In the 1960s British studios began to enjoy major success in the international market with a string of films that displayed a more liberated attitude to sex, capitalising on the "swinging London" image propagated by Time magazine. Films like Darling, Alfie, Georgy Girl, and The Knack …and How to Get It all explored this phenomenon, while Blowup, Repulsion and later Women in Love, broke taboos around the portrayal of sex and nudity on screen.
At the same time, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli combined sex with exotic locations, casual violence and self-referential humour in the phenomenally successful James Bond series with Sean Connery in the leading role. The first film Dr. No was a sleeper hit in the UK in 1962, and the second, From Russia with Love (1963), a hit worldwide. By the time of the third film, Goldfinger (1964), the series had become a global phenomenon, reaching its commercial peak with Thunderball the following year.
The series success led to a spy film boom, with The Liquidator (1965), Modesty Blaise (1966), Sebastian (1968) and the Bulldog Drummond spoofs, Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and Some Girls Do (1968) among the results. Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman had also instigated a rival series of more realistic spy films based on the novels of Len Deighton. Michael Caine starred as bespectacled spy Harry Palmer in The IPCRESS File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), and the success of these ushered in a cycle of downbeat espionage films in the manner of the novels of John le Carré, including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) and The Deadly Affair (1966).
Overseas film makers were also attracted to the UK at this time. Polish film maker Roman Polanski made Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-sac (1966) in London and Northumberland respectively, before attracting the attention of Hollywood. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni filmed Blowup (1966) with David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave, and François Truffaut directed his only film made outside France, the science fiction parable Fahrenheit 451 in 1966.
American directors were regularly working in London throughout the decade, but several became permanent residents in the UK. Blacklisted in America, Joseph Losey had a significant influence on British cinema in the 60s, particularly with his collaborations with playwright Harold Pinter and leading man Dirk Bogarde, including The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967). Voluntary emigres Stanley Kubrick and Richard Lester were also influential. Lester had major hits with The Knack …and How to Get It (1965), and The Beatles films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), after which it became standard for each new pop group to have a verité style feature film made about them. Kubrick settled in Hertfordshire in the early 60s and would remain in England for the rest of his career. The special effects team assembled to work on his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey would add significantly to the British industry's importance in this field over the following decades.
The success of these films and others as diverse as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Tom Jones (1963), Zulu (1964) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) encouraged American studios to invest significantly in British film production. Major films like Becket (1964), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Khartoum (1966) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) were regularly mounted, while smaller-scale films including Billy Liar (1963), Accident (1967) and Women in Love (1969) were big critical successes. Four of the decade's Academy Award winners for best picture were British productions, including six Oscars for the film musical Oliver! (1968), based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist.
Towards the end of the decade social realism was beginning to make its way back into British films again. Influenced by his work on the Wednesday Play on British television, Ken Loach directed the realistic dramas Poor Cow and Kes.