Most Influential Films in American Cinema

The 100 + Most Influential, Significant and Important Films in American Cinema

The 1960s

Most Influential, Significant and Important Films in American Cinema
(chronological by time period and film title)
Introduction | Silent Era | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s
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Most Influential, Significant and Important Films in American Cinema
(chronological by time period and film title)
Title Screen
Film Title/Year/Director/Length/Studio, Descriptions of Influence/Significance

Psycho (1960)
d. Alfred Hitchcock, 109 minutes, Shamley Productions/Paramount Pictures

  • This remains the greatest, most influential Hitchcock horror/thriller ever made and the progenitor of the modern Hollywood horror-slasher film, based on Robert Bloch's novel. The complex story included the untimely, violent murder of the main protagonist early in the film (a monumental first that was later copied in Scream (1996) with Drew Barrymore), a cross-dressing transvestite murderer (portrayed brilliantly by Anthony Perkins), insanity, a stuffed corpse, and Oedipal Freudian motivations. Hitchcock's techniques voyeuristically implicated the audience with the universal, dark evil forces and secrets present in the film.
  • The nightmarish, disturbing film's themes of corruptibility, confused identities, voyeurism, human vulnerabilities and victimization, the deadly effects of money, Oedipal murder, and dark past histories were realistically revealed. Its themes were revealed through repeated uses of motifs, such as birds, eyes, hands, and mirrors.
  • Considered the "mother" of all modern horror, scream-inducing suspense films. A risky horror film, it invented the contemporary psychological thriller. It single-handedly ushered in an era of inferior screen 'slashers' with blood-letting and graphic, shocking killings by serial killers (e.g., Peeping Tom (1960, UK), Homicidal (1961), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), and Motel Hell (1980), and many more).
  • As a supremely manipulative tale, it included the most celebrated shower sequence ever made. The shocking, brilliantly-edited, and notorious 3-minute shower murder scene, accompanied by screeching violins (Bernard Herrmann's famous and frightening score with shrieking, harpie-like piercing violins), included about 90 different shots pieced together as a montage. Many parodies or imitations of the slasher-shower scene have been made - including most famously in Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980).
  • The low-budget ($806,000), brilliantly-edited, stark black and white film was shot cheaply with a TV crew. Its revenue grosses (domestic and worldwide) totaled about $32 million.
  • Psycho broke all film conventions and redefined cinema by displaying its leading female protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) having a lunchtime affair in her sexy white undergarments in the first scene (to cheat the Production Code); also by photographing a toilet bowl - and flush - in a bathroom (a first in an American film), and killing off its major 'star' a third of the way into the film - something duplicated by many films since. It also included such taboo topics as transvestism, implied incest, and hints of necrophilia.
  • There were many brilliant lines of dialogue, including: "A boy’s best friend is his mother."
  • When the film was originally aired in theaters, Hitchcock insisted on a clever marketing ploy. The publicity gimmick (a la P.T. Barnum) was that there would be "no late admittance" to the theatre after the film had begun. Strictly enforced, the decree was carried out by uniformed Pinkerton guards. Audiences assumed, wrongly, that something horrible would happen in the first few minutes.
  • Violence was present for about two minutes total in only two shocking, grisly murder scenes, the first about a third of the way through (the shower killing), and the second when Phoenix detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam) was stabbed at the top of a flight of stairs and toppled backwards down the staircase. The remainder of the horror and suspense was created in the mind of the audience.
  • Following up were three sequels (of lesser quality) that all featured Anthony Perkins: Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986) (with Perkins as director), and Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990) (TV Movie), plus Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot remake Psycho (1998), the TV pilot movie Bates Motel (1987), and A&E's prequel series Bates Motel (2013-2017).

