One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (film)

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The theatrical release poster has Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy.
Directed byMiloš Forman
Screenplay by
Based onOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
by Ken Kesey
Produced by
Edited by
Music byJack Nitzsche
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • November 19, 1975 (1975-11-19)
Running time
135 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3–4.4 million[1][2]
Box office$163.3 million[3]

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a 1975 American psychological drama film[4] directed by Miloš Forman, based on the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. The film stars Jack Nicholson as a new patient at a mental institution, alongside Louise Fletcher as an austere nurse. The supporting cast is Will Sampson, Danny DeVito, Sydney Lassick, William Redfield, and the film debuts of Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif.

Filming began in January 1975 and lasted three months, on location in Salem, Oregon and the surrounding area, and in Depoe Bay on the north Oregon coast. The producers shot the film in the Oregon State Hospital, an actual mental hospital, which is also the setting of the novel. The hospital is in operation, though the original buildings in the film have been demolished. The film was released on November 19, 1975. Considered by many 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 is 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 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 late 1963, Randle McMurphy is on an Oregon work farm for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. He pretends to be insane to get himself transferred to a mental institution and avoid hard labor. The ward is dominated by Head Nurse Ratched, a cold, passive-aggressive tyrant who intimidates her patients.

The other patients include young, anxious, stuttering Billy Bibbit; Charlie Cheswick, who is prone to temper tantrums; dim-witted, child-like Martini; the articulate Dale Harding; belligerent and profane Max Taber; epileptics Jim Sefelt and Bruce Fredrickson; quiet but violent-minded Scanlon; tall, deaf-mute Native American "Chief" Bromden; and several others with chronic conditions.

Ratched sees McMurphy's lively, rebellious presence as a threat to her authority, which she responds to by confiscating and rationing the patients' cigarettes and suspending their card-playing privileges. McMurphy finds himself in a battle of wills against Ratched. He steals a school bus, escaping with several patients to go fishing on the Pacific Coast and encouraging them to discover their own abilities and find self-confidence.

After an orderly tells him that his prison sentence no longer applies to him since he has been committed, McMurphy makes plans to escape with Chief. He also learns that he, Chief, and Taber are the only non-chronic patients who have been involuntarily committed; the others have committed themselves and may leave at any time, but are too afraid to do so. After Cheswick bursts into a fit and demands his cigarettes from Ratched, McMurphy starts a fight with the orderlies and Chief intervenes to help him.

McMurphy, Chief, and Cheswick are sent to the disturbed ward after the fight, and Chief inadvertently reveals to McMurphy that he can speak and hear normally. He has feigned deaf-muteness to avoid engaging with anyone, remembering the way in which alcoholism destroyed his father's life. After being subjected to electroconvulsive therapy, McMurphy returns to the ward pretending to be brain-damaged, but then reveals that the treatment has made him even more determined to defeat Ratched. McMurphy and Chief make plans to escape, but decide to throw a secret Christmas party for their friends after Ratched and the orderlies leave for the night.

McMurphy sneaks two prostitutes, Candy and Rose, and bottles of alcohol into the ward and bribes night orderly Turkle to allow the party. Afterward, McMurphy and Chief prepare to escape, inviting Billy to come with them. Billy refuses, but asks for a "date" with Candy; McMurphy arranges for him to have sex with her. McMurphy and the others get drunk, and McMurphy falls asleep instead of making his escape with Chief.

Ratched arrives in the morning to find the ward in disarray and most of the patients passed out. She discovers Billy and Candy together, and aims to embarrass Billy in front of everyone. Billy manages to overcome his stutter and stands up to Ratched. When she threatens to tell his mother, Billy cracks under the pressure and reverts to stuttering. Ratched has him placed in the doctor's office. Moments later, McMurphy punches an orderly when trying to escape out of a window with the Chief, causing the other orderlies to intervene. Meanwhile, Billy commits suicide by slitting his throat with broken glass. Ratched tries to ease the situation by calling for the day's routine to continue as usual, and an enraged McMurphy strangles Ratched. The orderlies subdue McMurphy, saving Ratched's life.

Some time later, Ratched is wearing a neck brace and speaking with a weak voice, and Harding now leads the now-unsuspended card-playing. McMurphy is nowhere to be found, leading to rumors that he has escaped. Later that night, Chief sees McMurphy being returned to his bed. Chief greets him, elated that McMurphy had kept his promise not to escape without him, but discovers that McMurphy has been lobotomized. After tearfully hugging McMurphy, Chief smothers him to death with a pillow. He then tears a hydrotherapy console free of its floor mountings, throws it through a window, and escapes as Taber and the other inmates awaken and cheer for him.



The title comes from a nursery rhyme read to Chief Bromden as a child by his grandmother, mentioned in the book:

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest.

