Trends and technologies change and movies keep deft pace, responding to the times and occasionally informing them. As a result, history’s most popular films offer figurative windows into their respective eras of creation. That’s not to say each movie is contextually defined by its setting, but rather that any given work will invariably reflect the cultural landscape from which it was spawned.
To determine the most popular movie released every year since 1960, 24/7 Tempo created an index based on the combined user ratings on IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon, and Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as well as domestic box office gross for each film. For films whose domestic box office gross was unavailable, we chose the movie with the highest number of votes. Box office data is not adjusted for inflation. (These are the 20 biggest box office hits of the 1960s.)
The most popular movie released each year can often tell us something about that year, even if the story it depicts takes place decades prior. Consider a popular title such as 1971’s “The Godfather,” which dealt with violence and moral ambiguity. While set in the 1940s, it was released at a time when the country was itself in turmoil, being torn apart by anti-war protests and the damning revelations of the Pentagon Papers.
Popular movies also denote the viewing habits of audiences at large. While earlier in the 20th century, films with serious themes – like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “Schindler’s List” (1993) – were among the most popular releases, by the dawn of this millennium, our preferences had obviously shifted to the sheer entertainment of films featuring Batman, Spider-Man, and Harry Potter. (These are all the Batman actors ranked from worst to best.)
And thus far in 2022, the most popular movie has been the latest installment of “Scream” – the slasher franchise created by Wes Craven – which suggests that our need for cinematic escapism (even the gory variety) remains strong.
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