Top 100 movies of the 1970s
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
Get your groove on for the best of one of cinema's most glorious decades...
100: The Three Musketeers (1973)
Michael York dashes onto the cinematic scene as the blundering but very enthusiastic D'Artagnan in Richard Lester's hugely enjoyable period comic romp. The late great Roy Kinnear is the long-suffering vassal of aristocratic swordsmen Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay, whilst Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway shine as heroine and villainess, respectively. Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind filmed the following year's sequel back-to-back with this more successful first part, which approach they would revisit shortly for Superman and Superman II. Dumas with wit, energy and integrity.
Notable Quotable: "That man in his time has insulted me, broken my father's sword, had me clubbed to the ground, laid violent hands on the woman I love! He is inconvenient. "
99: Catch 22 (1970)
Mike Nichols and Buck Henry achieve what seemed impossible, at least on the evidence of an earlier attempt: to transliterate the pitch-dark war humour of Joseph Heller into a cohesive, visually stunning and meaningful adaptation of one of the most popular novels of the 20th century. Regular 1970s anti-authoritarian Alan Arkin joins Martin Sheen, Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles and a luminous cachet of other acting talent in a memorable, atmospheric and genuinely cinematic tale of the madness of war, as seen from the point of view of an overworked bombing-fleet based in the Mediterranean in 1942.
Notable Quotable: " As a matter of fact, Father, I know I can get my hands on an entire shipment of religious relics, blessed by the Pope himself...the stuff includes a wrist and collarbones of some of your top saints!"
98: The Mother and the Whore (1973)
For fans of the stylistic trappings of the French New Wave – that is, people sitting around coffee shops and dingy apartments, smoking and discussing “what it all means” – this will be a fast three-and-a-half-hour sit. Otherwise, it’ll be a workout, but the characters are so compellingly watchable, and the shifts in their relationships so subtle and well-observed, I can’t imagine anyone coming away unaffected. A great look at just how hard it can be to act like an adult.
Notable Quotable: “But you know, I think some day a man will come along and will love me, and will make me a baby, out of love.”
97: Black Christmas (1974)
While Halloween and Friday The 13th may have scooped all the kudos and credit for inventing the modern slasher movie, it was actually 1974's Black Christmas that provided the template for Messrs Carpenter and Cunningham. Boasting an accomplished cast including Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey and John Saxon, director Bob Clark's extremely effective Yuletide chiller not only introduced the now familiar clichés of the menacing phone call that is coming from within the same house and the tick-them-off-as-they-die cast of teens, but pioneered the holiday-themed slaughters that abide to this day. An oft overlooked, but essential classic.
Notable Quotable: “Jess, the caller is in the house. The calls are coming from the house!”
96: All That Jazz (1979)
Bob Fosse plays out his high-octane career in a tour-de-force of dance and black humour. Roy Scheider is his fictional shadow, singing his way through open-heart surgery and generally pre-empting the dark musicals of the 1980s, including the BBC's The Singing Detective. The shallowness of the way Fosse lived his life brings the tragedy of the movie into sharp relief. It's a disturbing, uncomfortable whirlwind of a picture that went on to influence many more.
Notable Quotable: "I don't get married again because I can't find anyone I dislike enough to inflict that kind of torture on." Martin Anderson
95: The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
John Landis directed this, the first Zucker-Abrams-Zucker movie, born from the output of a sketch comedy troupe. A rough road to production didn’t stop the film from earning a 3000% profit and becoming a cult legend off the backs of classic shorts including Catholic High School Girls in Trouble, A Fistful of Yen and “Rex Kramer: Danger Seeker.” A must-see for people who love sketch comedy and hate what Saturday Night Live has done with the format.
Notable Quotable: ‘Should premature ejaculation occur, The Joy of Sex album comes equipped with BIG JIM SLADE!! This former tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs comes outfitted with various whips, chains and a sexual appetite that will knock your socks off! Big Jim has satisfied women throughout the world and the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln!’
