New Hollywood

The New Hollywood
Years active 1966–82
Country United States
Major figures Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Carroll Ballard, Warren Beatty, Robert Benton, Peter Bogdanovich, John Boorman, John Carpenter, Michael Cimino, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Clint Eastwood, Miloš Forman, Bob Fosse, William Friedkin, George Roy Hill, Dennis Hopper, Norman Jewison, Philip Kaufman, Stanley Kubrick, Richard Lester, George Lucas, Sidney Lumet, Terrence Malick, John Milius, Paul Newman, Mike Nichols, Alan J. Pakula, Sam Peckinpah, Arthur Penn, Roman Polanski, Sydney Pollack, Bob Rafelson, John Schlesinger, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Don Siegel, Steven Spielberg, Robert Towne
Influences Classical Hollywood Cinema, French New Wave, Italian cinema, Japanese cinema, Art film, Experimental film

New Hollywood, sometimes referred to as the "American New Wave", refers to a period in American film history from the mid-to-late 1960s (Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate) to the early 1980s (Heaven's Gate, One from the Heart) when a new generation of young filmmakers came to prominence in United States, influencing the types of films produced, their production and marketing, and the way major studios approached film-making. In New Hollywood films, the film director, rather than the studio, took on a key authorial role. "New Hollywood" usually refers to a period of film-making rather than a style of film-making, though it can be referred to as a movement. The films made in this era are stylistically characterized in that their narrative often strongly deviated from classical norms.

After the demise of the studio system and the rise of television, the artistic quality of films and their commercial success was diminished. The "New Hollywood" period, spanning the mid-1960s and early 1980s, was a period of artistic and commercial revival. Though they largely continued to follow classical norms, the films made in this period are characterized in that their narrative logic and subject matter were often unconventional.

Background and overview

Following the Paramount Case, which ended block booking and ownership of theater chains by film studios and the advent of television, both of which severely weakened the traditional studio system, Hollywood studios initially used spectacle to retain profitability. Technicolor developed a far more widespread use, while widescreen processes and technical improvements, such as CinemaScope, stereo sound and others, such as 3-D, were invented in order to retain the dwindling audience and compete with television. However, these were generally unsuccessful in increasing profits.[1] By 1957 Life magazine called the 1950s "the horrible decade" for Hollywood.[2]

The 1950s and early 1960s saw a Hollywood dominated by musicals, historical epics, and other films that benefited from the larger screens, wider framing and improved sound. Hence, as early as 1957, the era was dubbed a "New Hollywood".[2] However, audience share continued to dwindle, and had reached alarmingly low levels by the mid-1960s. Several costly flops, including Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Hello, Dolly!, and failed attempts to replicate the success of The Sound of Music, put great strain on the studios.[3]

By the time the baby boomer generation was coming of age in the 1960s, 'Old Hollywood' was rapidly losing money; the studios were unsure how to react to the much changed audience demographics. The change in market during the period went from a middle aged high school educated audience in the mid 1960s, to a younger, more affluent, college-educated demographic: by the mid 1970s, 76% of all movie-goers were under 30, 64% of whom had gone to college.[4] European art films (especially the Commedia all'italiana, the French New Wave, and the Spaghetti Western) and Japanese cinema were making a splash in United States — the huge market of disaffected youth seemed to find relevance and artistic meaning in movies like Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup, with its oblique narrative structure and full-frontal female nudity.[5][6]

The desperation felt by studios during this period of economic downturn, and after the losses from expensive movie flops, led to innovation and risk-taking, allowing greater control by younger directors and producers.[7] Therefore, in an attempt to capture that audience which found a connection to the "art films" of Europe, the studios hired a host of young filmmakers (many of whom were mentored by Roger Corman) and allowed them to make their films with relatively little studio control. This, together with the breakdown of the Production Code in 1966 and the new ratings system in 1968 (reflecting growing market segmentation) set the scene for New Hollywood.[8]

Characteristics of New Hollywood films

This new generation of Hollywood filmmaker was predominantly film school-educated, counterculture-bred, and, most importantly, from the point of view of the studios, young, therefore able to reach the youth audience they were losing. This group of young filmmakers—actors, writers and directors—dubbed the "New Hollywood" by the press, briefly changed the business from the producer-driven Hollywood system of the past, and injected movies with a jolt of freshness, energy, sexuality, and a passion for the artistic value of film itself.

