“The Graduate is a time capsule preserving [Baby Boomers’] youthful hopes and fears at a pivotal moment in American life.” — Beverly Gray, author of Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How ‘The Graduate’ Became the Touchstone of a Generation
The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the golden anniversary of the release of The Graduate, the acclaimed comedy starring Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer, Rain Man) as the titular character and Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, The Turning Point) as the woman who seduces him.
One of the most popular films of the 1960s, The Graduate — which also featured Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton and Elizabeth Wilson — opened 50 years ago this week, and for the occasion The Bits features a compilation of statistics, trivia and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context; passages from vintage film reviews; a reference/historical listing of the movie’s exclusive limited-market first-run theatrical engagements; and, finally, an interview segment with author and film historian Beverly Gray who discusses the film’s impact and influence. [Read on here...]
THE GRADUATE NUMBER$
- 0 = Number of sequels
- 1= Box-office rank among films directed by Mike Nichols (adjusted for inflation)
- 1= Box-office rank among films starring Dustin Hoffman (adjusted for inflation)
- 1 = Number of Academy Awards
- 1 = Rank among Embassy’s all-time top-earning movies at close of original run
- 1 = Rank among top-earning films of 1967 (legacy)
- 2 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1960s
- 3 = Peak all-time box-office chart position*
- 7 = Number of Academy Award nominations*
- 22 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation)
- 34 = Number of theaters showing movie during opening week
- 50 = Number of years Embassy’s top-earning film*
- 58 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement*
- $3.0 million = Production cost
- $22.2 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
- $43.1 million = Box-office rental* (original release)
- $49.3 million = Box-office rental* (original + re-releases)
- $349.3 million = Box-office rental* (adjusted for inflation)
- $104.9 million = Box-office gross*
- $743.5 million = Box-office gross* (adjusted for inflation)
*Embassy/Avco Embassy Pictures record
A SAMPLING OF MOVIE REVIEWER QUOTES
“Funny, outrageous, and touching, The Graduate is a sophisticated film that puts Mr. Nichols and his associates on a level with any of the best satirists working abroad today…. A picture you’ll have to see — and maybe see twice to savor all its sharp satiric wit and cinematic treats.” — Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
“Mike Nichols has made the freshest, funniest and most touching film of the year.” — Hollis Alpert, Saturday Review
“A milestone in American film history!” — Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic
“[The Graduate] starts out to satirize the alienated spirit of modern youth, does so with uncommon brilliance for its first hour, but ends up selling out to the very spirit its creators intended to make fun of…. It’s a shame — they were halfway to something wonderful when they skidded on a patch of greasy kid stuff.” — Richard Schickel, Life
“Maybe director Mike Nichols can do no wrong. He now has bridged the generation gap in a brilliant second film called The Graduate. Younger moviegoers (but not too young) are virtually certain to rally around it because of its sympathetic understanding. Older generations should be equally happy with it for its enlightenment, for how its recall of how it is to be young.” — Harry MacArthur, The Washington Star
“Dustin Hoffman, known to many Boston theater goers for his excellent work in local little theaters, has become a star with his first feature-sized screen role. His performance in the title role is extraordinary.” — Alta Maloney, The Boston Herald
“The Graduate stands at the head of its class.” — Playboy
“All that is new about Generation Gap is the phrase itself. And in spite of the enthusiasm for it among the young, it seems to me The Graduate only makes a few exaggerated points about familiar facts of life and then slides off into the kind of frantic nonsense Mack Sennett would have made if he had had the money.” — David Brinkley, Ladies’ Home Journal
