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DISCLAIMER: All film criticism is extremely subjective and there is no such thing as the definitive list of the Greatest (English-language) Films. Great Films can't be measured scientifically because greatness is extremely subjective. Just because we like a film doesn't mean that you will like it as well. Please feel free to leave us a comment with the films that you think are the greatest which we have not included on our list.

Not only was 1961 a big year for movies but it was also a big year for actors making their film debuts and the deaths of some truly great talent. Here is a snap shot of the American film industry.

Making Their Film Debuts:

  • Ann-MargretPocketful of Miracles
  • Warren BeattySplendor in the Grass
  • Sandy DennisSplendor in the Grass
  • Louis Gossett, Jr.A Raisin in the Sun
  • Gene Hackman – Mad Dog Coll
  • Ron Howard – Five Minutes to Live
  • George Kennedy – The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come
  • Dudley Moore – The Third Alibi
  • Mary Tyler Moore – X-15
  • Joe Pesci – Hey, Let’s Twist!
  • Burt Reynolds – Angel Baby
  • George Segal – The Young Doctors


Top-grossing Films

1.West Side StoryUnited Artists$43,656,822
2.The Guns of NavaroneColumbia$28,900,000
3.El CidAllied Artists$26,600,000
4.The Absent-Minded ProfessorWalt Disney Productions$25,381,407
5.The Parent TrapWalt Disney Productions$25,150,385
6.La Dolce VitaAstor Pictures Corporation$19,516,000
7.Lover Come BackUniversal$16,937,969
8.King of KingsMGM$14,483,352
9.One Hundred and One DalmatiansWalt Disney Productions$14,000,000
10.Splendor in the GrassWarner Bros.$11,426,000
11.Blue HawaiiParamount$10,440,453
12.Judgment at NurembergUnited Artists$10,000,000
13.Breakfast at Tiffany’sParamount$9,551,904
14.The MisfitsMGM$8,200,000


Academy Award Winners

Best Picture: West Side Story – Mirisch-B&P Enterprises, United Artists

Best Director: Robert Wise and Jerome RobbinsWest Side Story

Best Actor: Maximilian SchellJudgment at Nuremberg

Best Actress: Sophia Loren – Two Women

Best Supporting Actor: George ChakirisWest Side Story

Best Supporting Actress: Rita MorenoWest Side Story


Among Those Who Died In 1961:

