One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (film)

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMiloš Forman
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Ken Kesey
Music byJack Nitzsche
CinematographyHaskell Wexler
Edited by
Fantasy Films
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • November 19, 1975 (1975-11-19)
Running time
133 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million[1]
Box office$109 million (North America)[1]

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a 1975 American comedy-drama film directed by Miloš Forman, based on the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. The film stars Jack Nicholson, and features a supporting cast of Louise Fletcher, William Redfield, Will Sampson, and Brad Dourif. The film also featured Christopher Lloyd in his film debut.

Considered by some to be one of the greatest films ever made, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is No. 33 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies list. The film was the second to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor in Lead Role, Actress in Lead Role, Director and Screenplay) following It Happened One Night in 1934, an accomplishment not repeated until 1991 with The Silence of the Lambs. It also won numerous Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards.

In 1993, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


In 1963 Oregon, recidivist criminal Randle McMurphy is moved to a mental institution after serving a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape of a 15-year-old. Though not actually mentally ill, McMurphy hopes to avoid hard labor and serve the rest of his sentence in a relaxed environment. Upon arriving at the hospital, he finds the ward run by Nurse Ratched, a steely passive-aggressive tyrant who subtly intimidates her patients into doing her bidding.

The other patients include anxious, stuttering Billy Bibbit; Charlie Cheswick, who is prone to childish tantrums; delusional Martini; the well-educated, paranoid Dale Harding; belligerent Max Taber; epileptic Jim Sefelt; and "Chief" Bromden, a tall Native American believed to be deaf and mute. Ratched soon sees McMurphy’s lively, rebellious presence as a threat to her authority, confiscating the patients’ cigarettes and rationing them. During his time in the ward, McMurphy gets into a battle of wits with Ratched. He steals a hospital bus, escaping with several patients to go on a fishing trip, encouraging his friends to become more self-confident.

McMurphy learns his sentence may become indefinite and he makes plans to escape, exhorting Chief to throw a hydrotherapy cart through a window. McMurphy, Chief, and Cheswick get into a fight with the orderlies after the latter becomes agitated over his stolen cigarettes. Ratched sends them to the "shock shop", where McMurphy discovers Chief can actually speak despite feigning being deaf and mute to avoid engaging with anyone. After being subjected to electroconvulsive therapy, McMurphy returns to the ward pretending to have brain damage, although he reveals the treatment has charged him up even more. McMurphy and Chief make plans to escape, but decide to throw a secret Christmas party for their friends after Ratched leaves for the night.

McMurphy sneaks two women, Candy and Rose, into the ward, and bribes the night guard. After a night of partying, McMurphy and Chief prepare to escape, inviting Billy to come with them. Not ready to leave the hospital, he refuses. McMurphy instead convinces him to have sex with Candy. Ratched arrives in the morning to find the ward in disarray and most of the patients passed out drunk. She discovers Billy and Candy together, the former now free of his stutter, until Ratched threatens to inform his mother about his escapade. Billy is overwhelmed with fear and locks himself in the doctor’s office where he commits suicide. The enraged McMurphy chokes Ratched, before being knocked out by an orderly.

Ratched comes back with a neck brace and a scratchy voice. Rumors spread that McMurphy has escaped in order to avoid being taken "upstairs". Later that night, Chief sees McMurphy being returned to his bed. He discovers that McMurphy has lobotomy scars on his forehead, and smothers his friend with a pillow. Chief finally throws the hydrotherapy cart through the window and escapes into the night, cheered on by Taber.



Actor Kirk Douglas—who had originated the role of McMurphy in the 1963–64 Broadway stage version of the Ken Kesey novel—had purchased the film rights to the story, and tried for a decade to bring it to the big screen, but was unable to find a studio willing to make it with him. Eventually, he gave the rights to his son Michael Douglas, who succeeded in getting the film produced—but the elder Douglas, by then nearly 60, was considered too old for the McMurphy role, which ultimately went to 38-year-old Jack Nicholson. Douglas brought in Saul Zaentz as co-producer.[2]

