." He observes that Americans talk a lot about the value of freedom, but are actually afraid of anyone who truly exhibits it.

In the middle of the night, the local men return and brutally beat the trio while they sleep. Wyatt and Billy suffer minor injuries, but George is killed by a machete strike to the neck. Wyatt and Billy wrap George up in his sleeping bag, gather his belongings, and vow to return the items to his parents.

They continue to New Orleans and find the brothel George had intended to visit. Taking prostitutes Karen (Karen Black) and Mary (Toni Basil) with them, Wyatt and Billy decide to go outside and wander the parade-filled street of the Mardi Gras celebration. They end up in a cemetery, where all four ingest LSD. They experience a psychedelic bad trip infused with Catholic prayer, represented through quick edits, sound effects, and over-exposed film.

Making camp afterward, Wyatt declares: "You know Billy, we blew it." Wyatt realizes that their search for freedom, while financially successful, was a spiritual failure. The next morning, the two are continuing their trip to Florida (where they hope to retire wealthy) when two rednecks in a pickup truck spot them and decide to "scare the hell out of them" with their shotgun. As they pull alongside Billy and insult him, he sticks his middle finger up at them dismissively. In response, one of the men fires the shotgun at Billy and seriously wounds him. As Wyatt goes for help, one of the rednecks fires at him as he speeds by the pickup. The shot hits the gas tank of Wyatt's bike, causing it to explode. Wyatt is flung from the bike; the movie ends as the camera shows the flaming bike, then ascends to the sky, the duo's journey over.



During test shooting on location in New Orleans, Hopper fought with the production's ad hoc crew for control. At one point he entered into a physical confrontation with photographer Barry Feinstein, who was one of the camera operators for the shoot. After this turmoil, Hopper and Fonda decided to assemble a proper crew for the rest of the film.

Allegedly, the characters of Wyatt and Billy were respectively based on Roger McGuinn and David Crosby of The Byrds. According to Terry Southern's biographer, Lee Hill, the part of George Hanson had been written for Southern's friend, actor Rip Torn. When Torn met with Hopper and Fonda at a New York restaurant in early 1968 to discuss the role, Hopper began ranting about the "rednecks" he had encountered on his scouting trip to the South. Torn, a Texan, took exception to some of Hopper's remarks, and the two almost came to blows, as a result of which Torn withdrew from the project and had to be replaced by Jack Nicholson. In 1994, Hopper was interviewed about Easy Rider by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, and during the interview, he alleged that Torn had pulled a knife on him during the altercation, prompting Torn to successfully sue Hopper for defamation.

The hippie commune was recreated from pictures and shot near Santa Monica, Californiamarker overlooking Malibumarker Canyon, since the New Buffalo commune near Taosmarker in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexicomarker did not permit shooting there.

Most of the film is shot outside with natural lighting. While this can be attributed to the film being a road movie, at the time Hopper said all the outdoor shooting was an intentional choice on his part, because "God is a great gaffer." The production used two five-ton trucks, one for the equipment and one for the motorcycles, with the cast and crew in a motor home. One of the locations was Monument Valley.

The restaurant scenes with Fonda, Hopper, and Nicholson were shot in Morganza, Louisianamarker. The men and girls in that scene were all Morganza locals. In order to inspire more vitriolic commentary from the local men, Hopper told them the characters of Billy, Wyatt, and George had raped and killed a girl outside of town. The scene in which Billy and Wyatt were shot was filmed on Louisiana Highway 105 North just outside of Krotz Springs, Louisianamarker, and the two other men in the scene were Krotz Springs locals, Johnny David and D.C. Billedeau.

While shooting the cemetery scene, Hopper tried to convince Fonda to talk to the statue of the Madonna as though it were Fonda's mother (who had committed suicide when he was 10 years old) and ask her why she left him. Although Fonda was reluctant, he eventually complied. Later, Fonda used the inclusion of this scene as leverage to persuade Roger McGuinn to allow the use of his cover of Bob Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma ".

