Easy Riders and Raging Bulls: Movie Brats and New Hollywood (1962 – 1981)

New Hollywood              (Also Known As)

American New Wave

Post Classical Hollywood

Hollywood Renaissance

The Auteur Period

The fifth era in the history of Hollywood although ushered in the late 60s it came on its own in the 70s. It was marked by the rise of a new generation of young, film-school-educated, countercultural filmmakers — directors, actors and writers alike — whom Hollywood felt could speak to the new generation of young people in ways that their older stars could not. By this point in time, Hollywood was desperate to hold onto any remaining scrap of relevance in an era that saw its dominance of American pop culture pulverized by the trifecta of TV, foreign cinema and independent film. Subsequently, they granted these young artists unprecedented freedom to realize their visions in ways that past Hollywood filmmakers could never have imagined. The result was one of the largest creative explosions that the American film industry has ever seen, and which profoundly affected the way in which Hollywood operated into the present day.

The hippie movement, the civil rights movement, free love, the growth of rock and roll, changing gender roles and drug use certainly had an impact. The counter-culture of the time had influenced Hollywood to be freer, to take more risks and to experiment with alternative, young film makers, as old Hollywood professionals and old-style moguls died out and a new generation of film makers arose. Many of the audiences and movie-makers of the late 60s had seen a glimpse of new possibilities, new story-telling techniques and more meaningful ‘artistic’ options, by the influences of various European “New Wave” movements (French and Italian) and the original works of other foreign-language film-makers.

The point that is often given for the beginning of the New Hollywood era is the collapse of the Hays Code in the mid-’60s. Films like Bonnie and ClydeThe GraduateMidnight Cowboy,Cool Hand LukeThe Producers and Easy Rider broke countless taboos, earning immense critical acclaim and box office returns in the process. Realism and immersion were major themes in such movies, a backlash against the spectacle and artificiality that defined the studio system. A symbol of this emphasis on realism was the choice of many filmmakers to shoot on location — not only did advances in technology make this less expensive than shooting on set, it also heightened the feeling that the people on screen were in a real place. In addition, such films were infused with sexuality, violence, rock music, anti heroes, anti-establishment themes and other symbols of the ’60s counterculture. Many New Hollywood filmmakers openly admitted to using marijuana and psychedelic drugs, furthering their popularity in the general climate of the ’60s.

The success of New Hollywood’s early films caused the studios to grant almost complete creative control to these filmmakers. As the Seventies rolled in, such films as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon and Network, Roman Polanski’s neo-Noir Chinatown and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver were released to not only near-universal critical acclaim, but also massive ticket sales, earning their studios boatloads of cash in the process. For a time, it appeared that Hollywood was finally out of its post-war slump.

While the New Hollywood era lasted less than a decade and a half, it had a profound impact on how Hollywood operated. To put it in as few words as possible, New Hollywood was the era in which, at least in America, cinema finally secured its status as true art after decades of fighting for acceptance alongside literature, theater and music. The old studio system, in which the producers had the ultimate say in everything that happened on set and backstage, was gone for good. Even after the studios pushed back against the excesses of bloated-headed ”visionaries” and Executive Meddling returned to prominence, the idea that Hollywood writers and directors have the right to control their work and make movies for the art was something that stayed in the American film industry, as evidenced by such Blockbuster Age filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Christopher Nolan. The output of the era, like that of the golden age, is often put through the nostalgia filter, with some saying that it was the last truly classic decade for American cinema.

Salient Features:

  • Offbeat antihero protagonist
  • Sterile society
  • Explicit treatment of sexual conflicts and psychological problems
  • Mixing of the comic and serious
  • Self-conscious use of cinematic effects
  • Self-reflexive and post-modern bent
  • Lesser use of background score
  • Natural lighting
  • Shooting on location


Reasons why new cinema evolved:

Old patrons stayed home for TV. A new market was identified that wanted adult and mature themes that TV didn’t offer.

World cinema and underground films converted the American producer

American film producers learned to diversify. Not every film is for everyone:

Family musicals

Social issues films

Period films

Midnight films

Exploitation films

Complex retread of genre films

Notable directors:

  • Robert Altman
  • Sidney Lumet
  • Martin Scorsese
  • Hal Ashby
  • Francis Ford Coppola


Notable films:

  • Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  • The Graduate (1967)
  • Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  • Easy Rider (1969)
  • Five Easy Pieces (1970)
  • M*A*S*H (1970)
  • The Godfather (1972)
  • Mean Streets (1973)
  • Harold & Maude (1973)
  • The Godfather II (1974)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  • Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)
  • Network (1976)
  • Annie Hall (1977)
  • The Deer Hunter (1978)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Raging Bull (1980)



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