The rights to the novel were purchased in 1971 by Robert Evans, and his wife Ali MacGraw could play Daisy. After MacGraw left Evans for Steve McQueen, he considered other actresses for the role, including Faye Dunaway, Candice Bergen, Natalie Wood, Katharine Ross, Lois Chiles and Cybill Shepherd. However, Mia Farrow was cast as Daisy and Chiles was given the role of Jordan. Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Steve McQueen declined the role of Jay Gatsby, which went to Robert Redford. Beatty wanted to direct producer Evans as Gatsby and Nicholson did not think that MacGraw was right for the role of Daisy, who was still attached when he was approached. Farrow was pregnant during production, and the movie was filmed with her wearing loose, flowing dresses and in tight close-ups.
Francis Ford Coppola replaced Truman Capote. Coppola had just finished directing The Godfather, but was unsure of its commercial reception and he needed the money. He believes he got the job on the recommendation of Robert Redford, who had liked a rewrite Coppola did on The Way We Were. Coppola "had read Gatsby but wasn't familiar with it." He checked himself into a hotel room in Paris (Oscar Wilde's old room) and started. He later recalled:
I was shocked to find that there was almost no dialogue between Daisy and Gatsby in the book, and was terrified that I'd have to make it all up. So I did a quick review of Fitzgerald's short stories and, as many of them were similar in that they were about a poor boy and a rich girl, I helped myself to much of the authentic Fitzgerald dialogue from them. I decided that perhaps an interesting idea would be to do one of those scenes that lovers typically have, where they finally get to be together after much longing, and have a "talk all night" scene, which I'd never seen in a film. So I did that—I think a six-page scene in which Daisy and Gatsby stay up all night and talk. And I remember my wife telling me that she and the kids were in New York when The Godfather opened, and it was a big hit and there were lines around the block at five theaters in the city, which was unheard of at the time. I said, "Yeah, yeah, but I've got to finish the Gatsby script." And I sent the script in, just in time. It had taken me two or three weeks to complete.
On his commentary track for the DVD release of The Godfather, Coppola refers to writing the Gatsby script, adding "Not that the director paid any attention to it. The script that I wrote did not get made."
In 2000, William Goldman, who loved the novel, said he actively campaigned for the job of adapting the script, but was astonished by the quality of Coppola's work:
I still believe it to be one of the great adaptations... I called him [Coppola] and told him what a wonderful thing he had done. If you see the movie, you will find all this hard to believe... The director who was hired, Jack Clayton, is a Brit... he had one thing all of them have in their blood: a murderous sense of class... Well, Clayton decided this: that Gatsby's parties were shabby and tacky, given by a man of no elevation and taste. There went the ball game. As shot, they were foul and stupid and the people who attended them were foul and silly, and Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, who would have been so perfect as Gatsby and Daisy, were left hung out to dry. Because Gatsby was a tasteless fool and why should we care about their love? It was not as if Coppola's glory had been jettisoned entirely, though it was tampered with plenty; it was more that the reality and passions it depicted were gone.
The Rosecliff and Marble House mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, were used for Gatsby's house while scenes at the Buchanans' home were filmed at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. One driving scene was shot in Windsor Great Park, UK. Other scenes were filmed in New York City and Uxbridge, Massachusetts.
The film received mixed reviews. The film was praised for its interpretation and staying true to the novel, but was criticized for lacking any true emotion or feelings towards the Jazz Age. Based on 33 total reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating from critics of 39%. Despite this, the film was a financial success, making $26,533,200 against a $6.5 million budget.
Tennessee Williams, in his book Memoirs' (p. 178), wrote: “It seems to me that quite a few of my stories, as well as my one acts, would provide interesting and profitable material for the contemporary cinema, if committed to ... such cinematic masters of direction as Jack Clayton, who made of The Great Gatsby a film that even surpassed, I think, the novel by Scott Fitzgerald.”
Vincent Canby's 1974 review in The New York Times typifies the critical ambivalence: "The sets and costumes and most of the performances are exceptionally good, but the movie itself is as lifeless as a body that's been too long at the bottom of a swimming pool," Canby wrote at the time. "As Fitzgerald wrote it, "The Great Gatsby" is a good deal more than an ill-fated love story about the cruelties of the idle rich.... The movie can't see this through all its giant closeups of pretty knees and dancing feet. It's frivolous without being much fun."
Variety's review was likewise split: "Paramount's third pass at The Great Gatsby is by far the most concerted attempt to probe the peculiar ethos of the Beautiful People of the 1920s. The fascinating physical beauty of the $6 million-plus film complements the utter shallowness of most principal characters from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Robert Redford is excellent in the title role, the mysterious gentleman of humble origins and bootlegging connections.... The Francis Ford Coppola script and Jack Clayton's direction paint a savagely genteel portrait of an upper class generation that deserved in spades what it received circa 1929 and after."
Roger Ebert gave the movie two and a half stars out of four. He stated, "It would take about the same time to read Fitzgerald's novel as to view this movie -- and that's what I'd recommend."
The film won two Academy Awards, for Best Costume Design (Theoni V. Aldredge) and Best Music (Nelson Riddle). It also won three BAFTA Awards for Best Art Direction (John Box), Best Cinematography (Douglas Slocombe), and Best Costume Design (Theoni V. Aldredge). (The male costumes were executed by Ralph Lauren, the female costumes by Barbara Matera.) It won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (Karen Black) and received three further nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Bruce Dern and Sam Waterston) and Most Promising Newcomer (Sam Waterston).
2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists: