Best and Worst : Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Added note: I know there's been a goodly discussion recently on favorite films of the 60s, but I'm not asking for your favorite movies. I want to know the most important films, and why. For some of you, I suppose they may be the same, but I think for the majority it won't be (or shouldn't be, as in It's a Charlie Brown Christmas).

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I'm going to teach an interdisciplinary class on the literature/news figures/changes in American culture during the 1960s.

Would you help me out by posting here two lists--- "the" 3 movies (or, let's say, up to 3--- One of each would be fine) made in the 60s that were most important to American (or world) culture, and "the" 3 movies most important cinematically?

You will be giving your opinion, totally, or repeating what you've read in film histories or heard along the way--- that's fine, too. I need all the ideas I can get. (But please no spoof answers--- or, rather, start your own new topic where we can have fun and be silly in our own "kids' room". )

You don't have to rank them (where #1 would be the most important) unless you just want to.

If you would please add a brief explanation of each movie's importance in that category, that would be very helpful, even essential, to my understanding your thinking.


Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

made in the 60s that were most important to American (or world) culture

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Dr Strangelove (1964)

interesting politically is also

Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Not so much the rather soppy romance, but the story of the novel and the film, which is a real life cold war intrigue: The novel was banned in the USSR, the manuscript of the novel was smuggled out of the USSR, to be printed in Italy and published so as to make it eligible for the Nobel Prize for literature (mostly as a slap in the face of the Soviet government which was putting enormous pressure on the author), somehow (supposedly facilitated and financed by the CIA) it was stolen and secretly printed in the Russian language in the Netherlands (with the false imprint of the Italian publishing house that had the rights to the book), then distributed to Russian visitors at the World Exhibition at a stall owned by the Vatican (!!!), so they could smuggle it back to the USSR and pass it on after reading. When translated into western languages, the novel became an instantaneous bestseller. The author, Boris Pasternak, was told he would not be permitted to return to the USSR if he went to accept his Nobel Prize for literature for the novel, and the film was produced very much as another slap in the face for the Soviets. The film was hugely successful and popular at the time, even if not that well liked by the critics. Anyway, not probably the most important film of the decade, but the whole story around it is very telling of the time - the height of the cold war.

most important cinematically

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
It's a wonder of cinematography - the desert, the mirage, etc. Filmed on location, not the backlot of a studio. Much of the magnificent desert scenes were filmed in the Jordanian desert, then a very exotic filming location.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Add In The Heat Of The Night (1967)

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Thank you so much for this, mgtbltp.

I think it makes a great contrast with To Kill a Mockingbird in its treatment of African-Americans: whereas To Kill a Mockingbird portrays them as largely passive and mild, Sidney Poitier's Mister Tibbs is strong and aggressive. And, of course, Sidney Poitier is, himself, so important to any discussion of film in the 60s.

I think both movies have to be discussed even to begin a glimpse into the cultural currents of race relations the time.

Thank you--- I would not have thought of this movie, but now that you mention it, I find it essential.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Also worth mentioning in this context: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Yes, tim-xy, absolutely. I remember some of my family members being so angry about this film (Guess Who's Coming To Dinner) that they couldn't even talk about it. I had to sneak out to go see it.

There is another Sidney Poitier film, A Patch of Blue (1965), that belongs with this group, I now realize. Maybe ALL his films challenged assumptions of the time, but A Patch of Blue was especially important for the time, since it involves a strong, attractive black man (viewed as a threat by a lot of people at the time) who befriends a white girl who is blind and therefore has no idea that she should not be with him. There is an age difference, as well, if I remember correctly. After a chance meeting over brown-bag lunch in the park, they continue to meet every day to share lunch and talk. The girl falls in love, but his motives are more complex.

He becomes aware that the blind girl is horribly abused by her white mother (played so well by Shelley Winters). His agenda is to get her out of the abuse, but of course the immediate assumptions of anyone who sees them together (and no doubt many in the audience) are that he was trying to tempt her away from home to rape her. The point we audience members have to confront within ourselves is: why would we rather see her with a white woman who abuses her than with a black man who cares for her well-being?

I think that Harry Belafonte often gets more credit than he is due for hastening the Civil Rights movement---- and Sidney Poitier does not get nearly enough credit.

Or, on reflection, I'm wrong. They deserve equal credit for differing kinds of work. Maybe Belafonte was important as a model to people of color for the outspoken, strong, educated, artistic person who has decided not to take the discrimination.

