New Hollywood: Revolutionizing American Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s

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New Hollywood refers to a movement in the American filmmaking industry from the late 1960s to the 1970s (Thompson 1999, p. 18). The period was marked by post-Hays liberation creativity that brought in new ideas from young filmmakers who managed to take the critical authorial role away from the old direction of the studio films into their own hands. People getting tired of old practices of Hollywood filmmakers brought about the period. During the 1950s, Televisions started appearing in the homes of Americans thereby interfering with the comfortable status quo that had solidified Hollywood. By 1960s, peoples’ attitudes were changing with the commercial success of films dwindling as Hollywood’s “Golden Age” becoming a distant memory. The big budgeted productions were failing to fetch crowds thus going at a loss. However, with the disbandment of the Production Code and studios trying to find something new to revive their businesses, clever young filmmakers took the events as a chance to develop low-budget films, which uniquely and creatively engaged the films. The new filmmakers employed a different production process, style, and storytelling approach from the usual Hollywood style that people were accustomed to in their entertainment. They shifted the direction of the studio films, which were previously made for commercial gain to a studio system working in combination with reviving creativity of expression and perceiving film as an art. The group explored other eccentric storytelling styles by examining the risky subjects involved and doing it in a good approach that marches the Hollywood dime. Another inspiration to the emergence of new Hollywood was the rise of the New wave whereby cinemas from Japan and Europe were penetrating the American schools with the likes of Federico Fellini and Jean Godard that annoyed many American cinephiles prompting them to start developing the new movies. In this paper, the extent and the effect that the new generation of filmmakers used in modifying Hollywood conventions during the 1970s will be discussed.


Due to the various breakthroughs that were experienced in the film technology such as the introduction of the Panavision Panaflex Camera, the young filmmakers could be able to shoot 35mm camera films in different angles especially from exteriors with relative ease (Esterkamp, 2014). The new technology increased the creative flexibility in the filmmaking. There were also four key camera options to choose from when a filmmaker wanted to take a shot. Besides the traditional dolly camera architecture, there were also crane, handheld, and Steadicam cameras (Esterkamp, 2014). Since the handheld was smaller, it offered the operators to move around faster when taking shots during actions. The movement done by the cameraman in taking the shots that are shaky develops the excited mood seen in the scenes shot with it. The crane camera was placed on a crane to shoot a transition from a very low view to a high one in a quick and sweeping fashion. The Steadicam allowed the operator to move with the actors’ action; however, its counterweights system ensured that the shots taken are much smoother thereby producing a gliding-like motion. And since the locations that they chose were cheaper whereby they did not need to build sets, the new filmmakers developed a taste for location shooting. The new Hollywood filmmakers’ new shooting outlook led to a more naturalistic perspective in filmmaking, particularly when compared to the stylized classical Hollywood musicals approach and spectacles they used to compete with the television during the “The Golden Age of Hollywood.”

The new generation of filmmakers in Hollywood modified the conservative Hollywood by establishing new creative freedom of art. For instance, a film such as The Godfather (Director Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) was the New Hollywood’s “art film” due to the stylized shots, which creatively narrate the story and a less direct approach than previously witnessed in the 1950s movies (Hutchinson, 2018).

The movie is a stunning portrait of the experiences of Corleones’ family in the La Cosa Nostra or Mafia. Despite being a fictitious story, it contains numerous parallel of real-life events and illustrates the influence and growth of organized criminal activities in New York, Las Vegas, and Hollywood (Tierney, 2014). The young filmmakers also managed to develop a relationship between the casts and the plot to bring out the desires, passions, zeal, and motivations in the principal characters.

During the studio system period, the majority of Hollywood productions had a polished studio feel and look. Cinemas were shot in exclusively isolated studios. The film's content was merely limited by Motion Picture Production Code whereby producing something that violates the rules would lead to fines and the film being banned. Even though filmmakers of the golden age era found loopholes in the system, conversations that indulged a more taboo content in their movies was forbidden. However, with the new generation coming into play, they introduced new ideas, amendments, and managed to push for the legislation to be changed. That led to the development of the “Motion Picture Association of America Film Rating System” that offered the directors freedom in filming some of the things that were earlier prohibited (Esterkamp, 2014).

In the early 1960s, the majority of Hollywood movies were shot inside the studio. However, by the late 1960s, filmmakers started establishing their style, which broke away from the usual Hollywood films glamors. The new Hollywood filmmakers shot their films on locations thereby requiring the crew, the casts, and everyone involved to travel to the real locations globally to shoot scenes outside the studio. The new move increased the realistic viewing experience of the movies for the audience and also led to the utilization of long-focal-length lens. Movie operators utilized telescopes in the new outside studio shooting to create an effect whereby small locations could appear more extensive on the film screens. Shots, which employed this lens created a flattened space perception that had soft blurry edges on the frame. The illusions made movies more entertaining than the studio shot movies that had limited locations and equipment (Esterkamp, 2014).

