Every cohort has their own generation-defining movies. When making best-of classic movie lists, it can be too easy to get caught up in the artistry and early craftsmanship of the old black and white movies, many of which don’t resonate as much with Baby Boomers and people who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. The movies that defined the currently retiring generation are significantly different, thematically and tonally, than the movies their parents grew up with.
Where their parents may have idolized James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, they have Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Hairy or drifter with no name was taking over from John Wayne’s many Western roles.
It’s not as if those older movies weren’t appreciated by all younger audiences at the time, but some of the following films were much more aligned with their younger sensibilities and tastes.
One of Steven Spielberg’s early films, Jaws is still making viewers afraid of what’s lurking below the surface of seemingly safe waters. Jaws was the highest grossing film in history after it’s June 1975 release, until Star Wars knocked it off its perch two years later. Production problems, such as the unreliability of the mechanical shark, forced Spielberg to rely more heavily on John William’s musical score to suggest the shark’s presence rather than show the shark itself. In many ways, that hidden, ominous presence became a hallmark of good, suspenseful horror movie filmmaking.
Ostensibly a black comedy about Korean War medics, M*A*S*H’s 1970 release resonated with a generation of young adults growing up in the midst of the Vietnam War. The film preceded the TV show, which further made M*A*S*H a true cultural phenomenon. M*A*S*H follows the classic rule-breaker hero archetype, with the three doctors – Hawkeye, Duke and Trapper – displaying a blatant disregard for proper military protocol while trying to make the horror around them just a bit easier to bear.
American Graffiti was an important coming-of-age film in the early 1970s. George Lucas directed and co-wrote this film set in Modesto, California in the early ‘60s. The film revolves around Curt Henderson who is torn between leaving his hometown to attend college at the end of summer or staying home with his friends. Henderson and his friends get into all types of trouble and antics while Curt struggles with his decision, ultimately deciding to leave for college after a whirlwind last few days in his hometown that includes everything from gang hazing and crazy disc jockeys to drag racing and chasing mysterious, potentially married women.
This classic prison drama from 1967 was directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starred Paul Newman and George Kennedy. Based in the ‘50s, the movie follows Luke, a Florida prison camp inmate, whose shadowy past stays relatively unexplained during the film. Rather than focusing on why Luke is there, the film resonated with young people in the late ‘60s due to Luke’s refusal to adhere to prison norms. The authority’s inability to break his free spirit with physical and psychological abuse made him a hero for a generation struggling against the yoke of conformity.
Randle Patrick McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson, is a prisoner who is transferred from a prison farm to a mental facility for evaluation in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. McMurphy is initially happy, assuming the institution will be less restrictive and harsh compared with prison. He quickly learns the psychiatric ward has its own set of iron-fisted guards, just with different uniforms and methods of abuse. This dark comedic drama is a truly beloved classic and won all five major Academy Awards in 1975.
Considered to be one of the greatest Westerns ever made, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is really a story about two best friends who are robbers constantly on the lookout for a safe way to make an easy buck, usually by planning clever bank and train robberies. After burning one too many bridges in their Wyoming home territory, they decide fleeing to Bolivia is their safest bet. They’re helped along by Sundance’s school-teacher girlfriend, played by Katharine Ross. Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s portrayal of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are especially praised as bringing significant humor and charm to the 1969 buddy-outlaw film.
The Godfather, a Francis Ford Coppola directed film based on the novel of the same name written by Mario Puzo, came out to great critical acclaim in 1972. The film starred Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone and Al Pacino as his son and successor, Michael Corleone. The Godfather tells the story of a 10-year period of the Corleone mafia family’s history. The film follows Michael Corleone’s rise from a well-intentioned veteran coming home from World War 2 through to his ascension to don of the powerful crime family his father built. The film is responsible for establishing many of the classic mob movie tropes that have become further popularized by TV and movies like The Sopranos, Goodfellas and Casino.
The Graduate, released in 1967, is a romantic comedy starring Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock, an aimless college graduate who is seduced by Mrs. Robinson, played by Anne Bancroft. Braddock goes on to fall in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, played by Katharine Ross. The film received many Academy Award nominations but only director Mike Nichols won an Oscar. The Graduate is considered by many to be one of the best romantic comedies of the ‘60s and one of the first to be targeted at Baby Boomer audiences.
One thing that becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on is finding people with whom you can reminisce about your favorite classic films. At Ovation by Avamere, our residents get to relax and live with like-minded people who grew up during the same years and in many cases love the same films as well. Come see how rewarding life can be when you share it with great people with similar interests!