The Last Movie

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The Last Movie
Directed byDennis Hopper
Produced byPaul Lewis
Screenplay byStewart Stern
Story byDennis Hopper
Stewart Stern
StarringDennis Hopper
Stella Garcia
Don Gordon
Julie Adams
Sylvia Miles
Peter Fonda
Samuel Fuller
Henry Jaglom
Michelle Phillips
Kris Kristofferson
Dean Stockwell
Russ Tamblyn
Tomas Milian
Music bySevern Darden
Chabuca Granda
Kris Kristofferson
John Buck Wilkin
CinematographyLászló Kovács
Edited byDennis Hopper
David Berlatsky
Antranig Mahakian
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million

The Last Movie is a 1971 metafictional drama film directed and edited by Dennis Hopper, who also stars in the leading role as a horse wrangler named after the state of Kansas. It is written by Stewart Stern, based on a story by Hopper and Stern, and stars an extensive supporting cast that includes Stella Garcia, Don Gordon, Peter Fonda, Julie Adams, Sylvia Miles, Samuel Fuller, Dean Stockwell, Russ Tamblyn, Tomas Milian, Toni Basil, Severn Darden, Henry Jaglom, Rod Cameron, and Kris Kristofferson & Michelle Phillips in their film debuts. The plot centers on a disenfranchised stuntman (Hopper), who begins a filmmaking-centric cargo cult among Peruvian natives after going into self-imposed exile.

Greenlit after the success of Hopper's previous film Easy Rider, Universal Pictures gave the director/star complete creative control over the project, which was budgeted at $1 million and was shot on-location in Peru. Hopper only loosely followed the script by Stern, filming hours upon hours of footage built around friends whom he invited to the set, including several of his collaborators Fonda and Basil. The film's elongated post-production came from Hopper's constant editing and re-editing of the film while suffering from the effects of ongoing substance abuse, leading to allegations of self-sabotage and missing the film's initial deadline to deliver a final cut nearly six months later.

Despite initially high expectations including a well-received screening at the 1971 Venice International Film Festival, the film was a critical and financial disaster. Disatissfied with the finished product, Universal Pictures gave the film a staggered, limited release under multiple alternative titles. Its poor reception led to Hopper's self-imposed exile from Hollywood for several years, not directing another film until Out of the Blue (1980). In the decades since its initial release, it has undergone a critical reappraisal, and has become a cult classic.


Kansas (Hopper) is a stunt coordinator in charge of horses on a western being shot in a small Peruvian village. Following a tragic incident on the set where an actor is killed in a stunt, he decides to quit the movie business and stay in Peru with a local woman. He thinks he has found paradise, but is soon called in to help in a bizarre incident: the Peruvian natives are "filming" their own movie with "cameras" made of sticks, and acting out real western movie violence, as they don't understand movie fakery.



The film touches on the ideas of fiction versus reality, especially in regards to cinema. The movie is presented in a way that challenges the viewer's traditional cinematic understanding of storytelling, by presenting the story in a non-chronological fashion, and by including several devices typically only seen behind the scenes of film-making (rough edits and "scene missing" cards), and the use of jarring jump cuts.


The Last Movie was a long-time pet project of Hopper and writer Stewart Stern, who had written Rebel Without a Cause, in which Hopper played a small role. After developing the script in the early 1960s, Hopper tried for several years to secure financing for the film, intending it to be his directorial debut. Due to the artistically challenging nature of the film, no studios were interested until Hopper's actual first film as a director, Easy Rider, became a massive hit in 1969. Based on the success of Easy Rider, Universal launched a project to give five young film makers $1 million each, and give them free rein to create a movie with little to no intervention from the studio (as had been done on Easy Rider). The other four were The Hired Hand, Taking Off, Silent Running, and American Graffiti, directed by Peter Fonda, Miloš Forman, Douglas Trumbull, and George Lucas, respectively.

Given this freedom, Hopper spent much of 1970 in Peru,[1] bringing many of his actor and musician friends to Peru—including singer Kris Kristofferson and director Samuel Fuller—and shooting the film under the working title Chinchero. With hours and hours of footage, Hopper holed up in his home editing studio in Taos, New Mexico, but failed to deliver a cut by the end of 1970. He was in a period of severe alcohol and drug abuse (as shown in an extremely rare and barely released documentary called The American Dreamer, which was directed by Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson), but managed to put together a fairly straightforward cut in terms of conventional storytelling. He was mocked over it by his friend, cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who urged him to edit the film unconventionally and attempt to break new cinematic ground, which caused Hopper to destroy that edit and craft the more disjointed narrative that is known today; he finally completed that final edit in the spring of 1971.[citation needed]


The movie won the Critics Prize (CIDALC Award) at the Venice Film Festival but despite this, it failed financially and critically after a two-week run at New York City's Cinema 1.[2] (Contrary to some sources, including statements by Hopper himself, the film did play in other theaters across the country after its New York premiere, even playing at drive-ins under the name Chinchero.)[citation needed] Owing to its resulting demise, Hopper did not direct again until 1980's Out of the Blue.

The book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time recounts the film's production in some detail, saying that the studio was so eager to cash in on the youth market following the success of Easy Rider that they gave Hopper carte blanche, and they were horrified with the results.[3]


The film's initial failure led to Hopper's virtual exile from Hollywood, one that lasted well over a decade. Nonetheless, Hopper later announced he was very proud of the film, and hosted many screenings.[4] While he had disparaged the film in the past, Hopper said it was ahead of its time, and only now had audiences and critics started to understand his artistic vision.

In 2006, Hopper told Playboy that he had re-acquired the rights to the film and was planning a DVD release. The magazine even mentions at the time that Hopper held a screening of the film at the Playboy Mansion for Hugh Hefner and several Playmates. Hopper did not realize his plans to release the film on DVD before his death in May 2010.

On August 16, 2018, Arbelos Films, Vidiots & American Cinematheque hosted the Los Angeles 4K restoration premiere at Sid Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California.[5] A Blu-ray of the film was announced for release on November 13, 2018.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "For sale signs dot Hollywood". Associated Press. The Montreal Gazette. October 8, 1971. Retrieved 2 June 2010.
  2. ^ Biskind, P. (1998). Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  3. ^ Medved, Harry and Randy Dreyfuss (1978). The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. New York: Popular Library (CBS). p. 140 9. ISBN 0-445-04139-0.
  4. ^ Raulerson, Rayna (26 July 1978). "Hopper Fights the Film Industry". Boca Raton News (206). John R. Carnett. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  5. ^ Pizarro, Sal (August 7, 2018). "San Jose gets Dennis Hopper's 'The Last Movie' before L.A." The Mercury News. Retrieved September 2, 2018.
  6. ^ "The Last Movie Blu-ray". August 31, 2018. Retrieved 2 September 2018.

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