Hollywood: What’s a Good Movie Year, Anyway?

How to evaluate a particular movie year? by box-office receipts? the number of popular movies released? critical hits? innovative films? controversial ones?

For example, was last year, 2019, a good year, mediocre, or bad?

When we can say with some degree of assurance and coherence that 1959 was a better year than 1958?
What is the evidence to substantiate our claim that 1939 was  the best year in Hollywood’s history, as many critics say?
Which year is artistically more significant? One that produced two or three masterpieces and many other average films. Or a year that saw no masterpieces but many good and worthy pictures?
As a film professor, scholar, and critic, I have been thinking about nd debating these questions for decades, particularly when students ask me, what’s a good movie year.  How many worthy films need to be produced in a given year?
Criteria of Evaluation

Commercial yardsticks: Public choices, films that were popular with moviegoers—for whatever reason

Artistic yardsticks: choices of various critics groups (N.Y., L.A., Broadcast and National Society of Film Critics).

Innovation: Films that pushed the boundaries (technical, thematic, stylistic) and had impact on the evolution of film as a singular medium with new potential and possibilities

Oscar movies: The five films (now up to ten) singled by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) for Oscar nominations and awards. 

Acting achievements: via Oscar nominations and awards)

Movie stars (prominent and emerging stars) 

The aforementioned criteria are not definitive or conclusive, but rather represent a starting point for evaluation and discussion.
I more than welcome contribution to this discourse from our readers.
Commercial Hits: Box-Office (the Bottom Line)
In 1960, the ten most commercially-popular movies, measured by box–office receipts were:
                                 
Swiss Family Robinson                                
$20.2 million (in domestic rentals)
Disney’s family adventure movie with John Mills and Dorothy McGuire as Father and Mother.
Spartacus       
$14.6 million
Stanley Kubrick’s historical epic, starring Kirk Douglas
Psycho                                                            
$11.2 million
Hitchcock’s classic horror, noted for its innovations but lacking major stars (Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins play the leads)
Exodus                                                            
$8.3 million
Otto Preminger’s historical chronicle of the establishment of the State of Israel, starring Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint
The Alamo      
$7.9
John Wayne’s tribute to the famous battle
Butterfield 8                                                    
 
$7.6 million
Elizabeth Taylor’s trashy melodrama about an upper-class hooker
The World of Suzie Wong                            
 
$7.5 million
Interracial romance, starring William Holden
The Apartment  (Best Picture Oscar)                                               
Directed by Billy Wilder
$6.7 million
Billy Wilder’s serio-comedy, starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, which won the Best Picture Oscar
Ocean’s 11                                                                  
$5.7 Million
The Rat Pack’s feature, directed by Lewis Milestone
Please Don’t Eat the Daisies            
Directed by Charles Walters.
$5.3 million
Doris Day’s fluffy comedy is directed by Charles Waters and based on Jean Kerr’s story about a drama critic (played by David Niven) and his family. Day, then at the height of her stardom after “Pillow Talk” (1959), sings the title tune, which was very popular outside the film’s context.
Trends and Observations
Star-Driven
With the exception of “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Psycho,” all the other popular movies, regardless of their genre, were star-driven, toplined by John Wayne, Paul Newman, Doris Day, Jack Lemmon, Doris Day, Liz Taylor.
Genre
There is no dominant genre. The popular films include historical epics (“Spartacus,” “Exodus”), family fare (“Swiss Family Robinson”), romantic comedies (Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”) serio comedies (“The Apartment”), romantic melodramas (“The World of Suzie Wong”) and trashy, star-driven soap operas (“Butterfield 8”)
Oscar and the Public
Two of the ten commercial films were also nominated for the Best Picture: John Wayne’s “The Alamo” and Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment,” which won.
The other three nominees were moderate box-office successes (“Elmer Gantry”) or commercial flops (Jack Cardiff’s “Sons and Lovers,” Fred Zinnemann’s “The Sundowners”).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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