Dr. No (1962)
d. Terence Young, 110 minutes, United Artists/Eon Productions

  • This was the first of the James Bond series of action-packed spy thrillers, and it played a key role in establishing the Bond character as a recognizable icon in popular American contemporary culture. Bond began as a well-known literary figure in the works of British writer Ian Fleming (the first Bond book was Casino Royale, written in 1953).
  • Although this film was notable as the first in the series, From Russia With Love (1963) is considered by many to be the definitive James Bond film, also directed by Terence Young.
  • The plot of this low-budget film was a timely one - it capitalized on the problems America was having with missile launches, and the changing mood of the country in the early 1960's. It debuted the recurring villainous organization - SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion). SPECTRE's head villain dreamed of "world domination" by interfering with, disrupting and sabotaging American space rockets (and their launches) with an atomic-powered, "toppling" radio beam. He was targeting the Project Mercury missile launch from Cape Canaveral. Bond was sent to investigate radio interference in Jamaica during rocket launches, and some mysterious deaths. The Bond villain was portrayed by SPECTRE operative - reclusive and menacing half-Chinese Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman) (with metal prosthetic hands), noted for unusual murders (via 'three blind mice' assassins, a deadly tarantula, etc.)..
  • Dr. No established many of the trademarks of all future films in the series, including a clever opening title credits sequence (the 'gun-barrel' view), trademark theme music, sexy and beautiful women ('Bond Girls' with ridiculous names), great diabolical villains, exotic international locales, the calm manner and witty, subtle humor and repartee of the mythic hero 007, violence and weapons (Bond's Walther PPK), terrific action sequences, stunts and chase scenes, narrow escapes, gimmicks, humor, and great cinematography.
  • Its predictable formula starred the debonair, dashing and charming British "Secret Agent 007," James Bond (with the definitive Bond played by Sean Connery, who introduced himself as "Bond, James Bond"), with great taste in clothes, wine, food, and exotic, sexy women. In this film, Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) was the definitive voluptuous Bond girl, rising from the water in a white bikini.

Blood Feast (1963)
d. Herschell Gordon Lewis, 67/58 minutes, Friedman-Lewis Productions/Box Office Spectaculars

  • Sexploitation gore-fest director Herschell Gordon Lewis' career was launched with this low-budget cult film (starring June 1963 Playboy Playmate Connie Mason), filmed in only 9 days (with a budget of $25,000). The crude and salacious Z-grade horror film is usually considered to be the first distinctive horror 'splatter' film for its excessive gore, blood, violence, and bodily mutilation. [Note: Claims were made that it was the first horror film in which a tongue was ripped out of a person's mouth.]
  • It went much further than its inspiration - Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), with graphic depictions of the gory results of bizarre ritualistic murders - filmed in rich bright color. It paved the way for the existence of many blood-drenched, 'meat grinder-horror' films to follow, including George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), the Friday the 13th films, and even Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969).
  • It was the first film in Lewis' "Blood Trilogy" - followed by 2000 Maniacs! (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965). Lewis, dubbed "the godfather of gore," made a career out of similarly gory, low-budget drive-in films for the next decade (i.e., A Taste of Blood (1967), The Gruesome Twosome (1967), Something Weird (1967), The Wizard of Gore (1970) and The Gore Gore Girls (1972)).

Promises! Promises! (1963)
d. King Donovan, 75 minutes, Noonan-Taylor Production/NTD

  • Buxom, platinum blonde sex goddess/siren Jayne Mansfield (former Playboy Playmate in February 1955, similar to rival Marilyn Monroe) appeared naked (breasts and buttocks only) in this unrated sex farce. Thus, she became the first mainstream actress to appear nude in an American feature sound film. [Note: the honor would have been held by Marilyn Monroe in Something's Gotta Give (1962), but she died during production.]
  • It was another landmark indication in the decade of the 60s that the Production Code's impositions were deteriorating and being liberalized, and more broken barriers (and nudity) would follow. [Note: Sidney Lumet's serious film The Pawnbroker (1965) was the first US film to show a woman nude from the waist up that was granted a Production Code seal - ultimately breaking the back of the Production Code's restrictions.]
  • Mansfield sang "I'm In Love" in a foamy, bubbly bathtub, and then toweled off and toplessly writhed around on a bed. The original version was banned in many cities (including Cleveland) and substituted with an edited version. In order to have the film available, it was distributed independent of the major studios.
  • The provocative film was heavily publicized (pre-release) in Playboy's June 1963 issue in a pictorial titled The Nudest Jayne Mansfield, with more revealing pictures to prove it, that led to the magazine's Chicago publisher Hugh Hefner being charged with obscenity (and later acquitted) -- the only time in his life.
  • Later, the sex film became available for purchase on Super 8MM in the 1970s, was debuted uncut on cable-TV's Playboy Channel in 1984.