“The young market, particularly, will dig this Embassy (overseas, United Artists) release and older audiences also will be amused. Strong [box office] prospects are likely in initial exclusive bookings, as a setup for a hotsy general playoff” — A.D. Murphy, Variety
“The Graduate is rousing its young audiences to post-picture applause for creators who cannot hear it, although they undoubtedly would appreciate the gesture in absentia.” — James Meade, The San Diego Union
“Katharine Ross is beautiful, talented, surely this year’s Julie Christie!” — Liz Smith, Cosmopolitan
“Not so much rock as rock bottom [referring to Paul Simon’s lyrics].” — John Simon, New Leader
“How could you convince [moviegoers] that a movie that sells innocence is a very commercial piece of work when they’re so clearly in the market to buy innocence?” — Pauline Kael, The New Yorker
“One of the year’s 10 best.” — Joseph Morgenstern, Newsweek
“The Graduate is a showy, gimmicky, ostentatious movie — and if it weren’t, it would be much less interesting and entertaining. Nichols’ visual approach to each scene is so unusual that it draws attention to itself, and this becomes part of the fun of watching the film.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times
“[Y]oung people are falling for the film along with the old people, because it satisfies their most infantile fantasies of alienation and purity in a hostile world, their most simplistic notions of the generation gap, and their mushiest daydreams about the saving power of love.” — Stephen Farber and Estelle Changas, Film Quarterly
“A dazzling comedy. Mike Nichols is a brilliant, imaginative and free-wheeling movie director. The Graduate confirms not simply that he is a master of comedy, but that he is a master of the motion picture form.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times
“Chalk up another winner for Mike Nichols. The director earns his Ph.D in the rousing comedy, The Graduate. Hoffman is the best leading man to turn up since Jack Lemmon and Miss Ross is a good actress with the kind of fresh expressive face that sends artists rushing to their canvases. Nichols has given us one of the best comedies of the year and has taken his place among the genuinely gifted directors of our time.” — Ernest Schier, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin
“The acting, editing, and photography are all exemplary. The backgrounds include Berkeley, the Bay Bridge, and the San Francisco Zoo as well as Southern California. Many of the sight gags and lines are bright, and Nichols uses the score to comment ironically and compassionately.” — P.K., San Francisco Chronicle
“The Graduate, the funniest American comedy of the year, is inspired by the free spirit which the young British directors have brought into their movies. It is funny, not because of sight gags and punch lines and other tired rubbish, but because it has a point of view. That is to say, it is against something. Comedy is naturally subversive, no matter what Doris Day thinks.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL ENGAGEMENTS
The invitational world premiere screening of The Graduate was held December 20th, 1967, at the Coronet in New York.
The reference list in this section of the article highlights Embassy’s distribution strategy of opening The Graduate in only a handful of carefully selected markets, primarily in small- and medium-sized venues to guide sellouts, long lines and, ultimately, long-running engagements. The film’s release widened gradually beginning in February 1968. (The subsequent bookings, along with any second-run, re-release and international bookings, have not been cited in this work.)
The listing offers a snapshot of the important initial weeks of the film’s release. And, as a bonus, the engagement duration figures have been provided for some of the entries so as to provide a sense of how popular the film proved to be. Note the duration figures which, despite multiple screenings per day, rival those of the popular limited-screening roadshow releases during the same era.
