Two motorcycles cut through the American desert: one adorned with iconic stars and stripes, the other flaunting flames. The accompanying song is unmistakable: "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf, an anthem that would resonate with an entire generation.
If you haven't guessed the film yet, take a few minutes to read this article because we're talking about a movie that made history in both cinema and the "Flower Children" movement, just like the others on this list. Since we've placed it in the first position, we'll spoil it for you—it's "Easy Rider", and those motorcycles are heading right into the heart of a hippie community.
In the 1960s, the hippie movement permeated every aspect of Western society. It was only natural for cinema to follow suit, contributing to the widespread dissemination of ideals such as peace, love, and brotherhood.
Hippie influence also manifested through visual style and cinematic technique. Directors closely aligned with the movement often embraced the "cinéma vérité" approach—depicting spontaneous and real moments, thus breaking away from conventional filmmaking. Psychedelia, with its creative use of lights, colours, and visual effects, found such profound consecration that it even took refuge in the works of immortal directors like Stanley Kubrick.
Here's a list, by no means exhaustive, of the 10 films that more than any others have shaped hippie culture:
Easy Rider (1969)
If we've decided to start with this film, it's because we're talking about an absolute icon of hippie culture. Directed by Dennis Hopper, it chronicles the motorcycle journey across the United States by two bikers, portrayed by Peter Fonda and Hopper himself. Wyatt and Billy's motorcycles become symbols of freedom, embodying the desire to break away from social restrictions and explore the boundaries of individual freedom. The motorcycle journey symbolises rebellion against the conventions and restrictions of traditional society. Encounters with various characters along the way highlight the differences between hippie counterculture and the now-crisis-ridden bourgeois culture. From the farmer to the lawyer, each meeting underscores the cultural and social tensions of the time.
Directed by Miloš Forman, "Hair" is a cinematic adaptation of the famous Broadway musical. The film explores the life of a young Midwest farmer who joins a group of hippies in New York. Themes such as sexual freedom and resistance to militarism are addressed, and the title itself, "Hair", becomes a visual metaphor for freedom and individual expression.
Directed by Michael Wadleigh, this documentary captures the legendary Woodstock Festival of 1969—an emblematic event of hippie culture. The film provides an intimate look at legendary performances, psychedelic fashion, and the mindset of peace and love that permeated the audience and artists during that epic weekend. Performances by artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, and Joe Cocker become the heart of a new and vibrant world born from the ashes of the past.
The Trip (1967)
Directed by Roger Corman, "The Trip" explores the effects of psychedelic substances and offers an intense look into the culture and counterculture of the 1960s. The film follows the character of Paul Groves (played by Peter Fonda), a man searching for meaning in his life. Paul decides to experiment with LSD under the guidance of a friend, played by Bruce Dern, in a psychedelic journey that leads him to explore the depths of his mind and surrounding society. Psychedelic visions serve as a mirror for the disorientation of a generation seeking to distance itself from conventional values. The film explores the ephemeral nature of reality and the fluidity of perceptions.
Alice's Restaurant (1969)
Inspired by Arlo Guthrie's song, the film irreverently tells the story of Arlo and his friends caught up in a bizarre legal situation. The song, now an anti-establishment anthem, conveys the rebellion of hippie culture against injustices and militarism, embodying the protest spirit of the '60s.
Zabriskie Point (1970)
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, "Zabriskie Point" stands out for its visceral exploration of 1960s counterculture. The plot follows a psychedelic journey and a love story between two young individuals, immersed in vibrant aesthetics and profound social tensions. Breathtaking images of the California desert become a symbolic backdrop for rebellion and the yearning for change. The soundtrack, featuring songs by Pink Floyd and others, contributes to a multisensory experience capturing the quest for freedom and the creative effervescence of the era. "Zabriskie Point" positions itself as a work of art before being a film.
Yellow Submarine (1968)
The animated film, directed by George Dunning, is a psychedelic explosion embodying the aesthetics and philosophy of peace and love of the hippie movement. Based on the music of the Beatles, "Yellow Submarine" offers a spectacular visual and musical journey through fantastical worlds—a true banner for the youth movements of that era.
Taking Off (1971)
Directed by Miloš Forman, the film follows a bourgeois couple who join the hippie movement in search of their missing daughter. Once again, we find tensions between generations in the hippie era and the rebellion of the young against traditional life choices. The film offers an intimate look at the conflicts and identity search of an era of profound social change.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Directed by Sam Mendes, "Revolutionary Road" critically examines suburban life in the 1950s. While not centred on hippie culture, the film represents the frustrations of a generation in revolt against conformity, partly anticipating the ideals of the hippie counterculture. The narrative reflects the tensions of a transitional era and the desire for authenticity in a rapidly changing world.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (Unreleased Documentary)
We conclude with a hope more than a directive because "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" has never seen the light of day, although the renowned filmmaker Gus Van Sant has claimed to be working on it for more than ten years. Based on Tom Wolfe's book, this unreleased documentary was supposed to narrate Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters' psychedelic journey across the United States.