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10 Films That Defined The ‘60s

September 24, 2017

As part of our ongoing look at some of the art that helped to shape the boomer generation, we look back at those films of the 1960s that defined the decade at the movie theatre.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Science fiction movies forever changes with the arrival of the Star Wars franchise in the 70s, but years before that came this classic in the genre that introduced the notion that these space-set films could have real thoughts and ideas. Stanley Kubrick, hailed as one of the greatest directors of all time, moulded this space exploration adventure into a film about that explored humanity in general. Few films have left so many iconic shots as this ground-breaking achievement.


Alfred Hitchcock was far from a novice filmmaker by 1960, having already given us such classics as North by Northwest, Rear Window and Vertigo, but this foray into pure horror became his crowning achievement and defined all films of its type for years to come. For anyone who has seen this masterpiece, it’s clear how so many film in the “slasher” genre even to this day are influenced by it. Hitchcock broke all the rules with this one and made audiences rethink everything they know about scary movies. Fun fact: it is also the first film to show a toilet flushing.

To Kill A Mockingbird

The ‘60s was a time when the art and entertainment world became vocal about the political climate of the day, specifically the ongoing Civil Rights movements. While there were many Hollywood examples of battling against the prejudice of the day, this adaption of Harper Lee’s novel made the biggest impact. It is the story of fighting for justice even if you are the only voice speaking for what is right. The film was one of the most acclaimed films of the decade and opened the conversation about what our responsibilities are towards our fellow man. Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch was one of the most beloved cinematic heroes of all time.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Western has been one of the longest standing film genres of all time – though it has gone through many different stages of popularity over the years. At the beginning of the 1960s, Westerns were known for the epic, heroic John Wayne pictures. The genre was given a surprising shot in the arm with the “Spaghetti Western” movement. While not the first film in this subgenre, this Clint Eastwood classic popularized it thanks to the unique vision of Italian director Sergio Leone.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Satire was not a new subject in the ‘60s. Since the beginning of society, artists have been using their talents to comment on their current world. At a time when the entire world was focused on the Cold War and the fear of nuclear war, Stanley Kubrick decided to make comedy out of that fear. The film explores a reality in which the threat of a world ending war is the result of bumbling politicians and mad men (maybe a little topical for today). Though the subject matter doesn’t seem to be one full of laughs, it is considered one of the funniest and most biting satires ever made.

Lawrence of Arabia

The Hollywood epic has always been a big part of the movie industry and it remains that way to this day. Despite all that came before that, this film by David Lean and starring Peter O’Toole was one that made an indelible mark on the history of cinema. Following the life of T.E. Lawrence, the movie inspired some of the greatest filmmakers who are working today, such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan. The over 3-hour film might seem like a daunting task, but you’ll be swept up in one of the greatest cinema adventures.

Easy Rider

Before the ‘60s, the Hollywood system was run by studios making studio films. While there are obviously so many amazing films to come out of that time, they were meant to reach the widest possible audience, which meant risks were seldom taken. Then came the era of the independent filmmaking, where young, visionary directors would make their own films, which pushed the envelope in many ways. This film is one of the first examples of this cinematic movement and also helped to depict the psychedelic, hippie movement of the time.

The Graduate

Teen movies are not generally looked at as being the top tier of cinematic offerings, however, the genre started in earnest with this film that has gone on to be considered one of the best of all-time. The comedy captured to feeling of an entire generation at a specific time, following a young man recently graduated from university and a little lost in his journey. So many films have tried to recreate the magic of this film, but few have come close to matching it’s intelligence and truth.

Midnight Cowboy

As with Easy Rider, there started a trend of films that took risks and pushed content that was not normally seen in the mainstream. This is one of the ground-breaking films to accomplish just that. It dealt with a lot of issues and topics not seen in many films, and the content of the film earned it an X rating. However, that was not enough to keep curious audiences away and the film became the first X-rated film to be nominated for Best Picture.

Dr. No

No franchise has had a longer legacy than that of James Bond. And it all started here. This was the first film in which audiences learned the codename 007, the first where we learned how her orders a martini, and the first in which they heard the iconic phrase, “Bond. James Bond”. The role has been played by several actors throughout the years, but few think the original, Sean Connery, has ever been topped. Though it might not be the best of the Bond films, this is the one that started it all and launched a series that is still going strong today.

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