94: Enter the Dragon (1973)
Bruce Lee made three great movies in Hong Kong before Hollywood realized that they needed to cash in on the martial arts phenomenon. Unfortunately, this would be his last official film (Game of Death was finished with stand-ins and previously-filmed footage) before his untimely death. Lee plays an agent who is sent to a secret martial arts tournament to uncover a drug dealer on his private island. John Saxon and Jim Kelly co-star in the martial arts film that all others are compared to. It makes me long for the days where fight scenes could be filmed without special camera angles and tricks.
Notable Quotable: “It is like a finger pointing away toward the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all that Heavenly glory.”
93: Summer Of '42 (1971)
Herman Raucher's semi-autobiographical tale of growing up in a sleepy coastal town during WWII is among the earliest examples of Hollywood's interest in the 'coming of age' movie, demonstrating both the comedic and tragic side of male adolescence. Gary Grimes is the kid struggling to grow up, and the stunning Jennifer O'Neill the war-widow who might help him on his way. I'll be damned if this movie didn't have a profound effect on Stephen King.
Notable Quotable: "No person I've ever known has ever done more to make me feel more sure, more insecure, more important, and less significant."
92: Play Misty For Me (1971)
Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut is a suspenseful cautionary tale about the potential perils of one-night stands. After picking up a woman in a bar, disc jockey Dave Garver discovers that she is the fan who has been repeatedly calling his show asking him to play Errol Garner’s classic Misty, and is terrifyingly obsessed in her quest to make him love her. Jessica Walter’s magnificently scary performance as the relentless Evelyn, who invades every aspect of his life, threatens to butcher his girlfriend and even slashes her own wrists, provides the blueprint for every subsequent cinematic bunny-boiler as the film builds to its tense climax.
Notable Quotable: “Al, you ever find yourself getting completely smothered by someone?”
91: Between The Lines (1977)
Fred Barron's story of a struggling underground Boston newspaper not only summons up the radical spirit of the 1970s at least as well as Monty Python's Life Of Brian, but introduces us to a raft of emergent acting talent that gives of its very best under Joan Micklin Silver's direction. Jeff Goldblum, Stephen Collins, Lindsay Crouse, John Heard and Marilu Henner are only some of the notables making a big impression on the viewer in the smoky city life of bars and polemical debates.
Notable Quotable: "Did something just die in here?"
90: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
A dark fairy-tale of a thriller that defies its own improbability with a brace of assured performances from Jodie Foster, Scott Jacoby and a truly terrifying pedophilic Martin Sheen. Foster is the pre-teen girl whose ailing father has finally died in secret - and it's a secret she doesn’t want the authorities to know about. Jacoby is her nerd-magician friend, a victim of bullying but with more than one trick up his sleeve, and Sheen the sexual predator looking to profit from Foster's secret in the worst way. An ending that will likely stick in your mind forever.
Notable Quotable: " How old do you have to be before people start treating you like a person? "
89: The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Writer Michael Crichton begins to develop his keynote theme (technophobia) in Robert Wise's story about a team of scientists struggling to understand a deadly virus that has landed on Earth, in time for them to save the planet. Visually impressive and oppressive, with award-winning effects by 2001's Douglas Trumbull, the heart of the film is a superb and unusual characterisation of a crotchety scientist by actress Kate Reid, which by itself distinguishes the movie.
Notable Quotable: "This communication is being monitored. The connection has been broken for reasons of national security. You will be briefed at the appropriate time. Thank you for your cooperation, Mrs. Stone."
88: The Muppet Movie (1979)
The first – and best – feature film to star Jim Hensen’s Muppets. Kermit dreams of life outside of the swamp, and learns that Hollywood is looking for talented frogs. Along the way he meets Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and falls in love with Miss Piggy. All of the Muppets make an appearance, and there’s a slew of great star cameos, including Steve Martin, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Orson Welles, and many more. The film takes everything that was great about The Muppet Show, and cranked it up to 11. And it gave us 'The Rainbow Connection', which is still a great song.
Notable Quotable: “That's pretty dangerous, building a road in the middle of the street. I mean, if frogs couldn't hop, I'd be gone with the Schwinn.”