Poitier, on the other hand, gave white America this great variety of characters who presented many different facets of the human being who happened also to be Black. He approached the problem from a different angle, maybe, always giving racists an honorable, likable man with great depth of heart that overshadows the smaller detail that he happens to be Black. Both of them wore down the opposition gradually, but I think Poitier's wearing-down was more subtle.

Well, shoot, I should have just looked at Poitier's filmography. I did not realize how many of his important films (in the sense in which we are saying here) were in the 60s:

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Lilies of the Field (1963)
A Patch of Blue (1965)
To Sir, With Love (1967)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
The Lost Man (1969) (which is the single exception to the string of leading characters he has played up to this point: he is a Black militant who is willing to use the chaos of a Civil Rights march to stage a heist of the payroll of a large corporation. Things go wrong, he kills a cop and goes on the run in desperation.)

Thanks for reminding me to think more seriously about all of Sidney Poitier's films in the 60s.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Thank you so much, Tim-xy.

I did not know this full story of Pasternak and the Nobel, etc. This is very useful. I saw Dr Zhivago in the theatre when it came out and remember a lot of it, though I was a kid. In retrospect, I figured its political importance. But the real story adds the kind of stuff you just can't make up.

Thanks, also, for your words on Lawrence of Arabia---- I have always seen it mentioned but never knew why.

I think I'm fine on To Kill a Mockingbird and its illumination of two groups deprived of their rights in the US at the time.

Could you give me a few words about Dr Strangelove? I could cobble together something, but I know it would not be as accurate and insightful as yours.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Hi there,

I must admit that I wrote the story about Dr Zhivago as I remember it after doing (a lot) of research into the affair some time in the last couple years when the whole story was published in a book. Please do some additional research before presenting it in a lecture (I would have to if I had to present it publicly). Yes, it's a great story. Maybe they'll make a film about the entire affair some time. That I would like to see!

I am unfortunately not terribly knowledgable about Dr Strangelove (because I am one of the few people who do not particularly like the film), so I don't think it would be fair to comment on it in depth. I mentioned the film because I honestly think it is important as a biting satire on the excesses of the Cold War which dominated the political landscape in the 60's. Others may be able to add further valuable insights. Sorry I can't be more helpful.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Bonnie And Clyde (1967) - perfect example of the New Hollywood. Realistic violence.

The Graduate (1967) - generation gap.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Thank you for both of these, shepardjessica-1.

I did not have either on my own list of likely suspects, but you are quite right. Don't know how I forgot about The Graduate! Sheesh!

This is why it's so important to get others' opinions, esp others who are more knowledgeable in the subject. I have made movies a hobby, while others are quite well-studied.

I also want to be able to show students that it is possible to talk about movies without saying whether we liked it or not! You don't have to like a film to be able to discuss its contributions or its importance as a reflection of the culture it came from.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

The Abraham Zapruder film.

"It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations" Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Thanks, Valis1984. This is a very interesting choice, not only for content but for genre, for discussing what constitutes a movie.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Sergio Leone's A Fistful Of Dollars changed Westerns and jump started Clint Eastwood.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Hello, mgtbltp,

I understand how A Fistful of Dollars jump started Clint Eastwood's film career, but how would you say that it changed Westerns? Yes, I understand the invention of the "spaghetti western" and what that constitutes, but did that change the Westerns being made in the US? (Please forgive if that's a stupid question.)

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

The Westerns of Leone introduced an emphasis on a slow buildup of tension combined with a highly operatic style to a dying genre, they are art films, everything in them is deliberate, carefully worked out. There's nothing accidental in them.

Hollywood at the time was just putting Westerns out like an assembly line product, Leone's influence was noticed and copied by Hollywood.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Thank you, mgtbltp,

This is very well-said. Certainly the highly "operatic" style is evident in the Sergio Leone films and the other European-style Westerns, like Sergio Corbucci.

However, I don't agree that the American Western was a "dying genre" before the advent of the Italian Western. I also don't agree with the idea that "Hollywood at the time was just putting Westerns out like an assembly line product."

Keeping in mind that the time we're talking about is mid-decade, with A Fistful of Dollars in 1964, For a Few Dollars More in 1965, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly in 1966, I've compiled a shortlist of Hollywood Westerns of the 1960s.

I don't think we'll see a dying genre before 1964: there were very big box-office movies before and after Leone's films. Nor are these Hollywood Westerns "assembly line products" but instead all very different from one another (though I will agree with you that there were a lot of B-movie "cookie-cutter" Westerns that proliferated; they just weren't dominating the genre or killing it).

