Why Easy Rider is Still Relevant Today (And Some Things You Might Not Know About the Cult Classic)
Clint Lawrence, founder of Motorcycle Shippers, industry consultant and ambassador of fun. [email protected]
It’s been nearly 50 years since Easy Rider took us all on a wild ride across the U.S. from Los Angeles to New Orleans. This iconic tale of “A man [who] went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere” reawakened the very soul of American motorcycling and sparked a renewed commitment to film and biking long after it left theaters.
The 1969 indie film holds a key place in film history, despite the many independent films that came before it. Easy Rider was the first indie film to actually make money—quickly becoming what many now consider to be one of the most successful indie films of all time. The small-budget film cost $380,000 to produce. Between poorly focused shots, lens flares and light-leaks, the movie left some reviewers (and cast) dubious about its reception. Still, the movie quickly went on to become a cult classic that grossed more than $60 million worldwide.
Years later, echoes of Easy Rider ring through the culture in documentaries, bike tours, film schools and even the Super Bowl.
Easy Rider isn’t just living on in the hearts of baby boomers and the new riding generation, but in film lore, past, present and future. A new documentary titled Along for the Ride recounts the life of Easy Rider’s director Dennis Hopper (who also played the role of Billy in the movie). Hopper’s subsequent films didn’t achieve the same applause, but he is still lauded for his Easy Rider roles in moviemaking history. While Hopper was nearly fired as director, the iconic story and film quality piqued the interest of moviegoers everywhere and became the film that changed the landscape for indie moviemakers to come.
- Super Bowl
Although the countercultural rebellion that made Easy Rider the epic tale it was no longer seem to be what’s fueling today’s youth, the spirit of Easy Rider is poised for a reboot in 2019. Come next year, the movie will celebrate its 50th anniversary. In 2017, actor Peter Fonda hit the screen in a Super Bowl commercial for Mercedes-Benz. Despite the ad’s direct promotion of a car, the elements of the ad echoed the bygone era, which Fonda hopes will renew cultural interest in the film and all it stood for.
- Commercial tours
Outside of film school, few people take the time to appreciate Easy Rider as a piece of classic cinema. But bikers can still embark on the 2,589-mile Easy Rider route with a commercial tour and rediscover that spirit of individualism for themselves. Easy Rider spanned across the breadth of America and captured something truly unique about the American spirit, a sense of freedom, adventure and ability to dream.
Easy Rider was one of the first films to ever use pre-recorded music instead of its own film score. By using the music of the period from Bob Dylan, The Band, Steppenwolf and Jimi Hendrix, the producers connected the characters with the era and with viewers everywhere.
Henry Fonda, Peter Fonda’s father, labeled the movie “inaccessible” and didn’t think people would understand or relate with it. But he was wrong. The movie that catapulted Jack Nicholson to fame and scored him his first Oscar nomination had a youthful edge that no movie of the time could replicate. Easy Rider captured the hearts of a generation because it was about them. It tapped into the raw, the nitty-gritty and the rebellion. And most of all, it tapped into a culture and a passion for living on the outskirts of the establishment—to be free and unbound.
While a sequel was made in 2012, Easy Rider: The Ride Back never scored the same fame, and went straight to DVD with few people knowing or caring. In 2014, the Captain America Harley Davidson that Peter Fonda rode in the movie sold at auction for $1.35 million.
The riders. The freedom. The legends. After all is said and done, these remain the iconic pillars that mark the motorcycle culture both in film and in life. Easy Rider isn’t just relevant today as a key moment in film history, but as an idea that sparked an era of riding and a passion for the open road.
When you feel the need to hit the throttle, Motorcycle shippers is ready to help you get your bike to your destination safely so you too can enjoy the open road.