Peter Fonda: 7 Great Movies to Stream

Peter Fonda, who died on Friday at age 79, would have been famous even if he’d never made a movie. As the son of the actor Henry Fonda, the sister of the actress Jane Fonda and the father of the actress Bridget Fonda, he was part of an accomplished Hollywood family. But he made his own profound contributions to the Fonda legacy as director, producer and performer. In the late 1960s and early ’70s in particular, thanks to movies like “Easy Rider” and “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry,” Fonda accrued a kind of outlaw mystique, putting his own countercultural spin on the lanky, laconic western characters his father once played.

Later in his career, in acclaimed performances in films like “Ulee’s Gold” and “The Limey,” Fonda traded on that persona, playing a grizzled, fading version of the hippies he embodied decades earlier. With his deep, even-toned voice, his angular face and his soulful blue eyes, he had a one-of-a-kind screen presence, which he put to use in many classic films throughout his life.

The online database IMDB credits Fonda with 116 roles. Here are seven of the best, along with where to stream them.

‘The Wild Angels’ (1966)

How to watch: Buy or rent it on Amazon and Vudu.

After getting his start in theater and television in New York in the early 1960s, Fonda caught the attention of Hollywood producers, who tried to package him as a dashing lead in soapy romances like “Tammy and the Doctor.” But the actor was more interested in drugs, rebellion and rock ’n’ roll. He found a vehicle for his values in “The Wild Angels,” a motorcycle filled “youthsploitation” picture directed by the indie film entrepreneur Roger Corman. The movie’s story about a rampaging gang resembles the moralistic juvenile delinquent melodramas of the previous decade; but Corman adopts a less judgmental tone. Fonda’s intense, no-frills depiction of a hard-living biker helped popularize a new kind of screen antihero.

[Read the New York Times review.]

‘Easy Rider’ (1969)

How to watch: Stream it on Crackle; buy or rent it on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.

Corman and Fonda followed up “The Wild Angels” with the 1967 LSD drama “The Trip,” in which Fonda worked alongside Dennis Hopper. Hopper and Fonda then decided to capitalize on American moviegoers’ growing fascination with dopers and bikers by collaborating as actors and as filmmakers on what they conceived as the ultimate motorcycle movie. In “Easy Rider,” the two replace a lot of the genre’s violence with psychedelic interludes, along with docu-realistic dispatches from the country’s widening generation gap. Fonda’s poised, dignified character, Wyatt, adds an element of spiritual yearning to the film that even non-hippies at the time could relate to.

[Read the New York Times review.]

‘Dirty Mary Crazy Larry’ (1974)

How to watch: Buy or rent it on Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

Fonda settled into a career as a drive-in movie star in the 1970s, bringing his low-key charisma and famous name to a lot of low-ambition car-chase movies and revenge thrillers. “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” is one of the most fun of the bunch, with Fonda playing a racecar driver who robs a supermarket with his buddy (Adam Roarke) and an ex-lover (Susan George), and then speeds through rural California with cop cars and helicopters on his tail. With his big sunglasses and beatific grin, Fonda cuts a figure as memorably cool as his ’60s biker characters.

[Read the New York Times review.]

‘Race With the Devil’ (1975)

How to watch: Buy or rent it on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.

Just as “Easy Rider” offered an elevated, artier version of the illicit thrills in “The Wild Angels,” so “Race with the Devil” is like “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” but with a sublimely devilish twist. This time out, Fonda plays a dirt bike enthusiast, who along with his business partner (Warren Oates) and their wives (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) accidentally discovers a satanic conspiracy out in the sticks. Soon the couples are driving for their lives in a souped-up R.V. that keeps them one step ahead of the occultists. It’s a dynamic like the one in “Easy Rider,” but the bikers are the respectable types and the country folk are the freaks.

[Read the New York Times review.]

‘Ulee’s Gold’ (1997)

How to watch: Buy or rent it on Vudu.

Fonda received his only best actor Oscar nomination for this fine character drama, written and directed by the Florida filmmaker Victor Nuñez. In it, Fonda plays an aging beekeeper who is already overwhelmed with his family and work responsibilities when the story begins, and he gets even deeper in over his head when his son’s criminal past puts his household in danger. It’s a remarkably nuanced performance from Fonda, whose Ulee spends a lot of time quietly thinking through his problems and pondering his mistakes, in scenes as gripping as any shootout.

[Read the New York Times review.]

‘The Limey’ (1999)

How to watch: Buy or rent it on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube.

Several filmmakers have made use of Fonda’s stature and reputation as a beloved ’60s survivor — often for parodic purposes — but none did it better than Steven Soderbergh, who cast Fonda as a venerable Los Angeles music-industry honcho with a lucrative sideline as a drug smuggler. Terence Stamp plays the British ex-con with a score to settle, in an impressionistic crime picture that doubles as a moody meditation on the glories of the past and the squandered potential of the Love Generation.

[Read the New York Times review.]

‘3:10 to Yuma’ (2007)

How to watch: Buy or rent it on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.

Fonda didn’t make as many westerns as his father did, but he did direct and star in the excellent 1971 cowboy picture “The Hired Hand” (not available to stream at the moment). Late in his career, he added some earthy authenticity to the director James Mangold’s remake of “3:10 to Yuma.” As a Pinkerton agent trying to help bring a train robber to justice, he calls back to the lived-in grit and gravitas of the old western character actors. The movie is like something from an alternate Hollywood history, in which Fonda spent more time on horses than on motorcycles.

[Read the New York Times review.]

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