During the late 1960s, the young filmmakers concentrated on realism than their classical Hollywood predecessors by using editing for artistic purposes instead of continuity that was previously made the trend. European art cinemas inspired the practice. Wordless montages and scenes were introduced to the films. The scenes had little to no dialogue thus being backed by songs, particularly pop music that was popular during that period. For instance, in the opening scene in the film, The Graduate, Garfunkel and Simon’s sound of silence when they encounter Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) portrays their expressionless moment. The song played in the background represents Hoffman’s antisocial personality.

The new Hollywood filmmakers also managed to turn anti-heroes such as in Bonnie and Clyde into pop icons as opposed to their previous predecessors who focused on the morals thereby demeaning those who they consider as immoral characters or movies. According to Post Magazine article, “Flashback: Easy Rider – Dennis Hopper’s counterculture blockbuster,” Easy Rider (Director Hopper Fonda, 1969) played a huge role in the counterculture of the 1960s (James Havis, 2016). The movies were played by Hopper and Fonda who were two bikers traveling through the American South carrying with them proceeds from a drug deal. The film portrayed the real-life issues that America was facing at the time with the case of Marijuana and Cocaine being traded around the country.

The production code end enabled the young filmmakers to feature many anti-establishments such as rock music in films, political themes, and sexual freedoms, which is popularly termed as “counter-culture.”  The golden age was encompassed with high societal expectations whereby filmmakers were prohibited from showing events that would taint the minds of the audience. Even though the society was faced with the issues, it was forbidden to be speaking about them in the movies. However, the new filmmakers managed to show the audience the real issues that the country was facing and the consequences thereby giving them options on whether to do away with them or continue.



The new young filmmakers managed to produce low-budgeted films that brought in a huge amount of profits contrary to the “The Golden Age of Hollywood” movies. For instance, Bonnie and Clyde film (director Arthur Penn, 1967) was a success in the box office with massive sales; hence, director gaining. It swept the young audience due to the new ideas thereby proving that the movie business was still active and there was a market for young people. It grossed over $50 million against the $2.5 million budget (Esterkamp, 2014). The new direction managed to replace the “Golden Age Era” movies that had low sales. For example, Cleopatra (director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963) was the highest grossing movie during that year with a budget of $44 million but lost the millions nearly bankrupting the 20th Century Fox (Esterkamp, 2014). The film made many of the head of the studio to sell their properties and retiring from the industry. The new generation brought in the revolution of production of low budgeted films that targeted the younger audiences who paid for the tickets in numbers.

Another film that received a higher gross was The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols, 1967) that was written by Charles Webb after his graduation from Williams College. It discusses the story of a 21-year-old protagonist Benjamin Braddock who played the young Hoffman as a graduate with no goals in life who ends up being seduced by Mrs. Robinson who is older than him then falls in love with the woman’s daughter. It grossed $770 million due to the positive reviews it received from the young audiences (LaFrance, Graber, and Friedersdorf, 2018).

Introduction of New Messages that had Moral Lessons

Films that led to the New Hollywood movement swayed away from the “Golden Age Era” movies in delivering their messages. For instance, Bonnie and Clyde managed to break the cinematic taboos that were practiced and appealed to the younger audiences (Hubbs, 2018). It addressed sex and violence, which were out of discussion topics that were considered immoral. In the movies, Mrs. Robinson tries to seduce the young Hoffman with her legendary under the leg shot. The film captured the attention of the young audience. It was centered by the director on complex themes with honorably indistinct messages that reflected the non-conformity generation that was disillusioned by the Vietnam War or upset with the rich with contemplation thereby using it to assist them in looking critically at America’s history and future. The movie was not just another gangster motion but also a sweltering social commentary on hypocrisy and violence that had engulfed the US in the 1960s thus making it a crime story with the present day lesson.

Influencing Culture of European countries

After Bonnie and Clyde were released, it performed well in Europe thereby spreading the culture of American Cinema. Majority of the youths in the European states loved it thus making their directors to come to America to join the new movement that was revolutionalizing the film industry. The movement was liked due to using the low budget in the production of films that grossed huge amounts. They also came to America to learn the new styles that were used by the young filmmakers. Europeans directors such as Milos Foreman, Roman Polanski, and John Boorman all crafted their best work by learning through the New Hollywood’s new wave. Their cinemas boasted of an outsider approach, which spoke to the New Hollywood’s nature of exposing and exploring the American morality from their perspectives (, 2013).