Opening date YYYY-MM-DD … City — Cinema (engagement duration in weeks)
- 1967-12-21 … Los Angeles — Four Star (51)
- 1967-12-21 … New York — 57th St. Lincoln Art (45)
- 1967-12-21 … New York — Coronet (51)
- 1967-12-22 … Baltimore (Pikesville) — Pikes (28)
- 1967-12-22 … Baltimore (Towson) — York Road (27)
- 1967-12-22 … Boston — Paris (30)
- 1967-12-22 … Chicago — Carnegie (26)
- 1967-12-22 … Chicago — Loop (25)
- 1967-12-22 … Cincinnati — Grand (23)
- 1967-12-22 … Dayton — Ames
- 1967-12-22 … Denver — Esquire (52)
- 1967-12-22 … Detroit — Vogue
- 1967-12-22 … Detroit (Ferndale) — Radio City (27)
- 1967-12-22 … Detroit (Redford) — Redford
- 1967-12-22 … Miami — Mayfair (19)
- 1967-12-22 … Miami (Coral Gables) — Miracle (18)
- 1967-12-22 … Miami (North Miami Beach) — 163rd Street (18)
- 1967-12-22 … Milwaukee — Esquire (29)
- 1967-12-22 … Milwaukee — Times Fine Arts (32)
- 1967-12-22 … Minneapolis — World (57)
- 1967-12-22 … Philadelphia — Eric Rittenhouse Square (27)
- 1967-12-22 … Philadelphia (Wynnewood) — Eric Wynnewood (27)
- 1967-12-22 … Rochester — Studio 2 (44)
- 1967-12-22 … Sacramento — Alhambra
- 1967-12-22 … Salt Lake City — South East (32)
- 1967-12-22 … San Diego (La Mesa) — Cinema Grossmont (30)
- 1967-12-22 … San Francisco — Metro (46)
- 1967-12-22 … San Jose (Santa Clara) — Cinema 150 (40)
- 1967-12-22 … Seattle — Town (52)
- 1967-12-22 … Trenton — Lincoln (14)
- 1967-12-22 … Washington — Cinema (58)
- 1967-12-23 … Miami (Miami Beach) — Normandy (29)
- 1967-12-25 … Dallas — Northpark Twin (27)
Beverly Gray is the author of Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How ‘The Graduate’ Became the Touchstone of a Generation (Algonquin, 2017). Her other books include Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon…and Beyond (Thomas Nelson, 2003) and Roger Corman: An Unauthorized Biography of the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking (Renaissance, 2000), which was re-published in 2013 under the alternate title Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers—An Updated Authorized Life. Gray’s writings have also appeared in numerous periodicals and newspapers including The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times and MovieMaker.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think The Graduate should be remembered on its 50th anniversary?
Beverly Gray: The Graduate should be remembered as a small independent film that transformed the style and content of Hollywood movies while also embedding itself deep in the American consciousness. It captures the mindset of young adults in the late 1960s, but has proven to have a surprising universality as well.
Coate: What was the objective with your book Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How ’The Graduate’ Became the Touchstone of a Generation?
Gray: Today verbal and visual references to The Graduate continue to abound. My goal was to delve into the unexpected appeal of this small film in its own era and then explain how and why it’s still very much with us in the twenty-first century.
Coate: Can you recall the first time you saw The Graduate?
Gray: When I first saw The Graduate early in 1968, I was a senior at UCLA, newly returned from a year of study abroad. Back in the home of my loving but somewhat controlling parents, I was suddenly (after a year of independence) feeling pressured to live up to their expectations about my future. The early scenes in The Graduate captured precisely the way I felt.
Coate: In what way is The Graduate a significant motion picture?
Gray: The Graduate is beautifully shot and acted, going far beyond most Hollywood movies of its era in adopting fresh aesthetic ideas from Europe and elsewhere. And it expresses, with remarkable candor, the mentality of the huge Baby Boom generation that was coming into its own in 1967-1968.
Coate: How does the film compare to Charles Webb’s book?
Gray: Many of the most vivid episodes in the film (like Benjamin Braddock wearing a SCUBA suit in the bottom of his parents’ pool and Ben seated on a city bus with someone else’s bride) can be found in Webb’s novel. And much of Webb’s dialogue appears too. But the makers of The Graduate felt that Webb’s Benjamin was “a whiny pain in the fanny,” whose rebellion against his parents and their world wasn’t truly motivated, nor was it appealing. One quality that director Mike Nichols found in Dustin Hoffman was a sweetness and innocence that helped to justify Benjamin’s misbehavior and ensure that the audience was on his side.
Coate: In what way was Dustin Hoffman a memorable Benjamin Braddock?