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, US/UK)
d. Stanley Kubrick, 95 minutes, Columbia Pictures/Hawk Films

  • Producer/director Stanley Kubrick's brilliant, satirical, provocative black comedy/fantasy regarding doomsday and Cold War politics featured an accidental, inadvertent, pre-emptive nuclear attack. The undated, landmark film - the first commercially-successful political satire about nuclear war, has been inevitably compared to another similar suspense film released at the same time - the much-more-serious and melodramatic Fail-Safe (1964). However, this was a cynically objective, Monty Python-esque, humorous, biting response to the apocalyptic fears of the 1950s.
  • The black comedy, a cautionary tale, was about a possible nuclear Armageddon at the hands of inept politicians, arrogant scientists, and military figures with lunatic concerns about fail-safe points, hotlines, and Communist plots such as flouridation.
  • The mid-1960s film's nightmarish, apocalyptic theme was about how technology had gone haywire and had dominated humanity. The film's anti-war fears actually became a plausible scenario, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the heated-up intensification of the Cold War and nuclear arms race.
  • In response to the film's scary nuclear scenario in the mid-1960s and later, security measures and changes were made to actual military and procedural policies as further safeguards to prevent the authorization of implementing a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval. One of the new policies, instituted in the early 1970s, was to add coded switches to the control systems of American missiles and bombers to guard against an unauthorized nuclear strike. A two-man rule was also required to make it more difficult for someone to use a nuclear weapon without permission.
  • The funny (and frightening), dark film cleverly cut back and forth mid-scene (and increased in rapidity as the film drew to an insane close) from three main set locations, each with their own distinctive camera styles: a sealed-off Air Force command base led by a psychotic, impotent bomb-group commander, the cramped, flight deck interior of a B-52 bomber, and the Pentagon's huge underground War Room with an inept US President, a saber-rattling general (and other military brass), a Soviet ambassador, and a crazed German nuclear scientist (Dr. Strangelove).
  • It received four Academy Award nominations (with no wins): Best Picture, Best Actor (Peter Sellers), Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay - losing the first three Oscars to the popular My Fair Lady (1964), and the Screenplay award to Becket (1964). Dr. Strangelove was most memorable for Peter Sellers' Oscar-nominated, masterful performances in three distinct roles in two of the three set locales.
  • Memorable scenes included the classic polite phone call to the drunken Soviet Premier Dmitri Kissof by American President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers), the line of dialogue: " "Gentlemen. You can't fight in here. This is the War Room!", and the entertaining characterization of wheelchair-bound, falsetto- and German-accented Dr. Strangelove (also Sellers), who owned an independently-minded mechanical right hand, and exclaimed his final line: "Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!" Strangelove became ecstatic over the total annihilation of the Earth and his 100 Year Plan (including his mine-shaft proposal that suggested having 10 fertile women for every male survivor), as the Doomsday Machine was triggered.
  • The film concluded with the memorable bucking broncho image of Major Kong (Slim Pickens) riding the fatal bomb from the B-52 bomber and howling wildly toward oblivion: "YAHOO!! YAHOO!!" A climactic chorus of H-bomb mushroom clouds spread as multiple explosions detonated around the world, annihilating and causing oblivion by bringing radioactive fallout to millions of people. The popular, comforting WW II tune We'll Meet Again Some Sunny Day played in incongruous juxtaposition.

