The 15 Best Counterculture Movies of All Time, Ranked

Not only do these counterculture movies explore alternative movements, but they're captivating and iconic!
The 15 Best Counterculture Movies of All Time, Ranked

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Hippies, Rockers, Punks, Mods. The 1960s and 1970s saw a huge surge in subcultures that defied social norms.

Emerging out of the conservativism of a buttoned-down post-WWII society came a new generation of kids who expressed their free-loving, drug-taking angst through art, fashion, and music.

Of course, cinema played a huge role, too!

Here are my picks for the best movies that celebrate different counterculture movements, whether they were made during their respective periods or as a reflection on them later.

15. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982)

Directed by Lou Adler

Starring Peter Donat, Diane Lane, Marin Kanter

Comedy, Drama, Music (1h 27m)

6.7 on IMDb67% on RT

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains wasn't the only counterculture film on this list to bomb at the box office and bloom later in life, particularly when it started airing on 1980s cable TV.

"Riot grrrl" was a subculture within a subculture, a third-wave feminist movement of angry punks and daring anarchists. Underground rock performers heavily influenced the movement, but Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains really added fuel to the fire.

Lou Adler tells a grungy glam rock tale of teenage punks who start an all-girls garage band that makes national news. Diane Lane leads the off-key trio (in wild, red-winged eyeliner) towards an iconic MTV musical video finale that was debated as to whether it should even be included!

14. Jesus Revolution (2023)

Directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle

Starring Joel Courtney, Jonathan Roumie, Kimberly Williams-Paisley

Drama (2h)

7.1 on IMDb54% on RT

The hippie movement is split between the laid-back, mellow-yellow hugging of trees and the intense mind expansion and spiritual awakening that comes with dangerous substance abuse.

Jesus Revolution is the gooey, sentimental, and innocent kind of hippie film, one that marries New Age beliefs with Christianity. Directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, Jesus Revolution is based on the true story of self-proclaimed West Coast "Jesus freaks" during the 60s and 70s.

Most priests and Christians were disgruntled by the spread of barefoot tie-dye hippies who sinned their way to enlightenment... then Lonnie Frisbee (played by Jonathan Roumie) came and taught them to "speak to [the hippies] in a language they understand."

Sitting in a circle and singing hymns to acoustic guitars makes up the bulk of this doughy biopic, but luckily it avoids the heavy-handed preachiness of most Christian movies.

13. Hair (1979)

Directed by Miloš Forman

Starring John Savage, Treat Williams, Beverly D'Angelo

Comedy, Drama, Musical (2h 1m)

7.5 on IMDb82% on RT

A musical featuring songs like "Let the Sunshine In" and "Aquarius," Hair takes place in New York City during the 1960s.

Miloš Forman's rock musical plays out against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, which looms over a hippie commune in Central Park. The tribe takes in an Oklahoma farm hand, who then forms an unlikely romance with an upper-class debutante.

Based on the 1968 Broadway musical Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, the gang introduces Claude Hooper Bukowski (played by John Savage) to their world of LSD and draft evasion. Hair has all the groovy tunes and shaggy-haired characters of the hippie boom.

12. Woodstock (1970)

Directed by Michael Wadleigh

Starring Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Jimi Hendrix

Documentary, History, Music (3h 4m)

8.1 on IMDb100% on RT

Woodstock is undoubtedly the most famous concert in music history, featuring performances by Jimi Hendrix and The Who.

The festival began life on a random dairy farm in New York—that's right, it didn't even take place at Woodstock!—and quickly snowballed into a crowd of over 400,000 attendees.

Capturing it all was director Michael Wadleigh, who worked alongside seven editors and won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

As Woodstock was one of the biggest events in counterculture history, I just had to include this documentary on this list. An extended director's cut and separate Hendrix feature were also released in the 1990s.

11. The Bikeriders (2023)

Directed by Jeff Nichols

Starring Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, Tom Hardy

Crime, Drama (1h 56m)

7.6 on IMDb86% on RT

The first edition of Danny Lyon's 1967 photobook sells for almost two grand nowadays, quite literally capturing the motorcycle gang culture of the 1960s (which Lyon was part of as a member of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club) via photo essay.

