The contributions from you, our beloved Outposters, are coming thick and fast now. Next up is long-time Outposter Bourgeoisie Scum who has something to tell us about what is probably the most influential period in cinema, the 1970s.
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Now here is Bourgeoisie Scum, to tell you what he thinks are the best movies of the 1970s.
The Best Movies Of The 1970s
I’m back with the next installment of a series on the best films of each decade. Usually, I list 25, but the ’70s is the single greatest decade for film. Even expanding it to 30 was tough. I’m sure I will omit some of your favorite films, but even a list of 100 would leave many deserving films out.
Before we get to the list, one major caveat: In the interest of well, interest, I have omitted the two Godfather films. They probably would’ve been my number 1 and number 2 (and many other people, too) but I thought that had been done to death.
Honorable mentions go to Sorcerer, Five Easy Pieces, Deliverance, The Last Picture Show, The Andromeda Strain, All the President’s Men, Carrie, Death Wish, The Long Goodbye, and American Graffiti. SO what actually made the list? Read on…
30 – Slap Shot (1977)
This is a gem of a film. Perhaps the best sports comedy ever made. It’s a tour de force of Paul Newman’s charm and George Roy Hill’s excellent direction. The small tale of a minor league hockey team’s response to discovering they are going to be folded is worth a watch. I myself own a Charlestown Chiefs jersey!
29 – Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Probably the most “acting” performance for young Al Pacino. It’s iconic, it’s very well directed, well performed (especially John Cazale playing a dirtbag), and everyone knows “Attica, Attica!”. The true tale of a man robbing a bank to pay for his lover’s sex change operation sounded precious then, but now we know they’d kill everyone in the county. I know many people would rank this higher, but I couldn’ find a better place for it, sorry.
28 – The Warriors (1979)
The great Walter Hill presents a rough and gritty story of the titular New York City street gang attempting to get home after being falsely accused of murder during a cross-gang rally. The acting is natural and real. For some reason, we don’t even mind all the gimmicks of the gangs that could easily have come off like bad wrestling. David Patrick Kelly shines as the villain with his famous “Warriors, come out to playeeay!!!” See the theatrical cut, if you can, the later director’s cut features added comic book style plates during transitions that I find distracting.
27 – M*A*S*H* (1970)
The lone Robert Altman film to make this list. The story about the hijinks of the surgeons of the 4077th mobile army surgical hospital is iconic. You get Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye, Elliot Gould as Trapper John, Tom Skerrit, and even a strangely cast Robert Duvall as Frank Burns. The film lazes from scene to scene and has great personal dynamics like all great Altman films do. What’s it about? That’s not really important to Altman, and it shouldn’t be to you either. It’s a hangout film.
26 – Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen’s lone entry is a fun tale of a nebbish Jewish comedian (played by Allen) trying to figure out why his relationship with the title character (Diane Keaton) didn’t work out. Keaton really shines here as she’s so kooky and weird, and yet cute and endearing at the same time. If you like Allen’s style you will love it. If not… well, best to move on.
25 – Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
In my opinion, the greatest film Clint ever directed. He plays Josey Wales, farmer turned rebel outlaw after union soldiers murder his family. Clint has never acted better. The look of the film is as “real west/south” as any film ever made. Everything is grey and wet and shitty. If it wasn’t for Sondra Locke’s weird character, I might rate this even higher. Chief Dan George steals every scene he’s in.
24 – Network (1976)
Paddy Chaefsky wrote this blistering satire of mainstream media and it is so prophetic that it’s almost frightening. Peter Finch, who won a posthumous Oscar for his performance, plays Howard Beale. An aging news anchor’s response to discovering he’s about to be replaced causes him to launch into an on-air tirade threatening to committ suicide on the next show, telling everyone to stand up and yell “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Instead of shuffling him off stage, a rising news executive played by Faye Dunaway transforms Beale’s news show into a 3 ring circus of his rants, psychics and even horoscope readers, to rave reviews.