87: The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
Panic is now mainly seen as Al Pacino’s breakthrough film. His role as the heroin-addicted hustler Bobby led to him being cast in The Godfather and Serpico respectively. But there's more to Panic, han Pacino’s brilliant performance. The film depicts the lives of the inhabitants of New York’s Sherman Square, an area populated by pimps, prostitutes and junkies. A sparse masterpiece with a cinema verité style, Panic provides an unflinching view of the city’s displaced citizens and exposes the rotten core at the heart of the big apple.
Notable Quotable: “I was gonna marry you! You think I'd marry a whore?”
86: Charley Varrick (1973)
In a decade that loved villains - lovable or not - Walther Matthau plays one of the most memorable, as the crop-dusting pilot who inadvertently robs a ton of money from the mafia, and whose steps thereafter are bedevilled by those of mob hit-man Joe Don Baker. A black comedy that hits all the right (bank) notes, and throws in a pretty decent idea of what Elvis Presley would have done with a decent film-role.
Notable Quotable: "You know what kind of people they are. They're gonna strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch"
85: The Front (1976)
Woody Allen is the titular 'ghost writer' who sells the scripts of blacklisted writers in the McCarthy era in Martin Ritt's tragi-comic account of the Great Repression. Zero Mostel, who was himself genuinely blacklisted, is one of his growing list of clients, but soon the dark shadow of the House Un-American Activities committee looms. There are strains of comedy to be enjoyed - after all, the movie finds Allen at the height of his broad public appeal - but The Front has a serious and memorable message.
Notable Quotable: "Fellas... I don't recognize the right of this committee to ask me these kind of questions. And furthermore, you can all go fuck yourselves."
84: The Devils (1971)
Ken Russell's freewheeling adaptation of John Whiting's play 'The Devils Of Loudun' (based on Aldous Huxley's book) garnered so much controversy for its nudity, 'blasphemous' eroticism and...well, really everything that we later came to expect from Ken Russell; that many in avoiding the movie have missed not only perhaps Oliver Reed's finest-ever performance, but the film's profound sense of the mystical and its willingness to grapple with problematic religious themes. One wonders if The Exorcist might have had a harder time if The Devils had not been there to burn at the stake.
Notable Quotable: "What fresh lunacy is this? A crocodile?"
83: The Onion Field (1979)
Like Kurt Vonnegut, the picaresque police thrillers of ex-Sergeant Joseph Wambaugh have often proved hard to translate to film, and this true tale of violence and redemption is probably the zenith of Wambaugh's cinema. Ted Danson is the doomed, Scotch-descended policeman whose ghost will haunt the ever-underrated John Savage, while James Woods burns up the screen as the lead killer one terrible night in Bakersfield, California.
Notable Quotable: "Any man who gives up his gun to some punk is a coward. Any man who does can kiss his badge goodbye, if I can help it. You're policemen. Put your trust in God"
82: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Based on his Lupin the 3rd anime series, The Castle of Cagliostro was Hayao Miyazaki’s first film. The animation may not be as polished as his later efforts, but it more than makes up for it with its fast pace, humour, and sense of adventure. Though not that well known in the west, it’s nonetheless been influential, with its car chase inspiring the Wachowskis’ underrated Speed Racer, and Steven Spielberg declaring it “one of the greatest adventure movies of all time”.
Notable Quotable: “Lupin! Don’t you dare die before I get to arrest you!”
81: The Day Of The Jackal (1973)
Frederick Forsyth's fictional account of a real-life assassin was just made for the 60s/70s - a genuine 'euro-pudding' which takes in a smorgasbord of continental and British acting talent. Edward Fox is the icy killer assigned to kill Charles De Gaul as the combined forces of Interpol try to stop him. Fascinating, brooding, and ultimately nail-bitingly tense, the 'gas bullet/pumpkin' moment alone carves its niche in cinema history.