Despite being filmed in the first half of 1968, roughly between Mardi Gras and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, with production starting on February 22 the film did not have a U.S. premiere until July 1969, after having won an award at the Cannes film festivalmarker in May. The delay was partially due to a protracted editing process. One of Hopper's proposed cuts was 220 minutes long, inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. From his extensive use of the "flash-forward" narrative device, wherein scenes from later in the movie are inserted into the current scene, only one flash-forward survives in the final edit, when Wyatt in the New Orleans brothel has a premonition of the final scene. At the request of Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, Henry Jaglom was brought in to edit the film into its current form, with Hopper effectively removed from the project. Upon seeing the final cut, Hopper was extremely pleased, claiming that Jaglom had crafted the film the way Hopper had originally intended. Despite the large part he played in shaping the film, Jaglom only received credit as an "Editorial Consultant".


The motorcycles for the film, based on hardtail frames and Panhead engines, were designed and built by chopper builders Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy, following ideas of Peter Fonda, and handled by Tex Hall and Dan Haggerty during shooting.

In total, four former police bikes were used in the film. The 1949, 1950 and 1952 Harley Davidson Hydra-Glide bikes were purchased at an auction for US$ 500 (equivalent to approx. US$ 2500 at 2007 currency rates). Each bike had a backup to make sure that shooting could continue in case one of the old machines failed or got wrecked accidentally. One "Captain America" was demolished in the final scene, while the other three were stolen and probably taken apart before their significance as movie props became known. The demolished bike was rebuilt by Dan Haggerty and shown in a museum. He sold it at an auction in 2001. Many other replicas have been built since the film’s release.

Hopper and Fonda hosted a wrap party for the movie and then realized they hadn't shot the final campfire scene. Thus, it was shot after the bikes had already been stolen, which is why they are not visible in the background as in the other campfire scenes.


A box office hit with a $19 million intake, along with Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, Easy Rider helped kick-start the New Hollywood phase during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The major studios realised that money could be made from low-budget films made by avant-garde directors. Heavily influenced by the French New Wave, the films of the so-called "post-classical Hollywood" came to represent a counterculture generation increasingly disillusioned with its government and the world, the Establishment. Although Jack Nicholson appears only as a supporting actor and in the last half of the film, it helped make Jack Nicholson a movie star, along with his subsequent film Five Easy Pieces in which he had the lead role.

The film's success, and the new era of Hollywood that it helped usher in, led to Hopper getting the chance to direct again, making whatever film he wanted with complete artistic control. This turned out to be 1971's The Last Movie, which was a notable box office and critical failure, effectively ending Hopper's directorial career for well over a decade.

Awards and honors

Hopper received the First Film Award (Prix de la premiere oeuvre) at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. At the Academy Awards, Jack Nicholson was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and the film was also nominated for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Material Not Previously Published or Produced.

The film appears at number 88 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Years, 100 Movies. In 1998, Easy Rider was added to the United States National Film Registry, having been deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

American Film Institute recognition


The movie's "groundbreaking" soundtrack featured The Band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Steppenwolf. Donn Cambern used various music from his own record collection to make watching hours of bike footage more interesting during editing. Most of Cambern's music was used, with licensing costs of $1 million, more than the budget of the film. When CSN viewed a rough cut of the film, they assured Hopper that they could not do any better than he already had.

Bob Dylan was asked to contribute music, but was reluctant to use his own recording of "It's Alright, Ma ", so a version performed by Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn was used instead. Also, instead of writing an entirely new song for the film, Dylan simply wrote out the first verse of “Ballad of Easy Rider” and told the filmmakers, “Give this to McGuinn, he’ll know what to do with it.” McGuinn completed the song and performed it in the film.