These are all somewhat legendary or memorable in unique ways, and some of them are as epic as anything Leone did (though not so much the buildup of suspense into the "over-the-top" violence or interiority that Leone used).

I'm just picking the most memorable American Westerns from each year:

The Magnificent Seven (1960)
The Alamo (1960)
The Misfits (1961)
How the West Was Won (1962)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962)
Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
Shenandoah (1965)
Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
Cat Ballou (1965)
The Great Race (1965)
Nevada Smith (1966)
Hombre (1967)
El Dorado (1967)
Hang 'Em High (1968)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
True Grit (1969)
Paint Your Wagon (1969)

I, myself, can't see the influence of Leone or other European Western filmmakers after 1964, though the Hollywood Westerns did not slow down in popularity, quality (if one agrees that Hollywood was producing quality Westerns), or in the legacy/value after the fact.

I agree that Leone and Corbucci and others deserve mention for their presence in the 1960s; I just don't agree that Hollywood Westerns were dying or that the Italian influence on Hollywood Westerns after 1964 was all that monumental. (unless you can help me see something I'm missing?)

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

You gotta be kidding, out of your list only these were decent

The Magnificent Seven (1960)
The Alamo (1960)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962)
Nevada Smith (1966)
Hombre (1967)

Hang 'Em High (1968)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
True Grit (1969)

There were 90 Westerns produced between 1964 and 1969 (see below) and TV Westerns were down from a high of 878 hours per year to 170 hours by 1964 a steep decline. In

1964 (7)
1965 (12)
1966 (20)
1967 (20)
1968 (21)
1969 (22)

Between 1948 and 1952 there were over a 100 Westerns produced per year.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Another film that might be interesting:

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Cinematographically very innovative with the extensive use of split screen editing. Better seen than explained:

Also novel in that Thomas Crown is allowed to get away unpunished. This may be one of the first American films where the villlain (or is he merely an anti-hero?) is allowed to get away with his crime and with the sympathy of the viewer.

Of course, the film has a very European (French) feel to it, so may not be what you are looking for. But then, cinema underwent huge changes in the sixties, and Europe was a bit more permissive than Hollywood, and a little earlier.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Hi, tim-xy,

Thanks for your statement on Dr. Strangelove-- even just that one sentence helps me turn in a direction that is useful.

The Thomas Crown Affair is a very interesting film, yes. Thanks so much. The split-screen, the use of allegory in the action, and the sympathy of the viewer created for the criminal main character are all important.

There are a lot of anti-heroes in the 60s. I think that sorting through them to find the most important, or most influential, might yield an interesting list.

As to the influence of European films on American films in the 60s, I think that is also an important point to make. I wouldn't make it my sole criterion for 60s films, but I think it deserves a category of its own, for sure. The Claude Lelouche film A Man and a Woman (1966) was so wildly popular, I remember, that for a while all things French in movies were fascinating to us. I remember seeing Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962), though, even earlier, and being awed.

Maybe the category should be European, as you've stated, and could include the British invasion as well as the French influence. I would assume that Italian film belongs in here, too, though in my own experience it wasn't until I was an adult (after the fact) that I saw the Italian films of the 60s.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?


- one of the first independent films that was embraced by a wide audience
- was the blueprint for modern horror films
- its' influence in pop culture is still celebrated today
- its' allegorical themes still resonate today


Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Wow, Towel Dude,

That's a great addition. It certainly was a huge hit at the time that spawned the whole genre of zombie films/shows that are so numerous today. I remember it so well, and indeed it WAS a different sort of horror film, altogether, from what had come before it.

And it was a major influence on the development of horror in many ways.

Thanks for this suggestion, not only for the importance of the film but also for getting me to think about the horror genre at all, which up to now I hadn't been considering.

Re: Most Important (not fav) Movies of the 1960s?

Easy Rider was - for me - the most important American film culturally speaking made in the 60'a with its depiction of a search for freedom and a yearning for the anti-establishment. Dont forget it was made in the year that Nixon was elected, the year of the My Lai Massacre, the assasination of Marin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

It was more than just a film.

Cinematically i would say Psycho because until then horror films had been treated with disdain but Hitchcock sort of gave them credence. And of course it is alao brilliantly directed - the shower scene, the risks taken by killing off the main character 20 minutes or so in, and so forth.
If it wasnt for Psycho then there would, maybe, not have been any Tobe Hooper or John Carpenter films!