Notable Quotable: "I knew you didn't come to Geneva for a driver's license. Anyone in London could've done that." Martin Anderson
80: Hardcore (aka The Hardcore Life, 1979)
Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader revisits the seamy underbelly of life from that movie in this tale of religiously-scrupled father George C. Scott seeking out a runaway daughter involved in pornography. In what is practically a road-movie of the underbelly of the film industry during the 1970s, Scott is magnetic as a men at the limit of his tolerance and endurance, and the movie itself is as uncompromising and unsentimental as a porno-flick.
Notable Quotable: “A lot of strange things happen in this world. Things you don't know about in Grand Rapids. Things you don't want to know about. Doors that shouldn't be opened"
79: The Sting (1973)
Director George Roy Hill reunites the winning team of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the relatively distant wake of their 1969 smash-hit Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. This time our heroes are would-be grifters in Joliet, Illinois of the depressed 1930s, and nothing's what it appears to be in the world of the big con, or 'sting'. Scott Joplin's 'Piano Rags' was to become as famous a piece of film-related music as any in the history of Hollywood, and the surprisingly escapist thrills and mind-f***s of The Sting ensured a sparky box-office smash that's still tremendous fun.
Notable Quotable: " If I didn't know you better, I'd swear you had some class! "
78: Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
The story of milkman Tevye, who lives in Tsarist Russia with his wife and daughters, and his struggles with the changing world around him and how his traditionalist views fit in such a world. His people also have to deal with the pogroms by Orthodox Christian Russian officials, and the oncoming revolution. The film retained much of the heart of the play, and Tevye often breaks the fourth wall to inform the audience of what is taking place behind the scenes. The songs are beautiful, and the story is a mix of drama and comedy.
Perchik: Money is the world's curse!
Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover!"
77: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Lewis Gilbert helms the most lavish-looking Bond ever made, boasting the most perfect blend of humour, action and intrigue as 007 (Roger Moore) is forced to collaborate officially with his KGB opposite (Barbara Bach) in the hunting-down of missing scientific information. The lower-tech Live And Let Die was nearly this good, but Spy revels more effectively in its budget and style. With ground-breaking visual effects, the movie can still hold its own against that year's Star Wars, and remains as confident and entertaining as Mr. Bond himself.
Notable Quotable: “You ever get the feeling that somebody doesn't like you?"
76: Halloween (1978)
Though 1974’s Black Christmas had provided the blueprint, it was John Carpenter’s masterful Halloween that brought holiday slaughter and a certain psychopath in a washed out Captain Kirk mask to the masses. Stalked by Donald Pleasance’s delightfully deranged Dr Loomis, The Shape menaced his unwitting sister Laurie, brought to life in all her awkward but appealing glory by Jamie Lee Curtis, the most famous scream queen of them all, through a long night of inventive camera angles and sparse but effective piano riffs. A genuinely frightening horror classic that has spawned a thousand imitators, but very few equals.
Notable Quotable: “I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes... the devil's eyes.” Richard Cosgrove
75: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons and Leslie Nielsen in a straight role – what could possibly go wrong? Well, apart from everybody's New Year's Eve being quite literally turned upside down and washed out, absolutely nothing. One of the holy trinity of 1970's disaster movies (the other two being The Towering Inferno and Earthquake), The Poseidon Adventure set the standard against which all other disaster movies have since been measured, and to which precious few have even come close to achieving. Equal parts thrilling and moving (Winters and Hackman's respective sacrifices still bring a lump to the throat), Poseidon Adventure is virtually the Rosetta Stone of disaster movies.
Notable Quotable: “We're cut off from the rest of the world. They can't get to us. Maybe we can get to them. “
74: Young Frankenstein (1974)
As the title states, the film follows the heir of Doctor Frankenstein - or is that Fronkensteen? His grandson to be exact. Gene Wilder plays the titular character who decides to take up where his grand-daddy left off. Smut, wit and an Irving Berlin musical number. What more do you want? A superb supporting cast which includes the late Kenneth Mars and Peter Boyle. Mel Brooks’ comedy classic is a must-see for any comedy-lover. Oh, and it features an unforgettable cameo from Gene Hackman.
The blind man: Wait. Where are you going? I was going to make Espresso."