  • January 13 – Blanche Ring, 89, American singer and actress, The Yankee Girl, It’s the Old Army Game
  • January 14 – Barry Fitzgerald, 72, Irish actor, Going My Way, The Quiet Man
  • February 2 – Anna May Wong, 56, American actress, Shanghai Express, The Thief of Bagdad
  • February 17 – Nita Naldi, 63, American actress, Blood and Sand, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • March 6 – George Formby, 56, British actor, entertainer, It’s in the Air, Off the Dole
  • March 12 – Belinda Lee, 25, British actress, Long Night in 1943, The Goddess of Love
  • March 29 – Fritzi Ridgeway, 62, American actress, Ruggles of Red Gap, This Is Heaven
  • April 27 – Roy Del Ruth, 67, American director, The Maltese Falcon, Broadway Melody of 1938
  • May 4 – Anita Stewart, 66, American silent-film actress, The Combat, The Suspect
  • May 13 – Gary Cooper, 60, American actor, High Noon, Meet John Doe, Pride of the Yankees, Sergeant York
  • May 18 – Henry O’Neill, 69, American actor, Shadow of the Thin Man, Anchors Aweigh
  • May 19 – Ben Corbett, 69, American actor, The Fighting Renegade, Six-Gun Trail
  • May 22
    • Joan Davis, 53, American actress, Hold That Ghost, If You Knew Susie
    • Edward F. Cline, 69, American director, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
  • June 10 – Vivienne Osborne, 64, American actress, Supernatural, Luxury Liner
  • June 15 – Luther Reed, 72, American director, Rio Rita, Hit the Deck
  • June 17 – Jeff Chandler, 42, American actor, Broken Arrow, Merrill’s Marauders
  • July 9 – Alan Marshal, 52, Australian actor, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, House on Haunted Hill
  • July 23 – Valentine Davies, 55, American screenwriter and director, The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story
  • August 4 – Maurice Tourneur, 85, French director, The Last of the Mohicans, The Poor Little Rich Girl
  • August 17 – Violet Kemble-Cooper, 74, British actress, The Invisible Ray, David Copperfield
  • August 20 – Dorothy Burgess, 54, American actress, In Old Arizona, Black Moon
  • August 27 – Gail Russell, 36, American actress, Angel and the Badman, Seven Men from Now
  • August 30 – Charles Coburn, 84, American actor, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Lady Eve
  • September 10 – Leo Carrillo, 81, American actor, Viva Villa!, Phantom of the Opera
  • September 22 – Marion Davies, 64, American actress, Show People, Cain and Mabel
  • September 23 – John Eldredge, 57, American actor, The Woman in Red, His Brother’s Wife
  • September 26 – Juanita Hansen, 66, American actress, The Magic Cloak of Oz, The Phantom Foe
  • October 11 – Chico Marx, 74, American actor, member of the Marx Brothers, A Night at the Opera, Duck Soup
  • October 13 – Maya Deren, 44, American experimental filmmaker, Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land
  • October 18 – Tsuru Aoki, 69, Japanese-born American actress, The Dragon Painter
  • October 22 – Joseph Schenck, 82, Russian-born American pioneer motion picture executive, The General, Sherlock, Jr.
  • October 29 – Astrid Holm, 68, Danish actress, The Phantom Carriage, Häxan
  • November 15
  • November 24 – Ruth Chatterton, 68, American actress, Dodsworth, Female
  • December 27 – Bernard McConville, 74, American screenwriter, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Phantom of the Opera


The Greatest Films of 1961




Poster for the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

© 1961 Jurow-Shepherd − All right reserved.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

D: Blake Edwards

Fortune hunter Holly Golightly finds herself captivated by aspiring writer Paul Varjak, who has moved into her building on a wealthy woman’s dime. As romance blooms between Paul and Holly, Doc Golightly shows up on the scene, revealing Holly’s past.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


The Exiles

© – All right reserved.

The Exiles

D: Kent MacKenzie

Native Americans in Los Angeles. For 12 hours one Friday night, from late afternoon until dawn, we follow a handful of urban Indians. Yvonne is pregnant, commenting on her life and dreams as she shops, walks home, cooks dinner, and watches her husband Homer leave with his friends. Homer and his pals go bar hopping, play some poker, and end up, bottles in hand, with other Indians on a hilltop. During the night, the men pick up women, there are fights, there’s camaraderie, and Homer reflects on life in the city versus life on the reservation. At dawn, Yvonne watches Hector from a window as he and two pals and two women head somewhere. “Let’s do it again tonight,” says one.


Poster for the movie "The Guns of Navarone"

© 1961 Columbia Pictures − All right reserved.

The Guns of Navarone (UK)

D: J. Lee Thompson

A team of allied saboteurs are assigned an impossible mission: infiltrate an impregnable Nazi-held island and destroy the two enormous long-range field guns that prevent the rescue of 2,000 trapped British soldiers.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "The Hustler"

© 1961 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

The Hustler

D: Robert Rossen

A dramatic, realistic character study based on Walter Tevis’ novel. A young, arrogantly-cocky, anti-hero, pool-hall hustler, “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman), challenges acclaimed, cool, professional Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in Ames Billiards Room in New York City. The naive, talented, and ultimately self-destructive challenger loses. Defeated and self-pitying, he meets and falls in love with another loner – alcoholic, desperate, waifish cripple Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie) – whom he ultimately forsakes. He attracts the attention of slimy, calculating, venal, and repulsive promoter Bert Gordon (George C. Scott). With financial backing from the pimpish entrepreneur, Felson struggles to get back on top – at a great cost to his own self-esteem and soul. Reprised twenty-five years later, with Paul Newman as an older, wiser Eddie Felson in director Martin Scorsese’s Color of Money.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "The Innocents"

© 1961 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

The Innocents (UK)

D: Jack Clayton

A Victorian governess fears a boy and girl have been possessed by a dead couple. Directed by Jack Clayton. From Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.”

