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.)
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.