73: Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
A nightmarish trip down the river of greed and lust; not for sex, but for power. Aguirre is the most wrenching look at what becomes of a man who believes himself a god. It’s impossible to think about without twisting your stomach in knots, but equally impossible to forget.
Notable Quotable: “The earth I pass will see me and tremble. But whoever follows me and the river, will win untold riches. But whoever deserts...”
72: Death Wish (1974)
Michael Winner proved to have touched a very sensitive nerve in urban American culture with his tale of an ordinary man (Charles Bronson, if you can credit him as such) pushed beyond his limit by a cruel, Droog-like assault on his wife and daughter. Before you can say 'vigilante', Bronson's mowing down nasties by the truckload on the wild city streets - and audiences were cheering. A controversial film in many ways, and somewhat diminished by its own sequels and imitators, Death Wish nonetheless remains a powerful polemic against the extremes of liberalism in US law courts.
Notable Quotable: "You're probably one of them knee-jerk liberals that thinks us gun boys would shoot our guns because it's an extension of our penises "
71: Chinatown (1974)
Most films with a twist ending are fun to watch a second time to pick up on all the clues you’d missed along the way. Chinatown is a great film the second time because you realize that, for as much as Jake Gittes seems to have everything together and knows all the angles, he doesn’t have a clue just how evil and corrupt the world truly is. Still one of the most terrifying endings of all time, director Roman Polanski brought his horror roots to bear in a film you would never think would need it. Until it totally does.
Notable Quotable: "You may think you know what you're dealing with, but, believe me, you don't.”
70: The Boys in the Band (1970)
Hollywood’s treatment of gay characters had never been helpful, strengthening harmful stereotypes of rapacious villains and often denying them personal agency altogether. William Friedkin’s flawed adaptation of an off-Broadway play became a milestone of “queer cinema” for its admission that yes, gay men are human; but their normal insecurities and foibles are compounded by a world dismissive of their experiences and humanity. The camp aspects of the characters and their attendant self-hatred date the film quite a bit, but for a place-and-time peek into the window of a subculture on the crest of public actualization, you could do much worse.
Notable Quotable: ‘What I am, Michael, is a 32 year-old, ugly, pock-marked Jew fairy, and if it takes me a little while to pull myself together, and if I smoke a little grass before I get up the nerve to show my face to the world, it's nobody's god damned business but my own. And how are you this evening?’
69: Solaris (1972)
Andrei Tarkovsky provides the Soviet Union with a very credible 'answer' to the cinematic space-race that Stanley Kubrick won with 2001. There's humanity and intellectual luminosity in Stanislaw Lem's tale of lost souls on a space station orbiting a planet that literally makes their dreams come true - not always to happy effect.
Notable Quotable: “We don't want to conquer space at all. We want to expand Earth endlessly. We don't want other worlds; we want a mirror. We seek contact and will never achieve it. We are in the foolish position of a man striving for a goal he fears and doesn't want."
68: Days of Heaven (1978)
After making his feature debut in 1973 with Badlands, writer/director Terrence Malick gave the 1970s one more masterpiece before disappearing for the next twenty years. Days of Heaven, which places the story of migrant workers in the throes of the Great Depression in near-Biblical context, established Malick’s often imitated, but never surpassed, poetic style, and remains Richard Gere’s finest hour. At a mere 95 minutes, Days of Heaven is remarkably lived-in, as time goes too fast for our protagonists to grasp their ever-changing circumstances.
Notable Quotable: “Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you.”
67: Mahler (1974)
Ken Russell distinguishes himself and escapes the controversy of The Devils with this elegant and moving visual feast centering on the life of the Austrian-Bohemian composer, played with conviction and gravity by Robert Powell, in a brief flurry of pre-Jesus Of Nazareth limelight. Of course the star of the show is the music, and it couldn't be in better hands. Russell provides realism, atmosphere and depth with a reasonably rare foray into self-control and away from rank sensationalism. Tommy would change all that the following year.
Notable Quotable: "[Medicine] won't be needed! We're going to live forever!"
66: Harold and Maude (1971)
Hal Ashby was on a hot streak in the seventies as the counter-culture’s director of choice. Although Coming Home and Shampoo were his mission statements, Harold and Maude remains his most enduring film. The story of the friendship between a depressed young man and an energetic old woman, Harold and Maude has a dry wit and a dark tone. Although it wasn’t a hit with audiences upon its release it has become a cult classic of late. Its influence is stamped on coming-of-age films and indie cinema in general.
Notable Quotable: “Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves.”
65: Sleuth (1972)
Anthony Shaffer's claustrophobic class war between Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier is a tour-de-force of first-rate acting from the two leads, and Caine's turn in particular is justly numbered amongst his best-ever performances. Setting such a lurid topic as marital infidelity in the confines of Agatha Christie-land disarms the viewer - and for the first-time viewer, more shocks are on the way. Original and surprising in the context of a hoary old environment, Sleuth is essential 1970s viewing.
Notable Quotable: “You're a jumped up pantry boy who doesn't know his place!"
64: The Hot Rock (1972)
Badly remade into the Martin Lawrence film Blue Streak. The original features Robert Redford and George Segal as jewel thieves ready to do anything to get their hands on a diamond. What would you do to get your hands on a precious stone? Fool your dad into thinking you were dead? A superb crime caper in a similar ilk to The Italian Job, with a dapper looking Redford; Hot Rock also features a film-stealing performance from Zero Mostel.
Bank clerk: "Afghanistan Banana stand"
63: Cries and Whispers (1972)
The ultimate Ingmar Bergman film of his color era – a stark and unrelenting story of a group of women caring for their dying sister. A simple premise, yes, but Bergman wrings the ugly truth of dying from this and ends up saying more about both the physical and spiritual reality of facing death than he did fifteen years previous in The Seventh Seal. Better still, he acknowledges that after tragedy, life must continue.
Notable Quotable: “I wanted to hold the moment fast and thought, ‘Come what may, this is happiness.”
62: The Sunshine Boys (1975)
The decade that shone most brightly on Neil Simon brought to great popularity this tale of two warring old Vaudevillians who must bury the hatchet in order to revive their act one more time. Walter Matthau and George Burns are truly affecting and hilarious by turns as the comics in their twilight years, and perhaps no other Neil Simon movie was ever able to combine belly-laughs and pathos this effectively.
Notable Quotable: “60-40! All right! 60-40! I get $6000; he gets $4000. What the hell can he buy in New Jersey anyway?" Martin Anderson
61: Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Sidney Lumet consolidates his most blessed decade with a claustrophobic and true-life hostage tale of a poorly-planned bank raid that went even more awry than it deserved to. Humorous, heart-warming and tragic by turns, this is among the most affectionate of many 1970s love-letters to New York, with Al Pacino and John Cazale reuniting from the Godfather movies in very different guises, and superb support from Chris Sarandon as Pacino's transsexual lover and Charles Durning as the NYPD detective who tries to get everyone out alive.
Notable Quotable: “Tell the TV to stop saying there's 2 homosexuals in here!"
60: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Werner Herzog captures, and perhaps even invents the pending new romantic spirit of the early 1980s with this blasted vision of vampirism, obsession - and a truly repulsive plague of rats. Effortlessly stealing the thunder of John Badham's 1979 take on Dracula, Nosferatu may well boast long-time Herzog collaborator Klaus Kinski's most intense performance, as well as a cold European atmosphere that sends icicles into the viewer's heart.
Notable Quotable: “Death is not the worst. There are things more horrible than death."
59: The Omen (1976)
Working from an intelligent David Seltzer script, The Omen not only boasted top drawer talent like Gregory Peck, Lee Remick and David Warner, but also the scariest graveyard sequence ever committed to celluloid, the most inventive use of a pane of glass as a murder weapon, and in a deliciously creepy turn by Billie Whitelaw, the literal nanny from Hell, Mrs. Baylock. Director Richard Donner’s trump card, though, was six year old Harvey Stephens, who delivers a performance so chilling, particularly in the film’s dying moments, that you never once doubt that young Damien Thorn is indeed the spawn of Satan.