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Judgment at Nuremberg"

© − All right reserved.

Judgment at Nuremberg

D: Stanley Kramer

During the Nuremberg war crime trials (which occurred during the post-war years from 1945-1949), crimes against humanity (Nazi atrocities) were prosecuted. Three years of trials had passed, and most of the major Nazis had been tried. There are four additional German judges who were brought to trial in 1948 – for using their offices to swear allegiance to Nazi policies, and conduct Nazi sterilization and cleansing policies. The main trial judge is retired American Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) in a three-man judiciary, while the defendants are represented by Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell), and the prosecutor is strident and vicious Colonel Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark), known for liberating the camps. Judge Haywood sentences each of the four judges to life imprisonment, although the decision is not unanimous. As Rolfe predicts, none of those condemned to a sentence less than death at any of the Nuremberg trials is still serving their term just over a decade later. All of the judges were released within a few years.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


The Ladies Man

© – All right reserved.

The Ladies Man

D: Jerry Lewis

Upon losing his lover, Herbert (Jerry Lewis) gives up women for good and seeks a fresh start by taking a maintenance position at what appears to be an ordinary Los Angeles boarding house. To Herbert’s surprise, however, the building caters specifically to single women. He immediately resolves to quit, but landlady Miss Wellenmellon (Helen Traubel) and sweet tenant Fay (Pat Stanley) talk him into keeping the job. In no time at all, Herbert is mired in one comic disaster after another.


Poster for the movie "Lover Come Back"

© 1961 7 Pictures − All right reserved.

Lover Come Back

D: Delbert Mann

This second Doris Day-Rock Hudson lightweight satirical romantic comedy again featured two themes: mistaken identity and unexpected romance. The feature-length sitcom stars Hudson as playboyish, heaving-drinking Jerry Webster, ad executive of a Madison Avenue company working for incompetent boss Peter Ramsey (Tony Randall). Doris Day portrays Carol Templeton, the prim new account ad executive at the rival firm of Brackett headed by Mr. John Brackett (Howard St. John). She is disgruntled with Webster for alleged unethical methods (including bribes, booze, and babes) to acquire a large key account from J. Paxton Miller (Jack Oakie). After she discovers that a new intoxicating (fictional) product known as “VIP” is being created by reclusive chemist Dr. Linus Tyler (Jack Kruschen), Carol is determined to win the account, but things become complicated when she mistakenly believes that Webster was “Dr. Tyler” and the two start to fall in love.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "The Misfits"

© 1961 United Artists − All right reserved.

The Misfits

D: John Huston

While filing for a divorce, beautiful ex-stripper Roslyn Taber ends up meeting aging cowboy-turned-gambler Gay Langland and former World War II aviator Guido Racanelli. The two men instantly become infatuated with Roslyn and, on a whim, the three decide to move into Guido’s half-finished desert home together. When grizzled ex-rodeo rider Perce Howland arrives, the unlikely foursome strike up a business capturing wild horses.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


One-Eyed Jacks

© – All right reserved.

One-Eyed Jacks

D: Marlon Brando

After pulling a bank heist in Mexico, the outlaw Rio (Marlon Brando) and his partner, Dad Longworth (Karl Malden), make a run for it, but Dad has bigger plans than freedom. He betrays Rio and absconds with the loot, and Rio ends up in prison. Years pass before Rio finally breaks free to enact his long-plotted revenge. Tracking Dad to California, Rio learns he’s become a sheriff — which is no deterrent — but when Rio falls for Dad’s stepdaughter, Louisa (Pina Pellicer), he has second thoughts.