Todd Berliner has written about the period's unusual narrative practices. The 1970s, Berliner says, marks Hollywood’s most significant formal transformation since the conversion to sound film and is the defining period separating the storytelling modes of the studio era and contemporary Hollywood. Seventies films deviate from classical narrative norms more than Hollywood films from any other era. Their narrative and stylistic devices threaten to derail an otherwise straightforward narration. Berliner argues that five principles govern the narrative strategies characteristic of Hollywood films of the 1970s:

Technically, the greatest change the New Hollywood filmmakers brought to the art form was a new closeness to everyday life. During the height of the studio system, stars were remote, lofty figures and films were made almost exclusively on set in isolated studios. The content of films was limited by the Motion Picture Production Code, and though golden-age film-makers found loopholes in its rules, the discussion of more taboo content through film was effectively prevented. The shift towards a "new realism" was made possible when the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system was introduced and location shooting was becoming more viable. Because of breakthroughs in film technology (e.g. the Panavision Panaflex camera, introduced in 1972), the New Hollywood filmmakers could shoot 35mm camera film in exteriors with relative ease. Since location shooting was cheaper (no sets need to be built) New Hollywood filmmakers rapidly developed the taste for location shooting, which had the effect of heightening the naturalism of their films, especially when compared to the artificiality of previous musicals and spectacles made to compete with television during the 1950s and early 1960s. However, in editing New Hollywood filmmakers adhered to realism more liberally than their predecessors, often using editing for artistic purposes rather than for continuity alone, a practice inspired by European art films and pioneers such as D. W. Griffith and Alfred Hitchcock. Films with unorthodox editing included Easy Rider’s use of editing to foreshadow the climax of the movie, as well as subtler uses, such as editing to reflect the feeling of frustration in Bonnie and Clyde and the subjectivity of the protagonist in The Graduate.[10] The end of the production code enabled New Hollywood films to feature anti-establishment political themes, the use of rock music, and sexual freedom deemed "counter-cultural" by the studios. The popularity of these films with young people shows the importance of these thematic elements and artistic values with a more cinematically knowledgeable audience.[11] The youth movement of the 1960s turned anti-heroes like Bonnie and Clyde and Cool Hand Luke into pop culture idols, and Life magazine called the characters in Easy Rider "part of the fundamental myth central to the counterculture of the late 1960s."[12] Easy Rider also affected the way studios looked to reach the youth market.[12] The success of Midnight Cowboy, in spite of its X rating, was evidence for the interest in controversial themes at the time and also showed the weakness of the rating system and segmentation of the audience.[13]

Bonnie and Clyde

A defining film of the New Hollywood generation was Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Produced by and starring Warren Beatty and directed by Arthur Penn, its combination of graphic violence and humor, as well as its theme of glamorous disaffected youth, was a hit with audiences. The film won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons) and Best Cinematography.

When Jack L. Warner, then-CEO of Warner Bros., first saw a rough cut of Bonnie and Clyde in the summer of 1967, he hated it. Distribution executives at Warner Brothers agreed, giving the film a low-key premiere and limited release. Their strategy appeared justified when Bosley Crowther, middlebrow film critic at The New York Times, gave the movie a scathing review. "It is a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy," he wrote, "that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cut-ups in Thoroughly Modern Millie..." Other notices, including those from Time and Newsweek magazines, were equally dismissive.[14]

Its portrayal of violence and ambiguity in regard to moral values, and its startling ending, divided critics. Following one of the negative reviews, Time magazine received letters from fans of the movie, and according to journalist Peter Biskind, the impact of critic Pauline Kael in her positive review of the film (October 1967, New Yorker) led other reviewers to follow her lead and re-evaluate the film (notably Newsweek and Time).[15] Kael drew attention to the innocence of the characters in the film and the artist merit of the contrast of that with the violence in the film: "In a sense, it is the absence of sadism — it is the violence without sadism — that throws the audience off balance at Bonnie and Clyde. The brutality that comes out of this innocence is far more shocking than the calculated brutalities of mean killers." Kael also noted the reaction of audiences to the violent climax of the movie, and the potential to empathise with the gang of criminals in terms of their naiveté and innocence reflecting a change in expectations of American cinema.[16]