Fail-Safe (1964)
d. Sidney Lumet, 112 minutes, Columbia Pictures

  • This realistic Cold War political drama about a potential, disastrous apocalyptic nuclear war was adapted from the 1962 best-selling novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler - around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In its dramatization of the controversial themes of the arms-race and possibilities of nuclear holocaus, it helped to demystify the workings of the top-secret US national security system at the time. It also helped to humanize Soviets as real people (rather than faceless monsters) to American audiences.
  • One of the earliest films in this sub-genre about nuclear warfare was Norman Taurog's and MGM's fictionalized The Beginning or the End (1947), a docu-drama about the development of the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. During the decade of the 1950s, there were a number of low-budget sci-fi films about giant creatures awakened or mutated by a nuclear bomb, such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Godzilla (1954, Jp.), Them! (1954), and Beginning of the End (1957), and metaphoric films about alien Communist invasion (i.e., Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)). Two of the best, more serious works were Arch Oboler's sci-fi horror film Five (1951) - about five survivors left on Earth after an atomic bomb blast, and Stanley Kramer's On the Beach (1959) - about Australians in the aftermath of nuclear war who faced certain doom from radioactive fallout.
  • Fail-Safe was an effective and taut political doomsday disaster film during the Cold War era about reaching "the brink of eternity." It was a serious, illuminating and very bleak version of Stanley Kubrick's black comedy Dr. Strangelove, Or: (1964)), although much less successful. The dramatic and commercial impact of Fail-Safe was severely lessened by the earlier release of Kubrick's satire. The latter film's depressing message was about how World War III could actually happen.
  • In this "what-if" hypothetical melodrama and suspenseful cautionary tale, malfunctioning faulty computer transmissions from Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters in Omaha erroneously misguided an Alaska-based squadron of US bombers with atomic weapons flying towards Moscow to attack. Although most of the bombers were successfully called back, one squadron of bombers had passed the 'fail-safe' position (beyond which pilots would no longer have to follow orders) in Soviet air space, due to Soviet radio jamming, and was headed towards Moscow. In the tense drama (a 'race against time' scenario), one fanatical, power-hungry, hawkish civilian nuclear scientist (Walter Matthau) recommended declaring war on the Soviets, while Brigadier General Black (Dan O'Herlihy) wished to avoid an all-out nuclear holocaust. In an underground fall-out shelter, the President (portrayed by Henry Fonda) ordered the planes shot down, and informed the Russian Premier leader (via telephone hotline) of the mistaken orders. One of the planes, piloted by group commander Colonel Grady (Edward Binns), managed to continue its mission and wouldn't turn back, and released its bombs over Moscow. To appease the Russians and the world, the President ordered US planes to release an atomic bomb over NYC to annihilate the metropolis in the downbeat conclusion.
  • Experienced in TV and theatre production, Lumet's stark and shadowy black and white film was made more effective by claustrophobic sets, close-ups, ensemble casting, and the use of in-camera techniques, including zoom shots within scenes, freeze frames and negative images. These kinds of effects were mostly used only in independent films and foreign films. The film was also devoid of background music, enhancing stretches of tense and ponderous silence with a feeling of doom.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
d. Arthur Penn, 111 minutes, Warner Bros./Seven Arts