Actor Kirk Douglas—who had originated the role of McMurphy in the 1963–1964 Broadway stage version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, based on 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 sold 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.[5] Gene Hackman,[6][7] James Caan,[8] Marlon Brando,[6][7] and Burt Reynolds[9] were also considered, but all four turned down the role, which ultimately went to 37-year-old Jack Nicholson.[10] 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 certain qualities that mirrored the goals of the present script. Forman flew to California and discussed the script page by page, outlining what he would do, in contrast with other directors who had been approached who were less than forthcoming.[2] 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".[11]

Zaentz, a voracious reader, felt an affinity with Kesey, and so after Hauben's first attempt he asked Kesey to write the screenplay.[2] 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.[12]

Hal Ashby, who had been an early consideration for director, suggested Jack Nicholson for the role of McMurphy. Nicholson had never played this type of role before. Production was delayed for about six months because of Nicholson's schedule. Douglas later stated in an interview that "that turned out to be a great blessing: it gave us the chance to get the ensemble right".[2]


Danny DeVito was the first to be cast, reprising his role as the patient Martini from the 1971 off-Broadway production. Chief Bromden (who turns out to be the title character), played by Will Sampson, was referred by Mel Lambert (who portrayed the harbormaster in the fishing scene), a used car dealer Douglas met on an airplane flight when Douglas told him they wanted a "big guy" to play the part. Lambert's father often sold cars to Native American customers and six months later called Douglas to say: "the biggest sonofabitch Indian came in the other day!"[2]

Bud Cort was considered for the role of Billy Bibbit.[13]

Miloš Forman had considered Shelley Duvall for the role of Candy; coincidentally, she, Nicholson, and Scatman Crothers (who portrays Turkle) all later appeared as part of the main cast of The Shining. 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 Fletcher's name as a possibility. Even so, it took four or five meetings, across one year, (during which the role was offered to other actresses such as Jeanne Moreau, Colleen Dewhurst, Ellen Burstyn, Angela Lansbury, Anne Bancroft, and Geraldine Page)[14][15] 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.[16]

In 2016, Fletcher recalled that Nicholson's salary was "enormous", while the rest of the cast worked at or close to scale. She put in 11 weeks, grossing US$10,000 (equivalent to $54,000 in 2022).[16]


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]


Filming began in January 1975, and concluded approximately three months later, and was shot on location in Salem, Oregon, the surrounding area, and the coastal town of Depoe Bay, Oregon.[17][18][19]

The producers decided to shoot the film in the Oregon State Hospital, an actual mental hospital, as this is also the setting of the novel.[20] 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 militant group the Weather Underground were being interviewed while hiding from the law. However, Forman said he had terminated Wexler's services 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".[21]

According to Butler, Nicholson refused to speak to Forman: "...[Jack] never talked to Miloš at all, he only talked to me".[22]

The production went over the initial budget of $2 million and over-schedule, but Zaentz, who was personally financing the movie, was able to come up with the difference by borrowing against his company, Fantasy Records. The total production budget came to $4.4 million.[2]


The film premiered at the Sutton and Paramount Theatres in New York City on November 19, 1975.[23] It was the second-highest-grossing film released in 1975 in the United States and Canada at $109 million,[1] one of the seventh-highest-grossing films of all time at the time.[23] 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.[24]

Worldwide, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest grossed $163,250,000. It was the highest-grossing film released by UA up to that time.[3][23]


The performances of Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher received widespread praise and won them the Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively.

Critics praised the film, sometimes with reservations. Roger Ebert said: "Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a film so good in so many of its parts that there's a temptation to forgive it when it goes wrong. But it does go wrong, insisting on making larger points than its story really should carry, so that at the end, the human qualities of the characters get lost in the significance of it all. And yet, there are those moments of brilliance."[25] Ebert later put the film on his "Great Movies" list.[26] A.D. Murphy of Variety wrote a mixed review as well,[27] as did Vincent Canby in The New York Times: "A comedy that can't quite support its tragic conclusion, which is too schematic to be honestly moving, but it is acted with such a sense of life that one responds to its demonstration of humanity if not to its programmed metaphors."[28]

The film opens and closes 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 edgy nature of the film extends into the score, giving it a profoundly disturbing feel at times–even when it appears to be relatively normal. The music has a tendency to always be a little off-kilter, and from time to time, it tilts completely over into a strange little world of its own"[29]

The film won 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 has a 93% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 115 critics, with an average rating of 9/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher are worthy adversaries in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with Miloš Forman’s more grounded and morally ambiguous approach to Ken Kesey’s surrealistic novel yielding a film of outsized power."[30]

Kesey claimed never to have seen the movie, but said he disliked what he knew of it,[31] which was 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."[32]

In 1993, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in its National Film Registry.[33]

The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa cited this as one of his 100 favorite films.[34]

In popular culture[edit]

