A great picture, 113 minutes of stirring stuff, set to the ironic lilt of Jean "Toots" Thielemans's harmonica and Harry Nilsson's theme tune, "Everybody's Talkin'."
Even as a kid, I could see that Midnight Cowboy’s true subject isn’t decadence but loneliness...Midnight Cowboy’s peep-show vision of Manhattan lowlife may no longer be shocking, but what is shocking, in 1994, is to see a major studio film linger this lovingly on characters who have nothing to offer the audience but their own lost souls.
The performances and presences of Voight and Hoffman are so extraordinarily affecting that their scenes together generate more emotional power than the dramatic wiring of their relationship deserves. [29 May 1969, p.47]
It is a mark of Voight's intelligence that he works against his role's melodramatic tendencies and toward a central human truth. In the process, he and Hoffman bring to life one of the least likely and most melancholy love stories in the history of the American film.
This is really Schlesinger's achievement. He has caught on film a slice of America as well, if not better, than one had any right to expect.
There is no question that this film is flawed by the inclusion of the party scene and Ratzo's dream, but I cannot recall a more marvelous pair of acting performances in any one film. Dustin Hoffman deserves the Oscar for a role that is prickly on the outside, but tender on the inside.
The New York Times
Midnight Cowboy often seems to be exploiting its material for sensational or comic effect, but it is ultimately a moving experience that captures the quality of a time and a place. It's not a movie for the ages, but, having seen it, you won't ever again feel detached as you walk down West 42d Street, avoiding the eyes of the drifters, stepping around the little islands of hustlers, and closing your nostrils to the smell of rancid griddles.
New York Daily News
Whew! It’s shocking - a horror film but extremely well done by producer Jerome Hellman and John Schlesinger, the British director who uncannily captures the feeling for tragedy in this locale, the forced gaiety of some who have sunk to the lower depths of despair and sympathy for the two disillusioned protagonists.
All of these criticisms exist entirely apart from the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. It is a tribute to them, and to the core of honesty in the screenplay, that Ratso and Joe Buck emerge so unforgettably drawn. But the movie itself doesn't hold up.
The sometimes amusing but essentially sordid saga of a male prostitute in Manhattan,...Midnight Cowboy is of the modern moment moderne. It has a hot topical theme; a popular actor from last year’s greatest film comedy; a miscellany of competent bit players, a good deal of both sly and broad humor. If the women object, and some will, that it accords their sex scant courtesy, the story hardly presents males as admirable. Indeed in this film the scenery is lovely and only the human race is vile.