Best Movies of the 1960s – Top 10 Ranked Movies To Watch

by YvetteComment — Updated March 28, 2024

The 1960s is regarded as a golden age of cinema, producing many masterpieces that still captivate audiences today. Being the origin of various genres and subgenres that we enjoy today, it’s no wonder that this period remains a favorite among movie enthusiasts.

From horror to sci-fi, romance to drama, and westerns, there’s something for everyone in the movies made during this period.

The introduction of French New Wave and Italian Neorealism strongly influenced the film. The use of lightweight and more portable cameras allowed for shooting styles and location flexibility. In addition, special effects were introduced, setting new standards in filmmaking.

With so many films available, selecting which ones to watch can be daunting. But fear not, I’m here to help!

Let’s take a trip back in time and explore the top movies of the 1960s.

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Key Takeaway

  • The 1960s marked a golden age of cinema, introducing groundbreaking genres and styles that continue to captivate audiences today.
  • Stanley Kubrick’s masterpieces, like “Dr. Strangelove” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” revolutionized filmmaking with their innovative storytelling and technical brilliance.
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful thrillers, including “Psycho,” set new standards in the thriller genre, exploring psychological themes and pushing cinematic boundaries.
  • The emergence of antiheroes in leading roles, exemplified by films like “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Easy Rider,” challenged traditional narratives and captivated audiences with their rebellious spirit and unconventional storytelling.

Stanley Kubrick’s Masterpieces

Stanley Kubrick is a legend in the world of cinema, known for his unique style, perfectionism, and groundbreaking technical innovations.

Although he did not achieve commercial success with every film he made, many of his works have since become timeless classics, cementing his status as one of the greatest directors in cinema history.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

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“Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” is a black comedy film released during the Cold War. Stanley Kubrick directed, co-wrote, and produced the movie.

The plot revolves around a U.S. Air Force general named Jack D. Ripper, played by the legendary Sterling Hayden, who orders a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union on his own initiative.

Jack was convinced that the Soviets were trying to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of the American people by introducing fluoridation to the water supply.

The rest of the movie shows the American President’s and top generals’ efforts to prevent the attack and avoid a catastrophic nuclear disaster.

Dr. Strangelove himself is one of the most important characters in the movie. He is a former Nazi scientist and an expert in nuclear weapons.

He worked as President Muffley’s advisor and made the situation funny through dark, humorous insights. Unique and talented Peter Sellers played the role of Dr. Strangelove, along with two other roles: Group Captain Lionel Mandrake and President Merkin Muffley.

Dr. Strangelove” satirizes the horrors of a potential nuclear war and highlights the absurdity of military decisions made by the powerful.

The film is regarded as one of the greatest of all time, thanks to its blend of dark humor, unforgettable characters, and sharp critique of the military-industrial complex and politicians. It fearlessly tackles the complex geopolitical tensions of the Cold War era in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.

The film was nominated for four Oscars but did not win any. Still, it is widely regarded as one of the best satirical classics.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece, which features groundbreaking special effects, is well-known for its minimalist dialogue and exploration of human evolution and space mysteries. The movie’s plot is complex and open to interpretation, as its writers, Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick, wanted it to be.

It is divided into four parts, each telling a different story.

Part one: “The Dawn of Man”

A group of prehistoric apes encountered a strange monolith. This discovery improved their cognitive abilities and ability to use tools.

As a result, they could hunt and eat meat and defend themselves against other groups of apes. For some, this was seen as the beginning of human intelligence.

Part two: “TMA-1”

A spaceship departs from Earth with only Dr. Heywood Floyd aboard. He reaches Space Station V, where he meets Dr. Andrei Smyslov, a Russian scientist curious about his visit to the Moon.

However, Floyd refuses to give any information and leaves the station. Then, he travels to the Moon on another shuttle and attends a press conference where scientists announce the discovery of an artifact on the Moon’s surface.

During the conference, he joins a group of scientists on a Moonbus to investigate where the object was found. The artifact found is another Monolith called TMA-1. As the scientists tried to photograph the Monolith, the artifact suddenly emitted a loud, high-pitched signal when exposed to the sun.

Part three: “Jupiter Mission”

A spaceship called Discovery 1 is sent to Jupiter with a crew of five members, including Dr. David Bowman, Dr. Frank Poole, and a powerful supercomputer HAL 9000.