  • One of the sixties' most talked-about, volatile, controversial crime/gangster films combined comedy, terror, love, and ferocious violence. This innovative, revisionist film redefined and romanticized the genre and the depiction of screen violence forever.
  • Director Arthur Penn's violent biodrama was promoted with this slogan for its violent anti-heroes: "They're young. They're in love. They kill people." It was a romanticized, fictionalized account of two 1930s bank robbers, portrayed as counter-cultural, romantic fugitives and likable folk heroes with semi-mythic celebrity status.
  • The anti-establishment, violent film, originally criticized at the time of its release, was aimed at youth audiences by its American auteur and producer/star Warren Beatty. The film's sympathetic, revolutionary characters and its social criticism appealed to anti-authority American youth at the time who were part of the counter-cultural movement protesting the Vietnam War, the corrupt social order, and the U.S. government's role.
  • The film, with many opposing moods and shifts in tone (from serious to comical), was a cross between a gangster film, tragic-romantic traditions, a road film and buddy film, and screwball comedy. Cartoon-style slapstick comedy [a tribute to Mack Sennett's silent films and Keystone Kops car chases and getaways] and banjo music (e.g. Foggy Mountain Breakdown from Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, helped to introduce country music to mainstream films) and ballads accompanied many of the film's scenes.
  • The anti-establishment film was ultimately a popular and commercial success (but it started out with only mediocre box-office results). It was first widely denounced and criticized at the time of its release by film reviewers for glamorizing the two killers. In the autumn of 1967, it opened and closed quite quickly - enough time for it to be indignantly criticized for its shocking violence, graphic bullet-ridden finale and for its blending of humorous farce with brutal killings. Then, after a period of reassessment, there were glowing reviews, critical acclaim, a Newsweek cover story, and the film's re-release - and it was nominated for ten Academy Awards.
  • Newcomer Faye Dunaway became a major screen actress as a result of her breakthrough in this influential film.
  • The influence of the film extended to commercial merchandise in the form of hairstyles, authentic period music of the 30s, and gangster retro-clothing (such as double-breasted suits, berets, fedoras, and the maxi-skirt). The film also permanently changed the form and substance of popular films.
  • It exemplified many of the characteristics of experimental film-making from the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) movement, inspiring a new generation of film-makers in a new Golden Age. Penn followed up with the genre-breaking western Little Big Man (1970).

The Graduate (1967)
d. Mike Nichols, 106 minutes, Lawrence Turman/Embassy Pictures

  • The influential, defining and groundbreaking film of the late 1960s was a biting satire/comedy about the shifting, social and sexual mores of the 1960s. It helped to set in motion a new era of film-making, for a new generation of film-makers including Arthur Penn, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, and Robert Altman.
  • The influential film was a biting satire/comedy about coming of age. Its main character was a recent nebbish, East Coast college graduate who found himself alienated, exploited, seduced, betrayed, restless and adrift in the shifting, social and sexual mores of the 1960s, and questioning the values of suburban, upper-middle-class society (with its keyword of advice -- "plastics"). Its portrayal of a corrupt, banal, decadent, and discredited older generation was well understood by film audiences and captured the spirit of the times. It echoed the dissatisfaction with the 'phony' adult world found in J.D. Salinger's popular novel Catcher in the Rye.
  • The themes of the mature film mirrored the changes occurring in Hollywood, as a new vanguard of younger directors was coming to the forefront. There was already a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo and middle-class values, and the breakthrough film mirrored that anarchic mood perfectly for America's youth of the 60s during the escalation of the Vietnam War.
  • Avant-garde director Mike Nichols was following his debut success with the scandalous Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) with this second film. He instantly became a major new talent in American film after winning an Academy Award (the film's sole Oscar) for his directorship. Mike Nichols became the first director to earn $1,000,000 salary for a single picture - for this watershed film. His next two films continued to explore controversial issues: Catch-22 (1970) and Carnal Knowledge (1971).
  • It was inspired and complemented by the visually-synchronized music of the popular singing duo Simon and Garfunkel from their Grammy-winning The Sounds of Silence album (with songs composed earlier and previously-released except for "Mrs. Robinson"), with meaningful, haunting lyrics amidst koo-koo-kachoo sounds to enhance the film's moods and themes.
  • 29 year-old stage actor Dustin Hoffman starred in his first major film role as the 21 year-old title character, struggling within a hopeless and confused love triangle (with a middle-aged friend of the family and her daughter). Hoffman's career began on stage, and then he appeared in a number of TV series, but real recognition came with his striking role as the awkward Benjamin Braddock.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
d. Stanley Kramer, 108 minutes, Columbia Pictures