The film's first screenwriter, Lawrence Hauben, introduced Douglas to the work of Miloš Forman, whose 1967 Czechoslovak film The Firemen's Ball had the sort of qualities they were looking for. Forman flew to California and went through the script page by page and outlined what he would do, in contrast with other directors who had been approached who were less than forthcoming. Forman wrote in 2012: "To me, [the story] was not just literature, but real life, the life I lived in Czechoslovakia from my birth in 1932 until 1968. The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not."[3]

Saul Zaentz, a voracious reader, felt an affinity with Kesey, and so after Hauben's first attempt he asked Kesey to write the screenplay, and promised him a piece of the action, but it did not work out and ended in a financial dispute.[2]

Hal Ashby, who had been an early consideration for director, suggested Jack Nicholson for the role of McMurphy. Production was delayed for about six months because of Nicholson's schedule. Douglas later stated in an interview that this had been a blessing, as it allowed time "to get the ensemble right."[2]


Danny DeVito, Douglas's oldest friend, was the first to be cast – having played one of the patients, Martini, in the 1971 off-Broadway production. Chief Bromden, played by Will Sampson, was found through the referral of a used car dealer Douglas met on an airplane flight when Douglas told him they wanted a big guy for the character. The dealer sold a lot of cars to Native Americans and six months later called Douglas to say: “the biggest sonofabitch Indian came in the other day!”[2]

Miloš Forman had considered Shelley Duvall for the role of Candy. While screening Thieves Like Us (1974) to see if she was right for the role, he became interested in Louise Fletcher, who had a supporting role, for the role of Nurse Ratched. A mutual acquaintance, the casting director Fred Roos, had already mentioned her name as a possibility. Even so it took four or five meetings, over a year, (during which the role was offered to other actresses such as Angela Lansbury, Anne Bancroft, and Geraldine Page) for Fletcher to secure the role of Nurse Ratched. Her final audition was late in 1974, with Forman, Zaentz and Douglas. The day after Christmas, her agent called to say she was expected at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem on January 4 to begin rehearsals.[4]


Prior to commencement of filming, a week of rehearsals started on January 4, 1975, in Oregon, during which the actors watched the patients in their daily routine and at group therapy. Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher also witnessed electroconvulsive therapy being performed on a patient.[2]


With the exception of Nicholson, the rest of the cast worked for scale, or a little above that.[clarification needed] Fletcher worked for 11 weeks, making $10,000 before taxes.[4]

Filming began in January 1975, and concluded approximately three months later, and was shot on location in Salem, Oregon, and the surrounding area, as well as on the Oregon coast.[5][6][7]

The producers decided to shoot the film in the Oregon State Hospital, an actual mental hospital, as this was also the setting of the novel.[8] The hospital’s director, Dean Brooks, was supportive of the filming and eventually ended up playing the character of Dr. John Spivey in the film. Brooks identified a patient for each of the actors to shadow, and some of the cast even slept on the wards at night. He also wanted to incorporate his patients into the crew, to which the producers agreed. Douglas recalls that it was not until later that he found out that many of them were criminally insane.[2]

As Forman did not allow the actors to see the day's filming, this led to the cast losing confidence in him, while Nicholson also began to wonder about his performance. Douglas convinced Forman to show Nicholson something, which he did, and restored the actor's confidence.[2]

Haskell Wexler was fired as cinematographer and replaced by Bill Butler. Wexler believed his dismissal was due to his concurrent work on the documentary Underground, in which the radical terrorist group The Weather Underground were being interviewed while hiding from the law. However, Miloš Forman said he had terminated Wexler over artistic differences. Both Wexler and Butler received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, though Wexler said there was "only about a minute or two minutes in that film I didn't shoot".[9]

According to Butler, Jack Nicholson refused to speak to Forman: "...[Jack] never talked to Miloš at all, he only talked to me."[10]

Filming went over the initial budget of $2m and over-schedule, but Saul Zaentz, who was personally financing the movie, was able to fund this by borrowing against his company, Fantasy Records. The movie cost in total $4.4m to make.[2]



The film was met with heavy critical acclaim; Roger Ebert said:

Ebert would later put the film on his "Great Movies" list.[12] A.D. Murphy of Variety wrote a mixed review as well,[13] as did Vincent Canby: Writing in The New York Times:

The film opened with original music by composer Jack Nitzsche, featuring an eerie bowed saw (performed by Robert Armstrong) and wine glasses. On the score, reviewer Steven McDonald:

The film went on to win the "Big Five" Academy Awards at the 48th Oscar ceremony. These include the Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, Best Actress for Louise Fletcher, Best Direction for Forman, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. The film currently has a 95% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 9/10.[16] Its consensus states: "The onscreen battle between Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher serves as a personal microcosm of the culture wars of the 1970s – and testament to the director's vision that the film retains its power more than three decades later."

