It’s surprising how many A-list movie stars from Marlon Brando to Jack Nicholson got their Hollywood starts decked out in head-to-toe leathers. Movies such as “Easy Rider,” “The Wild One,” and “The Born Loser” defined America’s 1960s counterculture as much as the Summer of Love. Read on as we share our favorite outlaw biker flicks.
The Wild One (1953), directed by Laslo Benedek, started the genre. It was based loosely on events that took place in Hollister, Calif. in 1947. Two motorcycle gangs take over a small Northern California town following a bike race. They raise havoc until gang leader Johnny is thrown in jail. The iconic image of Marlon Brando as Johnny Strabler shows him straddling his own Triumph motorcycle. You might also recognize Lee Marvin as Chino of a rival gang. Producer Stanley Kramer used real biker gang members to play themselves. When Kramer asked one of them what he was rebelling against, the biker responded, “Well, what ya got?” That line was later incorporated into the script.
Easy Rider (1969) directed by and starring Dennis Hopper with producer Peter Fonda as Billy and Wyatt, depicts two bikers on a two-wheeled journey of self discovery between Los Angeles and New Orleans. Music aficionados might recognize Phil Spector as the drug dealer. Jack Nicholson plays George Hanson, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer and local drunk who Wyatt and Billy encounter along the way. Peter Fonda’s Harley-Davidson chopper called Captain America has a notorious history. According to stuntman Bud Ekins, both bikes built for the movie were stolen off the set at gunpoint, never to be seen again. A legal battle continues over the legitimacy of a bike claiming to be one of the originals that sold for $1,350,000 during a 2014 auction. The sale was later nullified.
The Wild Angels (1966) directed by Roger Corman stars Peter Fonda as Heavenly Blues, leader of the Hells Angels. Bruce Dern plays his pal, Loser, while Diane Ladd, Dern’s wife at the time, is his wife in the film. Nancy Sinatra is Fonda’s “old lady.” The plot, which is sketchy at best, centers on the battle over Loser’s stolen bike and the ensuing battle to retrieve it from a rival Mexican gang. Loser ends up in the hospital and when his buddies bust him out, he dies. The movie culminates in Loser’s funeral at the end: an excuse for a wild outlaw-biker party.
The Born Losers (1967) directed by and starring Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack, the half-Navajo half-white ex-Green Beret and Hapkido master as he fights to protect the residents of Big Rock (Morro Bay) Calif. from being harassed by the Born Losers motorcycle gang. The story was based on a 1964 incident in which members of the Hells Angels were arrested for raping five teenage girls in Monterey, Calif. Elizabeth James is Vicki, Billy Jack’s bikini-clad counterpart. Filming for the first of the Billy Jack movies took three years, beginning in Prescott, Ariz. and concluding in Southern California. Look for a cameo appearance by Jane Russell who plays the mother of one of the girls raped by the biker gang.