For those keeping track of such things, all things born in 1963 are celebrating their 60th anniversaries this year, including some of the best movies of all time. And there were some truly amazing 1963 movies, ranging from comedies to action, romcoms to Westerns, with a few epics thrown into the mix.
What follows is a look at 10 of the biggest 1963 movies, with some intriguing behind-the-scenes bits of information included at no extra charge. If you’ve got popcorn and soda in hand, let’s get going!
In a nutshell, this one’s about the efforts of Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, attempting to rule over her people while resisting the imperial ambitions of Rome, represented by Marc Antony. One could say the same about its stars as both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were married to others, but succumbed to their attraction for each other. At the time it was definitely a scandal, but the least of Cleopatra‘s problems. The film had been budgeted at $2 million and ballooned to $44 million ($388 million today).
Unlike many 1963 movies, there were constant production delays, multiple directors and screenwriters and everything about this film — except for the performers, which also included Rex Harrison and Roddy McDowall — made it feel like it had disaster written all over it. But in the end, it was nominated for nine Academy Awards, won four of them and ended up with a gross of $58 million (about $512 million today), so it definitely made money. And, boy, did Taylor and Burton give people something to talk about!
2. How the West Was Won
If there’s any film that deserves to be referred to as an “Epic Western,” How the West Was Won is it. It is one of the most unique 1963 movies that chronicles the evolution of a family over several decades, told against the backdrop of the evolving Old West. There are five chapters within the film, “The Rivers” (set in 1839), “The Plains” (set in 1851), “The Civil War” (taking place between 1861 and 1865), “The Railroad” (set in 1868) and “The Outlaws” (set in 1889). The scope of the film required the directorial efforts of no less than three people: Henry Hathaway, the legendary John Ford and George Marshall, who individually directed many classics of the genre.
And then there’s the cast, which includes James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Debbie Reynolds, Lee Van Cleef, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Carolyn Jones and Harry Dean Stanton, among many others. All told, this one came together beautifully, earning eight Academy Award nominations and winning three. It also grossed over $50 million on a $15 million budget.
3. ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’
We’re about to bandy about that word “epic” again, but it’s appropriate for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, director Stanley Kramer’s comedy about a cross-country search for $350,000 (over $3 million today) by a motley group of people from all walks of life. Besides the fact that it’s a lot of fun, the film’s strength is that it really serves as a love letter to a generation of performers that today’s moviegoers would have zero clue as to who they are. But for those of us who were there, or introduced to them through our parents or grandparents, it is a true smorgasbord of talent from a bygone era.
Apologies for going into list mode, but just check out some of these names: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Jim Backus, William Demarest, Peter Falk, Norman Fell, Buster Keaton, Don Knotts, Carl Reiner, The Three Stooges — it just goes on and on. It was nominated for six Academy Awards. If you haven’t seen it and decide to check it out, it’s a long one, but definitely worth your time.
4. From Russia with Love
From Russia with Love was the second James Bond film (we’re up to 25 of them at this point) with Sean Connery reprising the role of 007 from Dr. No. This is considered one of the best of the series, a truly taut thriller without a lot of the excess action and gadgets that the series would add as it continued forward through the years.
The formula is all here: Bond seeking an item before it falls into the hands of the Russians, the “Bond Girl” in the form of Daniela Bianchi, villains Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and Red Grant (Robert Shaw, better known as Quint in Jaws), a man who “kills for pleasure;” and an ally in Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz). Director Terence Young returns and everything clicks — especially a fight to the death in a cabin on the Orient Express between Bond and Grant. They really don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Charade has been called the Hitchcock thriller that Alfred Hitchcock never made (director Stanley Donen did). It’s a mystery romantic comedy as a woman named Regina Lampert is pursued by a group of men who are after a fortune that her murdered husband had supposedly stolen. Who to trust? Possibly the mysterious Peter Joshua, the two of them setting on an adventure that sees them trying to live long enough to figure out what’s going on. Great chemistry between screen legends Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant (they’re not considered legends for nuthin’).