However, during routine maintenance of the spacecraft, the supercomputer HAL begins to malfunction and ends up causing the deaths of some of the crew members.

Part four: “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”

Dave Bowman arrives at Jupiter and finds another monolith around the planet. The Monolith brings him into a mysterious place known as Stargate Passage. Then, he is transported to a neoclassical hotel room, where he sees the old versions of himself.

With its innovative techniques, scientific accuracy, and intellectual depth, this movie greatly impacted other sci-fi and space-related movies.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspenseful Thrillers

Alfred Hitchcock, the “Master of Suspense,” has undoubtedly contributed significantly to the thriller and suspense genres. His works have inspired many thrillers and horror movies today. If you love bone-chilling horror movies, check out this blog.

Among his many films, some have stood out as his greatest achievements and left an indelible mark on the movie industry.

Psycho (1960)

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“Psycho” is a classic thriller featuring Anthony Perkins, and it is a must-see for fans of psychological thrillers and horror movies. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time.

The plot follows Marion Crane (played by beautiful Janet Leigh), a Phoenix, Arizona, secretary unhappy with her job and her relationship with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis.

One day, her boss entrusts her with $40,000 to deposit in the bank, but instead of depositing it, Phoenix’s secretary embezzles $40,000 and goes on the run.

After leaving town and driving for a few hours, Marion feels tired, so she decides without hesitation to check into a remote motel run by Norman Bates, a mild-mannered but strange man.

Marion takes a shower in the hotel room, and in one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history, she is brutally murdered by an unknown attacker.

Concerned about Marion’s disappearance, Marion’s sister (Lila Crane) and boyfriend (Sam) investigate her whereabouts. As they dig deeper, they discover chilling stories and mysteries about the Bates family.

The movie “Psycho” is often considered groundbreaking in the horror and thriller genres. It is celebrated for its suspenseful atmosphere and is known for its unexpected plot twists. It explores psychological themes, the concept of split personalities, and the effects of childhood trauma.

Sweeping Epics That Won Best Picture

During the 1960s, several critically acclaimed movies left a lasting impact on the cinema industry.

Here are some of the Best Picture winners from that era:

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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This film, directed by David Lean, is a masterpiece of great significance for several reasons. At the 35th Academy Awards, it was nominated for ten Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture and Best Director. It also won the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for Best Film and Outstanding British Film.

The film is also known for its breathtaking landscapes, innovative use of Super Panavision 70 mm film, and groundbreaking cinematography by Freddie Young.

This epic historical drama is based on the life of T. E. Lawrence, played by Peter O’Toole. Lawrence was a British military officer who played a crucial role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

He joined the Arab tribes led by Sherif Ali and Auda Abu Tayi, and together, they launched a series of guerrilla attacks against the Ottoman forces.

Lawrence played a crucial role in leading the Arabs to numerous victories and was highly regarded among them. He was a skilled warrior known for his effective tactics and strategies. However, the war had a significant impact on his mental state, causing him to question his identity and purpose in the conflict.

Following his capture by Ottoman forces and subsequent torture, he suffered from both physical and psychological trauma, which left a lasting impact on him.

This masterpiece examines the effects of political maneuvering on individuals caught amid historical events, exploring themes of identity and war.

The Sound of Music (1965)

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“The Sound of Music” is set in Austria during the 1930s, a time when the Nazi regime was rising to power. Directed by Robert Wise, this musical drama tells the story of Maria, played by Julie Andrews, a young woman with a free spirit and a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey.

However, Maria does not enjoy the disciplined life led by the nuns. The Mother Abbess decides to send her to be the governess for Navy Captain Georg von Trapp’s (played by Christopher Plummer) seven children.

Initially, the children resist her presence, but eventually, Maria wins them over with her kind personality and love for music. And thanks to Maria, the kids reconnect with their father, Captain von Trapp.

As Maria and Captain von Trapp spend more time together, they start to fall in love with each other. However, Captain von Trapp is engaged to the wealthy and sophisticated baroness Elsa von Schraeder.

As the Nazi influence grows in Austria, Captain von Trapp is pressured to join German Navy. He refuses to participate and decides to escape Austria with his family.

The movie was a huge hit both commercially and critically. It was the highest-grossing film of its time, gained positive reviews from critics, and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Its songs, such as “The Sound of Music,” “My Favourite Things,” and “Do-Re-Mi,” became iconic and global hits.

