American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Hippie Films, Hippiesploitation, and the Emerging Counterculture, 1955-1970

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Dawn Anderson (Other)

Third Advisor

Angela K. Ahlgren (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Bradford Clark (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Johnny Walker (Committee Member)


The 1960s was a turbulent time in the United States. The war in Vietnam and the assassinations of leading progressive figures created great cultural anxiety. One response to the divisive war and the rightwing violence was the Hippie movement, which advocated peace, love, and social equality. In American cinema, films touting their cultural relevance or appeal for the lucrative youth market came to include representations of Hippies. Initially, mainstream films failed to capture Hippie style and ideology, but subsequently featured sympathetic portrayals of Hippies. By comparison, exploitation films depicted stylistic elements associated with Hippies even at the outset, but offered sensationalized characterizations of Hippies throughout the 1960s.

The study’s primary method is textual analysis of films, reviews, marketing materials, and print documents ranging from mainstream news coverage to counterculture manifestos. To provide a context for analyzing the various trends in cinematic representations of Hippies, the study examines cultural events and filmmaking patterns that led to and sustained the Hippie movement and its representation on screen.

Studying depictions of the Hippie movement on-screen sheds new light on how dominant American society viewed the Hippie counterculture. Most on-screen representations of Hippies reflect the views of the country’s dominant culture, because, in contrast to other Hippie art forms, Hippie films were produced, distributed, and exhibited almost exclusively by companies outside the Hippie movement. At the same time, because certain Hippie films feature verite footage of events such as the Woodstock festival and the 1968 Democratic Convention riots, some on-screen representations offer a window into ways that people sympathetic to the Hippie movement viewed the lifestyle and values associated with Hippies in the 1960s.

Analysis of Hippie films illuminates several key distinctions among mainstream, independent, and exploitation filmmaking. The study reveals that exploitation films were generally unfavorable in their on-screen depictions of Hippies, whereas mainstream films featured generous depictions of Hippies when they had left leaning directors at the helm. The handful of independent Hippie films produced in the 1960s capture the movement’s eccentric spirit and its interest in nonviolence.