6. Bye Bye Birdie
Based on the 1960 Broadway musical of the same name, Bye Bye Birdie has Dick Van Dyke (in his film debut) and Paul Lynde reprising their roles from the stage version, adding Janet Leigh (seen three years earlier in Hitchcock’s Psycho as the woman taking the wrong shower at the wrong place at the wrong time), Ann-Margret, to co-star with Elvis Presley the following year in Viva Las Vegas; Maureen Stapleton and Bobby Rydell.
The plot is actually inspired by the fact that Elvis was sent to the Army in 1957, with Jessie Pearson playing teen idol Conrad Birdie. This feel-good musical features a total of 15 songs and It was nominated for two Academy Awards.
7. Come Blow Your Horn
Come Blow Your Own represents a couple of firsts: it was the first play written by Neil Simon (writer of The Odd Couple, who supplies the screenplay for the film) and it’s billed as Frank Sinatra‘s first dramatic role. In it, his Alan Baker is a partying bachelor who lets his younger brother, Buddy (Tony Bill), move in with the intention of teaching him a couple of things about scoring with the ladies. But something happens along the way and Alan ultimately recognizes that it’s time he change his ways. Also starring Lee J. Cobb, Barbara Rush and Jill St. John.
8. ‘The Birds’
If Steven Spielberg‘s Jaws made you worry about what might be lurking in the ocean, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds made people very wary of our fine-feathered friends. Based on a short story by Daphne de Maurier, this is one of those 1963 movies that terrified audiences. Tippi Hedren (mother of Melanie Griffith) plays socialite Melanie Daniels, who pursues potential boyfriend Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) to a Northern California town that ends up being a place where birds begin an unexpected attack on humans, and there is a suggestion that it’s happening elsewhere as well.
Today, of course, the attacks of the birds would be handled by computer imagery, but the film featured mostly real ones (a combination of sparrow, seagulls and crows) that were actually trained to perform on cue.
There were mechanical birds as well created by special effects artist Ub Iwerks, whose credits include Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia. There’s a famous sequence in which the birds attack children on a school playground. Shot using real birds, during filming one of them actually attacked Hedren, scratching her face and causing her to bleed. The actress was truly traumatized in a moment where Melanie is trapped in a phone booth by attacking birds, and real ones were used there as well. Still scary all these years later!
9. The Pink Panther
If James Bond and Maxwell Smart from Get Smart had a baby, it would undoubtedly be these 1963 movies staring French Inspector Jacques Clouseau as played by brilliant British comedian Peter Sellers. In this first installment of what would become a series, clutsy Clouseau travels from Rome to Corlina d’Ampezzo in search of a jewel thief who calls himself “The Phantom,” having learned that he is intent on stealing a priceless diamond known as “The Pink Panther.” Also starring David Niven, Robert Wagner, Claudia Carinale and Capucine.
There have been 11 Pink Panther films over 60 years, five starring Sellers, two starring Sellers following his death utilizing film outtakes (which still seems so morbid), one with Alan Arkin as Clousea, another with Roberto Benigni as Clouseau’s illegitmate son, and two with Steve Martin in the role. There are rumors of a reboot with Eddie Murphy playing him, which would actually be quite funny.
10. The Nutty Professor
In what is hailed as one of his best films, Jerry Lewis plays multiple roles on this film, not the least of which is serving as co-writer and director. On screen he portrays nearsighted and timid chemistry teacher Professor Julius Kelp, who develops a chemical formula that transforms him into an outgoing ladies man named Buddy Loves in what can best be described as “Dr. Nerd and Mr. Suave.”
Buddy seems to be the answer to Julius’ prayers, but then the potion begins to fluctuate at the most embarrassing times, with the characters shifting back and forth without warning. Stella Stevens is assistant turned love interest Stella Purdy.
A sequel to The Nutty Professor was something Lewis very much wanted to do, but it never came together. Instead, he served as producer of Eddie Murphy’s 1996 remake to which there was a follow-up. In 2008, Lewis and Drake Bell provided their voices to an animated direct-to-DVD sequel (also called The Nutty Professor) and there was even a musical version put on at the Nashville Tennessee Performing Arts Center in 2012 that Lewis directed.
For more 1960s nostalgia, keep reading…