23 – A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick’s film of disillusioned youth reacting to their society was panned by many when it was released. It tells the tale of Alex (Malcom McDowell) and his gang of droogs, their casual violence, and petty crime spree before crossing into the big leagues with a murder. The ensuing treatment to rid Alex of his violent nature leads to… well, I’ll let you see for yourself. It allegedly led to so many youth crimes in the UK that Kubrick banned it himself from being shown there.
22 – Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter’s slasher masterpiece wrote the rules and inspired more copycat films than anything not named Star Wars. The use of steady cam, establishing shots, and the music, oh… the music! The night he came home set the bar so high for slashers that I’m not so sure anything has touched it since.
21 – Dirty Harry (1971)
Don Siegel directs Clint Eastwood. Can you believe they wanted Sinatra for this? This is the most iconic role of Eastwood’s career. Loosely based on the active Zodiac crimes, a killer calling himself Scorpio sends letters to the press threatening murder unless they pay him. “Dirty” Harry Callahan is on the case. Shot on location in San Francisco, it is a gritty and violent film, but you can’t miss Eastwood’s passive charm in the title role. You have to ask yourself one question, do you feel lucky?
20 – Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
A raging alcholic named Sam Peckinpah wrote and directed this film about alcholism, starring alcoholics.
El Jefe, a Mexican crime lord, discovers his daughter is pregnant and offers $1m for the head of the man who did it. 2 hitmen (Robert Quill and Gig Young, both drunk) offer Bennie, a down on his luck piano player who I swear you can smell the booze oozing out of his pores in every scene, $10,000 to track Garcia down and get his head. Shit goes awry, everything feels bad, you feel bad, they look bad. The movie is downright depressing as hell. Yet I don’t know if a better movie has been made about the downward spiral of alcoholism than this one.
19 – Monty Python and the Holy Grail / Life of Brian (1975/1979)
I cheated, I admit it and it won’t be the last time, but I think they both deserve mention and I can squeeze in more films this way.
You know ’em, you love ’em. Everyone’s favorite British comedy group put out two masterworks of satire and silliness during this decade, and nothing more needs to be said.
18 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The all-time classic horror film by Tobe Hooper reeks. It literally seems to stink of sweat, flesh, gasoline, and grime off the screen. A group of teens travels to the site of their grandfather’s grave when they hear of a series of desecrations at the cemetery. They stumble across an old farmhouse and, things go badly. It’s nearly blood-free, but its brutal violence and horrific atmosphere cannot be denied.
17 – The French Connection (1971)
William Friedkin’s masterpiece of a buddy cop film may have created the genre, even though some have speculated the true formula was based on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Oscar-winner Gene Hackman and king badass Roy Scheider play New York vice-cops Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo. Usually stuck shaking down street hustlers and dive bars, they stumble across what they think is going to be the heroin deal of the century. It features a staple of 70’s films, wet, cold, brown cinematography, and an epic car chase. “Frog One is in that room.”
16 – Blazing Saddles / Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks’ best two films came out the same year. That’s tough to follow up on. I told you I wasn’t done cheating, but these two pieces of ultimate Brooksian parody are both worthy of inclusion. Be it the western or the gothic horror, Brooks sends them both up with career-defining performances for the cast. If you haven’t seen them, be prepared to laugh until you poop yerself… or somebody else.
15 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George Romero’s long-awaited sequel to the classic Night Of The Living Dead, is a much different film. It is patient, and quiet at times. It’s about dealing with catastrophe, consumerism, and the human condition good and bad. There’s blood, epic gore by Tom Savini of course, and a few exciting set pieces. The film shines when its characters talk. I think it could have ranked higher, others may disagree.
14 – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The first of Spielberg’s alien trilogy, along with E.T. and War of the Worlds. This is perhaps the most hopeful as it follows Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfeuss) as a hapless family man and electrical engineer who has his boring suburban life rocked when he simply sees something.
