Modern movies about sympathetic outlaws and outcasts owe a lot to Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. The cinematic retelling of the lives and deaths of the legendary Depression-Era bank robbers didn’t just change crime fiction, but Hollywood as well. As a reaction to the conformist social order and media of the ‘50s, Bonnie and Clyde shattered all subtlety and openly condemned authority while praising rebellion.
In the wake of the film that launched Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to stardom, movies featuring criminal anti-heroes as the last bastions of true freedom cropped up and kept the legacy of cinema’s most influential outlaw lovers alive. While the romanticization of the titular couple is questionable even today, this didn’t stop filmmakers from emulating their literal and symbolic crime-ridden road trip. Here are 10 such movies that were inspired by 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, in both the sincere and satirical way.
11 Special Mention: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Infamous and beloved for its jarring genre shift, Robert Rodriguez’s caper follows the Bonnie and Clyde mold up until a point. Centered on the psychotic Gecko Brothers, From Dusk Till Dawn looked like a gritty update of the criminal road trip before vampires and comical amounts of gore popped up.
The movie is subversive but not like Beatty and Dunaway’s classic, as From Dusk Till Dawn chose to examine vampire innards instead of social anxieties. Still, this cult-favorite deserves credit for introducing the unforgettable Geckos – a Bonnie and Clyde-styled duo who stood out in a decade drowned in forgettable crime movies.
10 The Doom Generation (1995)
Though a period piece, Bonnie and Clyde embodies the generational angst of the ‘60s, and this bitterness is carried on in Gregg Araki’s black comedy. Focusing on a trio of aimlessly aggressive and hedonistic teenagers, The Doom Generation earns its name with its pessimistic outlook on life and rejection of a mundane future.
The second entry in Araki’s “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” is divisive, with some decrying its mean-spirited attitude while others praising it for the same reasons. Like its forerunner, The Doom Generation offers a bleak interpretation of freedom, its enablers, and the never-ending search for it.
9 Natural Born Killers (1994)
Rightfully dubbed “the most expensive student film ever made,” Oliver Stone’s satire of crime and celebrity culture is basically Bonnie and Clyde on a bad drug trip. This movie is one of the best examples of “style over substance,” where surreal visuals and psychedelic delivery improve what could’ve been just another moralizing, cynical stab at society (which it is).
Calling this film “controversial” is an understatement. Scriptwriter Quentin Tarantino hated it so much he disowned it, only taking credit for the names Mickey and Mallory. Though polarizing, Natural Born Killers still demands to be seen at least once.
8 Easy Rider (1969)
Bonnie and Clyde may have birthed New Hollywood, but Easy Rider is that counterculture movement’s flagship. Like Penn’s movie, Dennis Hopper’s landmark film centers on a pair of disillusioned rebels (i.e. hippies) on a cross-country road trip to New Orleans in search of freedom.
The bikers’ questioning authority and their futile hunt for the American Dream are more pronounced versions of the themes of Bonnie and Clyde, making this a uniquely resigned obituary for those ideals. Made possible with copious amounts of drugs flowing through Hopper’s system, Easy Rider could also be seen as true freedom’s funeral dirge.
7 The Wild Bunch (1969)
Often blamed for killing the traditional Western, The Wild Bunch remains one of New Hollywood’s most defiant rejections of authority and what passes for civilization. If Bonnie and Clyde lamented the waning sense of freedom, The Wild Bunch's titular gang of aging outlaws propose that dying while fighting the changing times was better than waiting to be killed.
More violent and depressingly poignant than Penn’s movie, which is hardly a barrel of sunshine, Peckinpah’s cynical Western marked the end for a kind of outlaw that Hollywood and real life were moving on from. There’s a reason typically heroic Westerns are few and far between today.
6 The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Those who disliked the romanticism of Bonnie and Clyde will prefer how The Devil’s Rejects doesn’t bother making its serial-killing protagonists sympathetic, reveling in how sadistic yet pathetic they really are.
Rob Zombie’s most critically acclaimed exploitation film can be viewed as an (unofficial) feature-length version of the 1967 movie’s closing minutes, showing what really happens after a violent crime spree where the perpetrators seemingly escape justice. In its own ways, the sequel to House of 1000 Corpses is the grindhouse remake of Penn’s classic and it’s as merciless yet tragic as it should be.
5 God Bless America (2011)
Directed by the voice actor of Pain in Hercules, this dark comedy borrows Bonnie and Clyde’s basics and ramps up the satire. With teenaged and middle-aged stand-ins for Bonnie and Clyde, respectively, God Bless America aims at American society instead of the system.
God Bless America can be viewed as the opposite of Bonnie and Clyde since it targets those supposedly tarnishing America’s conservative values rather than those upholding them. Unlike the 1967 classic, this movie goes out of its way to condemn its unruly heroes and exposes their hypocrisy in ways that Penn’s movie does not.
4 O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Taking place in the Deep South during the Great Depression and starring criminals on the run, the Coen Brothers’ (incredibly loose) adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey bears many historical, thematic, and visual similarities to Bonnie and Clyde except in one aspect: It is a comedy.
Through the power of music and laughs, O Brother, Where Art Thou? tackles the same ideas that Beatty and Dunaway shot at in 1967 and more (i.e. racism). However, 2000's project makes a mockery of the self-important and rigid elite instead of brooding about their domineering presences. That, and the soundtrack is spectacular.
3 True Romance (1993)
Tony Scott’s action-packed romance is the closest to a Bonnie and Clyde remake in this list. More idealistic and romanticized than its inspiration, True Romance functions more like a fairytale than a statement. The end result is a heartwarming if edgy love story that gives its lovers the happy ending that eluded Bonnie and Clyde.
It also put Quentin Tarantino on the map, since he wrote the script while Scott directed. Though Scott changed the originally bleak ending, Tarantino loved the movie – a stark contrast to his unbridled fury towards Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers.
2 Heathers (1988)
This pitch-black comedy drops Bonnie and Clyde in a public high school setting, where it then proceeds to laugh at its criminal couple instead of idolizing them.
In contrast to the outlaw lovers’ biopic, Heathers forgoes the idealization and shows how deranged and utterly stupid someone has to be to think that inflicting violence is romantic or a good way to make a statement. A darkly humorous and more self-aware retelling of the Bonnie and Clyde romance, Heathers is an unskippable time-capsule of the late ‘80s that can’t be made today.
1 Thelma & Louise (1991)
Most movies that follow Bonnie and Clyde’s footsteps use the foundations to tell a story of amoral outcasts who unwarrantedly get redeemed in the end, but Thelma & Louise is the exception that earns its heartbreaking finale.
From the start, the titular women are victims of an unfair world. Their ensuing road trip isn’t an excuse to confuse liberty with wanton violence and pessimism, but their chance to experience the life and love that they can only dream of. Bonnie and Clyde started the revolution, but Thelma & Louise realized its desperate cry for freedom.