Ten Best Dennis Hopper Movie and Television Roles

Updated April 2, 2010

Dennis Hopper has been on the Hollywood scene since the mid-1950s. Born Dennis Lee Hopper in Dodge City, Kansas, on May 17, 1936, Hopper made his motion picture debut in Johnny Guitar (1954). His dramatic television debut came on January 3, 1955, when he appeared as Robert on an episode of Medic titled "Boy in the Storm."

Here are ten memorable Dennis Hopper movie and television roles that no serious fan should ever miss. Dennis Hopper rides again, man!


Hoosiers (1986)

Dennis Hopper plays Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch, the alcoholic father whom Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) takes on as his assistant basketball coach at small-town Hickory High School in hoops-mad Indiana. Tiny Hickory proves to be a giant killer, eventually winning the state basketball championship in 1952. It's the perfect role for Hopper as the hard-drinking yet knowledgeable super fan who helps guide Coach Dale and his boys to the ultimate high school hoops prize. Hopper garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. "Alright, boys, this is the last shot we got! We're gonna run the picket fence at 'em! Jimmy, you're solo right! Everett, Merle should be open on the other side of that fence! Now, boys, don't get caught watchin' the paint dry!" Hopper tells his charges in one memorable scene. 

Dennis Hopper as Shooter in Hoosiers (1986)

Easy Rider (1969)

In perhaps his most famous role, Dennis Hopper plays Billy to Peter Fonda's Wyatt a.k.a. Captain America in this psychedelic road trip classic from the Woodstock era. After scoring a drug deal, Hopper and Fonda mount their choppers and head down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Along the way they encounter alcoholic lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a hippie commune, violent rednecks and other mind-blowing events. Hopper co-wrote the script with Fonda and Terry Southern and also served as director. "No, man, like hey, man. Wow. I was watching this object, man, like the satellite that we saw the other night, right? And, like, it was going right across the sky, man, and then... I mean it just suddenly, uh, it just changed direction and went whizzin' right off, man. It flashed..." an incoherent Hopper gushes in one scene, high on the evil weed as he describes an alleged UFO sighting. 

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Dennis Hopper plays a wild hippie photojournalist (no name given) in director Francis Ford Coppola's classic ode to the Vietnam War. Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is tasked with taking out mad Green Beret Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who is operating unchecked as the head of his own private Montagnard army in Cambodia. Hopper is at his spaced-out, amphetamine-fueled best, emerging from the jungle with his mouth going a mile a minute after Martin Sheen and company arrive by PBR boat. "The heads. You're looking at the heads. Sometimes he goes too far. He's the first one to admit it," Hopper informs Martin Sheen as they encounter a collection of severed heads adorning the insane colonel's jungle headquarters.  

Dennis Hopper as the freelance photojournalist in Apocalypse Now (1979)

Blue Velvet (1986)

Dennis Hopper plays Frank Booth, a psychotic drug user and sociopath who terrorizes youngsters Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) in the logging town of Lumberton. Hopper turns the crazed Frank Booth character into one of the creepiest ducks ever to grace the silver screen, using the f-word like a weapon in his private war on sanity and good taste. "I shoot when I see the whites of the eyes," Hopper announces in one of his more lucid, profanity-free moments. Our apologies to Bobby Vinton and his 1963 #1 hit "Blue Velvet," from which the movie garners its title.   

Giant (1956)

Dennis Hopper plays Jordan Benedict III, the son of Texas rancher/oil tycoon Jordan "Bick" Benedict Jr. (Rock Hudson) and Leslie Benedict (Elizabeth Taylor) in this sweeping epic of black gold and the Lone Star State. Giant marked only the fifth big screen appearance of Hopper up to that time, with the actor turning in a good performance as the sensitive son who, against his father's wishes, chucks the ranching life and becomes a physician, eventually marrying local Mexican girl Juan Guerra (Elsa Cardenas). One of Hopper's best scenes comes when he tangles with the wicked Jett Rink, played by James Dean in his final film.

Dennis Hopper as Jordan Benedict III in Giant (1956)


Bonanza (1959-73)

Dennis Hopper guest stars as Dev Farnum in "The Dark Past," originally telecast on May 3, 1964. Hopper's Farnum is an Old West bounty hunter whose latest quarry is outlaw James "Jamie Boy" Briggs (Ron Starr). Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), along with his three boys Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon), are also on hand, ably complementing Hopper's grand performance as the moody loner with a mysterious past.

The Twilight Zone (1959-64)

Dennis Hopper guest stars as Peter Vollmer, an angry young man who is used by a shadowy figure to propel a struggling American neo-Nazi group to notoriety in "He's Alive," first broadcast on January 24, 1963. The driving force behind Vollmer proves to be the spirit of Adolf Hitler (Curt Conway), who tells his young protege, "Though we sent them to the ovens, a handful always remained to point the finger." Hopper is absolutely chilling as the impressionable hatemonger, registering one of his most villainous scenes when he strikes an old man who had survived the Nazi horrors at Dachau.

Dennis Hopper as Peter Vollmer in The Twilight Zone's "He's Alive" (1963)

Petticoat Junction (1963-70)

Dennis Hopper plays Alan Landman in "Bobbie Jo and the Beatnik," originally telecast on January 7, 1964. Hopper's Landman is an abrasive young poet from Greenwich Village who is deemed a "prize intellectual catch" by starry-eyed Bobbie Joe Bradley (Pat Woodell). "My poetry is, uh, a cry of anguish in the tortured night," declares Hopper. "Oh, you write jingles for those indigestion commercials," Uncle Joe (Edgar Buchanan) replies. This is a really fun role for Hopper in one of the 1960s most popular TV sitcoms. Like check it out, man.

Naked City (1958-63)

Dennis Hopper guest stars as Vinnie Winford in "Shoes for Vinnie Winford," first telecast on March 1, 1961. Hopper plays a spoiled rich kid who becomes the head of his deceased father's company. Virtually ignored by the board of directors, Hopper's abusive Vinnie owns a rollicking burlesque house on the side, with the NYPD paying him a visit after one of his dancers goes missing.

Sugarfoot (1957-61)

Dennis Hopper guest stars as the notorious gunfighter Billy the Kid in "Brannigan's Boots," originally aired on September 17, 1957. Series star Will Hutchins as Tom "Sugarfoot" Brewster is appointed sheriff of Bluerock, tasked with finding the killer of the previous sheriff whose daughter Katie Brannigan (Merry Anders) believing he's not quite up to the job. Jack Elam, Louis Jean Heydt, Arthur Hunnicutt, Chubby Johnson, Slim Pickens and a young Kurt Russell also appear with Hopper, who plays Billy with an evil menace.

Ten Other Dennis Hopper Movie and Television Role Favorites

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

Hang 'Em High (1968)

Colors (1994)

Out of the Blue (1980)

Cheyenne, "Quicksand" (4/3/56)

The Rifleman, "Three Legged Terror" (4/21/59)

The Betty Hutton Show, "Goldie Meets Mike" (3/17/60)

The Millionaire, "Millionaire Julie Sherman" (3/22/60)

Wagon Train, "The Emmett Lawton Story" (3/6/63)

Dennis Hopper in an early 1950s Hollywood portrait