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Easy Rider (1969)
Hopper directed and co-wrote this counter-culture box-office sensation, which kicked open the studio doors to a generation of long-haired film brats who would revolutionize cinema over the next decade. The tagline for the existential film seemed to sum up the nation's post-Summer of Love hangover: ''A man went looking for America. And couldn't find it anywhere.''
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Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Hopper was a fresh-faced 19-year-old from Dodge City, Kansas, when he shared the screen with his idol James Dean in Nicholas Ray's teen angst classic. Dean's death a month before the film's release hit Hopper hard, but spurred the angry young man onto a raw, naturalistic style that he never lost.
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The Last Movie (1971)
Hopper's directorial follow-up to Easy Rider exhibits all of the same brash ego of its predecessor with none of the thematic resonance. A pricey disaster shot in South America that helped make Hopper persona non grata at the studios for the better part of the next 15 years.
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The American Friend (1977)
Wim Wenders' loose adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's noirish novel, Ripley's Game, stars Hopper as an art dealer who traffics in forgeries and cons a dying man (Bruno Ganz) into committing murder.
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Apocalypse Now (1979)
By the time Hopper turns up in Francis Ford Coppola's epic journey into the heart of darkness, the film's already become a nightmare fantasia. Hopper pushes it even further into Gonzo territory as a babbling photojournalist in Kurtz's whacked-out jungle court.
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Out of the Blue (1980)
Hopper's triumphant return to the director's chair after the chaos of The Last Movie earned him a nomination for the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Hopper gives a brave, gritty performance that seemed to foreshadow the comeback that was just a few years away.
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Mirroring his own battles with substance abuse (and redemption), Hopper's wrenching turn as an alcoholic father and assistant high school basketball coach turns what could have been a by-the-numbers inspirational sports flick into something more — something honest, timeless, and true. Earning him his first and only Oscar nomination for acting.
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River's Edge (1987)
Hopper's truly oddball performance as a small-town drug dealer named Feck gooses this harrowing film to life as a group of burnout teens (including a young Keanu Reeves) tries to come to terms with the senseless murder of one of their friends at the hands of one of their own. A unique and underseen movie that holds up as an example of uncompromising '80s indiedom.
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Hopper stays behind the camera for this gritty slice of urban thug life. Sean Penn and Robert Duvall play a pair of mismatched cop partners patrolling the barrios of East L.A. It's the rare action-packed thriller that doesn't skimp on character.
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True Romance (1993)
Any list of the greatest movie scenes of the '90s has to include the interrogation scene between Hopper and Christopher Walken in True Romance. In one powerhouse scene, Hopper's face goes from defiance to humor to regret to resignation. This is what acting is all about.
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Is there any role that's more thankless and disposable than the villain in a splashy Hollywood action movie? Hopper turns a character we've all seen a million times before into something fiendish and fresh as he puts hot-shot cop Keanu Reeves through the paces. A crackerjack blockbuster that never for a second talks down to the audience.