The 11 Greatest Years In American Cinema History

UPDATE: 11/10/2017

In the hundred years that Hollywood has been making films, certain years have stood out in terms of significance. Whether it were the amount of box office successes, critically acclaimed films, or films that went on to become greatly influential, some years just clicked for Hollywood. It is hard to truly judge the greatness of certain years until later reflection which is why none of the years on this list are from the 21st century

Although debatable, many attribute the 1915 release of D.W. Griffith’s controversial Birth of the Nation as the birth of American cinema (at least the first Hollywood film). This means we will soon be celebrating the centennial of the biggest industry in film.

In the hundred years that Hollywood has been making films, certain years have stood out in terms of significance. Whether it were the amount of box office successes, critically acclaimed films, or films that went on to become greatly influential, some years just clicked for Hollywood. It is hard to truly judge the greatness of certain years until later reflection which is why none of the years on this list are from the 21st century.

11. 1941

citizen-kane

The (mostly) uncontested greatest film of all time Citizen Kane wasn’t the only landmark film to be released this year. Also released were the (mostly) uncontested greatest film noir The Maltese Falcon, the highly influential satire Sullivan’s Travels, and the film that will forever define “mise-en-scene”, best picture winner How Green was my Valley.

Other classics from that year include Hitchcock’s Suspicion, Disney’s Dumbo, the southern drama The Little Foxes, the beloved screwball comedy The Lady Eve, and one of the highest grossing films when adjusted for inflation, Sergeant York.

 

10. 1975

jaws

The blockbuster was born in the middle of the decade that reinvigorated Hollywood with JawsOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest became only the second film to win all five major Academy Awards. The long running social phenomenon and penultimate midnight movie Rocky Horror Picture Show was released to limited fanfare (with the exception of Los Angeles where it sold out every night). Speaking of transsexuals, Dog Day Afternoon cemented Pacino as the best actor of his generation (and perhaps ever),

Altman released his ensemble masterpiece Nashville, Kubrick gave us a visual feast with Barry Lyndon, and Peter Sellers’ career shot back into orbit with the franchise reboot Return of the Pink Panther. Other notable films include Hal Ashby’s Shampoo, The Who’s pinball musical “Tommy”, and Three Days of the Condor.

 

9. 1959

Ben-Hur

No year captured the essence of the 50’s (known mostly for it’s wide variety) than the one that brought us the Epic of epics Ben-Hur. Censorship boundaries were pushed with the crossdressing classic comedy Some Like it Hot and the tense courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder. We’ll never forget the crop duster chase scene in North by Northwest and would’ve never gotten Psycho if it weren’t for the success of the creepy horror classic House on Haunted Hill (it is well documented that Hitchcock was inspired to make his own low budget horror film after seeing it).

Other notable films include the original beach party film Gidget, the first of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson screwball comedies Pillow Talk, the best worst movie (before “Troll 2”) Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, the highly influential John Wayne western Rio Bravo, and John Cassavetes game changing directorial debut Shadows.

 

8. 1969

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Perhaps more astonishing than a man walking on the moon is that four films from this year appeared on AFI’s top 100 American films list (both iterations). They are John Schlesinger’s gigolo masterpiece Midnight Cowboy, the action marvel Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Peckinpah’s brooding epic western The Wild Bunch, and the iconic counterculture film Easy Rider.

Other influential films released this year include the dance-marathon flick They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the politically charged verite style Medium Cool, the original stuck in space spectacle Marooned, the original True Grit, and the Gordon Parks’ drama The Learning Tree.

 

7. 1933

king-kong-1933

The final year of the pre-code era gave us the most iconic scene in Hollywood history with King Kong. It also gave us the most beloved Marx Brothers comedy Duck Soup, the Laurel and Hardy classic Son’s of the Desert, the creepy James Whale classic The Invisible Man, and two of the most influential movie musicals of all time 42nd Street and Footlight Parade.

We also heard the famous “I always did like a man in uniform…Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?” uttered in She Done Him Wrong, and Jean Harlow proved a woman didn’t need a male co-star to be a box office draw with her hits, Bombshell and Dinner at Eight.

 

6. 1984

ghostbusters_movie

For those of us in our 30’s and 40’s, this is a monumental year, a year that clearly defined the decade of excess and escapist fare. The biggest titles released were GhostbustersBeverly Hills CopThe TerminatorThe Karate Kid, and Gremlins. John Hughes also made his directorial debut with the teen classic Sixteen Candles, Freddy showed his claws for the first time in Nightmare on Elm Street, and two brothers from Minnesota who borrowed money from friends and family released their first film Blood Simple (Coen Brothers).

A “few” other notable films include, Romancing the StoneIndiana Jones and the Temple of DoomThe NaturalThis is Spinal TapFootlooseSplashPolice AcademyRevenge of the NerdsPurple RainRed DawnParis, Texas, and the cult hit Repo Man.

 

5. 1994

Shawshank-Redemption-tim-robbins-andy-dufresne

This year took the box office by storm with two unlikely films Forrest Gump and The Lion King. Tarantino cemented his brand of filmmaking with Pulp Fiction and a film based on a Stephen King novella that now sits on top of IMDB’s top 250 films of all time, The Shawshank Redemption, was released.

It was also the year of Jim Carrey (Ace VenturaThe Mask, and Dumb and Dumber), Gen X defining films, (Reality Bites and Clerks), and action blockbusters that defined the era (True LiesSpeed, and Clear and Present Danger).

 

4. 1967

Bonnie-and-Clyde

Widely considered one of the most ground-breaking years in film by helping usher in the “New Hollywood” era marked mostly by the releases of the taboo shattering and generationally defining films Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate. Sidney Poitier became a box office star with three films (all dealing with race relations), To Sir, With LoveGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and best picture winner In the Heat of the Night.

We also saw a blind Audrey Hepburn hold her own in the influential home invasion thriller Wait Until Dark, were introduced to Green Beret Billy Jack in Born Losers, and first heard “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…” in Cool Hand Luke.

 

3. 1971

alex clockwork orange

In the decade that produced many classic films, the year that introduced us to Popeye Doyle (The French Connection), Alex Delarge (A Clockwork Orange), Dirty HarryShaft, and Harold and Maude, certainly produced the most classics. We also got the golden ticket to see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, witnessed the coming of age classic The Last Picture Show, were shaken to the core by Straw Dogs, and mesmerized by Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland in Klute.

Other notable films include Altman’s anti-western McCabe and Mrs. MillerFiddler on the Roof, and two of the most beloved car films of all time Vanishing Point and Two Lane Blacktop.

 

2. 1999

brad-pitt-fight-club

Time may prove the final year of the millennium to be the greatest year in history for it’s hard to deny that its impact still wafts over many of the films Hollywood produces. We first saw bullet time with The Matrix, weeped over a floating plastic bag in the critical darling American Beauty, saw dead people in The Sixth Sense, learned how to make soap in Fight Club, and freaked out over some found footage in The Blair Witch Project.

We also got Kubrick’s final masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut, went inside the head of a semi famous actor in Being John Malkovich, witnessed a plague of frogs in Magnolia, and got the memo in Office Space. Other notables from that year include ElectionGreen MileToy Story 2Cider House RulesTalented Mr. RipleyOctober SkyGalaxy Quest, and American Pie.

 

1. 1939

gone with the wind

The still undisputed champ is the year that brought us two of the most iconic films ever made, Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Jimmy Stewart made his mark in the quintessential whistleblower film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Laurence Olivier starred in the enduring classic Wuthering Heights.

Often lauded as the most influential film ever made, Stagecoach, was also released, as was Gulliver’s Travels, and one of the most beloved adventure films of all time Gunga Din. Other classics include Destry Rides AgainThe Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThe Hunchback of Notre DameMidnightNinotchkaThe WomenOf Mice and MenYoung Mr. Lincoln, and Jesse James.

Author Bio: Alex Moore is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles with his B.A. in Drama and Comparative Literature from the University of Washington and a degree in film production from Vancouver Film School in Canada. He will definitely promote something when he has something to promote.

 

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