  • Stanley Kramer's family drama centered on the controversial subject of inter-racial marriage and co-existence - a central and prominent issue in the late 60s (a time of civil rights riots), due to the fact that many states still forbid inter-racial marrage until the Supreme Court struck down the 'anti-miscegenation' laws. It was Hollywood's first mainstream film about inter-racial marriage! Liberal director Stanley Kramer was well-known for socially-relevant problem films, including The Defiant Ones (1958) and Inherit the Wind (1960).
  • The old fashioned, semi-contrived Hollywood film told about the controversial subject of inter-racial romance between a black medical physician Dr. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), a widower, and his free-thinking fiancee Joanna ("Joey") Drayton (Katharine Houghton, the actual niece of Oscar-winning Katharine Hepburn) who had known him for only 10 days after meeting during a Hawaii vacation. She was the sole young 21 year-old daughter of liberal, affluent, upper-class mother and art-gallery owner Christina Drayton (Katharine Hepburn) and crusading newspaper publisher Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy in his final screen appearance), who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. The film opened with the couple's arrival at her upper-class parents' home to announce their marriage and residence in Switzerland, accompanying his work at the World Health Organization in Geneva..
  • Handsome, ground-breaking actor Sidney Poitier (a typecast role for one of the biggest box-office stars at the time), played the role of the highly-intelligent, successful, respected and charismatic surgeon, whose conventional views, perfection and mannerisms helped break down society's ethnic prejudices and racial stereotypes.
  • The film concluded with a powerful dramatic scene of Matt's blessing of the future marriage, by citing the one most important criteria for marriage - two people who fall in love with each other - similar to his love for his own wife Christina.
  • The film acquired 10 Academy Awards nominations (including Best Picture), and won two Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Hepburn), and Best Original Story/Screenplay.

Bullitt (1968)
d. Peter Yates, 114 minutes, Warner Bros./Seven Arts

  • This classic car-chase/cop film contained one of the screen's all-time best car chase sequences (at up to 110 miles per hour), for the 10-minute sequence filmed with hand-held cameras up and down the narrow, hilly streets of San Francisco - and filmed with actual cars (no rear projection). It redefined what a filmed car chase should be, and star Steve McQueen performed most of his own stunts..
  • The crime film, mostly a police procedural, was the future prototype for modern cop thrillers, especially for those with rogue or maverick cop protagonists. It was influential for the action thriller with Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry (1971).
  • It set the standard for all future car chase pictures with on-location filming, including The Italian Job (1969), The French Connection (1971), The Seven-Ups (1973), the Bourne films, etc.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
d. George Romero, 96 minutes, Image Ten/Laurel Group/Market Square/Off Color

  • The flesh-eating zombie sub-genre of films was given a boost with George A. Romero's cheap, stark black and white horror flick - a B picture cult classic and one of the most successful independent films ever made. His debut film was an influential, milestone 'splatter' film. Its controversial and unconventional themes included cannibalism, matricide, and a heroic black protagonist (a rarity in the 1960s).
  • The ultra-low budget film was shot in grainy 35 mm with natural lighting and hand-held cameras to accentuate the fear facing the besieged farmhouse occupants. It featured an unknown cast (uncredited in the film's opening) - and reinvented the genre with its crude "drawbacks" which actually improved the film since they lent a documentary feel and reality that made the film all the more horrific.
  • Although the film was not the first zombie film, it established a prototype model for all future zombie films. It marked the debut of the 'modern' zombie film that portrayed zombies as resurrected, cannibalistic 'flesh-eaters' or 'ghouls.' (Previously, zombies were portrayed as mutants, or as trance-like undead slaves magically produced by voodoo rites and thereafter obedient to their sorcerer-masters.) It quickly became director Romero's calling card, and was responsible for making him influentially known as the Master of the modern 'zombie film' (although the term 'zombie' was never explicitly used), featuring the mysterious reanimation (or reactivation) of the recent-dead.
  • It ushered in the modern era of graphically violent and gory zombie pics in the waning years of the 60s decade when there was such social upheaval. Romero's first Dead film appeared at the same time as civil unrest, Black Power and student protests, the Vietnam War, fear of nuclear annihilation, the gruesome assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the breakdown of the family - all coupled with the idealistic innocence of the previous year's Summer of Love. US society and politics appeared to be overrun by unexplainable and irrational forces - similar to the zombies who attacked en masse for no apparent reason.
  • While initially considered schlock (in the waning years of drive-ins), the notorious film of brutal and relentless claustrophobic horror gained in popularity and critical respect, and raised Romero to great heights as a horror filmmaker.
  • Romero's Dead trilogy told about flesh-eating zombies who walked slowly and stiffly (due to the effects of rigor mortis), in a 'cult of the dead'. It was the precursor of many other zombie films (Romero's and others) in which the bloodthirsty 'undead' arose, e.g., the Resident Evil films, the UK's 28 Days Later (2002), and the zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead (2004), as well as AMC's The Walking Dead series. It defined the modern horror movie and influenced a number of US and international horror directors, including Dario Argento, David Cronenberg, and Tobe Hooper.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
d. Franklin J. Schaffner, 112 minutes, 20th Century Fox/APJAC Productions

