Take your filthy hands off my asp!

The Pink Panther came out in a crazy-good year for movies

Published March 20, 2024

Commence humming the theme song. Here, we’ll help:

In March 1964, The Pink Panther was released in America. The film brought together several artists at the height of their powers: English actor Peter Sellers starred as Detective Clouseau, barely two months after his (triple) star turn in Dr. Strangelove; director Blake Edwards was two years out from his big-screen breakthrough Breakfast at Tiffany’s; and composer Henry Mancini had already treated TV viewers to three seasons of the Peter Gunn theme (featuring piano by John Williams!). Mancini would garner the film’s only Oscar nomination.

In a review dated the year of its release, the Hollywood Reporter called the film “a laugh-out-loud farce that contains some of the most hilarious bits of any picture in years.” The movie made just shy of $11 million at the box office (about $109M today), but that was only good for 10th place on the year. And that, dear reader, is because 1964 was chock-full of all-time bangers, and that’s what this piece is about. 

Let’s have a look at the biggest films of 1964, by gross domestic sales. (Note: Numbers for these movies vary wildly by source – The Pink Panther made anywhere from $5.9 to $10.9 million – but the rankings stay mostly the same.)

  1. It’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

No surprise here. The magic-nanny film Mary Poppins was a booming success, loved by critics and audiences alike, making between $31 million and $102 million in its initial run ($310M to $1B in 2024 dollars). The film was nominated for 13 Oscars; to this day, only three movies have topped that. And it won in five categories, including Best Score, for which it beat out The Pink Panther. Sweetest of all, an electric Julie Andrews won Best Actress in her feature-film debut… not that that made the producers of the #2 film regret having passed her over.

  1. Come on, Dover!

Yes, My Fair Lady was adapted from the 1956 stage musical starring… Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. When it came time to cast the movie, producers wanted someone with more star power, and Audrey Hepburn’s was still high after Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In the end, Hepburn wasn’t even nominated for Best Actress; famously, she didn’t even sing most of the songs. The film is still an absolute delight, though; it won Best Picture, Best Director (George Cukor), and Best Actor (Rex Harrison). And though its $17 million budget was the highest for a Hollywood film to that time, it paid back producers to the tune of $30 million to $72 million. And intriguingly, its current Metacritic score of 95 is actually higher than Mary Poppins’s 88.

Do you expect me to profit? No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.

Here we have the 10th-best single-word-title movie ever. Yes, 1964 was the year of Goldfinger, the very best Bond film according to Metacritic, IMDB, and Rotten Tomatoes. Sean Connery starred in this third franchise film, alongside Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore, Bert Fröbe as the titular villain, and an Aston Martin DB5. And it’s not just popular today: Goldfinger pulled in (a curiously consistent) 3rd highest box office total of the year—$51 million (about half a billion in 2024). 

… and the rest

In 1964, the following films raked in more box-office money than The Pink Panther.

4.      The Carpetbaggers: a rule-breaking Howard Hughes-inspired film.

5.     From Russia With Love: Oh yeah, there were two Bond movies in 1964.

6.     Father Goose: An alcoholic WW2 lookout (Cary Grant) finds love on a deserted island.

7.     A Shot in the Dark: The second installment in The Pink Panther series, completed before but released after the original.

8.     What a Way to Go!: A dark comedy with a stellar cast including Shirley McClain, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Dean Martin, Gene Kelly, and Dick Van Dyke. 

9.   The Unsinkable Molly Brown: A film about the life of a Titanic survivor (you know, Kathy Bates).