The post-Stalin period was a time of significant change in the Soviet cinema. The annual production of feature-length films gradually rose to 150. Films for children received special attention, with up to twenty-five such films completed yearly. The number of animated films produced each year reached 100, if one includes those for adults, while the annual output of documentaries rose to almost 400. The latter type of film served as a particularly important vehicle for ideological messages.
The salutary reforms of the 1960s brought Soviet cinema out into the international arena, with works of directors such as Kalatozov, Bondarchuk and Chukrai, cameramen like Urusevskii and others. The so-called "thaw" of the late 1950s and early 1960s changed Soviet cinema so fundamentally that no subsequent "freeze" could return it to the conditions that prevailed during the Stalin era. The emergence of talented directors and screenwriters, together with a new generation of actors and a fresh beginning in terms of theme and style, all helped the cinema to regain the confidence of the public, and contributed to the leading rôle that films came to play in Soviet culture and ideology in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Films were regarded as crucial propaganda tools to be used in shaping individuals in accordance with communist doctrine. At the same time, owing to the lack of choice available to the Soviet public in terms of leisure and recreation, movie-theatres remained the principal source of entertainment. Attendance at the movies rose until 1968, reaching nineteen annual visits per capita, and then began to decline: 16 in 1978, 14.6 at the beginning of the 1980s. 264