Dennis Hopper. One of the greats in cinema history. A consistent rebel in Hollywood, he pushed envelopes as often as he ripped them up and pissed on the scraps. And even when you could tell he was doing a film just for a paycheck, he did the most with that role and made us as film fans all the happier. I’m looking at you, “Waterworld”. So here at the Criterion Cast, I’ve decided to do a top 10 of my favorite Dennis Hopper roles in film. It also doesn’t hurt that he is in the Criterion Collection, in the TV series “Fishing With John”. Check it out if you haven’t already.
10. “Speed” (1994) – As villainous bomb expert Howard Payne, he more or less steals the movie from Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. But that’s like stealing candy from two rocks. I enjoy this film though, considering the concept of a bus that has to travel 50 mph and if it goes below that speed, everyone dies by the hand of Payne, it’s a great little plot device. Sadly they continue the movie for awhile after that, but Hopper steals it throughout. He also kills Jeff Daniels. That’s how evil he is.
9. “Land of the Dead” (2005) – Romero came back to the zombie world he created in such films as “Night of the Living Dead”, “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead” when he made “Land of the Dead”. And enjoyable film, it becomes better with the inclusion of Dennis Hopper’s Kaufman, who is the head of the private community of Fiddler Green. He is a corporate bad guy, a greedy Enron-esque type of villain for the new century. And he has one of my favorite lines ever in a zombie movie.
8. “Flashback” (1990) – Does anyone else remember this film? Dennis Hopper and Kiefer Sutherland in a movie together (and reconnected later in “24”), it’s a fun little film where Sutherland’s John Buckner has to escort Hopper’s Huey Walker back to jail because of crimes he committed back in his hippy days as a radical. It’s a film of misconceptions and how appearances can be deceptive and is rather funny to boot. Maybe now with his passing, this will get a chance to shine.
7. “Straight to Hell” (1987) – What a weird movie. But it is by Alex Cox, who tends to make films that aren’t in the usual mindset of a ‘normal’ audience. And seeing people such as Joe Strummer, Jim Jarmusch, Shane McGowan, Elvis Costello and Courtney Love in a serious film, it has this rather nightmare like aesthetic that I’ve always loved. Worth checking out, just for the fact that it was made and Hopper again steals the show.
6. “River’s Edge” (1986) – The first of two films that he did that were released in 1986, this film was the first pairing of Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper and also features a great performance by Crispin Glover. It’s a very uncomfortable film that I randomly watched with my brother when we were younger, it made us shake our heads as to some of these horrible kids and their reactions to their friend when he shows them the dead body of his girlfriend, who he had killed earlier in the film. Hopper plays an on the edge drug dealer, who has befriended the neighborhood kids and now is unwittingly involved in the tragic set of events. This is a wonderful film of teenage apathy that was sort of replicated again in Larry Clark’s “Bully”. But this is far and away a better film.
5. “Rumble Fish” (1983) – One of two great adaptations of a S.E. Hinton books by Francis Ford Coppola (in the same year, even!), and for some reason this is the lesser known one. Coppola weaves such a beautiful world in glorious black and white, and it yearns for more people to fall in love with it. Matt Dillon as the bad boy Rusty James, who wishes to live up to his older brother’s legendary exploits, played by beautiful Mickey Rourke. Dennis Hopper plays their father, who is much more subdued in this role as opposed to others and it works wonderfully. Just a great film, the last visionary film by Coppola in my opinion.
4. “The American Friend” (1977) – Another connection within the Criterion Collection (and a film I think deserves a place within those holy walls) is Wim Wenders’ film “The American Friend”. An amazing thriller based on the novel Ripley’s Game, Dennis Hopper plays Tom Ripley (later portrayed by Matt Damon), who convinces Bruno Ganz to assassinate a man. Hopper plays Ripley in such a subtle way, showcasing his loneliness to the point where you almost feel bad for him, until you realize he’s manipulating a man to kill for him. Such a great and visually stunning film. But what else do you expect from Wim Wenders?
3. “Mad Dog Morgan” (1976) – Wow. That’s the word I tend to use for this film. Even stranger is that Troma Films put out an amazing edition of this film, even though this is another film I can see being in the Criterion Collection, mainly for the insanity of Dennis Hopper in this film and the behind the scenes hoopla that almost had the film ended numerous times. Hopper plays the title character of Mad Dog Morgan, who has been wronged in his past by different people in the establishment in Australia in the 1800’s. He becomes a most wanted man, who is fighting the establishment while spiraling out of control with his very own mind. And better still, David Gulpilil is in it as his Aboriginal friend, Billy.
2. “Easy Rider” (1969) – What else can I say about this trailblazing film, which totally threw Hollywood for a loop and changed filmmaking from that point on? It’s a fantastic film, rebellious in the way “Rebel Without a Cause” was for that generation (which Hopper also appeared in). And what isn’t there to love about bikers crossing America, with just the steel they’re riding and the asphalt they’re going over? Peter Fonda became a star with this film as well. What’s even more insane is that he followed up this directorial debut with a film called “The Last Movie” in 1971, which was an acid influenced film that put him out of favor with Hollywood but in my opinion is a misunderstood masterpiece that deserves revisiting. Anyone want to put that movie out in a special edition?
1.5 “True Romance” (199) – I love this film, but I just wanted to link to the wonderful scene between Hopper and Walken. That, even out of context, is still an amazing scene. And of course, is written to the tee by Quentin Tarantino. Enjoy!
1. “Blue Velvet” (1986) – Ahh, “Blue Velvet”. The amount of nightmares you gave me as a kid is endless but the love I have for you is even more undying, every time I watch it again. This is to some David Lynch’s most bizarre yet marketable film ever. I don’t tend to agree with that (“The Elephant Man” is, in my opinion) but it somehow was always on local television on a Friday night, and I would watch it. Yes, the film was edited and it still freaked me out. “Baby wants to play!” was spliced in, instead of the more vulgar version I saw later on video. But Hopper’s performance as Feck gave me goosebumps then, and still does now. And the oxygen mask? *shudders* Just an uncomfortable movie, which Hopper tended to love to make. And every time I see him with that fake mustache, it both makes me laugh and has me looking away because he’s looking right at you.