Special Report

The 20 Biggest Box Office Hits of the 1960s

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The 1960s marked a transitional period in the motion picture industry, seeing the end of Old Hollywood and the start of a new era of filmmaking at the same time that the old-line studios were turning out some of their most successful traditional productions. 

New Hollywood was defined by independent producers rather than by the studios, and saw the emergence of a host of young directors, making movies that spoke with the voice of a disaffected generation. While big-budget films with bankable stars and veteran directors still drew large audiences, the industry was changing.

The ever-increasing popularity of television took audiences from the movie theatres and many old-line studios were bought out by multinational corporations, further encouraging the proliferation of independent films. And performers took an increasing role in production. “Easy Rider” was directed by one of its stars (Dennis Hopper) and produced by the other (Peter Fonda); “Bonnie and Clyde” was produced by its co-star, Warren Beatty.

24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of the biggest box office hits of the 1960s. Among these are many of the films that defined Hollywood’s new sensibility, including not only “Easy Rider” and “Bonnie and Clyde,” but also such classics as “Midnight Cowboy,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and “The Graduate.” (Here are the 55 best movies ever made.)

Click here to see the biggest box office hits of the 1960s

To identify the biggest box office hits of the 1960’s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed box office data from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by consulting firm Nash Information Services, as updated in April 2021. Rankings for box office success were out of 4,230 movies for which data was available. The actors and directors for each movie come from IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon.  

Some of the biggest hit films of the 1960s remain among the highest grossing films ever when their box office is adjusted for inflation. Another of them, far from being an independent production, was “Cleopatra” — the most expensive movie ever made to that point and one that initially lost money due to its production going millions over budget. On the other hand, a lower-budget hit, though also a major studio production, that surprised critics with its success was “The Sound of Music,” one of the movies that made the most money with the fewest dollars.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

20. Easy Rider (1969)
> Domestic box office: $41.7 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1939 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Antonio Mendoza
> Director: Dennis Hopper

This groundbreaking indie counterculture film, which highlighted the disillusionment of American youth, helped usher in a new era of Hollywood filmmaking. Following two hippies on a cross-country motorcycle trip, the film is noted for its use of a rock-and-roll soundtrack rather than the traditional instrumental score.

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros./Seven Arts

19. Bullitt (1968)
> Domestic box office: $42.3 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1920 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, Don Gordon
> Director: Peter Yates

Remembered for its iconic 10-minute car chase scene — known as one of the best in film history — “Bullitt” follows a San Francisco detective as he searches for the mob boss who killed one of his witnesses. The film, shot mostly outside on location, broke boundaries with its hyperreal filmmaking style.

Source: Courtesy of United Artists

18. West Side Story (1961)
> Domestic box office: $43.7 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1871 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn
> Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

This 1961 film is an adaptation of the Broadway musical about two New York City youths who fall in love despite their association with rival gangs. It won 10 Academy Awards and was deemed culturally significant by the Library of Congress. Its iconic gang fight scene influenced two of Michael Jackson’s hit music videos, “Bad” and “Beat It.”

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

17. The Odd Couple (1968)
> Domestic box office: $44.5 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1845 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Fiedler, Herb Edelman
> Director: Gene Saks

When two recently divorced men with incompatible personalities attempt to room together, hilarity ensues. “The Odd Couple” was the second of ten films that brought together the comedic pairing of Matthau and Lemmon.

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Source: Courtesy of United Artists

16. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
> Domestic box office: $44.8 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1834 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles, John McGiver
> Director: John Schlesinger

A story of poverty and friendship, “Midnight Cowboy” is the only X-rated film ever to win an Academy Award (its depiction of homosexuality and male prostitution was considered shocking at the time). It follows dim-witted but optimistic hustler Joe Buck as he tries to make ends meet in New York City and finds camaraderie with small-time crook Ratso Rizzo.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

15. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
> Domestic box office: $45.3 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1813 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes
> Director: Robert Aldrich

A war movie distinctive for its exploration of the sadism rather than the valor of battle, “The Dirty Dozen” was criticized for its brutal violence. It follows an army unit made up of former death row inmates who are sent on a suicide mission to sneak behind enemy lines and assassinate dozens of German officers.

