On this day in 1975, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a film about a group of patients at a mental institution, opens in theaters. Directed by Milos Forman and based on a 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey, the film starred Jack Nicholson and was co-produced by the actor Michael Douglas. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest went on to become the first film in four decades to win in all five of the major Academy Award categories: Best Actor (Nicholson), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher, who played Nurse Ratched), Best Director, Best Screenplay (Adapted) and Best Picture.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest marked Jack Nicholson’s first Oscar win, although the actor, who was born April 22, 1937, in Neptune, New Jersey, had already received four other Academy Award nominations by that time. Nicholson’s first nomination, in the Best Supporting Actor category, came for his performance as an alcoholic lawyer in 1969’s Easy Rider, co-starring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. He earned his next Oscar nomination, for Best Actor, for 1970’s Five Easy Pieces, in which he played a drifter. For 1973’s The Last Detail, Nicholson earned another Best Actor Oscar nomination. His fourth Best Actor Oscar nomination came for his performance as Detective Jake Gittes in director Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974). In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nicholson played Randle McMurphy, a convict who pretends to be crazy so he can be sent to a mental institution and avoid prison work detail. Once at the asylum, McMurphy encounters a varied cast of inmates and clashes memorably with the authoritative Nurse Ratched.
During the 1980s, Nicholson, known for his charisma and devilish grin, appeared in such films as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), which was based on a Stephen King horror novel; The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), with Jessica Lange; Reds (1981), which was directed by Warren Beatty and earned Nicholson another Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination; Terms of Endearment (1983), for which he collected a second Best Actor Oscar; Prizzi’s Honor (1985), for which he received another Best Actor Oscar nomination; The Witches of Eastwick (1987), with Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer; Ironweed (1987), for which he took home yet another Best Actor Academy Award nomination; and Batman (1989), in which he portrayed the villainous Joker.
Nicholson’s prolific film work in the 1990s included The Two Jakes (1990), a sequel to Chinatown directed by Nicholson himself, the biopic Hoffa (1992) and A Few Good Men (1992), for which he earned another Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. A Few Good Men features Tom Cruise and Demi Moore and includes the now-famous Nicholson line “You can’t handle the truth.” Nicholson won his third Best Actor Oscar for 1997’s As Good as it Gets, which co-stars Helen Hunt, and earned his 12th Academy Award nomination for his performance in 2002’s About Schmidt. The iconic actor’s more recent film credits include Something’s Gotta Give (2003), with Diane Keaton, and The Departed (2006), directed by Martin Scorsese.