There is just so much to love about movies made in the 1970s. Since motion picture came into view, every decade has had at least a few great movies to proud of with some, offering more than others. But who can deny the fact that the ’70s came with movies that are part of the most well-regarded films of all time? The 1970s saw a lot of crucial changes to culture and society. It will only make perfect sense that most of the best films ran through several commentaries on the world as it was. It reflected anxiety, uncertainty, and hope for the future.
Within the space of these 10 years that the ‘70s held, we’ve had a rich library of re-watchable classics. It came in as the first era that produced blockbusters were Spielberg, Coppola, George Lucas, and the likes discovered new levels to fuel exploring their filmmaking endeavors. The 70s creatively heightened filmmaking boundaries that transcended the darkness and light in the ’60s cinematic grounds.
Although, it is hard to come up with a top 10 list of movies that features a significant decade in the history of movies. Regardless, this list provides you with the pinnacle of brilliant movies birthed by the decade’s best directors, actors, writers, and crew.
Here are the top 10 movies from the 1970s!
10. JAWS (1975)
“I’m familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass!”Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper in Jaws
Starting this list on the number 10 spot is Jaws! This Steven Spielberg’s horror changed Hollywood for life. And, of course, it ruined swimming in the ocean for the notable millions that saw the movie! To begin with, this movie at its time, was the first-ever film to have a whopping commercial success of $100 million. That made it the highest-grossing movie at the time, until Star Wars. This movie did well to gift viewers seat-edge thrills and unforgettable performances that even got an Oscar nomination! Although many movies have tried to clone its brilliance, Jaws still stands tall both as the original and the best!
This story that runs through an emotional sapping and hair-raising race is simple. A killer shark gets to unleash chaos on a beach community. Now, everyone depends on a local sheriff, an old seafarer, as well as a marine biologist to hunt this beast and have the shark killed!
9. Chinatown (1974)
“You’re a nosy fella, kitty cat, huh? You know what happens to nosy fellas? Huh? No? Wanna guess? Huh? No? Okay. They lose their noses.”Roman Polanski as Man with Knife in Chinatown
Number 9 on this list is Chinatown! This movie further accentuates why many film critics argue that 1974 is the best year for movies in all of movie history. This thriller, brilliantly made by Roman Polanski, is a rare combination of a perfectly crafted dramatic tension merged with fantastic aesthetics. It hovers back to the iconic mystery films dated back to the 1930s. Of course, Chinatown’s turnout set it far apart from other genre pieces with positive brilliance in view. This movie is an ace script written by Robert Towne that features a thematic course on class and power. With a phenomenal performance from Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson, this film turned out to have a perfect mix that is evocative and vastly entertaining.
In this movie, Evelyn Mulwray hires a private detective, J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson), to expose an adulterer. As the movie proceeds, he discovers that he is amid a sticky web of deceit that runs through wells of corruption and murder.
8. Apocalypse Now (1979)
“How many people had I already killed? There were those six that I knew about for sure. Close enough to blow their last breath in my face. But this time, it was an American and an officer. That was not supposed to make any difference to me, but it did. Shit… charging a man with murder in this place was like handing out speeding tickets in the Indy 500.”Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now
It is not surprising that a movie making a phenomenal list like this is about the very war that greatly shaped the first half of the ’70s decade. Apocalypse Now, taking the number 8 spot, is Francis Ford Coppola’s loose adaptation of the controversial novel written by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. This movie is difficult, disruptive, and daring. It did well not even to try to join its narrative threads or consciously answer some questions that it still went ahead to answer. In many ways, it stands uniquely tall as one movie that reflected the war, telling us how it affected soldiers’ psychological lives. Apocalypse Now‘s scenery is brave, lush, and explosive, matching the emotionally ‘truthful’ performances from Martin Sheen and the rest to create something unique. Yes, many can say it is an imperfect movie that feels messy, but that is why it is so spectacular!
It tells a story that revolves around a U.S Army officer serving in Vietnam, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen). He guides a team of Vietnam soldiers through the wild jungle. They set off on a mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a renegade with a god complex.
7. Taxi Driver (1976)
“Someday, a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver
This psychological thriller, taking the number 7 spot on this list, is the phenomenal Taxi Driver. This movie presents a visceral and disturbing experience most times. This is large because it has one of the most profound explorations of a character’s inner psyche ever shown on film! By allowing us into the world of Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro), we see a man that is obsessive, violent, and unhinged, and yet we empathize with him. Taxi Driver ruminates on how society can take in a person whole. Many do not want to live through its reality but cannot help but keep their eyes glued to the film!
This movie evolves on a mentally unstable veteran. As the plot moves, we discover that he works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City. Here, he perceives decadence and further widens his urge to take violent action to liberate a presidential campaign worker. Not just him, but also an underage prostitute. A psychological thriller indeed!
6. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
“Well, go on, do me in, you bastard cowards. I don’t want to live anyway…not in a stinking world like this.”Paul Farrell as Tramp in Clockwork Orange
This is no doubt one of the most visually memorable films from the ’70s and no doubt deserves to be on this list. Although contemporary critics whopped this film for its violent sequences and its dystopian themes, audiences will always remember this one movie. This Stanley Kubrick adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel unapologetically explores teenage delinquency, morality as well as the psychological bullets that involve living in very modern society. The performance level in A Clockwork Orange is godlike, particularly that of Malcolm McDowell. Stanley Kubrick did well to blend vastly innovative camerawork, revealing an imaginative scenery that is highly detailed. As much as A Clockwork Orange came in to be unsettling at the time, it is very unforgettable!