The cover story in Time magazine in December 1967, celebrated the movie and innovation in American New Wave cinema. This influential article by Stefan Kanfer claimed that Bonnie and Clyde represented a "New Cinema" through its blurred genre lines, and disregard for honoured aspects of plot and motivation, and that "In both conception and execution, Bonnie and Clyde is a watershed picture, the kind that signals a new style, a new trend."[6] Biskind states that this review and turnaround by some critics allowed the film to be re-released, thus proving its commercial success and reflecting the move to New Hollywood.[17] The impact of this film is important in understanding the rest of the American New Wave, as well as the conditions that were necessary for it.

These initial successes paved the way for the studio to relinquish almost complete control to these innovative young filmmakers. In the mid-1970s, idiosyncratic, startling original films such as Paper Moon, Dog Day Afternoon, Chinatown, and Taxi Driver among others (see below), enjoyed enormous critical and commercial success. These successes by the members of New Hollywood led each of them in turn to make more and more extravagant demands, both on the studio and eventually on the audience.

Interpretations on defining the era

For Peter Biskind, the new wave was foreshadowed by Bonnie and Clyde and began in earnest with Easy Rider. Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls argues that the New Hollywood movement marked a significant shift towards independently produced and innovative works by a new wave of directors, but that this shift began to reverse itself when the commercial success of Jaws and Star Wars led to the realization by studios of the importance of blockbusters, advertising and control over production.[18]

Writing in 1968, critic Pauline Kael argued that the importance of The Graduate was in its social significance in relation to a new young audience, and the role of mass media, rather than any artistic aspects. Kael argued that college students identifying with The Graduate were not too different from audiences identifying with characters in dramas of the previous decade.[19]

John Belton points to the changing demographic to even younger, more conservative audiences in the mid 1970s (50% aged 12–20) and the move to less politically subversive themes in mainstream cinema.[20]

Thomas Schatz sees the mid to late 1970s as the decline of the art cinema movement as a significant industry force with its peak in 1974–75 with Nashville and Chinatown.[21]

Geoff King sees the period as an interim movement in American cinema where a conjunction of forces lead to a measure of freedom in filmmaking.[22]

Todd Berliner says that seventies cinema resists the efficiency and harmony that normally characterize classical Hollywood cinema and tests the limits of Hollywood's classical model.[23]

List of important figures in the era

Many of the filmmakers listed below did multiple chores on various film productions through their careers. They are here listed by the category they are most readily recognized as.

Writers and directors

The issue of whether a specific director belongs to the "New Hollywood" generation is a difficult one to address. Many of those listed below made either their only films or their most successful films (Bogdanovich or Hal Ashby) in this period. Others, such as Martin Scorsese, have continued to make acclaimed and successful films. Aside from this, however, "membership" of the New Generation is a blurred line. Initially, thus, many of these filmmakers' earlier productions (such as Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960), Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men (1957), and the early Westerns of Sam Peckinpah) did not play a part in informing the New Generation's zeitgeist as, say, Nashville (1975) or Midnight Cowboy (1969).

Producers and executives


According to Peter Biskind's book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, one aspect of New Hollywood was a de-emphasis on the traditional view of casting physically attractive actors in lead roles; the movement's occasional emphasis on recreating a reality which audiences could relate to resulted in actors with "everyman" looks, such as Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman, getting cast in lead roles that would have been unavailable to their physical type under the studio system.[24]

List of notable films

The following is a chronological list of those films that are generally considered to be "New Hollywood" productions.

