This is why 1968 was the most radical year in the film

1968 was a year in Hollywood that was both lively and diverse, with numerous successful and notable films that graced the silver screen. The period introduced the masses to some of the most iconic and beloved films, which include a wide variety of genres and exciting talent. A variety of acclaimed directors and acting greats shone during this time, confirming their status in film history. Stanley Kubrick would continue to release his masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, and the world would witness atrocities at close range and in person George A. Romero’s Night of the living dead.

The overall climate of the world has also shifted drastically during this year; 1968 was profound for major socio-political events that would undeniably change the foundations of the country. Revolutionary thinker and prominent civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was tragically killed, causing nationwide riots and civil unrest (as reflected in the documentary Black Panthers from that year). Protests against Vietnam were booming in the US, as well as international student protests in France, which challenged capitalism, American imperialism and a multitude of other grievances. The prestigious Cannes Film Festival is notoriously closed for the only time in history due to the French protests. The prominent and politically controversial documentary In the year of the pig was released by director Emile de Antonio, depicting America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The film has since been hailed as “the first and best of the great documentaries about Vietnam.”


This period in Tinsel Town was truly revolutionary for film and stands out as a prosperous and innovative moment in pop culture. From the gruesome living dead that wreak havoc, to looming satanic cults, and even an Adolf Hitler musical, 1968 was without a doubt a radical year in Hollywood movies.

Iconic Horror Classics

Night of the Living Dead Board game brings Romero's classic to your tabletop
Continental distribution

1968 was an epic year for horror fanatics, with two iconic classic debuts: Rosemary is baby and Night of the Living Dead. Roman Polanski’s psychological horror movie tells the story of a young, pregnant woman who begins to suspect that her Manhattan-aged neighbors are members of a satanic cult and want to use her unborn baby in ominous rituals. Mia Farrow played Rosemary Woodhouse in her first starring role and the film established her as a prominent actress. Rosemary is baby was a groundbreaking horror film at its release, which earned universal praise and inspired countless movies focusing on black magic and Satan worshipers, including Mark of the Devil and Black afternoon. It is now strongly regarded as one of the greatest horrors of all time.

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Moviegoers and horror fans around the world witnessed the first modern zombie movie in movie history with George A. Romero’s cult classic Night of the living dead. The movie was Romero’s directorial debut, who would go on to earn the acclaimed title, “Father of the Zombie Movie”. It follows seven people trapped in a rural farmhouse in Pennsylvania while being attacked by a large group of dead. Shot on a budget of $ 100,000, Night of the Living Dead earned $ 30 million and became one of the most lucrative films ever made. Romero’s zombie feature reflected the cultural and social changes in the US during the 60’s, with the horror guru starring an African-American, Duane Jones, starring in the film, with the ending of the film deserving of striking comparisons has with the assassination of Martin Luther King. The director made a revolution in the genre and, like the The BBC has stated, it represented “a new dawn in the making of horror films”.

Great moment for musicals

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Columbia Photos

Cinema saw the revival and popularity of film musicals in 1968, with several successful films being released. Probably the two most influential and well-known musicals that appeared in theaters that year were Funny girl and Oliver!, with the former the debut film for Barbra Streisand. Considered one of the greatest musicals ever made, Funny girl is loosely based on the life and career of movie and Broadway star Fanny Brice and her rocky relationship with Nicky Arnstein. The show earned the then newcomer Streisand the Oscar for Best Actress, an honor she shared with Katharine Hepburn as a result of one of the few ties in Oscar history.

British period musical Oliver! is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver twist and received widespread critical acclaim and earned 11 Oscar nominations. The production studio behind both Funny girl and Oliver! (Columbia Pictures) has garnered a combined total of 19 Oscar nominations, most from one studio for musicals. Oliver! was the last movie musical to win Best Picture for 34 years, until 2002s Chicago. Apart from those smash hits, 1968 saw the release of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Finian’s Rainbow and Elvis Presley and Nancy Sinatra in the lead roles Speedway. The year was truly a great moment for musicals in Hollywood theaters.

Groundbreaking Sci-Fi Glasses

2001: A Space Odyssey 70 mm trailer celebrates its 50th anniversary

Innovative and highly respected director Stanley Kubrick’s films are known for their dark humor, cutting-edge set designs and unique cinematography. Probably the pièce de résistance of his directing career is the 1968 epic science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which follows a journey to Jupiter with a conscious supercomputer HAL 9000 after the discovery of an alien monolith. Like most of Kubrick’s photos, 2001: A Space Odyssey was polarizing to critics and audiences and received both admiration and contempt, and yet it was an experimental art film that somehow managed to become the second-greatest film of the year. The film is praised for its scientific accuracy and its exploration of themes such as human evolution, artificial intelligence and existentialism, and its innovative special effects were unprecedented at that point.

2001 has had a profound impact on future filmmakers, with well-known directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas drawing inspiration from the masterpiece as it helped establishes the “science fiction blockbuster” in Hollywood (who had previously delegated science fiction to B-movies). Another epic sci-fi film released that year was the allegorical extravagance Planet of the Apes, who was praised for his Revolutionary Prosthetic Makeup Techniques by John Chambers. The movie earned good reviews from both critics and moviegoers, and featured a huge franchise, comic books, an animated series and several recent popular movies. Planet of the Apes was another movie that took science fiction seriously and used it philosophically and prophetically.

Shakespeare on screen

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Paramount Pictures

Based on the beloved William Shakespeare play, 1968’s romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet tells the story of the fateful star-crossed lovers in one of the greatest love stories ever told. It was the first major film production of the play to feature a leading actor and actress who was close to the ages of their characters, which helped make the film popular among teenagers. At the time of its release, Romeo and Juliet became the most financially successful film adaptation of a Shakespeare play and earned more than $ 38 million with a modest budget of $ 850,000. Famous critic Roger Ebert stated, “I believe Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made. ” The adaptation won Oscar awards for best costume design and best cinematography, while also earning nominations for best director and best film; this is the last Shakespeare movie nominated for Best Picture so far.

Related: The best modern Shakespeare adaptations

Cherished Comedy Staples

Paramount Pictures

Hollywood in 1968 was a colorful and varied period that saw an abundance of genres shine on the big screen. While musicals, science fiction and horror movies took audiences by storm, comedies certainly did not take a back seat in the theater. The year brought to the fore a wide range of notable hits, namely the comedy classic The strange couple, The manufacturers, and Yours, mine and ours. The acting heavyweights Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau play as two very different divorced men: the neurotically tidy Felix (Lemmon) and the comfortable slave Oscar (Matthau) who decides to live together. The film was a huge hit among audiences and went on to inspire the beloved ABC sitcom of the same name, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. The less said about the more recent television iteration of the comedy classic, the better.

The satirical black comedy directed by Mel Brooks The manufacturers tells the hilarious story of a theater producer and his accountant who create the worst stage musical they can as part of a financial scam. Their concept? Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, of course. Starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, the movie received mixed reviews for its controversial theme, but went on to earn a cult following. Brooks won the Oscar for Best Screenplay and would later help The manufacturers processed into a musical and subsequent film. The film is one of the first successful dark comedies ever made.

Many contemporary Hollywood greats have made their film debuts this year, including the talented Goldie Hawn, Barbara Streisand, John Cleese and Malcolm McDowell. The Hollywood production code also experienced an intense upheaval, his moralistic grip loosened by introducing the MPAA rating system, which is still implemented today and makes it possible to release films that would otherwise have been censored or never received theatrical distribution. For these and many other reasons, 1968 was without a doubt a radical year in Hollywood movies, aptly reflecting a year of turmoil, anxiety and cultural change.

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