Cool Antiheroes Take Center Stage

The 1960s are famous for the significant changes in the film industry. Many new genres emerged during this era, and films featuring antiheroes in leading roles became particularly intriguing.

These characters often defied social norms and laws, which captivated audiences who were curious to see what it was like to live outside of conventional boundaries.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

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Bonnie and Clyde, directed by the legendary Arthur Penn, is an iconic movie that depicts the notorious story of Bonnie Parker, played by Faye Dunaway, and Clyde Barrow, played by Warren Beatty.

The couple gained infamy during the Great Depression for their daring robberies and brutal murders. The movie was particularly famous for its portrayal of violence, which was unprecedented in the 60s.

Bonnie Parker, a bored waitress, and Clyde Barrow, a small-time criminal, meet by fate, and Clyde quickly involves Bonnie in his criminal activities. Together with Clyde’s brother Buck and his wife, Blanche, they form a gang, starting with robbing banks and becoming infamous for their violent attacks.

As their criminal activities gain more attention, the gang becomes more notorious, and some people even support them because of their resentment towards the authorities. However, their violent acts escalate, and they become increasingly brutal towards their victims.

The authorities, led by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, are determined to capture them and end their crimes.

Although it didn’t win any Oscars despite several nominations, Bonnie and Clyde is a highly significant film in cinema history. It offers a portrayal of life during the Great Depression, including scenes of violence that were unprecedented at the time. It also highlights the media’s tendency to sensationalize and glamorize criminals.

As a result, the film played a crucial role in developing the true crime genre.

Easy Rider (1969)

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This epic drama is the work of the legendary Dennis Hopper, who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Fonda and Terry Southern. The movie explores freedom, rebellion, and the search for identity.

Wyatt, aka Captain America (played by Peter Fonda), and Billy (played by Dennis Hopper) are two inseparable friends who embark on a long motorcycle journey from Los Angeles to New Orleans. They have made a fortune by smuggling cocaine from Mexico to Los Angeles. With customized motorcycles, they aim to reach the Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans.

Along the way, they encounter a diverse range of people and situations that offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of Americans in the 1960s. They encounter many characters representing traditional and countercultural influences on American society.

The film vividly portrays these characters and their stories, making it a timeless classic and a must-watch for any movie lover.

The movie is widely regarded as a symbol of independence and a significant work of countercultural exploration. Its storytelling and cinematography were highly innovative for its time.

The film is also famous for featuring some of the most popular rock music soundtracks of all time, including hits from The Byrds, Jimmy Hendrix, and Steppenwolf. It has become a model for future films, representing the powerful relationship between cinema and music.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

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George Roy Hill directed this iconic Western film, starring two legends: Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid. The story takes place in 1890s Wyoming and follows the adventures of these two outlaws during the declining days of the American Wild West.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are leaders of the Hole in the Wall Gang, a group of criminals known for their charming approach to robbing banks and trains.

After a failed Union Pacific Flyer train robbery, they realize their hopeless situation and escape to Bolivia with Sundance’s kid’s lover, Etta Place, played by Katharine Ross.

The group attempts to start a fresh life in Bolivia but continues to rob banks and evade the authorities. Eventually, a super posse led by Joe Lefors tracks them down, even in Bolivia, which poses new challenges and problems for the group of criminals.

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was a movie that achieved both critical acclaim and commercial success. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song.

The movie was famous for its unique blend of genres, including Western, comedy, and drama. It utilized innovative techniques, including freeze frames and sepia footage. Additionally, the movie is significant because it represents the end of the Wild West era and illustrates the challenges the outlaws face in a changing society.

Dustin Hoffman’s leading performances

Dustin Hoffman starred in several leading roles in Hollywood films during the 1960s alongside other legends. But, among all the movies, some made him stand out, making him one of the most popular actors of all time!

The Graduate (1967)

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“The Graduate” is a comedy-drama movie directed by Mike Nichols. The story revolves around 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, a recent college graduate who feels lost in the adult world.

He returns home to his wealthy parents in California and meets Mrs. Robinson, played by Anne Bancroft, a family friend and the wife of his father’s business partner. Despite the complications, Benjamin engages in an affair with Mrs. Robinson.

