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30 Best '60s Movies

Billy Liar (1963)

Why It's The Best: Adapted from Keith Waterhouse's novel, Billy Liar will feel all-too-familiar to anyone who has indulged too long in a daydream.

Tom Courtenay is frustrating and loveable in equal measure as the fantasy-fuelled Billy, dreaming of giving up his dreary office job to become a comedy writer, but lacking the ambition or the drive to really make a go of it. Julie Christie provides a wonderful spark as the tempting free spirit who offers the (squandered) opportunity to escape.

Defining Moment: The final will-he-won't-he train journey.

The Apartment (1960)

Why It's The Best: This romantic drama ranks up there with the greats of the genre. Sure, it has a high concept - Jack Lemmon's downtrodden everyguy CC Baxter sees his career going places when he loans out his place for his superiors' rambunctious extra-marital affairs - but it offers so much more than a snappy premise.

Lemmon and sparring partner Shirley MacLaine fizzle with sparky chemistry, and they face genuine strife before reaching a pleasingly sugar-free conclusion.

Defining Moment:
The first time we see Baxter's monotous, rigidly uniform office: an ordered hive of typewriters, suits and secretaries.

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)

Why It's The Best: Perhaps David Lean's most famous movie, Lawrence… frequently sits in lists of all-time greats. Epic in length as well as scope, this deserves credit for keeping the scale personal, despite the grand, lofty and historically specific backdrop. The film would go on to inspire many other great directors.

Lean's Doctor Zhivago , which followed a few years later and grappled equally weighty themes and events with dexterity, could equally occupy this position on the list.

Defining Moment: Lawrence blows out the match ahead of a glorious cut...

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Why It's The Best: John Schlesinger's epic bromance sees the American dream of Joe Buck (Jon Voight) become a dingy, neon-tinged nightmare. Buck heads to NYC planning to live off rich women as a well-to-do gigolo after packing in his job at a Texas diner.

Things don't go as well as planned, and before long he's forced to shack up with Ratso (an unrecognisably grimy Dustin Hoffman), and the two forge a friendship out of desperation. Midnight Cowboy comes loaded with stylistic flourishes, but it's Voight and Hoffman who really grip.

Defining Moment:
The unbearably poignant bus-ride ending.

Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)

Why It's The Best: Stanley Kubrick's satire on nuclear war is by blows hilarious and terrifying. US Air Force weapons are accidentally armed, and the muddle of bureaucracy required to deactivate the world-ending strike is unconquerable by the whole of the Pentagon's 'War Room.'

Classic comedy performances abound, including wonderful turns from Stirling Hayden and George C Scott, but it's Peter Sellers, as a trio of uniquely hilarious, pitch-perfect characters, who steals it.

Defining Moment: Major TJ Kong rides the Earth-bound bomb like an explosive bronco.

The Hustler (1961)

Why It's The Best: Paul Newman is Fast Eddie Felson, a pool hustler growing in notoriety. While he has no shortage of raw talent (he can trick shot with the best of 'em), his untempered ambition and lack of control are his undoing.

Along the way, Eddie falls out with his 'stakehorse' Charlie, begins a tumultuous relationship with alcoholic Sarah (Piper Laurie, so good), and gets taken under the wing of unscrupulous gambler Bert (George C Scott). Newman gets the role of a career as he goes from cocky upstart to broken man over the course of the movie, which packs a third-act sucker punch and a surprisingly downbeat ending.

Defining Moment: Eddie's final showdown with Minnesota Fats.

Bout De Souffle (1960)

Why It's The Best: Proving the '60s were a decade of invention, the French New Wave took liberties with cinematic techniques to create snappy, cool, and, yes, breathless movies.

None are more evocative of the era or the movement than this jaunty number by Jean-Luc Godard. It flies along at a cracking pace thanks to its revolutionary jump cuts, but it's not afraid to linger over a chat between its central characters when necessary. Openly referencing earlier movies, this is an entirely new beast.

Defining Moment: That appartment-based conversation between Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Patricia (Jean Seberg) is sultry, free-flowing, natural and saturated with chemistry.

Goldfinger (1964)

Why It's The Best: Any of Sean Connery's '60s Bond flicks could've made it onto this list, but it's probably Goldfinger that's the most-loved movie of his tenure as the superspy.

By this point, Bond was really starting to show the hallmarks of a great franchise, as groovy gadgets, overly ambitious villains and stylish showdowns became staples. It also scores points for Shirley Bassey's theme song, which started a trend but hasn't yet been topped. Nimbly balancing tension and action with the series' trademark lightness of touch, Goldfinger is a class act.

Defining Moment: It's a close call between the girl killed by a coating of gold paint, the laser/Bond's crotch interface, and the cheeky 7 seconds that are left on the clock when 007 diffuses the bomb.

The Graduate (1967)

Why It's The Best: Mike Nichols coming-of-ager introduced the world to the affable charms of a young Dustin Hoffman, who has rarely been better than his turn here as aimless college-completer Benjamin Braddock.

His love travails see him dating Mrs Robinson and her daughter, but the keenly observed romantic elements are counterpointed by the sharp humour and Simon and Garfunkel's jangling tunes.

Defining Moment:
Benjamin takes a dip in the pool, in full diving gear. Either that or something about Mrs Robinson attempting to seduce someone...

Psycho (1960)

Why It's The Best: Alfred Hitchcock's seminal slasher was released in 1960, meaning the decade peaked early. Rarely has horror been so efficient, twitchy, and downright creepy.

From the misdirection, macguffins, economic gore and killer twists (birthing the 'spoiler warning'), Hitch was wrongfooting audiences in a way that feels fresh some 50-odd years later.

Defining Moment: There are plenty to choose from - the eerily looming house overlooking the Bates motel, the Mother Bates reveal, the barely-there skeleton fade in the final moments - but it'd be utterly wrong to plump for anything other than the shower scene, wouldn't it?

Matt Maytum
Matt Maytum

I'm the Deputy Editor at Total Film magazine, looking after the long-form features there, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.