  • This was the first in a popular, clever, mostly successful and serious five-film series of classic simian films about apes that had evolved into an intelligent society, derived from Pierre Boule's 1963 novel Monkey Planet. Pre-Star Wars (1977), it was one of the most successful sci-fi franchises of all time.
  • The first film in the series - Planet of the Apes (1968) - depicted a post-apocalyptic, post-nuclear futuristic planet (Earth) - revealed in the film's startling conclusion by a half-submerged Statue of Liberty.
  • There were four sequels to this film from 1970 to 1973: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). There were also two TV series, one live-action and one animated: CBS-TV's Planet of the Apes (1974), and the animated Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975). Finally, there was a reboot or reimaging of the film, Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001), followed by another 'reboot' trilogy: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017).
  • Its advanced make-up techniques reversed the social positions of intelligent humans and brutal apes to slyly criticize and satirize racial and class stereotypes. It also examined the effects of technology upon humankind. It provided both solid entertainment value, and an effective, politically-charged message of social commentary.
  • This classic science fiction film was one of the pioneering, modern multimedia marketing blockbusters. Besides a long-running series, it also promoted a large-scale merchandising spin-off of 'Ape'-related products. There were tie-ins to action figures, toys, collectibles, story/picture books, Topps bubble-gum trading cards, hardcover and paperback books (of the source novel), a record soundtrack, and comic book adaptations.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, US/UK)
d. Stanley Kubrick, 160/146 minutes, MGM/Stanley Kubrick Productions

  • Kubrick's respectable, influential film (with less than 40 minutes of dialogue), filmed in Super Panavision, was based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel. It quickly became the most celebrated, mystical and transcendent of all space films up to that time.
  • Kubrick's last film in the 60s was the most successful science fiction film of the decade with a story that spanned all of human history with giant leaps (from pre-historic cave-dwelling apes jump-cutting ultimately to futuristic outer space travelers to Jupiter). A continuing theme was the reception of an extra-terrestrial signal in its portrayal of man (bored in his technological paradise) confronting technology beyond his control.
  • The impressive film featured an incredible opening enhanced by Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, a 'Dawn of Man' sequence, majestic views of outer space and drifting space stations, enigmatic monoliths, the breakdown of a malevolent HAL super-computer, an astronaut's journey to Jupiter (paralleling man's own growth of intelligence), a hallucinatory light show trip through space (enthralling to many pot-smokers), and a cryptic ending featuring a super-being space fetus.
  • It boasted spectacular visuals, landmark special effects, classical music, a psychedelic light-show ride (that appealed to late 60s 'tripping' viewers) and the memorable, flawed HAL supercomputer (with the uncredited voice of Douglas Rain). The memorable anthropomorphic character of HAL, a computer that could see, speak, hear, and think like its human colleagues, was omnipresent aboard the spaceship.
  • Stanley Kubrick's stunning epic reinvented the science fiction genre - after its premiere in April 1968. It earned four Academy Award nominations and won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, for its pioneering F/X by Douglas Trumbull.
  • It restored unsurpassed legitimacy to the science-fiction genre. Now, sci-fi could be serious, and visionary - without cheap B movie monsters, such as in the previous era's films. It provided a predictive and prophetic look at the future of space travel, with incredible magnificence and seriousness.
  • Kubrick's film was a kickstarter for a Golden Age of space-related science-fiction films, such as: Silent Running (1972), Solaris (1972, USSR), Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

