The 15 Most Important Movies of the 1960s

From Hitchcock's Psycho to Easy Rider

2001: A Space Odyssey

Warner Bros.


The 1960s was an era of cultural transformation, and films from the period had significant effects on global culture. Established directors like Hitchcock and Billy Wilder released some of their best work, while newer filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick began to build their careers throughout the decade. In addition, independent film began to make major inroads into the mainstream.

The following list is comprised of the most important movies (though not necessarily the best) released during the 1960s. The films are listed in chronological order according to release date.

The Apartment (1960)

The Apartment

United Artists


After releasing a successful run of classic films in the 1950s, filmmaker Billy Wilder started the 1960s with another groundbreaking comedy: The Apartment.

Jack Lemmon stars as C.C. Baxter, an employee at a large company who allows his bosses to use his apartment to engage in extramarital affairs. Baxter falls for an elevator operator (Shirley MacLaine), but learns she is the target of affection of one of his bosses. The comedy deals frankly with the issue of infidelity, which had previously been a taboo topic in Hollywood.

The Apartment won five Oscars, including Best Picture. Wilder, Lemmon, and MacLaine later reunited for 1964's Irma la Douce.

Psycho (1960)

Paramount Pictures

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the major star directors during this period. With Psycho, Hitchcock cut his usual big budgets down, opting instead to make a small-scale, black-and-white film. Psycho tells the story of a murder in a small-town motel and the shocking discoveries resulting from the investigation.

Psycho and its famous shower scene would go on to inspire the style and tone of the slasher film genre with its mingling of violence, disturbing behavior, and sexuality.

West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story

United Artists


West Side Story transposed Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to contemporary New York City. The film version is considered by critics to be one of the best film adaptations of a hit Broadway musical. It examined the racial dynamics of America's cities, depicting a white gang and a Puerto Rican gang facing off in a blood feud.

West Side Story was a box office hit and won 10 Academy Awards. The songs—especially "Somewhere (There's a Place for Us)," "America," and "Tonight"—are among the most popular in American musical theater and film history.

Dr. No (1962)

Dr. No

United Artists


"Bond. James Bond." British super spy James Bond, one of the most iconic cinema heroes, made his very first film appearance in 1962's Dr. No.

Sean Connery stars as Bond, taking down the villainous title character (Joseph Wiseman) while romancing Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). Dr. No was a huge hit that went on to inspire a long-running franchise.

Though better Bond movies would come later in the 1960s—such as From Russia with Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964)—Dr. No is the blockbuster that started it all. More than 55 years and 24 sequels later, Bond continues to thrive on screen.

8 1/2 (1963)

8 1/2

Embassy Pictures


The 1960s was a seminal decade for international film. Italian cinema, in particular, flourished during the decade. The era's most famous Italian director, Federico Fellini, released his masterpiece 8 1/2 as a reflection of a filmmaker facing a creative block and a midlife crisis, and the emotional fallout he faces as a result.

This surreal introspective film inspired many filmmakers, including Woody Allen and Terry Gilliam, and was adapted as a musical called Nine in 2009.

8 1/2 won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was Fellini's third Oscar.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Dr. Strangelove
Columbia Pictures

Regarded by critics as the best black comedy ever made, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb tapped into America's very real fear of nuclear war. Director Stanley Kubrick started the project as a serious thriller adapted from the novel Red Alert, but the film evolved into a comedy during the scriptwriting process.

British comedian Peter Sellers plays three roles, including the president of the United States, who faces a crisis when an Air Force general instigates a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Sellers also plays the title character, an eccentric scientist.

The hilarious send-up of government ineptitude and international politics remains a popular satire.

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

A Hard Day's Night

United Artists


After taking the world by storm with their music, the Beatles made their first movie, A Hard Day's Night, in 1964. The Fab Four demonstrated a remarkable talent for comedy in the movie, which was hugely successful and influential.

A Hard Day's Night demonstrated the cultural power of rock and roll, which would only grow through the rest of the decade. It also served as an inspiration for future music videos.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 United Artists

Few films have been as influential as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, one of the greatest Westerns ever made. Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone turned the often-derided "Spaghetti Western" (low budget Westerns made in Italy) into high art with his Dollars Trilogy, a trio of acclaimed Westerns starring American actor Clint Eastwood.

In The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Eastwood plays one of three men searching for buried Confederate gold in an escalating battle of wits. The film is noted for its stunning cinematography and beloved music by Ennio Morricone.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde

Warner Bros.


Bonnie and Clyde, which stars Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as the title characters, was one of the first films to glamorize criminals since the 1930s. Director Arthur Penn pushed the envelope with the film's depiction of violence and sex. Warner Brothers was concerned that these creative choices would sink the film, but Bonnie and Clyde ended up becoming a huge hit.

Filmmakers followed the lead of Bonnie and Clyde's depiction of violence. The film is considered a precursor to the New Hollywood era of the 1970s.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

In the Heat of the Night

United Artists


In the Heat of the Night was one of the first Hollywood movies to star an African American lead as the hero. Sidney Poitier stars as Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia detective who is arrested in Mississippi as a murder suspect and ends up working on the case.

The film, which examines racial prejudice, felt revelatory when it was released during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. In 1967, Poitier also starred in two other hits: To Sir, with Love and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

In the Heat of the Night won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Two sequels starring Poitier followed.

The Producers (1967)

The Producers

Embassy Pictures


Comedian Mel Brooks made his directorial debut with The Producers, a comedic movie about a washed-up Broadway producer (Zero Mostel) and an accountant (Gene Wilder) who create a scheme to make money off a musical that is sure to close. The awful result, a terrible musical-within-a-musical called Springtime for Hitler, is one of the most memorable moments in Hollywood history. Nearly 35 years after the release of the film, Brooks co-wrote a musical adaptation of The Producers, which was met with great success.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox


Science fiction classic Planet of the Apes depicts an astronaut (Charlton Heston) crash-landing on a planet ruled by evolved apes who enslave humans. The astronaut's arrival threatens to upend ape society.

Planet of the Apes received great acclaim for its makeup effects, social commentary, and, most of all, its shocking twist ending. It was followed by four sequels, a TV series, and a cartoon series. More Planet of the Apes films followed in the 21st century.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey


Four years after Dr. Strangelove, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick returned with the equally ambitious 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie's segments traced human history from the opening Dawn of Man sequence to the then-future Year 2001. The episodic narrative leaves much of the film open to interpretation.

2001 won the Best Visual Effects Oscar and is considered a landmark film in the special effects field.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead

Walter Reade Organization

Today's zombie movies and TV shows all derive from perhaps the greatest horror movie ever made: Night of the Living Dead. This independently-made horror feature has inspired countless horror movie filmmakers, and its realistically gory imagery created controversy with audiences.

Director George A. Romero stated that he cast Duane Jones, an African American actor, in the lead role simply because he had the best audition. However, critics suggested that the casting was a sign that the film was an allegory for racism and the Civil Rights Movement. Regardless of the original intent, Night of the Living Dead is now considered a game changing film.

Romero directed five sequels from 1978 to 2009. Countless imitators have followed, including the popular The Walking Dead TV series.

Easy Rider (1969)

Easy Rider

Columbia Pictures


Easy Rider demonstrated a new style of realism in filmmaking. In this low-budget road movie, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda play a pair of drug-trafficking bikers traveling across the United States. After a hugely-positive reception at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, Easy Rider became a major hit in the United States. The soundtrack, which featured Steppenwolf, The Band, and Jimi Hendrix, was equally popular.

Easy Rider marked a move toward independent filmmaking and the New Hollywood era of the 1970s.