By Raquel Stecher
All-star movies are so much fun to watch. I don’t claim to know the psychology of why a movie packed with a bunch of well-known actors brings us so much joy. I just know that they do. Every time I come across a film that boasts ensemble of actors and actresses I get giddy with glee. I bring up IMDb on my phone, scroll through the cast list and proclaim “everyone is in this film!” A good cast will always draw me in, even if the story itself would have been something I passed on. And if you think about it, you get more bang for your buck with an all-star movie. With just one 2 (or in some cases 3) hour movie, you may see a dozen of the best talents that Hollywood has to offer.
The 1960s had some of the best all-star movies. Whether they were sweeping epics, thrilling war dramas, sprawling Westerns and madcap comedies, these big productions lured audiences out of their homes and into theaters. The more familiar names you threw in the pot, the more alluring the final product. Here’s a look at several ensemble and all-star movies from the 1960s that are available to rent from DVD Netflix.
Directed by John Sturges, The Magnificent Seven reimagines Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai as a Western. There is so much to love about this story of seven gunfighters who protect a Mexican village from bandits but the cast really makes it. Also available to rent is the sequel Return of the Magnificent Seven (1966) and the 2016 remake.
Star Power: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Eli Wallach
A few years after The Magnificent Seven, John Sturges teamed up again with producer Walter Mirisch to make the WWII film The Great Escape. The story follows a group of American and British POWs who plot an elaborate escape from a Nazi war camp. While the movie focuses on the two principals played by James Garner and Steve McQueen, the stellar cast each gets their time to shine.
Star Power: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, David McCallum
After Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, he contemplated retiring, but eventually returned to filmmaking with his epic Spaghetti Western Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s considered a masterpiece in filmmaking and spawned a trilogy that included A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984). The cast was carefully selected with Western fans in mind.
Star Power: Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Elam, Keenan Wynn
If you’re feeling nostalgic for the glamorous days of air travel, watch The V.I.P.s. This sumptuous melodrama follows a group of wealthy passengers at Heathrow Airport in London. A bad case of fog delays their flight and while the passengers are stuck at the airport hotel, their lives inevitably change as they're forced to confront their personal and professional problems.
Star Power: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Louis Jourdan, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor, Orson Welles
On the heels of the success of The V.I.P.s, director Anthony Asquith and his team reunited to make The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964). The film tells the story of the three owners of a 1931 yellow Rolls-Royce Phantom II over an 11 year period. Like The V.I.P.s, this was another glossy drama about the wealthy elite meant to capitalize on the glitzy lifestyles and the big name cast.
Star Power: Ingrid Bergman, Rex Harrison, Shirley MacLaine, George C. Scott, Omar Sharif, Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau
When I think of ensemble casts, the first one that pops up in my mind is the madcap comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). It’s a difficult title to say but you need all four ‘mad’s to exemplify just how zany and whacky this movie truly is. Directed by Stanley Kramer, the story focuses on a group of strangers looking for a $350,000 buried under a big W. As more people catch wind of the treasure, the crazier the adventure gets. Every possible big name comedian they could throw in has a role, and the film did so well that it screened at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood for two years straight.
Star Power: Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Jonathan Winters, Jimmy Durante, Peter Falk, Sid Caesar, Buddy Jackett, Ethel Merman, Jerry Lewis, Buster Keaton
You may be familiar with the modern Ocean films (Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, and 8) but have you seen the original? Ocean’s 11 (1960) is part heist film, part buddy film, part holiday film and all fun. I love to watch it as a time travel trip back to 1960s Las Vegas but the cast is the biggest draw. It’s the ultimate Rat Pack film with all the principal members including Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop.
Star Power: Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Cesar Romero, Joey Bishop, Angie Dickinson, Shirley MacLaine
This sweeping epic of a Western has one of the most impressive cast of actors. How the West Was Won (1962) is all about the number three. You have three directors (John Ford, Henry Hathaway, and George Marshall), it’s shot in almost triptych style with a three-strip Cinerama process, and it tells the story of one family over three generations. It has one of the biggest casts of the era but all the stars have their moment in the spotlight.
Star Power: Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, James Stewart, George Peppard, Gregory Peck, Karl Malden, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Thelma Ritter, Walter Brennan
The epic war drama The Longest Day was an impressive undertaking in production and storytelling. I’ve always been astonished and a bit overwhelmed by how many notable actors are in this film. Shot on location, the film tells the story of the Normandy landings of D-Day during WWII. It chronicles the story from both sides and relied on Cornelius Ryan’s book of the same name as well as the D-Day veterans who lived to tell the tale and served as consultants on the movie.
Star Power: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, Peter Lawford, Sean Connery, Robert Ryan, Mel Ferrer, Richard Burton, Robert Wagner, Eddie Albert
Last but not least, director Robert Aldrich’s WWII film The Dirty Dozen is a must-see classic. It’s action-packed, violent, and features some fantastic performances from a motley crew of characters. It chronicles the tale of a group of convicts, sentenced to death or decades of hard labor, who are redeemed by being sent on a mission to destroy a stash of goods the Nazis have hidden in a small villa.
Star Power: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, George Kennedy, Robert Ryan, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @RaquelStecher and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.