Set in a scary futuristic London, A Clockwork Orange centers its story around Alex, a sadistic gang leader and a psychopathic derelict incarcerated for rape and murder. Now, he volunteers for a government experiment, which, of course, did not end well.
5. ALIEN (1979)
“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in ALIEN
This brilliantly exceptional movie that influenced the world of sci-fi horror is no other but ALIEN, taking the number 5 spot! It set the stage for the absorbing hair-raising cinematic feelings! It is safe to say that of all the great films that the ‘70s presents, ALIEN is one that certainly stood the test of time! This vastly successful Ridley Scott film came in with undeniable production quality and the teeth clenching feeling of isolation, paranoia, and the fear of the unknown. It is also one of the first action films that truly places a female heroine in the spotlight. The phenomenal Sigourney Weaver delivered her performance of the character Ellen Ripley in a godlike fashion. The art special effect and impact on several genres have ever since made Alien a groundbreaking film and a modern classic!
ALIEN features an incredible story that follows a crew of space merchant vessels, the Nostromo. As they get on to investigate a distress call, they encounter a mysterious nest, which is the abandoned eggs of xenomorph colony. Unfortunately, one of the crewmembers becomes the victim of one of the eggs. From there, they are no longer the only ones aboard, as this alien entity begins to hunt the remaining crew.
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
“You guys complain how much you hate it here, and then don’t even have the guts to leave! You’re all crazy!”Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Taking the 3rd runner up spot is the phenomenal One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest! This brilliant movie peers deep into the fragility of human psychology. As it were, no movie did justice to this theme as well as this Miloš Forman’s edgy comedy-drama did! Based on Ken Kesey’s classic novel, this movie did well to put its viewers at the center of a mental institute. Hence, forcing them to severely question what sanity is. One brilliant thing about this movie is the balance of comedy and tragedy delivered in a holistic symmetry. The performances were brilliant, with a great ensemble that features Jack Nicholson, Brad Dourif, Will Sampson, and Louise Fletcher. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest no doubt is a perfect movie that entertainingly examines mental illness. It will also interest you to know that it is one of the three films to have won the big 5 Academy Awards that include Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture!
This brilliant movie tells an attention-grabbing story of how a criminal pleads insanity and then admitted to a mental institute. Here, he gets to rebel against the nurses who are oppressive. He does not stop here as he goes further to rally up the scared patients too!
3. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
“I felt a great disturbance in the Force. As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars IV: A New Hope
Making the list as the second runner up is no other but Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope! This is a long-time iconic reference amongst sci-fi fans. Critics and audiences widely acknowledge this movie as brilliant on all sides and as having a potent influence on cultural significance. Even the antagonist, Darth Vader, is one of the most iconic villains of all time in movies’ history. George Lucas did well to birth a thrilling and unique universe that the world at the time had never seen. Critics and fans always applauded Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for its breathtaking action sequences, timeless score, and creative use of special effects! He made the sci-fi genre highly marketable. In fact, the industry regards Star Wars as the movie that launched the most successful sci-fi multi-billion-dollar franchise!
This movie that launched one of the most successful franchises ever runs through Luke Skywalker. Here, he joins forces with a Jedi Knight, as well as a weird pilot, two droids, and a Wookiee, all in the bid to save the galaxy from the mysterious Darth Vader. While doing this, he also must save Princess Leia too, piercing through the Empire’s world-destructive battle station!
2. The Godfather Part II (1974)
“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II
Part two of Godfather is so awesome that it feels almost absurd to introduce the movie as a sequel. Sitting on the 2nd position on this list, Francis Ford further accentuates his firm grip on the continuation of the Corleone family history. This movie keeps its legacy, both in tone and theme, telling an outstandingly gripping story about power, identity, and loss. It peers deeper into an intimate look at the corruptive and destructive powers of wealth. It will interest you to know that it is the first sequel ever to win a Best Picture Academy Award!
Following the brilliance of its predecessor, The Godfather Part II tells the story of the early life and career of Vito Corleone, set in the 1920s in New York City. Here, his son, Michael, fundamentally expands and further tightens his engagements on the family’s idiosyncratic crime dealings.
1. The Godfather (1972)
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather
Taking the number one spot on this list is the iconic The Godfather! This movie is the standard that must judge all other films. The Godfather is, no doubt, one of the best movies ever made in the entire world! It did well to distinguish Francis Ford Coppola as one of the most brilliant filmmakers in the world. From the movie’s deliberate pacing to its unmistakable introspective view of the crime world’s emotional and physical destabilization, this movie is not analogous to any gangster movie. Can you possibly imagine a generation of actors doing it better than Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and James Caan? I would not bother. The Godfather gives a soft but fierce insight into the family’s significance and identity, and what it meant to be an American. It is unarguably the greatest movie of the 1970s, and according to Time magazine, it is the greatest of all time. Also, winning three Oscars in a decade is not a joke.
The story of the iconic The Godfather is simple but terrifyingly classy. It brilliantly evolves around the aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty. Here, he transfers the control of his clandestine empire to his son, who is reluctant about it. All of these unfold brilliantly and entertainingly!
With the powerful list of brilliant movies above, you would agree that the 1970s was remarkably a fertile time for filmmakers. The production crews gifted these movies a lot of creative freedom that birthed one of the best decades in movies’ history. It was a period where storytelling, writing, and character accentuation were key, more than it is today in films. Hence, to create a masterpiece, one would have to brilliantly merge all the salient ingredients. All movies above are brilliant results the efforts of the ‘70s filmmaking decade gifted the world. No doubt, they have remained evergreen classics and a major point of reference in all of movies history.
Author: Chris Ingledue
Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!