The Most Successful Movies of the 1960s

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros./Seven Arts

When the 1960s dawned, America was emerging from a recession and the film industry was still feeling the effects of a financial slump caused largely by the increasing popularity of television in the 1950s. In addition, the way movies were made was changing as the restrictive Hollywood studio system ended. Nonetheless, the decade saw the release of a number of now-classic films, many of which were box office hits. (These were the best movies of the ‘60s, according to data.)

To identify the most successful movies of the 1960s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on inflation-adjusted domestic box office gross (including the U.S. and Canada) on The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. We considered the 833 movies with available data released between 1960 and 1969.

A new generation of actors and actresses – including international stars – began populating American screens in the ‘60s, and filmmakers tackled more controversial subject matter and took advantage of wide-screen technology such as CinemaScope to better compete with television. 

The latter factor had a major impact on movies, as evidenced by our list. Eight epics were among the most successful movies of the 1960s, virtually all of them with war or historical themes. One film – “ 2001: A Space Odyssey” – might be considered as the first space epic. 

The 1960s was also a golden era for musicals, such as “Funny Girl,” “My Fair Lady,” “West Side Story,” and “Sound of Music.” Family fare produced by Walt Disney, animated and otherwise, gave audiences “101 Dalmatians,” “Swiss Family Robinson,” “Jungle Book,” and “Mary Poppins.” (These are the most profitable kids’ movies of all time.)

Filmmakers such as Stanley Kramer made movies that challenged society’s conventions, like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and films such as “Bonnie & Clyde” and “The Graduate” empathized with the anti-hero.

Speaking of that film archetype, Paul Newman and Robert Redford played two of them in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” a Western that depicted the closing of the frontier. Another Western on the list, “How the West Was Won,” boasted an all-star cast that told viewers how the American frontier was opened.

All-star casts were the order of the day in many films in the 1960s, from the zany comedy “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” to war epics such as “The Longest Day.”

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