These candid black-and-white shots skirt the edges of Chicago, where Harley-Davidson rebels hit the road and evolved from being a safe space for misfit outsiders to a sinister criminal enterprise.

After several strike delays, Jeff Nichols's gorgeously shot film adaptation was finally released in the US in 2023, starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Michael Shannon, Norman Reedus, and Tom Hardy.

10. Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Directed by Todd Haynes

Starring Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale

Drama, Music (1h 58m)

6.9 on IMDb62% on RT

Velvet Goldmine is saturated in the sounds and fashion of glam rock, a uniquely standout counterculture that favored androgyny, bold hairstyles, and lots and lots of glitter.

Beginning in 1984, a British journalist recounts the death hoax of rock star Brian Slade (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Clearly inspired by David Bowie, Slade was once a legendary diva musician.

Arthur (played by Christian Bale) had spent his youth in awe of the star, and now uses journalism as a way to his express his passion for the glamourous culture.

Director Todd Haynes paints a colorful, if sometimes strenuous, portrait of the glam rock scene in 1970s Britain, which created a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community to thrive.

9. The Doors (1991)

Directed by Oliver Stone

Starring Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan

Biography, Drama, Music (2h 20m)

7.2 on IMDb56% on RT

Ask anyone to name a counterculture band and one of the first ones to tumble off their lips will be The Doors.

Val Kilmer immortalized Jim Morrison with his incredible performance as the eccentric LSD-addicted lead singer, who was known for his unpredictable behavior.

Pretty much everything Morrison did—whether on stage, in the desert, at rehearsal, in bars, at dinner parties, or elsewhere—he did on acid, adding to his already bizarre character. It's most evident from the trippy, darkly poetic, cryptic monologues at the start of many of his songs.

Oliver Stone brings us a biography of The Doors with Morrison front and center, flirting with death and participating in mystical ceremonies.

8. Almost Famous (2000)

Directed by Cameron Crowe

Starring Billy Crudup, Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson

Adventure, Comedy, Drama (2h 2m)

7.9 on IMDb89% on RT

At the turn of the millennium, Cameron Crowe directed an homage to the 20th century's most revolutionary development: rock 'n roll.

In fact, the 1960s and 1970s stick out like a sore thumb from the whole of recent history, expanding beyond just a music genre and into a complete societal shift that we're still feeling today.

Neat and tidy American suburbia was pushed aside by kids in favor of new horizons, substances, sexualities, and sounds. Black Sabbath, The Velvet Underground, and Led Zeppelin were the melodies of this spontaneous lifestyle, unbound by laws or parental expectations.

Almost Famous is packed with fictitious rockers, groupies, and journalists who tour across cities on behalf of Rolling Stone magazine, and Cameron Crowe gives equal weight to the pros and cons of such reckless living in this iconic coming-of-age road drama.

7. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Directed by Terry Gilliam

Starring Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Tobey Maguire

Adventure, Comedy, Drama (1h 58m)

7.5 on IMDb50% on RT

It might be a surprise to learn that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on true events, and the fact that the real-life Hunter S. Thompson came out of this drug-fueled road trip alive is truly a miracle.

Johnny Depp stars as the gonzo journalist, who wrote down his experiences of road tripping while on mescaline in his 1971 book. Alongside him is Benicio del Toro as Dr. Gonzo, a Mexican-American attorney and LSD fanatic.

The reckless duo tear up Death Valley in a red convertible, doused in a cocktail of drugs and crying to Janis Joplin in the bathtub. Although a financial failure, the film has since become a hailed cult classic.

6. Blow-Up (1966)

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles

Drama, Mystery, Thriller (1h 51m)

7.5 on IMDb87% on RT

You'd be hard-pressed to find a decent trailer for Blow-Up on YouTube, so you'll just have to trust me (and its acclaimed reputation) when I say it deserves a spot on your watchlist. (If you've seen Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and liked it, you'll definitely love Blow-Up.)

