Five Must-See Counterculture Films

Underground poets, hippie journalists, LA investigators, teen rebels - these are just some of the main characters of the outlined films that focus on sub- and counterculture. Apart from providing us with a cinematic experience, then can teach us something about society itself too.

Counterculture, subculture, and the fringes of society – be it through actively standing against the widespread mentality and values or just living the outlaw life, some trends revolutionise literature, art, and the overall outlook on society.

If this is your life or you just ‘dig’ such an aesthetic, here’s a list of five films that you should watch to feel this unparalleled vibe.



Heroin addiction, AIDS epidemic, and petty crimes: Trainspotting is a 1996 British drama and dark comedy film based on a novel by Irvine Welsh.

The author is known for his literal – and often dirty – depiction of the world of addiction, filth, and sex, betwixt his exceptional narration with a strong emphasis on counterculture and on Scottish accents.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Big Fish, Star Wars) as the lead character Mark Renton, we get to know the struggles of heroin junkies in the poor areas of economically deprived Edinburgh, as they face the outside pressure to ‘choose life,’ get a job and live a regular life clean from ‘gear’.

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Spotted: Danny Boyle was the director for the counterculture hit, Trainspotting

Trainspotting’s soundtrack comprises such goodies as New Order’s Temptation or Lust for Life and Nightclubbing by Iggy Pop.

The movie had a massive effect on pop culture and its witty dialogue lines will remain appreciated and close to our hearts more than two-and-a-half decades on.

In 2017, a sequel T2 Trainspotting was released, as the continuation of the characters’ stories years later.


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Based on a novel of the same name by Gonzo Journalism-pioneer Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is an ode to, as Hunter would put it himself, the failed counterculture movement of the 1960s.

At the backdrop of the Vietnam War and massive protests, the film focuses on a reporter Raul Duke and his attorney, as they travel to Las Vegas to cover a sports story, having “two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, [and] laughers” in their boot.


As you might know, Raul Duke was Hunter Thompson’s alter ego that followed him for the rest of his career. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was loosely adapted in the 1980 Where the Buffalo Roam starring Hunter’s actor friend Bill Murray, and then finally in 1998 starring Johnny Depp as Duke and Benicio del Toro as his attorney, Dr. Gonzo.

Apart from the underlying meaning and the novel’s cultural significance, the film is filled to capacity with funny dialogues and disturbingly dangerous situations – together they make a good piece of cinema.


Inherent Vice

Starring the superb Joaquin Phoenix – star of such movies as The Master, Her, or more recently Joker Inherent Vice is Paul Anderson’s 2014 neo-noir crime film.

Based on a novel of the same title, the story follows a private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello as he gets entwined in a mysterious and convoluted plot.

Set in the 1970s, with Doc’s hippie life, the film dives into drug culture with a touch of set-ups, secret meetings, and metaphorical sleeping monsters you don’t want to disturb.

Alongside Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, and a handful of other impeccable actors, Inherent Vice is stuffed with dram-com bits nailed by Phoenix.

The film was in development for almost four years before it was released.

The Los Angeles underground, counterculture world of crime and dope in Inherent Vice will give you both the goosebumps and laughs you need.


Cry Baby

Nothing is as well-defined as Johnny Depp’s cheekbones in the teen musical Cry Baby.

The plot of the film – as is often the case in this genre – is based on the motif of love between two people from radically different backgrounds and surroundings.

The forbidden affection between a ‘square’ girl Allison – wearing fine clothes and certainly not used to getting into trouble – and a laid-back renegade Wade Walker known as Cry Baby.

Though the scheme of the story dates back to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – if not earlier than that – the film Cry Baby re-frames it into the 1950s, with a group of teen delinquents, or ‘drapes,’ and their rom-com, sometimes comedic, affairs with the town’s inhabitants and other subcultures.

Familial relations between the drapes and their not-so-alike parents are a well-known pattern too, presenting the conflict between widely-accepted conservative tradition and the gust of novelty and counterculture in the hearts of the young revolutionaries.

Released in 1990 and directed by John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray), Cry Baby became a classic that cultivates youth, rebellion, and love on the fringes of society – and often against society itself.


Kill Your Darlings

The year is 1944, a young poet gets accepted into the Columbia University in New York where he comes to meet fellow authors – they’re soon to become the core of the Beat Generation, a counterculture movement that preceded the hippies, originally comprising Allen Ginsberg (Howl), Lucien Carr, William Burroughs (Naked Lunch, Junky), and Jack Kerouac (On the Road, The Dharma Bums).

Their literary works defined a generation, but before that they were all intertwined in a story of forbidden love, rebellion, and murder.

Kill Your Darlings stars Daniel Radcliffe (Escape from Pretoria, Swiss Army Man) as Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan (A Cure for Wellness) as Carr.

This biographical drama movie was released in 2013, and is an on-screen adaptation of the events that happened around the killing of Kammerer by the anti-establishment writer Lucien Carr.

The event in itself had a major impact on the Beat pioneers and later inspired And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks – a novel on which Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated, as well as a number of the story’s attempts on retelling.

Standing up to authority, breaking the rules, and an unexpected turn of events – Kill Your Darlings should by all means find its place on your to-watch list.


Fringes on Screen

Hippies, beatniks, 90s junkies – questionable as their life choices might seem, they are all a part of our world. Though often presented as dysfunctional, they are the very yardsticks that show us the gaps in how we see life.

Cinema is a branch of art rooted deeply in pop culture – today, even sub- and counterculture films make it big at the box office.

Nonetheless the above films are not only entertainment, but also an insight into the fringes of society.

Counterculture is just one genre of film – here we talk about one of the world’s most popular subjects of modern cinema, superheroes and why they don’t always work.

Why did Wonder Woman: 1984 fail?

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