In popular culture

  • Author Philip K. Dick mentions Easy Rider in his story A Scanner Darkly, in which a character sees the movie in a vision induced while tripping on a reality distortion field created by Scrizer.
  • The Duckman episode Not So Easy Riders directly parodies the motorcycle scenes from this film.
  • Easy Rider has been cited and parodied many times since. A scene from the film Starsky & Hutch features the titular characters dressed as Wyatt and Billy, riding motorcycles to The Band's "The Weight".
  • The movie was also mentioned in the book Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman; he urged all readers, yippies and hippies to make sure the rest of America did not fall for the image of the Yippies, hippies, and their kind as a group with a (sic) "Easy Rider take-no-crap" image.
  • The characters Mike Doonesbury and Mark Slackmeyer of the Doonesbury comic strip embarked on an Easy Rider-style cross-country motorcycle trip in 1972, a story arc that introduced the character of Joanie Caucus.
  • The first season finale of The Venture Bros. directly parodies the final scene.
  • The 1973 film Electra Glide in Blue—starring Robert Blake as a Vietnam War veteran getting his life back together in Arizona as a motorcycle cop—inverts the tragic shooting that ends Easy Rider by having hippies in a Volkswagen mini-bus blast away with a shotgun at Blake's bike, the Electra Glide.
  • In the 1986 biopic Sid and Nancy about The Sex Pistols' bassist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen there was an Easy Rider poster in Sid and Nancy's apartment.
  • After watching the movie, Jimi Hendrix was inspired to write a song about the movie (using different spelling), "Ezy Ryder".
  • In the Season 5, Episode 17 " Sweating It Out" of Beverly Hills, 90210, Brandon makes a reference to Easy Rider when he attempts to soothe his parents' nerves before leaving for his planned motorcycle trek to Lake Whitney with Dylan McKay. Jim Walsh responds with, "Brandon, that film ended with both riders being blown to bits."
  • The man pictured on the cover of The Desert Sessions, volumes 3 & 4 is Peter Fonda from the theatrical poster for the movie.
  • In Terry Gilliam's 1998 film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dr. Gonzo reluctantly attends an anti-drug convention with Thompson and whispers "I saw these bastards in 'Easy Rider'. I didn't believe they were real. Not like this, man - not hundreds of them." (Referring to the hundreds of police officers attending the convention).
  • In 2008, the award-winning documentary Iron City Blues channels the spirit of Easy Rider in several scenes throughout the film.
  • In Stephen King's novel Hearts In Atlantis a quote from Easy Rider is used. The quote being "We blew it".
  • The cover of the movie Beavis and Butthead Do America is a direct reference to Easy Rider, both share the same plot of "trying to score" while making a trip across America. Beavis and Butthead are seen riding motorcycles, whilst wearing outfits that are very similar to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper's in Easy Rider.
  • In the movie Me & Will Sherrie Rose and Melissa Bahr's characters Jane and Will abscond from a detox center to go on a search for the supposed Captain America replica from Easy Rider (presumably the one Dan Haggerty reconstructed and sold). At the detox center the scenes with the opening credits of Easy Rider are seen on screen, and at the end Jane, the sole survivor, finds the replica Captain America bike and blows away two young rednecks in a pickup with a shotgun in a reversal of the Easy Rider script.
  • In the movie Love and a .45 Peter Fonda plays Renee Zellweger's father, a wheel chair bound hippie, and a lamp made from a motorcycle gas tank painted to match the Captain America bike's tank is clearly seen in their home.
  • The graphic novel and film Akira were influenced by Easy Rider, in the form of Kaneda and his motorcycle gang being rebellious figures who are heavy drug users.
  • This film was referenced in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. A character mentions the movie and bikers that were featured resembled the gang in this film. This reference could be a homage to Easy Rider director and star Dennis Hopper, who also appeared in a sequel of the original 1974 film (ironically, Hopper considered the original sequel as his worst film ever made).

See also



  1. . A Making-of documentary.
  2. Walker, Michael. Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood. New York: Faber and Faber, 2006, p. 210.
  4. (as told in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind).
  5. Biography of Mike Doonesbury, Retrieved June 21, 2007.


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