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has been regarded as one of the greatest American films. Ken Kesey participated in the early stages of script development, but withdrew after creative differences with the producers over casting and narrative point of view; ultimately he filed suit against the production and won a settlement.[17] Kesey himself claimed never to have seen the movie, but said he disliked what he knew of it,[18] a fact confirmed by Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote, "The first time I heard this story, it was through the movie starring Jack Nicholson. A movie that Kesey once told me he disliked."[19]

In 1993, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.[20]

Box office[edit]

The film was the third highest-grossing film released in 1975 in the United States and Canada with a gross of $109 million,[1] being UA's biggest hit. As it was released toward the end of the year, most of its gross was in 1976 and was the highest-grosser for calendar year 1976 with rentals of $56.5 million.[21]

Worldwide, the film earned rentals of $76.1 million.[22]

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Category Nominee Result
Academy Award Academy Award for Best Picture Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
Academy Award for Best Director Miloš Forman Won
Academy Award for Best Actor Jack Nicholson Won
Academy Award for Best Actress Louise Fletcher Won
Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman Won
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor Brad Dourif Nominated
Academy Award for Best Cinematography Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler Nominated
Academy Award for Best Film Editing Richard Chew, Lyzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn Nominated
Academy Award for Best Original Score Jack Nitzsche Nominated
Golden Globe Award Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture Miloš Forman Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama Jack Nicholson Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama Louise Fletcher Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman Won
Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actor Brad Dourif Won
BAFTA Award BAFTA Award for Best Film Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
BAFTA Award for Best Direction Miloš Forman Won
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role Jack Nicholson Won
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role Louise Fletcher Won
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role Brad Dourif Won
BAFTA Award for Best Editing Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn Won
BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman Nominated


American Film Institute

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Hood, Phil (April 11, 2017). "Michael Douglas: how we made One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The Guardian. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  3. ^ Forman, Milos (10 July 2012). "Opinion – Obama the Socialist? Not Even Close" – via
  4. ^ a b Walker, Tim (January 22, 2016). "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Louise Fletcher recalls the impact of landing the Oscar-winning role of Nurse Ratched". The Independent. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
  5. ^ "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the American Film Institute".
  6. ^ "Story Notes for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".
  7. ^ "Hollywood's Love Affair with Oregon Coast Continues". Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  8. ^ "Oregon State Hospital – A documentary film (Mental Health Association of Portland)".
  9. ^ Anderson, John. "Haskell Wexler, Oscar-Winning Cinematographer, Dies at 93." The New York Times, December 27, 2015.
  10. ^ Townsend, Sylvia (19 December 2014). "Haskell Wexler and the Making of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'". Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  11. ^ – Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, January 1, 1975
  12. ^ – Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, February 2, 2003.
  13. ^ – A.D. Murphy, Variety, November 7, 1975
  14. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 28, 1975). "Critic's Pick: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest [Original Soundtrack] – Jack Nitzsche – Songs, Reviews, Credits – AllMusic". AllMusic.
  16. ^ "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2010-08-19.
  17. ^ Carnes, Mark Christopher, Paul R. Betz, et al. (1999). American National Biography, Volume 26. New York: Oxford University Press USA. ISBN 0-19-522202-4. p. 312,
  18. ^ Carnes, p. 312
  19. ^ Foreword of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Copyright 2007 by Chuck Palahniuk. Available in the 2007 Edition published by Penguin Books
  20. ^ "U.S. National Film Registry – Titles". Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  21. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1976". Variety. January 5, 1977. p. 14.
  22. ^ Pollock, Dale (October 17, 1979). "Year's Number One Grosser Punches A Hole in Theory Covering Sequels & Wickets". Daily Variety. p. 1.

External links[edit]