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Source: Courtesy of United Artists

14. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
> Domestic box office: $46.3 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1782 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney
> Director: Stanley Kramer

This slapstick comedy follows a series of motorists who are racing across the country to be the first to uncover a huge stash of buried cash. It brought together an impressive ensemble cast of comedians, and has been emulated many times since its release.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros./Seven Arts

13. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
> Domestic box office: $50.7 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1651 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman
> Director: Arthur Penn

This biographical crime film is one of the defining films of a New Hollywood, where young directors stretched norms in depicting sex, violence, and the frustrations of their generation. The film, which follows a criminal couple on their murderous bank robbing spree, is known for its bloody ending and for evoking in viewers a tender sympathy for the criminal duo.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

12. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
> Domestic box office: $56.7 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1467 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton
> Director: Stanley Kramer

Unprecedented in its time, this film portrays an interracial couple and the difficulties they face as they each reveal their engagement to their parents. It was released just as the Supreme Court ensured that interracial marriage was legal in every state.

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Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

11. Cleopatra (1963)
> Domestic box office: $57.0 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1459 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Pamela Brown
> Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

The most expensive film ever made at the time of its production, “Cleopatra” is an epic historical drama that follows the Queen of Egypt as she forms alliances with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, attempting to secure her political standing using love and manipulation.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
> Domestic box office: $59.9 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1380 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter
> Director: Stanley Kubrick

Widely considered one of the greatest films ever made, “2001” is known for its innovative special effects, glaring lack of dialog, and prominent musical accompaniment. It follows a group of scientists and their intelligent computer on a space voyage in search of a monolith that may trigger the next step in human evolution.

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

9. My Fair Lady (1964)
> Domestic box office: $72.0 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1131 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White
> Director: George Cukor

This charming musical, which won eight Academy Awards, recounts the story of a phonetics professor who wagers that he can transform the speech of a rough Cockney flower seller, fooling high society into believing she is an aristocrat.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

8. Cape Fear (1962)
> Domestic box office: $76.4 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #1051 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin
> Director: J. Lee Thompson

This neo-noir psychological thriller, which was remade in 1991, depicts the harrowing experience of a lawyer named Sam Bowden whose family becomes the target of psychotic criminal Max Cady — whom Bowden had sent to prison eight years earlier.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Distribution Company

7. Mary Poppins (1964)
> Domestic box office: $102.3 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #730 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns
> Director: Robert Stevenson

This musical follows a London nanny with supernatural powers as she utilizes magic and adventure in an attempt to improve the relationship between her two young charges and their stern father. Upon its release, it was Disney’s highest-grossing movie ever and won five Academy Awards.

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Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
> Domestic box office: $102.3 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #729 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Strother Martin
> Director: George Roy Hill

This biographical Western tells the story of two train robbers and their lady companion who attempt to flee the country and live an honest life, with a posse of lawmen hot on their trail. Despite mixed critical reviews upon its release, it won four Academy Awards and was named one of the top ten Westerns of all time by the American Film Institute in 2008.

Source: Courtesy of Embassy Pictures

5. The Graduate (1967)
> Domestic box office: $105.0 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #698 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross, William Daniels
> Director: Mike Nichols

Soon after its release, this coming-of-age comedy became number one at the box office for 14 consecutive weeks. It follows an uptight and aimless young man who returns home after college and is seduced by an older woman — only to end up falling for her daughter.

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Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

4. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
> Domestic box office: $111.9 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #638 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger
> Director: David Lean

This epic romance set in revolutionary Russia is the tale of a doctor who is torn by war as well as his love for two different women. It won five Academy Awards and five Golden Globes, and is one of the world’s top ten highest-grossing films ever when adjusted for inflation.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Distribution Company

3. The Jungle Book (1967)
> Domestic box office: $141.8 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #425 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, Bruce Reitherman
> Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

This animated musical comedy based on Rudyard Kipling’s novel follows a human child who is raised in the jungle by wolves and hunted by a tiger who despises mankind. It became the top selling animated film after its release, and has been successfully re-released three more times in the United States.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Distribution Company

2. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
> Domestic box office: $144.9 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #410 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Rod Taylor, Betty Lou Gerson, J. Pat O’Malley, Martha Wentworth
> Director: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman

This animated film follows two dalmatians, Pongo and Perdy, who must save their litter of puppies from a twisted socialite who intends to use their skins to make fur coats. It was re-released four times in theaters and on VHS in 1992, when it became the sixth-best-selling video ever at the time.

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Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

1. The Sound of Music (1965)
> Domestic box office: $163.2 million
> Box office rank out of all movies: #336 out of all movies in database
> Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn
> Director: Robert Wise

Set in 1938 Austria, this hit musical tells the story of the von Trapp family — a retired naval officer and his seven children — and the children’s spunky new governess as their country is invaded and annexed by Germany. The film won five Academy Awards and is among the top ten highest-grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation.

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