What is New Hollywood? There’s a scene in Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind that can answer that for us. It shows a group of young directors going to the home of a Hollywood Golden Age titan to express their admiration. This scene shows what the Hollywood New Wave was really about; an unwavering appreciation for Film that inspired these filmmakers to take it in a new direction. Essentially, New Hollywood was American cinema reborn by the Film School Generation.

New Hollywood Era

New Hollywood explained

The Hollywood New Wave of cinema sprouted in the late 1960s for a variety of reasons. For one, the academic study of Film became more popular than ever. The distribution of international films from auteurs like Truffaut and the French New Wave simply fed their inspiration. It was also a response to a perceived staleness in Hollywood's studio films that dominated the marketplace for decades.

We’re going to define New Hollywood and the filmmakers that made it into the peak of American film. 


What is New Hollywood?

New Hollywood is a film movement that took place in the United States from roughly 1967-1976. The movement was lead by a group of film students with a passion for filmmaking and the desire to challenge the stagnant status quo. Also known as the Hollywood New Wave, these filmmakers often worked within the Studio System but brought an independent and radical perspective to mainstream filmmaking.

Notable New Hollywood Filmmakers:

  • George Lucas
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Martin Scorsese
  • Peter Bogdanovich 
  • Brian De Palma
  • Francis Ford Coppola

1960’s Hollywood

Where did New Hollywood come from?

Film scholars often cite 1967-69 as the most significant few years in American film history. Those years saw the first releases of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Woody Allen, and many more. 

But it was two films released in 1967 that truly ushered in New Hollywood: The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde. Both pictures were daringly explicit — The Graduate with sexual activity and Bonnie and Clyde with sex and violence.

Their bold subject matter are largely credited with ending the Hays code, and opening the floodgates of creativity in Hollywood. This video explains how Bonnie and Clyde embodied the spirit and philosophy of the New Hollywood movement.

Bonnie and Clyde and the American New Wave

Global Influences

New Hollywood's inspiration

To understand New Hollywood, we have to look at what inspired the filmmakers. By 1968, New Wave cinema movements had already been underway all around the world and newly established distribution companies were regularly bringing these foreign films to U.S. to be devoured by the Film School Generation.

Some of the forefront directors of these movements include: Ingmar Bergman, Federicio Fellini, Francois Truffaut, and Akira Kurosawa. These four directors changed the landscape of their domestic film industries through radical new ideas. The Americans took this inspiration and ran with it. In particular, Italian Neorealism's influence on Scorsese cannot be understated.


New American Cinema films

Now that we’ve talked about the origins and the filmmakers who inspired  the New Hollywood movement, let’s look at some definitive works. After Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, Hollywood filmmaking was reborn with this new-found freedom.

Midnight Cowboy (1969) released to critical acclaim despite receiving an X-rating from the MPAA. The film went onto win Best Picture at the annual 42nd annual Academy Awards.

Midnight Cowboy  •  Trailer

Five Easy Pieces (1970) further delved into explicit subject matter, specifically sexual relationships and polyamory. The film also made Jack Nicholson into a New Hollywood star.

Five Easy Pieces  •  Clip

The Last Picture Show (1971) received eight Academy Award nominations despite controversy surrounding a brief nudity scene. Director Peter Bogdanovich, formerly a pupil of Orson Welles, became one of the most in-demand filmmakers in Hollywood after the release of The Last Picture Show.

The Last Picture Show  •  Making Of

American Graffiti (1973) was a juggernaut hit at the box office, as audiences related to the George Lucas’ nostalgia trip of youth culture in 1960s California. The success of American Graffiti allowed Lucas to pursue the development of Star Wars, which became largely responsible for killing the New Hollywood movement.

American Graffiti  •  Trailer

The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974) helped to re-popularize gangster films in Hollywood after a four-decade lull as a result of the Hays code. Francis Ford Coppola became the face of New Hollywood after making The Godfather.

Francis Ford Coppola’s Notebook on The Godfather

New Hollywood Blockbusters

The death of New Hollywood

After nearly a decade of box office successes and Academy Award wins, the New Hollywood movements days were numbered. Ironically, two members of the Film School Generation were the filmmakers to initiate its slow death in the late '70s.

It all started with a guy named Spielberg and a mechanical shark named Bruce. Jaws (1975) was the first film to truly be billed as a blockbuster — a genre mix of drama and thriller with expensive technical effects.

It was a summer release and also an early example of a distribution model that put the film in many theaters at once. Added to that, there was a massive and successful marketing and merchandise campaign.

With Jaws, the Hollywood studio executives saw a formula for success that could be repeated endlessly. And, thus, the summer blockbuster was born.

The Animatronic Shark Nearly Ruined Jaws

Two years later, George Lucas mounted an epic space opera that took Jaws' marketing and merchandise campaign to the nth degree. Star Wars (1977) became the blueprint for Hollywood blockbuster cinema and one of the most financially successful films of all-time.

At the same time, the film's escapism ran counter to the socially-conscious approach that defined New Hollywood.

Star Wars  •  Making Of

By the late 1970s, Hollywood had split into two definite directions. One continued down the artistic path of the American New Wave and the other adapted to the market and became blockbusters.

One highly influential film of the Hollywood New Wave era that we haven’t talked about is The Deer Hunter (1978). This anti-war picture earned director Michael Cimino near-auteur status.

In fact, Cimino was in such demand that United Artists essentially wrote him a blank check to make his next film Heaven’s Gate (1980).

Unfortunately, the production of Heaven’s Gate was plagued with issues ranging from creative disputes to animal abuse. Ultimately, the film tanked, resulting in such huge losses for United Artists that the studio closed up shop.

Heaven’s Gate  •  Trailer

The failure of Heaven’s Gate caused studios to reconsider giving complete control to a film’s director. Previously, directors like Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg proved that they knew how to make commercially viable films.

Hollywood was going in a direction where directors would be given final control over their films. But obviously, that didn’t happen. In the end, many regard Heaven’s Gate as the end of the Hollywood New Wave. Later movements like Dogme 95 and Mumblecore also tried to bring a radical and independent spirit back to filmmaking. 


What is French New Wave?

Now that we’ve looked at the history and characteristics of the Hollywood New Wave, why don’t we break down a cinema movement that inspired it? The French New Wave of cinema is widely known for its long takes and location shooting, but there’s so much more to explore that makes it one of the most influential film movements of all time.

Up Next: French New Wave Cinema →
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