The Exorcist is a 1973 American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin and written for the screen by William Peter Blatty, based on his 1971 novel of the same name. The film stars Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran (in his final film role), Jason Miller and Linda Blair. It is the first installment in The Exorcist film series, and follows the demonic possession of a young girl and her mother's attempt to rescue her through an exorcism conducted by a pair of Catholic priests.
Despite the book's bestseller status, Blatty, who produced, and Friedkin, his choice for director, had difficulty casting the film. After turning down, or being turned down by, major stars of the era, they cast Burstyn, a relative unknown, as well as unknowns Blair and Miller (author of a hit play with no film acting experience); the casting choices were vigorously opposed by studio executives at Warner Bros. Pictures. Principal photography was also difficult. A fire destroyed the majority of the set, and Blair and Burstyn suffered long-term injuries in on-set accidents. Ultimately production took twice as long as scheduled and cost more than twice the initial budget.
The Exorcist was released in 24 theaters in the United States and Canada in late December 1973. Despite initial mixed critical reviews, audiences flocked to it, waiting in long lines during winter weather and many doing so more than once. Some viewers suffered adverse physical reactions, fainting or vomiting to scenes in which the protagonist undergoes a realistic cerebral angiography and later violently masturbates with a crucifix. Heart attacks and a miscarriage were reported; a psychiatric journal published a paper on "cinematic neurosis" triggered by the film. Many children were allowed to see the film, leading to charges that the MPAA ratings board had accommodated Warner Bros by giving the film an R-rating instead of the X-rating they thought it deserved, in order to ensure its commercial success. Several cities attempted to ban it outright or prevent children from attending.
The cultural conversation around the film, which also encompassed its treatment of Catholicism, helped it become the first horror film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, one of ten Academy Awards for which it was nominated, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound. It was the highest-grossing R-rated horror film (unadjusted for inflation) until the 2017 release of It. The Exorcist has had a significant influence on popular culture and has received critical acclaim, with several publications regarding it as one of the greatest horror films ever made. English film critic Mark Kermode named it his "favorite film of all time". In 2010, the Library of Congress selected the film to be preserved in its National Film Registry, citing it as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".