Billy Jack is the second, and highest grossing, in a series of motion pictures centering on a fictional character of the same name, played by Tom Laughlin who also directed and co-wrote the script. Filming began in Prescott, Arizona, in fall 1969, but the movie was not completed until 1971. American International Pictures pulled out of the production, halting filming. Twentieth Century Fox came in and filming eventually resumed, but when that studio refused to distribute the film, Warner Bros. took over.
The film lacked distribution, so Laughlin took it to theatres himself in 1971. The film died at the box office in its initial run but took in more than $40 million in its 1973 re-release, which was supervised by Laughlin.
Billy Jack is a "half-breed" American Cherokee Indian Green Beret Vietnam War veteran, hapkido master, and gunslinger. The character made his début in The Born Losers (1967), a so-called "biker film" about a motorcycle gang terrorizing a California town; Billy Jack rises to the occasion to defeat the gang by defending from their wrath a college student who has evidence against them for gang rapes. The first film was considered the typical drive-in theatre fare of the period, described by Entertainment Insiders reviewer Rusty White as "pure exploitation, but with something extra."