10 Best Films of the 1960's - Mania.com

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10 Best Films of the 1960's

Mania's Picks for the Movies of the 60's

By Rob Vaux     December 28, 2009

10 Best Films of the 1960's
© Bob Trate/Mania


The 1960s witnessed huge upheavals in society--Vietnam, the riots and revolutions of 1968, and the harsh battle for civil rights finally attaining critical mass. The movies reflected that turmoil, with the slow withering of Hollywood's business as usual, along with long-established boundaries of censorship and formula. Genre films benefited immeasurably from the newfound freedom, producing a cluster of films which rank among the true masterpieces of horror and science fiction. Mania has picked out 10 of them worthy of special mention.

10. Goldfinger

Casino Royale notwithstanding, Goldfinger remains the pinnacle of the James Bond franchise. Exotic locales, fantastic gadgets (including the famous Aston Martin), a ruthless villain, and a sexy heroine who proves more than Bond's match all combine into a perfect summation of what the character is supposed to be. Perhaps most importantly, Goldfinger retains the essence of Ian Fleming's novels: Sean Connery's Bond fails as often as he succeeds, and you realize more than once just how close to death he really comes.

9. Fantastic Voyage

Though the concept is slightly contrived and some of the effects don't hold up, the story of a band of scientists shrunken to microscopic size and injected into the bloodstream of a dying diplomat remains terrific fun. In many ways, it could be another space opera, but director Richard Fleischer renders it unique by positing the alien landscapes as actual parts of the human body--which treats the scientists as invading viruses to be destroyed. (There's also the sight of Raquel Welch in skintight scuba gear, but that's just a bonus.)


8. Jason and the Argonauts

As too many CGI spectacles have learned to their detriment, the best effects aren't necessary the most realistic ones. Willis O'Brien's creations in King Kong endure because they have a soul, a lesson which O'Brien's protégé Ray Harryhausen applies in spades to Jason and the Argonauts. While it ostensibly concerns the exploits of the titular Greek hero and his crew, the real stars are the various monsters they face: harpies, living statues, and a septet of memorable skeletons rendered in Harryhausen's signature stop-motion style.

7. Rosemary's Baby

Few figures are tougher to properly execute onscreen than the Devil. Director Roman Polanski, however, understands evil better than anyone should, and his adaptation of Ira Levin's novel reminds us how eagerly humanity can serve such monstrosity. As Mia Farrow's Rosemary descends into a nightmare of paranoia and betrayal, we're never entirely sure whether her fears have merit or whether she's simply going mad. The harrowing finale proves worse than even our darkest suppositions could have imagined.


6. The Time Machine

George Pal possessed a special affinity for the works of H.G. Wells, and his 1960 adaptation of The Time Machine holds both the author's sense of wonder and a more grim assessment of humanity's future. Rod Taylor makes a suitably dashing Victorian hero, catapulted into the distant future through a device of his own making. Like Jason and the Argonauts, the film's effects lose none of their charm for being so dated, and the visuals used to convey Wells' central points (like a shelf full of books collapsing into dust) still hold a potent punch.

5. Night of the Living Dead

No one could have imagined what George A. Romero was unleashing when he cobbled together a Z-grade horror movie from the change in the cushions of his couch. But not only did he launch an entire genre in his tale of survivors trapped in a farmhouse by cannibalistic zombies, but he tapped into the angry, futile rage that signaled the 60s at their worst. The final twist speaks to a nation fundamentally losing its innocence, and the terrible realization that some things broken can never be fixed.

4. Dr. Strangelove

Stanley Kubrick presents the final word on the Cold War with an eerily plausible scenario so overwhelmingly horrible that our only recourse is to laugh. As a mad U.S. general launches an unprovoked attack on the Soviet Union--and the remainder of the government scrambles to avert Armageddon--Kubrick reveals the folly of trying to control such events, rendered in exquisite black humor with a punchline as hysterical as it is chilling.


3. Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes may be the perfect science fiction film: part grand adventure, part social satire and part unsettling morality fable. Its world where apes are the rulers and humans the wild beasts remains utterly convincing, aided by groundbreaking make-up effects from John Chambers and an often imitated, never equaled performance from Charlton Heston. The final shot may be the greatest in the history of film, courtesy of Twilight Zone guru Rod Serling, who (it has been noted) really knew how to stick the dismount.

2. Psycho

For the first 30 minutes of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, we're treated to an examination of guilt: what happens when you do something on a whim that ruins your life. The sudden, shocking end to that notion in the shower at the Bates Motel has become so well known that we forget how transgressive it is--the equivalent of killing off James Bond midway through the picture. But the truly demented part is the way Hitchcock hands us the killer as our new "hero." After all, Norman Bates (Tony Perkins) didn't kill Marion Crane (Janet Leigh); it was his horrible mother! To show us a brutal murderer is one thing; to make us sympathize with him--and even want him to succeed--is truly sick, a feat which none of the film's legions of imitators ever really understood.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick posits the evolution of man as an orchestrated experiment, conducted by beings beyond our ken and stretching back to the depths of prehistory. That he could get away with such a thesis speaks to the power of his imagination--as does his battle of wills between the passive, detached Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and the sentient computer which seems destined to replace him. Beyond that, 2001 is testament to pure spectacle, and how a vision of the future can live on, even though it's now a decade in the past.


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myklspader 12/28/2009 5:26:10 AM

 Not a bad list. I think though “Vertigo” should have been given a spot or mention though it was not really liked until well after it's release.  And where is “The Manchurian Candidate”?


DarthDuck 12/28/2009 7:17:55 AM

Curious where the motivation to do a list like this came from but I like it!!

My heart wants Night of the Living Dead to be higher but when you look at those above its hard to argue its placement.

Hobbs 12/28/2009 7:35:35 AM

Is Manchurian Candidate considered a Genre movie?  I would have put Planet Of The Apes number 2. 

I usually hate the top 10 lists you guys keep doing but this was entertaining...70's and 80's next?

gimpythewonder 12/28/2009 7:46:24 AM

I love the Fantastic Voyage.  The effects might be dated but the psychedelic swirls and colored lights just do it for me for some reason.  it just adds to the charm.  I would have put Strangelove at #2 but then Kubric is(was) the man.

rocker0486 12/28/2009 1:01:21 PM

Time Machine is my favorite movie from this list.

jppintar326 12/28/2009 2:21:40 PM

Vertigo was 1958 so it wouldn't qualify for this list.  2001 is a little overrated.  It's long, confusing, and dull.  I would take From Russia WIth Love over Goldfinger.  I think it is a better film and doesn't have the most overrated Bond Girl in history, the annoying Pussy Galore.  I'm sure she was refreshing to watch in 1964 but in 2009, her character comes across (as rhymes with witch).

superrichtheman 12/28/2009 5:02:59 PM

Gotta go w/ Planet of the Apes & Strangelove both hold up really well.

Walker 12/28/2009 6:05:28 PM

2001 is a movie that is brilliant in vignettes, but a mess when taken as a complete whole.

Missing from this list: Little Shop of Horrors (1960)


ultrazilla2000 12/29/2009 12:45:42 AM

It would have been nice to see a couple Godzilla films on the list...some of the best are from the 60's.  Godzilla vs The Thing (Godzilla vs Mothra), Ghidorah The Three Headed Monster, and Destroy All Monsters are all classics from that decade.  But alas...not everybody loves the big G like I do.

almostunbiased 12/29/2009 7:06:35 AM

Holy crap I didn't know 2001 was in the 60s.  Always thought it was during my life.  DANG!  Also not really a fan, but a very well done movie.  Planet of the Apes should be number one.  So glad to see Bond made the list, though I still think Thunderball was better.


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