Tom Laughlin Was Not a Fan of Movie Critics

The late actor once took out several ads in Variety with cash prizes for readers willing to condemn critics

Some rebels live forever. Who can forget James Dean and his parents who were “tearing him apart!!!?” Or Brando’s “Wild One” roaring down the highway. Or those “Easy Riders,” Billy and Wyatt, roles their stars, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda never eclipsed. There are some rebels, however, who blazed across the screen, sold millions of tickets and who haven’t endured as mythically and memorably. One of them, Billy Jack, was played by actor-director-writer-producer Tom Laughlin whose career as a counterculture star of the 70s wasn’t followed by major roles or a hallowed place in the film canon, a point that the Variety Archives makes clear would have made him angry enough to drop kick a Camaro.

Laughlin, who passed away this week at the age of 82, was unhappy with how little the critics of America cared for his pop culture hit pics, including the original “Billy Jack” (1971) and its sequels, “The Trial of Billy Jack” (1975) and “Billy Jack Goes To Washington,” (1977) and in response took out full page ads in Variety back in 1975 decrying the audacity of those who overlooked a genuine cultural phenomenon. He created a cash prize contest meant to create a whole new legion of populist, grass-roots critics who could give those pointy-headed intellectuals the kind of whipping that Billy Jack gave his enemies. He scoffed at anyone foolish enough to celebrate the works of Fellini, Renoir, Coppola, Bergman et al over the cinematic contributions of Tom Laughlin.

Today, of course, there are millions of critics on the internet, endlessly chattering about their favorite pop stars and movie heroes. Not many of them know that once upon a time, the biggest, most butt-kicking guy on the screen was an odd mix of hippie spirituality and Tea Party populism. The Billy Jack vs the Critics contest may have fizzled, but in this remake-hungry culture of modern Hollywood, who would be surprised by Billy Jack’s big screen, big budget return. Only one question: Who is the perfect Billy Jack of today?

See ads below from 1975 issue of Variety:

More Film

  • Unicorn Store Trailer

    Watch the First Trailer for Brie Larson's Directorial Debut, 'Unicorn Store'

    Brie Larson is seeking salvation from Samuel L. Jackson in Neflix’s first trailer for her directorial debut, the offbeat comedy-drama “Unicorn Store.” Larson is portraying a lonely 20-something dreamer who’s been kicked out of art school. She’s forced to move back home with her parents and take a temp job at a PR agency. But [...]

  • Patti Rockenwagner

    Chief Brand Officer Patti Röckenwagner Leaves STX Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Patti Röckenwagner is leaving STX Entertainment where she has served as the company’s chief brand officer. She announced her departure in a memo to staff, in which she said she was departing for “another opportunity.” The exit is an amicable one. Röckenwagner joined STX in 2016 as its chief communications officer before being promoted to [...]

  • Gabrielle Union

    10 Things We Learned at Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit

    Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit, which brought top execs to Hollywood’s NeueHouse on Thursday, covered considerable ground. From cutting through the noise in an oversaturated media landscape to welcoming exciting technology like virtual reality, industry veterans offered insight into what to expect from the marketing world in coming years. Here are 10 things we learned [...]

  • Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces On

    Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces on Flurry of High-Profile Series

    Following “The Name of the Rose”(pictured) and “Devils,” France’s Orange has unveiled four internationally-driven series projects as part of its commitment to step into premium original shows with its film/TV division Orange Studio and pay TV group OCS both of board. Currently in development, the social western “Cheyenne & Lola,” the dance-filled workplace drama “The [...]

  • 'This Isn’t Spinal Tap': Dishing the

    'This Isn't Spinal Tap': Dishing the Dirt on Motley Crue's Surprisingly Dark Biopic

    The new, eagerly awaited Motley Crue biopic, based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling 2001 book, “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” premieres today on Netflix after a seemingly endless 13 years in development hell. Those anticipating “a fun ‘80s music movie,” as Crue bassist Nikki Sixx puts it, will inevitably be stunned [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Nabs $7.4 Million on Thursday Night

    Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Us” opened huge with $7.4 million on Thursday night in North America. The figure easily topped Thursday preview numbers for “The Nun” at $5.4 million and “A Quiet Place” at $4.3 million and nearly matched “Halloween” at $7.7 million. Related Kit Harington Plays 'Game of Thrones' Word Association Watch the First Trailer for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content