He, and others, begin to have visions of a mountain and are drawn there. The FX are amazing for their time and the final scene is one of the most impressive ship designs ever seen on the screen.
13 – Rocky (1976)
Everyone knows the story by now that Stallone turned down a ton of cash for his screenplay so that he could play the title character. Rocky is a bum, a two-bit club fighter who works as muscle for the local gangster to make ends meet. He falls for a shy Adrian at the pet store (Talia Shire) and everything seems a bit bleak as it did in the 70’s. But Rocky gets his chance when the champion of the world Apollo Creed picks him out of a lineup because he liked his nickname of The Italian Stallion.
Everyone shines here. Stallone showed he was a star and Burgess Meredith kicks everyone’s ass as the trainer Mickey. A true classic, yet on this list, it’s only 13th!
12 – The Conversation (1974)
The first Coppola film on the list is one of the great “quiet” films ever made. Gene Hackman is Harry Caul, the best surveillance man in the business. Harry starts to suspect that what was a routine bug job might have caught a murderer on tape. He begins to grow more and more paranoid as his certainty rises and a moral dilemma emerges. The ending has perhaps the best depiction of personal paranoia I’ve ever seen. One of the five great John Cazale films that would all make this list had I not clipped the Godfather movies out.
11 – The Deer Hunter (1978)
This is a powerful film in three distinct acts. So distinct that it is almost like a 3 part mini-series set in different eras. Part one sees a group of Slavic-American folks in southern Pennsylvania, living their lives and having a bit of fun before three of them are sent off to Vietnam. Part two takes place in Vietnam itself and is more of a prisoners of war setpiece. Part three is about the return. When you come back and everything’s changed and nothing feels right. You know the actors, De Niro, Cazale, Walken, Streep, Heard. But ….it really doesn’t matter, and neither do their characters’ names. It isn’t about THESE people, it’s about lots of different people.
One-shot, One Kill.
10 – Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
I won’t hear any criticism of this choice. This movie is as much fun as you can have at the pictures! Burt Reynolds is at peak charm, Jerry Reed is having a ball and Sally Field is as cute as a bug’s ear. Plus, Jackie fucking Gleason as Sheriff Buford T Justice steals the show. It’s a comedy, a romance, a road picture, and a stunt movie. Movies don’t have to be serious art to be great, and this film is both. Hal Needham deserved an Honorary Oscar for this and Hooper.
9 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Milos Forman directed this film from a novel by Ken Kesey about Randall McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) faking mental illness in hopes of avoiding a prison work farm and living on easy street. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher in a chilling performance) has other plans. The film is equal parts delight and despair. The performances are perhaps the best by both leads and it is one of only a few films to win the “big five” awards at the Oscars back when that meant something. It’s not an easy watch at times, and the ending is… watch it.
8 – Alien (1979)
The Ridley Scott-directed sci-fi masterpiece follows the space freighter Nostromo heading home full of cargo. The crew is awakened due to a distress signal from a nearby planet which they go to investigate. Infection ensues, protocols are ignored, and bad things happen. We’ve all seen this movie and the moniker”Haunted House in Space” applies well. It’s got real jumpscare moments to rival any horror film.
7 – The Exorcist (1973)
Father Merrin is digging in Iraq when he finds an ancient figure of the demon Pazuzu, setting the stage for the battle to come. Thousands of miles away a film star (Ellen Burstyn) is shooting a film in the DC area and rents a home in Georgetown. Her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) mentions a new imaginary friend by the name of Captain Howdy. In short order, Regan begins to change. Levitating, committing acts of violence, and shrieking vulgarity at anyone who’ll listen. When the medical professionals can find nothing wrong, a local psychologist and priest Father Karras (Jason Miller, in an amazing performance, considering he had never acted before) is called in to investigate.