Later, his father persuaded him to go on a date with Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, portrayed by Katherine Ross. Despite being hesitant initially, Benjamin falls deeply in love with Elaine, leading to a complex and emotional love triangle.

The movie portrays the changing attitudes and values of the younger generations during the 1960s. It shows rebellion against societal norms and the search for identity.

“The Graduate” marked Dustin Hoffman’s breakthrough role, and it was a turning point in his career, as he gained both box office success and recognition for his performance.

Mike Nichols won the Academy Award for Best Director, and the movie also received recognition for its screenplay and editing. Moreover, it was one of the highest-grossing movies of 1967.

The iconic song “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel was featured in the movie and remains a timeless hit even in the 21st century.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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Midnight Cowboy” rated 7.8 on IMDB, is a drama movie directed by John Schlesinger. It is based on a novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy. The film is famous for being the only X-rated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The story revolves around a Texan guy named Joe Buck (played by Jon Voight) who dreams of making it big in New York City. To achieve his dream, he planned to work as a male prostitute for women. However, he realizes that the city is harsh and unforgiving after a while.

Joe befriends Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo, played by Dustin Hoffman, a small-time con man who dreams of a better life. The movie portrays the harsh reality of urban life and explores themes of loneliness and friendship as Joe and Ratso become friends and try to survive a hostile urban environment.

“Midnight Cowboy” was a groundbreaking film for several reasons. It contained explicit and adult themes, leading to its X rating, and depicted the difficulty of urban life, poverty, and the fight for survival.

Unlike other Hollywood movies of the era, it presented mature and gritty themes and showcased characters in their raw desperation for the first time.

“Midnight Cowboy” achieved critical and commercial success, winning three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director.

The movie delves into its characters’ complex psychological and emotional aspects while also exploring the dynamics of their friendship.

“Midnight Cowboy” is an iconic ’60s movie exploring mature themes and urban life’s dark side.

Actress Spotlight: Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews

In the annals of cinematic history, Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews shine as luminaries, captivating audiences with their charm and grace of the ‘new Hollywood’ era.

Two quintessential films, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “My Fair Lady,” showcase their prowess, while “The Miracle Worker” unveils the raw intensity of human connection and resilience.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), directed by Blake Edwards, also one of the best movies, focuses on the elegance and sophistication associated with Audrey Hepburn. The film, based on Truman Capote’s novella, introduces Hepburn as Holly Golightly, a socialite in New York City.

As the narrative unfolds, a twist ending adds depth to this seemingly glamorous tale, revealing a poignant allegorical story beneath the surface.

“My Fair Lady” (1964) places Julie Andrews in the spotlight, directed by George Cukor. The film, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” sees Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl transformed into a refined lady. The young couple’s journey, portrayed with finesse by Andrews and Rex Harrison, showcases the transformative power of education and self-discovery.

The two women, both aspiring actresses emblematic of the ‘new Hollywood’ movement, navigate Western movies’ evolving landscape while injecting a fresh perspective into the industry. Hepburn’s delicate poise and Andrews’ vocal prowess redefined the standards of beauty and talent, making them cultural icons.

While these films highlight Hollywood’s glitz and glamour, “The Miracle Worker” (1962) delves into a different realm. Starring Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller, the film portrays the extraordinary journey of a young couple trying to unlock the world for a blind and deaf child.

Their pasts are intertwined, and the narrative explores the profound impact of their relationship.

In the gangster-ridden landscape of Hollywood’s yesteryears, these actresses brought a breath of fresh air, showcasing versatility, depth, and resilience.

Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews not only left an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape but also epitomized the spirit of ‘new Hollywood,’ transcending traditional roles and captivating audiences with their timeless performances.


The 1960s were a significant era for cinema, giving birth to numerous classic movies that have profoundly impacted filmmaking’s history. Thanks to these films, new genres, styles, and themes emerged, inspiring and entertaining audiences and filmmakers today.

In this period, films began to explore the depths of character development and the psychological struggles of their protagonists.

Many movies depicted their main characters’ inner struggles and personal growth, introducing the antihero concept, which audiences could relate to on a more personal level.

The film industry experimented with innovative techniques, and the thriller genre flourished with Hitchcock’s introduction of dark characters with strange backstories. Music also played a crucial role during this time, becoming integral to various film scenes and situations.

As a result, certain soundtracks became some of the biggest hits of all time, influencing the youth worldwide.

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