See also


  1. David E James, Allegories of Cinema, American film in the Sixties, Princeton University Press, New York, 1989, pp. 14–26
  2. 1 2 Hodgins, Eric (1957-06-10). "Amid Ruins of an Empire a New Hollywood Arises". Life. p. 146. Retrieved April 22, 2012.
  3. Schatz (1993), pp. 15–20
  4. Belton (1993), p. 290
  5. David A Cook, “Auteur Cinema and the film generation in 70s Hollywood”, in The New American Cinema by Jon Lewis (ed), Duke University Press, New York, 1998, pp. 1–4
  6. 1 2 Stefan Kanfer, The Shock of Freedom in Films, Time Magazine, Dec 8 1967, Accessed 25 April 2009,,9171,844256-7,00.html
  7. Schatz (1993), pp. 14–16
  8. Schatz (1993)
  9. Berliner (2010), pp. 51–52
  10. Monaco (2001), p. 183
  11. Schatz (1993), pp. 12–22
  12. 1 2 Monaco (2001), pp. 182–188
  13. Belton (1993), p. 288
  14., "New Hollywood" article, March 2013
  15. Biskind (1998), pp. 40–47
  16. Pauline Kael, "Bonnie and Clyde" in, Pauline Kael, For Keeps (Plume, New York, 1994) pp. 141–57. Originally published in The New Yorker, October 21, 1967
  17. Biskind (1998)
  18. Biskind (1998), p. 288
  19. Pauline Kael, "Trash, Art, and the Movies" in Going Steady, Film Writings 1968–69, Marion Boyers, New York, 1994, pp. 125–7
  20. Belton (1993), pp. 292–296
  21. Schatz (1993), p. 20
  22. King (2002), p. 48
  23. Berliner (2010)
  24. Biskind (1998), p. 16
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 515.
  26. Stevens, Kyle (2011). DiMare, Philip C., ed. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Movies in American History: An Encyclopedia. 1. ABC-CLIO. pp. 528–530. ISBN 9781598842968.
  27. 1 2 3 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 513.
  28. 1 2 3 4 Harris 2008, p. 1–4.
  29. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Krämer 2005, p. 8.
  30. 1 2 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 514.
  31. 1 2 Harris 2008, p. 386.
  32. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 528.
  33. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 516.
  34. 1 2 3 4 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 517.
  35. Harris 2008, pp. 416–417.
  36. 1 2 3 Harris 2008, p. 422.
  37. Kirshner 2012, p. 127.
  38. 1 2 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 530.
  39. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Crawford, Travis (16 December 2010). "Criterion: American Lost and Found: The BBS Story". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
  40. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 518.
  41. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 519.
  42. Kirshner 2012, p. 94.
  43. Langford 2010, p. 148.
  44. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 527.
  45. 1 2 Harris 2008, p. 419.
  46. Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 617.
  47. Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 521.
  48. 1 2 Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 524.
  49. Thompson & Bordwell 2003, p. 621.


  • Biskind, Peter (1998). Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-85708-4. 
  • Biskind, Peter (1990). The Godfather Companion: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About All Three Godfather Films (HarperPerennial)
  • Belton, John (1993). American Cinema/American Culture. New York: McGraw/Hill. 
  • Berliner, Todd (2010). Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. 
  • Cook, David A, “Auteur Cinema and the film generation in 70s Hollywood”, in The New American Cinema by Jon Lewis (ed), Duke University Press, New York, 1998, pp. 1–37
  • Harris, Mark (2008). Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood. New York: The Penguin Press. 
  • James, David E, Allegories of Cinema: American Film in the Sixties, Princeton University Press, New York, 1989, pp. 1–42
  • Kael, Pauline "Bonnie and Clyde" in, Pauline Kael, For Keeps (Plume, New York, 1994) pp. 141–57.
  • Kael, Pauline, "Trash, Art, and the Movies", Going Steady: Film Writings 1968–69, Marion Boyers, New York, 1994, pp. 87–129
  • Kanfer, Stefan, The Shock of Freedom in Films, Time Magazine, Dec 8 1967, Accessed 25 April 2009,,9171,844256-7,00.html
  • King, Geoff (2002). New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 9781860647499. 
  • Kirshner, Jonathan, Hollywood's Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0801478161
  • Krämer, Peter (2005). The New Hollywood: From Bonnie And Clyde To Star Wars. Wallflower Press. ISBN 978-1-904764-58-8. 
  • Langford, Barry (2010). Post-classical Hollywood: Film Industry, Style and Ideology Since 1945. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0748638574. 
  • Monaco, Paul (2001). The Sixties, 1960–69, History of American Cinema. London: University of California Press. 
  • Schatz, Thomas (1993). "The New Hollywood". In Jim Collins, Hilary Radner and Ava Preacher Collins. Film Theory goes to the Movies. New York: Routledge. pp. 8–37. 
  • Thompson, Kristin & Bordwell, David (2003). Film History: An Introduction (2nd ed.). McGraw–Hill. 
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