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
Edited by
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • November 19, 1975 (1975-11-19)
Running time
133 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 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 as Randle McMurphy, a new patient at a mental institution, and features a supporting cast of Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif, Will Sampson, Sydney Lassick, William Redfield, Danny DeVito, and Christopher Lloyd in his film debut.

Filming began in January 1975 and lasted three months, taking place on location in Salem, Oregon, and the surrounding area, as well as on the Oregon coast. 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.

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 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 Oregon in the fall in 1963, repeat offender Randle Patrick McMurphy is transferred to a mental institution after serving a few months on a prison farm on charges of assault and statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. Though not truly mentally ill, McMurphy hopes to avoid hard labor and complete the remainder of his sentence in a more relaxed environment. Upon arriving at the hospital, he finds the ward is being dominated by head nurse Mildred Ratched, a cold, passive-aggressive tyrant who uses her authority to intimidate her patients.

The other patients include anxious, stuttering 21-year-old Billy Bibbit; Charlie Cheswick, who is prone to childish tantrums; delusional and innocent Martini; the articulate, repressed homosexual Dale Harding; belligerent and profane Max Taber; epileptics Jim Sefelt and Bruce Fredrickson, the former of whom gives his medicine to the latter; quiet but violent-minded Scanlon; "Chief" Bromden, a very tall Native American deaf-mute; and several others with chronic conditions.

Ratched sees McMurphy's lively, rebellious presence as a threat to her authority; she confiscates the patients' cigarettes and rations them, and suspends 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 Ocean Coast, encouraging his fellow patients to discover their own abilities and find self-confidence.

After an orderly tells him that the judge's time sentence doesn't apply for people who are deemed to be criminally insane, McMurphy makes plans to escape, encouraging Chief Bromden to throw a hydrotherapy console through a window. McMurphy makes a bet with some of the other patients that he can lift the console himself, but he fails after several tries and loses the bet.

During a group therapy session it is revealed that McMurphy, Chief, and Taber are the only non-chronic patients involuntarily committed to the institution; the rest of them are self-committed and could leave at any time, but are too afraid to do so. After Cheswick bursts into a fit demanding his cigarettes, McMurphy fights with the orderlies, and Chief intervenes. Ratched sends Chief, Cheswick, and McMurphy to the "shock shop" as a result of this insubordination. While awaiting their punishment, McMurphy offers Chief a stick of gum, and discovers he can speak and hear, having feigned his deaf-muteness to avoid engaging with anyone. After being subjected to electroconvulsive therapy, McMurphy returns to the ward pretending to be brain damaged. McMurphy reveals 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 women, Candy and Rose, and bottles of alcohol into the ward; he bribes guard Turkle to allow this. After a party, 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 other orderlies to intervene. Meanwhile, Billy commits suicide while in the office by slitting his throat with broken glass. McMurphy and the other patients discover this, and McMurphy strangles Ratched. The orderlies subdue McMurphy, saving her life.

Some time later, Ratched is seen 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, causing rumors that he has escaped or been moved to the violent patient floor. Later that night, Chief sees McMurphy being returned to his bed by orderlies. After they depart, Chief greets him, elated that McMurphy had kept his promise not to escape without him, but notices McMurphy is unresponsive and physically limp, and discovers lobotomy scars on his forehead. Chief hugs him, says "You're coming with me," and smothers McMurphy to death with a pillow. He then lifts the hydrotherapy fountain off the floor, throws it out the window, and escapes as other patients watch with delight.



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 1963–64 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 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, 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 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".[4]

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. 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, Douglas’ 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" to play the part. The dealer'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]

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 Fletcher's 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.[5]


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, earning $10,000 before taxes.[5]

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.[6][dead link][7][8]

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.[9] 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, 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".[10]

According to Butler, Nicholson refused to speak to Forman: "...[Jack] never talked to Miloš at all, he only talked to me".[11]

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]

Critical reception[edit]

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

The film was met with heavy critical acclaim. 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.[12]

Ebert would later put the film on his "Great Movies" list.[13] A.D. Murphy of Variety wrote a mixed review as well,[14] as did Vincent Canby: Writing 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.[15]

The film opened and closed 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 ...[16]

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 93% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on reviews from 75 critics and with an average rating of 9.05/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "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."[17]

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.[18] Kesey himself claimed never to have seen the movie, but said he disliked what he knew of it,[19] 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."[20]

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.[21]


The film premiered at the Sutton and Paramount Theatres in New York City on November 19, 1975.[22] It was the second-highest-grossing film released in 1975 in the United States and Canada with a gross of $109 million,[1] one of the seventh-highest-grossing films of all time at the time.[22] 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.[23]

Worldwide, the film grossed $163,250,000, being the USA's biggest hit.[3][22]

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 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 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 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 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 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 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 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 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 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Won[a]
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director Miloš Forman Won
National Board of Review Awards Top 10 Films One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Won
Best Actor Jack Nicholson Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 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 Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Hall of Fame – Motion Picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 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

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. 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. 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. ^ Forman, Milos (10 July 2012). "Opinion – Obama the Socialist? Not Even Close" – via
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the American Film Institute".
  7. ^ "Story Notes for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".
  8. ^ "Hollywood's Love Affair with Oregon Coast Continues". Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  9. ^ "Oregon State Hospital – A documentary film (Mental Health Association of Portland)". Archived from the original on 2018-09-15. Retrieved 2011-11-12.
  10. ^ Anderson, John. "Haskell Wexler, Oscar-Winning Cinematographer, Dies at 93." The New York Times, December 27, 2015.
  11. ^ Townsend, Sylvia (19 December 2014). "Haskell Wexler and the Making of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'". Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  12. ^ – Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, January 1, 1975
  13. ^ – Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, February 2, 2003.
  14. ^ Murphy, A.D. (November 7, 1975). "Film Reviews: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Variety.
  15. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 28, 1975). "Critic's Pick: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The New York Times.
  16. ^ "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest [Original Soundtrack] – Jack Nitzsche – Songs, Reviews, Credits – AllMusic". AllMusic.
  17. ^ "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  18. ^ 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,
  19. ^ Carnes, p. 312
  20. ^ Foreword of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Copyright 2007 by Chuck Palahniuk. Available in the 2007 Edition published by Penguin Books
  21. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  22. ^ a b c "The First Year (advertisement)". Variety. November 24, 1976. pp. 12–13.
  23. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1976". Variety. January 5, 1977. p. 14.

External links[edit]