The film is pure evil incarnate. I’m not a believer anymore, but I was raised Catholic and this shit gets me right in my dadburn spine. The greatest horror film ever made bar none.
6 – Patton (1970)
I’m a George C Scott fanboy. I think he’s perhaps the greatest American actor of all time. He’s done it all, comedy, drama, horror, and this wonderful performance as George S Patton. Based on a script by Francis Coppola, the film follows Patton from his time taking over the 2nd Corp in North Africa until the end of the war. Scott completely owns every second he’s on-screen.
From the rousing speech to his men to open the film, to the narration of Patton’s own poetry, to the slapping of the soldier that may have saved more lives than any military act in the war. It’s an acting movie based on one performance and, yeah, it may be ranked too high, so sue me.
5 – Taxi Driver (1976)
Mean Streets got Scorsese noticed, but it was Taxi Driver that proved he was a master.
Travis Bickle can’t sleep. He’s an ex-Vietnam vet with a lot on his mind, no future, and nothing to do with his time. So he drives a cab, but he’s looking to make his big… impact. His big statement.
First, he thinks that scoring the girl will do it. Then when that goes awry, he tries to save a young hooker (Jodie Foster) from her dirtbag pimp (Harvey Keitel). Travis wants what Howard Beale wanted in Network. He wants the world to know that he’s mad as hell and he’s not gonna take it anymore.
It looks great, it has that 42nd Street vibe of bright neon and grime, drugs, hookers, and death. But the score really shines in my opinion. The final score by the great Benard Herrmann, the jazzy interludes, give the movie a feel and mood that is almost unmatched.
4 – Star Wars (1977)
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. remember when that shit made your hair stand up with excitement? Yeah… me too…
It’s the original, and the best. Technically, yes, Empire is better but the world-building here is unrivaled. The simple story of a simple boy thrown into a larger world to become the hero he was always meant to be, made 5-year-old me super happy when I saw it in the theater. It still gets emotions from nearly 50-year-old me today. If only it had ended on Endor…
3 – Chinatown (1974)
Roman Polanski directs from a magnificent script by Robert Towne. Detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) to follow her husband, a local water engineer for the city.
This simple task ends up with Gittes rubbing shoulders with local power broker and father to Mulwray, Noah Cross (John Huston in a terrifying performance). Blood is spilled, neo-noir ensues, and it all ends in a big mess of tragic proportions that leads to Jake’s old cop friend telling him “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
It looks great, and the script is perhaps the best ever written. Jack is Jack, but Huston casts a menacing shadow over the film. It’s almost a shame he didn’t act more.
2 – Jaws (1975)
The second Spielberg film on the list is simply, his best. It’s a simple story about three guys going on a boat to kill a shark, but these men, these actors, that boat, and that shark, and that dialogue! If they made that movie today, the sheriff wouldn’t be Roy Scheider, the science nerd wouldn’t be Richard Dreyfuss, and the mad Ahab-like shark hunter wouldn’t be Robert Shaw. They would f*ck it up. Not to mention there aren’t many men like that in movies anymore.
It’s simply one of the best movies ever made, and almost made my number one.
1 – Apocalypse Now (1979)
I don’t say “Wow!” very often when I see movies, (especially these days. However, when mid-teen me saw this on home video back in the 80s I literally said that. I watched it twice more before we had to return the tape.
It is a simple tale. A patrol boat is tasked with carrying a Major Willard (Martin Sheen) up a river on a secret mission to kill Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has gone a bit native, and nuts, and is running the war his way.
Based on The Odyssey by Homer and Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Francis Ford Coppola’s direction of John Milius’ script turns a simple tale into a harrowing adventure. Equal parts insane and rousing, terrifying and elating. It’s one of my 5 favorite films I’ve ever seen and I think it rivals the Godfather films and is certainly worthy of topping this list. Its notorious rough shooting schedule, mishaps, and budget problems only add to its grandeur. It’s simply amazing it got made, and even more amazing it was this good.