Along with future favorite cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček and longtime schoolfriend Ivan Passer, Forman filmed the silent documentary Semafor about Semafor theater. Forman's first important production was the documentary Audition whose subject was competing singers. He directed several Czech comedies in Czechoslovakia. However, during the Prague Spring and the ensuing 1968 invasion, he was in Paris negotiating the production of his first American film. His employer, a Czech studio, fired him, and he then decided to move to the United States. He moved to New York, where he later became a professor of film at Columbia University in 1978 and co-chair (with his former teacher František Daniel) of Columbia's film department. One of his protégés was future director James Mangold, whom Forman had mentored at Columbia.
In 1977, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
In 1985, he headed the Cannes film festival and in 2000 did the same for the Venice festival. He presided over a ceremony of Caesar in 1988.
In 1997, he received the Crystal Globe award for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Forman performed alongside actor Edward Norton in Norton's directorial debut, Keeping the Faith (2000), as the wise friend to Norton's conflicted priest.
In April 2007, he took part in the jazz opera Dobře placená procházka, itself a remake of the TV film he made in 1966. It premiered at the Prague National Theatre, directed by Forman's son, Petr Forman.
Forman received an honorary degree in 2009 from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, US.
He regularly collaborated with cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček.
Loves of a Blonde (1965)
Loves of a Blonde is one of the best–known movies of the Czechoslovak New Wave, and won awards at the Venice and Locarno film festivals. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967.
The Firemen's Ball (1967)
A 1967 Czechoslovak–Italian co-production, this was Forman's first color film. It is one of the best–known movies of the Czechoslovak New Wave. On the face of it a naturalistic representation of an ill-fated social event in a provincial town, the film has been seen by both film scholars and the then-authorities in Czechoslovakia as a biting satire on East European Communism, which resulted in it being banned for many years in Forman's home country. The Czech term zhasnout (to switch lights off), associated with petty theft in the film, was used to describe the large-scale asset stripping that occurred in the country during the 1990s.
It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Taking Off (1971)
The first movie Forman made in the United States, Taking Off won the Grand Prix at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. The film starred Lynn Carlin and Buck Henry, and also featured Linnea Heacock as Jeannie. The film was critically panned and left Forman struggling to find work. Forman later said that it did so poorly he ended up owing the studio $500.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Despite the failure of Taking Off, producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz hired him to direct the adaptation of Ken Kesey's cult novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Forman later said they hired him because he was in their price range. Starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, the adaptation was a critical and commercial success. The film won Oscars in the five most important categories: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. One of only three films in history to do so (alongside It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs), it firmly established Forman's reputation.
The success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest allowed Forman to direct his long-planned film version of Hair in 1979, a rock musical based on the Broadway musical by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot. The film starred Treat Williams, John Savage and Beverly D'Angelo. It was disowned by the writers of the original musical, and, although it received positive reviews, it did not do well financially.
Forman's next important achievement was an adaptation of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. Retelling the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri, it starred Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, and F. Murray Abraham. The film was internationally acclaimed and won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (for Abraham).
Forman's adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's novel Les Liaisons dangereuses had its premiere on November 17, 1989. Another film adaptation by Stephen Frears from the same source material had been released the previous year and overshadowed Forman's adaptation. The film starred Colin Firth, Meg Tilly, and Annette Bening.
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
The 1996 biographical film of the pornography mogul Larry Flynt brought Forman another Oscar nomination. The film starred Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, and Edward Norton, but although it was critically acclaimed, made only $20 million at the box office.
Man on the Moon (1999)
The biography of famous actor and avant-garde comic Andy Kaufman (Jim Carrey, who won a Golden Globe for his performance) premiered on December 22, 1999. The film also starred Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, and Paul Giamatti. Several actors from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest appeared in the film, including DeVito.
Goya's Ghosts (2006)
This biography of the Spanish painter Francisco Goya (an American-Spanish co-production) premiered on November 8, 2006. The film starred Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgård and Randy Quaid. It struggled at the box office.
In the late 1950s, Forman and Josef Škvorecký started adapting Škvorecký's short story Eine kleine Jazzmusik for the screen. The script, named Kapela to vyhrála (The Band Won It), tells the story of a student jazz band during the Nazi Occupation of Czechoslovakia. The script was submitted to Barrandov Film Studios. The studio required changes and both artists continued to rewrite the script. Right before the film started shooting, the whole project was completely scrapped, most probably due to intervention from people at the top of the political scene, as Škvorecký had just published his novel The Cowards, which was strongly criticized by communist politicians. The story Eine kleine Jazzmusik was dramatized as a TV film in the 1990s. In the spring and summer of 1968, Škvorecký and Forman cooperated again by jointly writing a script synopsis to make a film version of The Cowards. After Škvorecký fled the Warsaw Pact invasion the synopsis was translated into English, but no film was made.
In the early 1990s, Forman co-wrote a screenplay with Adam Davidson. The screenplay, titled Hell Camp, was about an American-Japanese love affair in the world of sumo wrestlers. The picture was funded by TriStar Pictures and cancelled just four days before shooting because of the disapproval of the Japan Sumo Association, while Forman refused to make the changes requested by the association.
In the early 2000s, Forman developed a film project to be titled Ember, adapted by Jean-Claude Carrière from Hungarian novelist Sándor Márai’s novel. The film was about two men in the former Austria-Hungary Empire from different social backgrounds who become friends in military school and meet again 41 years later. Forman cast Sean Connery and Klaus Maria Brandauer as well as Winona Ryder. Several months before shooting, Sean Connery and the Italian producer had a disagreement and Connery withdrew from the project. Forman was so convinced that Sean Connery fit the role that he didn’t want to shoot the film without him and cancelled the project a few days before the shooting was due to start.
In the late 2000s, the screenplay for Ghost of Munich was written by Forman, Jean-Claude Carriere, and Vaclav Havel (the former Czech president and writer, who had studied at school with Forman), inspired by the novel by the French novelist Georges-Marc Benamou. The story takes a closer look at the events that surrounded the Munich Agreement. The role of the French Prime Minister was supposed to have been played by the French actor Mathieu Amalric with his older self played by Gérard Depardieu. However, the production company Pathé was not able to fund the project.
Miloš Forman Cinema in Čáslav
In Forman's hometown, there is a cinema bearing his name – Kino Miloše Formana (Cinema of Miloš Forman). It is not directly connected with him, but as a prominent native, his legacy has been honored. The cinema has seventeen rows and a total of 199 seats, including 8 double seats for couples. The doubles are still not quite common in such small cinemas. Between 2011 and 2013, the cinema was gradually renovated. In particular, there was a change of seats, floors and new modern air-conditioning was introduced. There was also a new possibility of screening in 3D. The investment was around three million Czech crowns (US$120,000) to that date.