1961 Movies

Plex's 1961 Movie Database is a love letter to 60s Hollywood. In 1961, the musical genre was in the spotlight with the release of "West Side Story," a retelling of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" set in New York City. This film captured 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
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The Best Movies of 1961


"Yojimbo" is a 1961 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa. The story revolves around a ronin, a masterless samurai, who arrives in a small town torn apart by two warring factions. The Ronin, played by Toshiro Mifune, finds himself in a unique position to manipulate both sides for his own benefit. Using cunning and combat skills, he plays the rival gangs against each other with the aim of ultimately restoring peace to the town.

As events unfold, the Ronin's schemes become increasingly complex, and he becomes involved in a series of confrontations and alliances. The film is notable for its dark humor, stylistic cinematography, and compelling character development. The plot serves as both an action-packed story and a critique of greed and corruption.

Yojimbo had a significant influence on subsequent filmmaking, inspiring remakes and adaptations, including Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars." It remains a classic of Japanese cinema.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians

When it comes to unforgettable animation, Disney seldom disappoints. One film that stands out in this context is "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" from 1961. Adapted from Dodie Smith's novel "The Hundred and One Dalmatians," the film dives into the narrative of a kidnapped litter of Dalmatian puppies. Their owners have a limited time to rescue them from the clutches of the nefarious Cruella De Vil, who plans to transform the innocent puppies into a malevolent fashion statement.

Guided by directors Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, and Clyde Geronimi, this Disney classic received a warm welcome from both the box office and film critics. Its storyline, while straightforward, captivates viewers, underlining the lengths one will go to protect what they care about.

Splendor in the Grass

Navigating the trials and tribulations of youthful affection, "Splendor in the Grass" tells the touching story of Deanie and Bud, high school sweethearts living in small-town Kansas in 1928. They struggle under the heavy societal and parental expectations that loom over them, putting their love at risk. The story showcases the strain that external influences can have on a seemingly idyllic relationship.

Directed by Elia Kazan with a script by William Inge, the film features Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in roles that bring depth and sensitivity to the screenplay. The 1961 film not only appealed to audiences but also garnered commendations from reviewers, cementing its status as an important film of the year.

The Hustler

Tapping into the niche of sports drama, "The Hustler" introduces viewers to the stakes and tension that accompany a high-level game of pool. It tracks the journey of a young and ambitious pool player, keen on defeating a long-standing champion in a high-risk match. The backdrop may be a pool hall, but the film grapples with themes of ambition, morality, and the price of victory.

Directed by Robert Rossen and co-written with Sidney Carroll, the film stars Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, and Piper Laurie. Each actor delivers a notable performance, contributing to the movie's box office success and favorable critiques.

The Misfits

Exploring the complexities of human relationships, "The Misfits" dives into the life of a divorcée and an aging cowboy. She finds herself smitten, while he grapples with the fading vitality of his autonomous lifestyle. Helmed by director John Huston and penned by Arthur Miller, the film boasts a strong ensemble cast, featuring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift. Despite its star-studded lineup and intense themes, the film did not resonate well with its intended audience and received a lukewarm response from critics. Nonetheless, it's a significant film to consider due to its thematic ambitions and distinguished cast.

West Side Story

Musicals have their own unique way of depicting the complexities of life, and "West Side Story" does so brilliantly. Focusing on the turbulent relationship between two young lovers from opposing New York City gangs, the film masterfully captures the essence of conflict and romance. Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, and featuring performances from Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, and Russ Tamblyn, the film struck a chord with audiences and critics alike. Its impact was so significant that it won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, making it an iconic feature that has lasted through the decades.

Swiadectwo urodzenia

Taking us to the darker corners of human existence, "Swiadectwo urodzenia" explores the lives of children enduring the harrowing conditions of wartime. These young individuals navigate a range of challenges from orphanages to forests as they strive to survive. Directed by Stanislaw Rózewicz, the film not only performed well at the box office but also received a strong response from film critics. Its significance lies in its unflinching portrayal of the resilience of children under severe conditions.

Mother Joan of the Angels

Addressing the themes of faith and temptation, "Mother Joan of the Angels" transports audiences to a rural Polish parish believed to be under demonic influence. Here, a priest sent to restore normalcy finds his own inner battles awaiting him. Guided by director Jerzy Kawalerowicz, the film was received favorably by both audiences and critics. It stands as a testament to the complex themes that filmmakers dared to explore, themes that continue to resonate with viewers.

Judgment at Nuremberg

"Judgment at Nuremberg" stands out for its gripping depiction of a post-WWII American court in Germany, tasked with prosecuting four Nazis for war crimes. Under the direction of Stanley Kramer and a script by Abby Mann, the movie shines a light on the ethical complexities of justice and accountability. The cast, led by Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, and Richard Widmark, brings an intensity to the film that contributes to its enduring impact. Not only did it fare well at the box office, but it was also praised by critics. Furthermore, its significance in cinema history is underlined by its eleven Academy Award nominations, of which it won two.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Set in the cosmopolitan milieu of New York City, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" captures the romance and challenges of urban life through the lens of a young socialite. As she navigates a budding relationship with a new neighbor, her complicated history threatens to interfere. Directed by Blake Edwards and penned by George Axelrod, the film is brought to life through memorable performances by Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. The movie not only performed well commercially but also garnered positive reviews, earning its place as a beloved classic.

Knife in the Water

Though slightly out of the 1961 time frame, "Knife in the Water" is worth mentioning for its tense atmosphere and psychological complexity. The story centers around a couple who invite a hitchhiker to join them for a day of sailing, setting the stage for escalating tension and inevitable conflict. Directed by Roman Polanski, the film became a commercial success and was lauded by critics. It pushes the boundaries of narrative and character dynamics, offering an effective look into human relationships and rivalry.

1961 Movies & Industry Highlights

Notable Films of 1961

One film that stood out this year was West Side Story produced by United Artists and The Mirisch Company. It not only dominated the domestic box office with a revenue of $19,645,000 but also secured 10 Academy Awards. The Guns of Navarone from Columbia Pictures followed, pulling in $13,000,000. Also noteworthy were films like El Cid and The Parent Trap, which garnered $12,000,000 and $9,300,000 respectively.

International Successes

While Hollywood produced major hits, cinema from other countries also made waves. Gunga Jumna from India's Mehboob Studio grossed an impressive $14,610,000. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union's Striped Trip produced by Lenfilm brought in $12,720,000.

Significant Events

  • Among the notable occurrences in 1961 was the sad demise of Gary Cooper, an iconic actor known for roles in movies such as Wings and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Cooper, who was 60, passed away in Los Angeles from colon and prostate cancer.
  • Furthermore, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman inked a long-term contract with United Artists to create films based on Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. The first in the series was Dr. No, and the series eventually became one of the highest-grossing film series ever.
  • On the technical side, Trans World Airlines introduced in-flight movies on July 17th by screening Come September to the press aboard one of its jets.
  • Finally, October 18th saw the release of West Side Story, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris, the movie went on to claim the title of the highest-grossing film of the year, and won several Academy Awards, including those for Best Picture and Best Director.


The year 1961 had a considerable impact on the industry, from monumental films to significant shifts in the way movies were enjoyed, such as the introduction of in-flight movies. Furthermore, it was a year when international cinema began to gain more attention, thanks in part to high-grossing films from countries like India and the Soviet Union.