One Hundred and One Dalmatians

© – All right reserved.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians

D: Disney Studio

When a litter of Dalmatian puppies are abducted by the minions of Cruella de Vil, the parents must find them before she uses them for a diabolical fashion statement.


One, Two, ThreeOne, Two, Three

D: Billy Wilder

C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney) will do anything to get a promotion within the Coca-Cola company, including looking after boss W.P. Hazeltine’s (Howard St. John) rebellious teenage daughter, Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin). When Scarlett visits Berlin, where C.R. is stationed, she reveals that she is married to a communist named Otto Piffl (Horst Buchholz) — and C.R. recognizes that Otto’s anti-establishment stance will clash with his boss’s own political views, possibly jeopardizing his promotion.


Poster for the movie "A Raisin in the Sun"

© 1961 Columbia Pictures Corporation − All right reserved.

A Raisin in the Sun

D: Daniel Petrie

A groundbreaking drama celebrating the human spirit, featuring an electrifying performance by Academy Award® winner Sidney Poitier (Best Actor, Lilies of the Field, 1963). The Younger family, frustrated with living in their crowded Chicago apartment, sees the arrival of a $10,000 insurance check as the answer to their prayers. Matriarch Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil) promptly puts a down payment on a house in an all-white suburban neighborhood. But the family is divided when Lena entrusts the balance of the money to her mercurial son Walter Lee (Poitier), against the wishes of her daughter (Diana Sands) and daughter-in-law (Ruby Dee). It takes the strength and integrity of this African-American family to battle against generations of prejudice to try to achieve their piece of the American Dream.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Splendor in the Grass"

© 1961 Warner Bros. − All right reserved.

Splendor in the Grass

D: Elia Kazan

A tragic, coming-of-age melodrama set in the mid-1920s in a small, rural Kansas town, from playwright William Inge’s original, award-winning script. Star-crossed, teen-aged sweethearts, poor HS senior Wilma Dean “Deanie” Loomis (Natalie Wood) and rich Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty in his film debut) fall deeply and passionately in love, but are repressed by the sexual mores of the time, their class differences, and disapproval from their parents – especially her prudish, puritanical mother (Audrey Christie) and his rigid, domineering father (Pat Hingle). Deanie’s pent-up sexual longings cause her to almost go insane in a memorable bathtub scene. Repercussions cause Bud to chase after slutty girl Juanita Howard (Jan Norris), and eventually marry Italian Angelina (Zohra Lampert), while Deanie is institutionalized following a suicidal nervous breakdown. Years later, the two meet again and she resolves her feelings about him.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "West Side Story"

© 1961 United Artists − All right reserved.

West Side Story

D: Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins

An energetically-choreographed, Best Picture-winning musical that is loosely based on Shakespeare’s tale of ill-fated lovers, Romeo and Juliet. A landmark, highly-honored, ground-breaking Broadway musical transposed to the big screen and set on location in 1950s New York on the Upper West Side. With a memorable musical score from Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Includes such popular songs as “The Jet Song,” “America,” “Cool,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Something’s Coming,” “Tonight,” “One Hand, One Heart,” and “Maria.” Two rival teenaged gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernardo (George Chakiris) and the white Jets, led by Riff (Russ Tamblyn) rumble with each other for turf on the sidewalks and streets of the city. Two young people on opposing sides, Polish Jet member Tony (Richard Beymer) and Bernardo’s sister Maria (Natalie Wood) become ‘star-crossed’ lovers. His attempts at peace-making during a rumble accidentally lead to the deaths of both gang leaders and further tragic circumstances in a tear-stained scene set on an outdoor basketball court.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Did your favorite make our list of the greatest movies of 1961?

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