Easy Rider (1969)
d. Dennis Hopper, 95 minutes, Columbia Pictures

  • Easy Rider, surprisingly, was an extremely successful, low-budget (under $400,000), counter-cultural, independent film for the alternative youth/cult market - one of the first of its kind that was an enormous financial success, grossing $40 million worldwide.
  • A new wave of independent film-making in Hollywood (dubbed "The New Hollywood") was signaled by Dennis Hopper's anti-Establishment release of his low-budget "road film." Its phenomenal success shook up the major Hollywood studios, and spawned many imitators - as well as made supporting actor Jack Nicholson a star.
  • This movement was termed Hollywood's New Wave (fashioned after the earlier French New Wave), and would last through the next decade. The pop cultural, mini-revolutionary film was also a reflection of the "New Hollywood," and the first blockbuster hit from a new wave of Hollywood directors (e.g., Francis Ford Coppola, Mike Nichols, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, and others) that would break with a number of Hollywood conventions.
  • It was a ritualistic experience and viewed (often repeatedly) by a new generation of youthful audiences in the late 1960s as a reflection of their realistic hopes of liberation and fears of the Establishment. The tone of this 'alternative' film was remarkably downbeat and bleak, reflecting the collapse of the idealistic 60s.
  • The late 1960s tale, a seminal "road film," was about the search for freedom (or the illusion of freedom) in a conformist and corrupt America in the midst of paranoia, bigotry and violence. It can be both memorialized as an image of the popular and historical culture of the time and a story of a contemporary but apocalyptic journey by two self-righteous, drug-fueled, countercultural, anti-hero (or outlaw) bikers, both dropouts, as they went eastward through the American Southwest.
  • Its story contained sex, drugs, casual violence, a sacrificial tale (with a shocking, unhappy ending), and a pulsating rock and roll soundtrack reinforcing or commenting on and complementing the film's themes.
  • The influential film led to a flurry of equally self-indulgent, anti-Establishment themed films by inferior filmmakers, who overused some of the film's technical tricks and exploited the growing teen-aged market for easy profits.

The Wild Bunch (1969)
d. Sam Peckinpah, 145 minutes, Warner Bros./Seven Arts

  • Director/co-writer Sam Peckinpah's provocative, brilliant yet controversial Western, shocking for its graphic and elevated portrayal of violence and savagely-explicit carnage, yet hailed for its truly realistic and reinterpreted vision of the dying West in the early 20th century.
  • The ultra-violent western was exceptional for its non-glorification of bloodshed, and its slow-motion, heavily-edited, stylized views of multiple deaths. It increased the acceptance and tolerance level for violence on the screen - a lasting influence that has been seen in the imitative graphic violence of the films of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, John Woo, and others.
  • The slaughter of innocent bystanders, and the use of women as shields (in the all-male film) were served up as counterpoints to the media's honest display of violence during the late 60s, with the Vietnam War, assassinations, urban riots, and other events filling the airwaves. Due to its violence, the film was originally threatened with an X-rating by the newly-created MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), but an R-rating was its final decision.
  • Many of the film's major stars, including William Holden, Edmond O'Brien, Robert Ryan and Ben Johnson, were veterans of westerns with a more romantic view of the West in the 40s and 50s. The anti-heroic 'wild bunch' represented contemporary American soldiers in the late 60s, out of place in the jungles of Vietnam.
  • With numerous, elaborate montage sequences with staccato shifts, the film set a record for more edits (3,643 shot-to-shot edits at one count) than any other Technicolor film up to its time.

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