The 1968 Romeo and Juliet reflects the youth culture that erupted in the late 1960s. For example, in contrast to the 1936 George Cukor version of Romeo and Juliet, which used established and mature film stars in the lead roles, Zeffirelli choose two unknown teenagers to play Romeo and Juliet. Leonard Whiting, who was cast as Romeo, was seventeen, probably close to Romeo's "real" (though unstated) age in the play. Olivia Hussey, who played Juliet, was sixteen, only slightly more than two years older than Shakespeare's almost fourteen-year-old Juliet.
The age of the stars of the film also reflected the growing interest in historical accuracy in the 1960s. This was the period in which it became popular, for example, to record Renaissance music on authentic Renaissance instruments. In addition to using young actors, Zeffirelli's film, rather than being shot on Hollywood backlots, was filmed largely on location in Italy.
Finally, the film reflects the loosening sexual mores that emerged from the cultural upheaval of the late 1960s. Hollywood began in this period to bend its rigid censorship rules. For the first time since the very early 1930s, sexually explicit films were allowed to be made. To inform and protect audiences, the Motion Picture Association instituted the rating system that, with modifications, is still used today. Zeffirelli took advantage of the new freedoms by filming Romeo and Juliet's marriage night encounter as a "nude" scene. While the scene is extremely tame by modern standards, this was a shocking and controversial decision at that time that reflected a new, unbound youth culture.