The highest-grossing movies of the 1960s run the gamut from blockbuster musicals to a love bug to one of the best Bond films of all time.
The 1960s were a different time in Hollywood. There were plenty of hit movies, but the idea of the “event” picture and the big “summer blockbuster,” would not take hold until the 1970s. The decade was something of a transition period – dominated by both old fashioned Hollywood and musicals, and avant-garde directors who embraced counter-culture themes while pushing cultural boundaries.
Here are the 19 Highest-Grossing Movies of the 1960s
Table of Contents
- 1. The Sound of Music (1965) – $158 Million
- 2. The Jungle Book (1967) – $137 Million
- 3. The Graduate (1967) – $104.6 Million
- 4. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – $102 Million
- 5. My Fair Lady (1964) – $72 Million
- 6. Thunderball (1965) – $63 Million
- 7. Cleopatra (1963) – $57 Million
- 8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – $57 Million
- 9. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) – $56 Million
- 10. Funny Girl (1968) – $52 Million
- 11. Goldfinger (1964) – $51 Million
- 12. The Love Bug (1968) – $51 Million
- 13. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – $50 Million
- 14. Midnight Cowboy (1969) – $47 Million
- 15. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) – $46 Million
- 16. The Odd Couple (1968) – $44 Million
- 17. West Side Story (1961) – $43.6 Million
- 18. Lawerence of Arabia (1962) – $37.4 Million
- 19. Psycho (1960) – $32 Million
1. The Sound of Music (1965) – $158 Million
The classic musical tells the story of the true story of the singing Von Trapp family and their escape from Nazis in Austria to Switzerland. The musical starred Julie Andrews and was a massive critical and commercial hit. The film epitomizes family-friendly entertainment and adds a touch of historical perspective. Many of its musical numbers have become iconic and ingrained in the cultural landscape. Two of the most memorable performances are Do-Re-Mi and The Hills Are Alive. The film went on to gross $158 million worldwide for 20th Century Fox and is widely considered one of the most successful musicals of all time.
This makes the Sound of Music the highest-grossing movie of the 1960s
2. The Jungle Book (1967) – $137 Million
The final film produced by Walt Disney before his death, The Jungle Book, was a massive hit for the studio and it became one of the most successful animated films of all time. The movie tells the story of an abandoned baby literally raised by wolves. The film was one of the last big animation hits Disney had before a dramatic downturn in quality and popularity in the 1970s and early 1980s. The film grossed $137 million for Disney upon its initial release, and subsequent re-releases have greatly boosted that figure. The musical comedy based on the Rudyard Kipling book had a live-action remake in 2016.
3. The Graduate (1967) – $104.6 Million
Mike Nichols’ comedy about a bored, disillusioned college graduate who has an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner only to fall in love with her daughter, The Graduate, was considered somewhat scandalous in 1967. Also, the character of Benjamin Braddock and his desire to chart his own destiny, and break free of the confines of his life, connect with audiences in the last 1960s. The film’s use of music by Simon and Garfunkel was groundbreaking at the time – although not a musical, the music helped set the tone and mood of the film.
Although Mrs. Robinson is the song most associated with the movie, The Sound of Silence is the most relevant. It is used three times as a framing device – opening credits, midway through the film, and in the final scene. The film earned $104.6 million for AVCO Embassy Pictures and is considered one of the best comedies of all time.
4. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – $102 Million
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid tells the tale of two outlaws who end up fleeing America for Bolivia. The movie is loosely based on fact, drawing inspiration from the Wild Bunch gang. The movie paired Paul Newman and Robert Redford, blending comedy, action, and adventure. The chemistry and likability of Newman and Redford helped fuel the film’s success (the pair would hook up again in The Sting a few years later). The movie went on to gross $102 million for 20th Century Fox, becoming one of the biggest of the decade.
5. My Fair Lady (1964) – $72 Million
The musical-comedy drama has Eliza Doolittle learning to speak properly from arrogant phonetics scholar Henry Higgins. A well-done, traditional Hollywood musical, My Fair Lady touches on themes of class divisions and personnel identity. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s stage play, Pygmalion, the film swept the Academy Awards, winning eight, including Best Picture. The film earned more than $72 million at the box office for Warner Bros.
6. Thunderball (1965) – $63 Million
The Highest-Grossing Movies Of The 1960s include two Bond films. The fourth James Bond film, Thunderball, also was the most successful of the franchise until 1973’s Live and Let Die. Starring Sean Connery, the film followed James Bond as the evil SPECTRE organization plans to steal a couple of atomic bombs and ransom NATO – which, as James Bond films go, is about as typical as it gets. The film received fairly decent reviews on its way to becoming the biggest movie of the year. It generated $63 million for United Artists.
7. Cleopatra (1963) – $57 Million
Cleopatra was the most successful film of 1963. It also lost money upon its release because of its massive budget of $44 million. Starring Elizabeth Taylor, the film was meant to be an epic story but ultimately failed to meet expectations. The historical drama tells the doomed marriage of Julius Ceasar and Cleopatra, and their quest for power. It was critically well-received at the time, garnering nine Oscar nominations, but is largely forgotten today. The film brought in $57 million for 20th Century Fox.
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – $57 Million
Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking, science fiction epic, became a cultural touchstone. The movie involves the origins of man, a mysterious monolith, and a malfunctioning computer that seems to have much more personality than the astronauts its meant to serve. The film is when Kubrick was at his height as a filmmaker, coming after 1964’s Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick followed 2001 with A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), and The Shining (1980). A visionary masterpiece known for its deliberate pace, 2001, initially brought in $57 million for MGM.
9. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) – $56 Million
Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn starred together for the ninth and final time as parents who meet their daughter’s African-American fiancé, who is played by Sidney Poitier. The film was noteworthy for its positive portrayal of an interracial relationship, at a time when such relationships were not just taboo but actually had been illegal in some parts of the country. The subject matter presented in the film was rarely dealt with by the film industry in the 1960s. Tracy died just 17 days after the film was completed. The film was a critical and commercial hit, generating $56 million for Columbia Pictures with a $4 million budget.
10. Funny Girl (1968) – $52 Million
Funny Girl is a musical comedy based on Broadway star Fanny Brice’s life. The film follows Brice’s career in vaudeville and her tumultuous relationship with her husband. Barbra Streisand won the Oscar for Best Actress, and the film was lauded for its music. Funny Girl would help cement Streisand as a star and generate more than $52 million at the box office for Columbia Pictures.
11. Goldfinger (1964) – $51 Million
The third James Bond movie is also considered one of the best all-time in the series. In the film, Goldfinger has an elaborate plan to crash the gold market and make a fortune. James Bond, of course, has to discover the plan and stop him. And there’s a character named Pussy Galore. This exciting Bond flick was original for its time and has been copied and imitated many times over. The movie brought in $51 million for United Artists.
12. The Love Bug (1968) – $51 Million
The real star of The Love Bug is the Volkwagon Beetle known as ‘Herbie.’ In the film, a down-and-out racecar driver finds himself behind the wheel of ‘Herbie’ – a car with a mind of its own. Herbie tries to get our hero together with a girl and is terrific at racing – you don’t really have to drive the vehicle, after all. Silly family fun, this movie drove more than $51 million in box office returns for Disney and sparked several sequels.
13. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – $50 Million
Warren Beatty produced and starred in this tale of American outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The film was considered groundbreaking at the time of its release. It’s depiction of violence, sexual issues, and general tone was out-of-step with standard, more tame Hollywood fare. The film’s approach and anti-hero protagonists have more in common with modern-day storytelling, which truly made it stand out among its contemporaries.
The fact the film was told from the perspective of the criminals and who were taking on establishment forces (police, banks) struck a chord with audiences in the late 1960s. The film would earn $50 million for Warner Bros.
14. Midnight Cowboy (1969) – $47 Million
Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman star in this buddy drama that tells the story of a naive male prostitute who arrives in Manhattan and befriends a low-level con man. Midnight Cowboy was well-regarded upon its release, primarily due to the performances of Voight and Hoffman. The relationship between the two misfit characters is what gives the film its staying power and why it remains influential in cinema even today. The film went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars and earn $47 million for United Artists at the box office.
15. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) – $46 Million
Director Stanley Kramer set out to make the epic comedy to end all epic comedies. The final result is a bit of a mixed bag. The concept, a group of motorists stumble upon a dying man who gives them clues to a fortune, isn’t bad. The motorists head off to find the fortune in a wild cross-country race and comedy ensues.
The movie is a bit dated and filled with over-the-top slapstick humor that does not always hold up. Kramer assembled an all-star cast that included Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Spencer Tracy, Ethel Merman, and Mickey Rooney. The film grossed $46 million for MGM on a $9.4 million budget.
16. The Odd Couple (1968) – $44 Million
Walter Matthau plays a slob sportswriter who finds himself living with a fastidious, uptight neat freak played by Jack Lemmon. This story of friendship and accepting people for who they are was based on the Neil Simon play of the same name. Audiences enjoyed the chemistry between Lemmon and Matthau as a mismatched pair who grow and learn to appreciate each other. The Odd Couple produced a TV series and also a sequel in which Lemmon and Matthau reprised their roles 30 years later. The movie grossed $44 million for Paramount.
17. West Side Story (1961) – $43.6 Million
West Side Story, the Romeo, and Juliet inspired romantic musical, is regarded as one of the greatest musicals ever made. The movie follows the rivalry between two street gangs – the Jets and a Puerto Rican gang called the Sharks. The film reflected the genuine racial tension of the time in New York due to the rising Puerto Rican population. In the movie, Tony, the co-founder of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the little sister of the leader of the Sharks. The film went on to win 10 Academy Awards, the most ever for a musical. It brought in $43.6 million for MGM against a budget of $6 million.
18. Lawerence of Arabia (1962) – $37.4 Million
Lawrence of Arabia tells the historical, epic tale of British officer T.E. Lawrence and his adventures in the Middle East during World War I. He is dispatched to the region to build alliances and establish diplomatic ties with Arab groups living under the Ottoman Empire. Eventually, Lawrence and his Arab allies launch a guerrilla war against the Ottoman Empire.
The American Film Institute considers Lawrence of Arabia to be the greatest film ever made under it’s ‘epic’ category. The film went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture while bringing in $37.4 million for Columbia.
19. Psycho (1960) – $32 Million
Barely sneaking onto our list of the Highest-Grossing Movies Of The 1960s is Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller was a sensation upon its release. Psycho’s unusual structure, in which the central character and story point-of-view repeatedly shift, helps the film build tension and a sense of uncertainty for the audience. In the movie, bank employee Marion Crane embezzles some money and heads out of town only to find herself at the Bates Motel. Anthony Perkins gives one of the truly great performances in the horror genre as Norman Bates.
Perkins was so good he was typecast; luckily for him, Psycho spawned several sequels. Although it might be considered tame by today’s standards, the movie helped establish the modern horror picture and was considered graphic and terrifying in its day. The film brought in $32 million for Paramount on a small budget of just $800,000.