Gray: I’ve mentioned Hoffman’s appeal in the role of Benjamin Braddock: he was lovably hapless, and young audiences found it easy to identify with him. But his casting also went a long way toward transforming Hollywood. In the late 1960s, romantic leading men were still expected to be tall and handsome WASP-types. Robert Redford, then a rising young actor, was considered by many to be the “right” kind of person for this role. In choosing the short, dark, and obviously ethnic Hoffman to play Benjamin Braddock, director Mike Nichols was very much going against common wisdom. But Hoffman’s casting led to an influx of clearly Jewish young actors (Elliott Gould, Richard Benjamin, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Grodin) as well as other “ethnics” like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in leading roles. Hollywood has never been the same since.
Coate: In what way was Anne Bancroft a memorable Mrs. Robinson?
Gray: When she was cast as Mrs. Robinson, Anne Bancroft had already won an Oscar for her portrayal of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. She played leads in other admired films, but had been shut out of funny and glamorous roles. The Graduate captured her beauty as well as her wit, but there’s also an underlying sadness to her characterization that makes her far more than a villainess. Generations of women have seen in her performance a hint of the anguish that can be part of domestic life when marriage becomes an obligation rather than a freely made choice.
Coate: In what way was Mike Nichols an ideal choice to direct The Graduate, and where does the film rank among his body of work?
Gray: I don’t claim to have seen all of Mike Nichols’ film (and stage) work, but he was an enormously talented director who never repeated himself, one who experimented with many styles and genres. The Graduate, made at the very start of his movie career, was the work of a still-young man having fun playing with the tools of modern cinema. The resulting film has been described as “show-offy,” but its exuberance is hard to beat.
Coate: What is the legacy of The Graduate?
Gray: For many who saw The Graduate back in the day, it is a time capsule preserving their youthful hopes and fears at a pivotal moment in American life. Beyond appealing to Baby Boomers’ sense of nostalgia, The Graduate gave us new aesthetic ideas which went on to help transform today’s Hollywood.
Coate: Thank you, Beverly, for sharing your thoughts on The Graduate on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its release.
Selected images copyright/courtesy Avco Embassy Pictures, Embassy Pictures, MGM Home Entertainment, StudioCanal, United Artists Corporation, The Voyager Company/The Criterion Collection.
The primary references for this project were regional newspaper coverage and trade reports published in Billboard, Boxoffice, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. All figures and data included in this article pertain to the United States and Canada except where stated otherwise.
Don Beelik, Raymond Caple, Beverly Gray, John Hazelton, Mark Lensenmayer, Stan Malone, and an extra special thank-you to all of the librarians who helped with this project.
- Marion Lorne (“Miss DeWitte”), 1883-1968
- George Nogle (Camera Operator), 1898-1977
- Richard Borland (Grip), 1909-1983
- Robert Surtees (Director of Photography), 1906-1985
- Walter Brooke (“Mr. McGuire”), 1914-1986
- Murray Hamilton (“Mr. Robinson”), 1923-1986
- Joseph E. Levine (Presenter/Embassy Pictures founder), 1905-1987
- Harry Maret (Makeup), 1917-1989
- George R. Nelson (Set Decorator), 1927-1992
- Meta Rebner (Script Supervisor), 1907-1994
- Calder Willingham (Screenwriter), 1922-1995
- Sydney Guilaroff (Hair Styles), 1907-1997
- Bob Wyman (Assistant Editor), 1931-1998
- Norman Fell (“Mr. McCleery”), 1924-1998
- Patricia Zipprodt (Costume Designer), 1925-1999
- Sam O’Steen (Editor), 1923-2000
- Eddra Gale (“Woman on Bus”), 1921-2001
- Richard Sylbert (Production Designer), 1928-2002
- Jack Solomon (Sound), 1913-2002
- Anne Bancroft (“Mrs. Robinson”), 1931-2005
- Alice Ghostley (“Mrs. Singleman”), 1923-2007
- Mike Nichols (Director), 1931-2014
- Elizabeth Wilson (“Mrs. Braddock”), 1921-2015
- Joel Schiller (Assistant Production Designer), 1930-2017
- Michael Coate