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The close of the New Hollywood era

In retrospect, it can be seen that Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) marked the beginning of the end for the New Hollywood. With their unprecedented box-office successes, Steven Spielberg's Jaws and George Lucas's Star Wars jumpstarted Hollywood's blockbuster mentality, giving studios a new paradigm as to how to make money in this changing commercial landscape. The focus on high-concept premises, with greater concentration on tie-in merchandise (such as toys), spin-offs into other media (such as soundtracks), and the use of sequels (which had been made more respectable by Coppola's The Godfather Part II), all showed the studios how to make money in the new environment.

On realizing how much money could potentially be made in films, major corporations started buying up the Hollywood studios. The corporate mentality these companies brought to the filmmaking business would slowly squeeze out the more idiosyncratic of these young filmmakers, while ensconcing the more malleable and commercially successful of them.

The New Hollywood's ultimate demise came after a string of box office failures that many critics viewed as self-indulgent and excessive. Directors had enjoyed unprecedented creative control and budgets during the New Hollywood era, but expensive flops including At Long Last Love, New York, New York, and Sorcerer caused the studios to increase their control over production.

New Hollywood excess culminated in two unmitigated financial disasters: Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980) and Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart (1982). After astronomical cost overruns stemming from Cimino's demands, Heaven's Gate caused severe financial damage to United Artists studios, and resulted in its sale to MGM. Coppola, having flourished after the near financial disaster of Apocalypse Now, plowed all of the enormous success of that film into American Zoetrope, effectively becoming his own studio head. As such, he bet it all on One from the Heart, which closed in less than a week, bankrupting Coppola and his fledgling studio. (Following the box-office disaster, Hollywood wags started referring to the picture as "One Through the Heart".)

These two costly examples, as well as the above-mentioned box-office failures, coupled with the new commercial paradigm of Jaws and Star Wars gave studios a clear and renewed sense of where the market was going: high-concept, mass-audience, wide-release films. Therefore, the costly and risky strategy of surrendering control to the director ended, and with that, the New Hollywood era.

The exploits of the New Hollywood generation are infamously chronicled in the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind.

New Hollywood and independent filmmaking

It can often seem that the members of the New Hollywood generation were independent filmmakers. Indeed, some of their members have tacitly signaled that they were the precursors of the independent film movement of the 1990s.

However, this is not the case. The New Hollywood generation was firmly entrenched in the studio system, which financed the development, production and distribution of their films. None of them ever independently financed or independently released a film of their own, or ever worked on an independently financed production during the height of the generation's influence. Seemingly "independent" films such as Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy, The Last Picture Show and others were all studio films: the scripts were based on studio pitches and subsequently paid for by the studios, the production financing was from the studio, and the marketing and distribution of the films were designed and controlled by the studio.

There were only two truly-independent movies of the New Hollywood generation: Easy Rider in 1969, at the beginning of the period, and Bogdanovich's They All Laughed, at the end. Peter Bogdanovich bought back the rights from the studio to his 1980 film and paid for its distribution out of his own pocket, convinced that the picture was better than what the studio believed — he eventually went bankrupt because of this.

Truly independent filmmakers such as John Cassavetes, George Romero and Melvin Van Peebles — who secured outside financing and filmed their own scripts — were never a part of the New Hollywood generation, and should not be considered as such.

List of important figures in the New Hollywood era

Many of the filmmakers listed below did multiple chores on various film productions through their careers. They are here listed by the category they are most readily recognized as.

Writers and directors

The issue of whether or not a specific director belongs to the "New Hollywood" generation is a difficult one to address. Many of those listed below made either their only films or their most successful films (Bogdanovich or Hal Ashby) in this period. Others, such as Martin Scorsese or John Boorman, have continued to make acclaimed and successful films. Aside from this, however, "membership" of the New Generation is a blurred line. Thus, the list below does not include Stanley Kubrick or Sidney Lumet - although both of these directors were of the same generation as those below, they came to prominence in the late 1950s , in the latter part of the Classical Hollywood period. Initially, thus, their early films (famously Spartacus (1960) and 12 Angry Men (1957)) did not play a part in informing the New Generation zeitgeist as, say, Nashville (1975) or Midnight Cowboy (1969) did.