This "Mod masterpiece" is everything a counterculture flick should be: controversial, impulsive, bold, allegorical, and driven by creativity. Michelangelo Antonioni's first English-language movie turns the camera onto its audience by showing how media can dehumanize us and in the process turn art into illusionary voyeurism.

Antonioni does this by centering on a British fashion photographer (complete with authentically funky 1960s wardrobe design) in Swinging London who accidentally captures a murder.

This garish thriller was unapproved by the Hays Code for its explicit nudity and violence, elements that Antonioni incorporated on purpose to make a point. Then again, it wouldn't truly be a counterculture movie if censorship boards didn't hate it, would it?

5. This Is England (2006)

Directed by Shane Meadows

Starring Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley

Crime, Drama (1h 41m)

7.7 on IMDb93% on RT

This Is England unveils the pros and cons of the skinhead counterculture. Shaved hair, Doc Martens, Harrington bombers, and buttoned-up Fred Perry polos comprise the skinhead image, a subculture built on elements of the Mod and Jamaican immigrant "Rude Boy."

After his father dies in the Falklands War, young Shaun (played by Thomas Turgoose) is welcomed into a community of older skinheads. That community is soon divided by the influence of neo-Nazis who spout white supremacy ideology.

Shane Meadows's lairy realist drama captures the mood of working-class England in the 1980s, opening the film with a montage of era-defining news footage set to a reggae soundtrack.

4. Dazed and Confused (1993)

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey

Comedy (1h 43m)

7.6 on IMDb92% on RT

If you search the web for "stoner movies," Dazed and Confused is likely to be the first one to show up—and that's because it's so great!

A mellowed-out coming-of-age comedy that's now considered a cult icon, Dazed and Confused features an ensemble cast of soon-to-be stars: Jason London, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, and Matthew McConaughey, just to name a few.

Set in Texas in the summer of 1976, Richard Linklater takes us on a cruise down memory lane—of days spent driving, smoking, and partying while the final days of high school waste away.

Pink Floyd, long hair, and vintage Chevrolets make Dazed and Confused a legacy of 1970s counterculture, despite being a commercial flop.

3. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo

Drama (1h 51m)

7.6 on IMDb93% on RT

Rebel Without a Cause was made at the very genesis of counterculture in the mid-1950s. Before this, the concept of "teenagers" wasn't really a thing. You were either a child or an adult.

Once the idea of adolescent angst was out in the open and mingling with rock music and retro after-school diners, the film industry was quick to target this newly burgeoning demographic.

James Dean stars in his most iconic role as a smooth, red jacket-wearing rebel who lashes out against his parents and "the system." Directed by Nicholas Ray, Rebel Without a Cause was nominated for numerous Oscars and continues to be referenced in pop culture to this day.

2. Quadrophenia (1979)

Directed by Franc Roddam

Starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Phil Davis

Drama, Music (2h)

7.2 on IMDb100% on RT

We're back in England again with Quadrophenia, rewinding to when Mods were clashing horns with the Rockers on a daily basis.

It all came to a head at a scooter rally to Brighton Beach, where a riot broke out between the two opposing groups. Loosely based on The Who's 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia is the defining film of the Mods, featuring a funky soundtrack of R&B, soul, and rock.

Phil Daniels stars as a disillusioned young mailman in London, who lives to ride his Lambretta in fitted zoot suits, fueled by stolen amphetamines. A punchy coming-of-age tale that perfectly encapsulates the era, Quadrophenia is a must-watch for any music lover.

1. Easy Rider (1969)

Directed by Dennis Hopper

Starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson

Adventure, Drama (1h 35m)

7.3 on IMDb84% on RT

Easy Rider is widely recognized as the first New Hollywood movie. Directed by (and starring) Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider has everything you'd expect from a counterculture movie: psychedelics, hippie communes, motorcycles, and the open road.

Alongside Dennis Hopper is Peter Fonda as the duo rides out to Los Angeles with some smuggled cocaine in their possession. Smoking weed and picking up hitchhikers, Wyatt and Billy are the epitome of free-wheeling bohemian culture.

Hopper really engrains this cult classic with the texture and atmosphere of America in the early 1970s, especially with that realistically trippy graveyard scene that reminds us not to play around with LSD!