Introduction of New Actors

Due to poor gross income in the box offices during the “Golden Age Era,” filmmakers started using popular actors to assist in the boost of sales; however, that still failed. However, with the new young filmmakers on board, new actors were used in their movies thus giving the audiences fresh faces that they liked. For instance, after Warner Brother experiencing losses, they offered Beatty and Penn a chance to direct Bonnie and Clyde who instead used the cast with unknown actors such as Estelle Parsons and Gene Hackman who did not disappoint by assisting the film to gross highly.

End of the era

Even though the new era lasted up to around 1980, it managed to inspire the direction of the 1980s films and contemporary movies with its stylistic devices such as in cameras, shots location, and editing. Big budgeted pictures that dominated the new market replaced it. For instance, Star Wars (1977-2018) marked the onset of the New Hollywood Era (, 2017). The “blockbuster” mindset was sparked by George Lucas’ success in the box office whereby his movie received massive sales that have never been experienced by any director. He changed the way directors thought about movie directing and making money through their work. With a great emphasis on spin-offs into other present media, tie-in merchandise, and sequels production, various studios started finding their way in the new line of output and thinking in writing and film directing. Corporations started visualizing how huge fortunes could be made in the movie productions thus beginning to purchase some of the promising Hollywood production studios. However, after a failure of some films, blame was placed on the young directors. Therefore, the majority of the corporations opted to relieve some young filmmakers thereby taking control of their enterprises. The reason for the failures was due to the young directors were used to directing low-budgeted films that later on resulted to massive sales in the box office; however, with their usual antics being reverse, performing became difficult. Nonetheless, some of them who were innovative enough managed to adapt to the new Hollywood filmmaking industry.


It is always difficult to “put an end” a movement. Though the new generation of filmmakers was replaced by the big budgeted films in the 1980s, the impacts are still experienced in the modern filmmaking. The young generation of directors managed to modify Hollywood conventions in multiple ways. In improving the gross of the films they directed, they managed to deliver massive profits to the films that they directed at a lower budget. They also introduced new messages to the industry that were previously prohibited. For instance, in Bonny and Clyde, that involved a crime story, they showed the audience about the reality of what happens in crime. Even though it had sexual content, it drew the attention of younger audiences who boosted the movie sales. The message of the movies was to highlight about the social hypocrisy that existed in America’s social society in the 1960s. The young directors also assisted in the promoting American culture to the European countries that had directors coming to learn from them before directing their movies in their own countries. On the effects, the new technology in the film industry, the young filmmakers managed to develop clear shots at different angles with the assistance of the crane, handheld, and Steadicam cameras, which improved the quality of the motion pictures in the screens thereby appealing to their audiences. The technology gave them an edge over their predecessors. In editing, the young directors, used realism, unlike the “Golden Film Age” directors whereby they incorporated songs in the scenes that sounds are not used. They also had the chance to use the new creative artistic freedom that allowed them to enhance the relationship that directors with their cast whereby some casts played real-life event to increase the zeal and inspirations in the movies thereby replacing their predecessors strict acting policy. Movies were also shot in outside locations in contrary to the studio system period that filled their films with glitz and glamor. However, the outside locations offered the new directors the chance to travel with their cast globally to take good motion pictures, which in turn increased the realistic view experience of their audiences thereby boosting their gross income at the box office. They also turned anti-heroes into heroes such as Bonny and Clyde due counterculture whereby their decisions were in contrary to the golden age directors who were conservative. Nonetheless, regardless of New Hollywood being replaced by the big budgeted films, their direction in cost-saving, editing, outside location shoots, and new creative art freedom continues to be seen in the work of the 21st-century directors thus portraying its applicability will never end.


Esterkamp, J. (2014). New Hollywood: Why The 70's Were The Greatest Decade In America Cinema. [online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

LaFrance, A., Graber, M. and Friedersdorf, C. (2018). 'The Graduate' 50 Years After Its Oscar Win. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018]. (2017). Starwars Underworld. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

A history of American New Wave Cinema. [online] New Wave Film. Available at:

[Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

James Havis, R. (2016). Flashback: Easy Rider – Dennis Hopper’s counterculture blockbuster. [online] South China Morning Post. Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

Tierney, S. (2014).Art house: The Godfather has influenced popular culture in unseen way. [online] South China Morning Post. Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

Hutchinson, T. (2018).15 Surprising Facts About The Godfather.

[online] Mental Floss.. Available at: [Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

Hubbs, D. (2018). 8 Films That Broke Cinematic Taboos. [online] The Richest. Available at:[Accessed 27 Apr. 2018].

Thompson, K., 1999. Storytelling in the new Hollywood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

September 25, 2023




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