The late 1960s/1970s marked a new era in Hollywood. It was a time of social upheaval in the United States, after the Vietnam War, the Red Scare, fear of nuclear war, Rock n' roll, drugs, The Civil Rights Movement - and young filmmakers were responding appropriately. The directors at the helm of what the press called "The New Hollywood" all happened to be white men in their 30s and 40s - including Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, John Cassavetes, Hal Ashby, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Brian Da Palma, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Clint Eastwood, Roman Polanski, Sidney Lumet, and Terence Malick.
These filmmakers heralded a new Golden Age in Hollywood after the shine from the studio system had worn off. When the groundbreaking case United States vs. Paramount Pictures, Inc ruled that vertical integration (where each studio had its own production, distribution, and exhibition arms) was illegal based on the Sherman Anti-Trust act, the major studios had become desperate to remain profitable. They relied on gimmicks like Technicolor and 3-D to keep viewers buying tickets. However, considering the lackluster content and the recent popularity of television, moviegoers were often choosing to stay home.
It was in this dire environment that these new filmmakers emerged. Hollywood was forced to become more open to risk-taking at the same time that baby boomers raised on counterculture were reaching maturity. The difference between the films of New Hollywood and the independent cinema that exists today is that the New Hollywood filmmakers were all working with studio support. Even though in many cases, the relationship between the Hollywood brass and the filmmakers was tenuous at best, it was clear after the success of Arthur Penn's 1967 groundbreaking classic Bonnie and Clyde that audiences would still come to the movies that pushed the creative envelope. It also became fairly apparent that these young filmmakers, though unpredictable, had something that the studios were desperate for - the ability to relate to young viewers.
Therefore, the New Hollywood was defined by the entrance of "auteurism" into American filmmaking. The Auteur Theory (which was invented by French film scholars) was based on the idea that "directors are to movies what poets are to poems" (Biskind 16). American auteurs were not interested in listening to the marketing ploys of studio executives in sunny Hollywood offices, rather, they had firm visions, and many of their ideas broke cinematic and cultural taboos. Biskind writes, "It was a time when an 'anything goes' experimentation prevailed both onscreen and off". All the drugs, sex, and narrative risk-taking, however, "invigorated the movie industry" (Biskind). The success of these films signaled a shift of creative power from the studio executive to the director - and marked a true renaissance in Hollywood.
Some of the most well-known films that are associated with the New Hollywood directors include Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1969), Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather films (1972, 1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979), George Lucas' American Graffiti (1973), Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), Hal Ashby's Shampoo (1975), Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975), Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977), and, of course, George Lucas' Star Wars (1977). This era also launched the careers of some of Hollywood's greatest actors, including Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Faye Dunaway, James Caan, Jill Clayburgh, John Travolta, Meryl Streep, Martin Sheen, Harvey Keitel, Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Peter Fonda, Steve McQueen, Barbra Streisand, and Jodie Foster.