The Graduate was met with positive reviews from critics upon its release. A.D. Murphy of Variety and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praised the film, with Murphy describing it as a "delightful satirical comedy-drama" and Ebert claiming it was the "funniest American comedy of the year".
For the film's thirtieth anniversary reissue, Ebert retracted some of his previous praise for the film, noting that he now felt its time has passed and he now had more sympathy for Mrs. Robinson than Benjamin, whom he considered "an insufferable creep." He, along with Gene Siskel, gave the film a positive if unenthusiastic review on the television program Siskel & Ebert.
Modern critics continue to praise the film. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which collects and ranks reviews (mostly modern) gives the film an aggregated score of 89% based on 62 reviews with an average rating of 8.6/10. The site's consensus reads, "The music, the performances, the precision in capturing the post-college malaise -- The Graduate's coming-of-age story is indeed one for the ages." On the similar website Metacritic, the film has a score of 77 out of 100, based on 10 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture (Lawrence Turman), Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Best Actress (Anne Bancroft), Best Supporting Actress (Katharine Ross), Best Adapted Screenplay (Buck Henry and Calder Willingham), and Best Cinematography (Robert L. Surtees). Mike Nichols won the Academy Award for Best Director.
The film also received Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Hoffman), and Best Screenplay (Henry and Willingham). Bancroft won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, Nichols won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, Turman and Joseph E. Levin won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Hoffman won the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor, and Ross won the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress.
In addition, the film won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, BAFTA Award for Best Direction (Nichols), BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Hoffman), the BAFTA Award for Best Editing (Sam O'Steen). Bancroft was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
In 1996, The Graduate was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", and placed #21 on the list of highest-grossing films in the United States and Canada, adjusted for inflation.
Years later in interviews, Bancroft conceded that, much to her surprise, Mrs. Robinson was the role with which she was most identified, and added "Men still come up to me and tell me 'You were my first sexual fantasy.'"
American Film Institute recognition
- 1998: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - #7
- 2000: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs - #9
- 2002: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions - #52
- 2004: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Songs:
- "Mrs. Robinson" - #6
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:
- "Plastics." - #42
- "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?" - #63
- 2007: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - #17
The film is listed in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book.
In 1985 Alfa Romeo introduced the Graduate, a version of the Alfa Romeo Spider which recalled the car used in the movie. This version of the car was produced until 1990.