Pantera singer Phil Anselmo released a music video called "Choosing Mental Illness" with his band Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals. It pays tribute to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The music video shows scenes recreated from the film with Anselmo playing McMurphy and the rest of the band playing other characters from the film, and Nurse Ratched played by actor Michael St. Michaels.[35]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Picture Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
Best Director Miloš Forman Won
Best Actor Jack Nicholson Won
Best Actress Louise Fletcher Won
Best Supporting Actor Brad Dourif Nominated
Best Screenplay – Adapted from Other Material Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman Won
Best Cinematography Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler Nominated
Best Film Editing Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn Nominated
Best Original Score Jack Nitzsche Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn Nominated
Bodil Awards Best Non-European Film Miloš Forman Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Won
Best Direction Miloš Forman Won
Best Actor in a Leading Role Jack Nicholson Won
Best Actress in a Leading Role Louise Fletcher Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Brad Dourif Won
Best Screenplay Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman Nominated
Best Cinematography Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler Nominated
Best Editing Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn Won
Chicago International Film Festival Best Feature Miloš Forman Nominated
César Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Director Miloš Forman Won
Best Foreign Actor Jack Nicholson Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Miloš Forman Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Jack Nicholson Won
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Louise Fletcher Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Miloš Forman Won
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman Won
New Star of the Year – Actor Brad Dourif Won
Golden Screen Awards Won
Grammy Awards Best Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special Jack Nitzsche Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Director Miloš Forman Won
Kinema Junpo Awards Best Foreign Director Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Won[a]
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director Miloš Forman Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 3rd Place
Best Actor Jack Nicholson Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actor Jack Nicholson Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Won
Best Supporting Actress Louise Fletcher Runner-up
Online Film & Television Association Awards Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won
People's Choice Awards Favorite Motion Picture Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Actor Jack Nicholson (also for Carnal Knowledge and The Passenger) Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman Won

In 2015, the film ranked 59th on BBC's "100 Greatest American Films" list, voted on by film critics from around the world.[36]

American Film Institute

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tied with Dog Day Afternoon.


  1. ^ a b "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on July 14, 2019. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hood, Phil (April 11, 2017). "Michael Douglas: how we made One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The Guardian. Archived from the original on April 12, 2017. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Hi-Flying 'Cuckoo' At $163,250,000; Best Ever of UA". Variety. November 17, 1976. p. 3.
  4. ^ "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) - Milos Forman | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". Retrieved 2021-05-24.
  5. ^ Bart, Peter (February 6, 2020). "Peter Bart: Remembering Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas & 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest'".
  6. ^ a b Zeidner, Lisa (26 November 2000). "FILM; Rebels Who Were More Angry Than Mad". The New York Times.
  7. ^ a b "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - the film that flew away with the 'big five' top Oscars". February 15, 2015.
  8. ^ "Caan Rues the Bad Choices That Prompted Him to Turn Down Movies". 12 September 2005.
  9. ^ "Roles Burt Reynolds Turned Down, from Bond to Solo". 6 September 2018.
  10. ^ "15 things you never knew about One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest on its 40th birthday". 19 November 2015. Archived from the original on 2022-05-24.
  11. ^ Forman, Milos (10 July 2012). "Opinion – Obama the Socialist? Not Even Close". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 17 April 2018. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  12. ^ 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,
  13. ^ "Bud Cort: 'Harold and Maude was a blessing and a curse' | Movies | The Guardian". 10 July 2014.
  14. ^ "The New York Times: Best Pictures". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "AFI|Catalog".
  16. ^ 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. Archived from the original on February 11, 2017. Retrieved April 14, 2017.
  17. ^ "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the American Film Institute". Archived from the original on 2015-08-10. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  18. ^ "Story Notes for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Archived from the original on 2015-06-16. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  19. ^ "Hollywood's Love Affair with Oregon Coast Continues". Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  20. ^ "Oregon State Hospital – A documentary film (Mental Health Association of Portland)". Archived from the original on 2018-09-15. Retrieved 2011-11-12.
  21. ^ Anderson, John (27 December 2015). "Anderson, John. "Haskell Wexler, Oscar-Winning Cinematographer, Dies at 93." The New York Times, December 27, 2015". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 2, 2017. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  22. ^ Townsend, Sylvia (19 December 2014). "Haskell Wexler and the Making of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'". Archived from the original on 18 April 2015. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  23. ^ a b c "The First Year (advertisement)". Variety. November 24, 1976. pp. 12–13.
  24. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1976". Variety. January 5, 1977. p. 14.
  25. ^ Archived 2005-04-08 at the Wayback Machine – Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, January 1, 1975
  26. ^ Archived 2010-10-30 at the Wayback Machine – Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, February 2, 2003.
  27. ^ Murphy, A.D. (November 7, 1975). "Film Reviews: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Variety. Archived from the original on November 14, 2012. Retrieved April 20, 2020.
  28. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 28, 1975). "Critic's Pick: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved April 28, 2015.
  29. ^ "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest [Original Soundtrack] – Jack Nitzsche – Songs, Reviews, Credits – AllMusic". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 2020-07-08. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  30. ^ "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on September 24, 2020. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  31. ^ Carnes, p. 312
  32. ^ Foreword of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Copyright 2007 by Chuck Palahniuk. Available in the 2007 Edition published by Penguin Books
  33. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 2016-10-31. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  34. ^ Thomas-Mason, Lee (12 January 2021). "From Stanley Kubrick to Martin Scorsese: Akira Kurosawa once named his top 100 favourite films of all time". Far Out Magazine. Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  35. ^ "Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals honor 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' in new video-premiere". Loudwire. 31 July 2018.
  36. ^ "100 Greatest American Films". BBC. July 20, 2015. Archived from the original on September 16, 2016. Retrieved July 21, 2015.

External links[edit]