Notable Quotable: “Wrong? What could be wrong with our child, Robert?” Richard Cosgrove
58: Don’t Look Now (1973)
Originally released as a double feature with The Wicker Man, this far superior suspense film is more about grief and the effect losing a child can have on a relationship. Throughout the film, John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) continuously sees his daughter running through the streets of Venice, compounding and complicating his bereavement until he finally catches up with her. Though considered a modern classic of both British and general horror cinema, the film has recently come back into pop cultural awareness when old rumors that the Sutherland / Julie Christie love scene was not simulated resurfaced.
Notable Quotable: "Nothing is what it seems."
57: Shaft (1971)
It's tempting just to quote the lyrics of Isaac Hayes' famous theme tune, Father Ted-style, to entirely explain why Richard Roundtree was one of the coolest cinematic icons of the 1970s as the hip black detective with all the chicks, all the answers and all the action. But if Shaft has passed you by somehow, be sure not to miss out on the retro-fun and bizarre fashion of the detective who walks everywhere whilst cleaning up his native New York.
Notable Quotable: “Don't let your mouth get your ass in trouble." Martin Anderson
56: Marathon Man (1976)
Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier and Roy Scheider bring atmosphere and gravitas to William Goldman’s superior paranoid thriller in which Hoffman’s titular runner is drawn into a nefarious plot involving diamonds, double agents and drills. Olivier is suitably menacing in his Oscar-nominated turn as the ex-Nazi dentist who does a spot of pro bono work on Hoffman, which makes Hoffman’s transformation from lamb to lion all the more satisfying at the film’s denoument (though the movie’s conclusion is not half as effective as the novel’s end). Though the flick is most famous for its amateur dentistry, Marathon Man was also the first theatrically released movie to make use of the Steadicam.
Notable Quotable: “Is it safe..? Is it safe..?”
55: McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
An honest Western is hard to find. I’m as big a fan of the Western as the next guy, but let’s be straight about this – they weren’t really illustrating the true hardships of pioneer life when they made Stagecoach. By setting his tale of unregulated commerce in the last place to be settled, the Great Northwest, director Robert Altman didn’t pull any punches in showing what it takes to build civilization from nothing. Rain and snow are ever present in a beautiful, lyrical tale of the most heartbreaking form of hubris.
Notable Quotable: “If a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his ass so much, follow me?”
54: Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Fresh from tormenting Sissy Spacek in Brian De Palma’s classic Carrie, John Travolta scored his first lead role as white polyester-suited disco king Tony Manero in a movie that in its unexpurgated version is actually far darker and serious than the lively soundtrack and illuminated dance floors initially suggest. Though the dancing is undeniably impressive, it is Travolta’s performance as the uneducated Manero that resonates once the music dies out, as we genuinely feel for this teenager who frequents the discotheques to escape from his dead end job and troubled home life, and for which he picked up a well deserved Oscar nomination.
Notable Quotable: “Would ya just watch the hair. Ya know, I work on my hair a long time and you hit it. He hits my hair.”
53: Martin (1977)
George A. Romero's portrait of a disturbed youth (John Amplas) who thinks he's a vampire can equally be read as a zombie movie where the decaying remains of industry in Braddock, Pennsylvania, hang over the dying town like a dark curse. Martin is truly shocking whilst evincing enormous sympathy for the 'monster' of the title, beset by desolation and religious mania. Stylish and unexpected, this is a genuinely involving 'bridge' between Dead movies.
Notable Quotable: "I've been much too shy to ever do the sexy stuff. I mean, do it with someone who's awake."
52: Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
With movies that run in excess of three hours, it’s neither uncommon nor inappropriate to hope that they really need every second of that running time. Jeanne Dielman is probably not what you have in mind when you say that – Chantal Ackerman spends over two hundred minutes detailing, in static shots with very little dialogue, the daily activities of a single mother/prostitute – but the cumulative effect of this film is so much more than the sum of its parts.
Notable Quotable: “I added less water than last week. Maybe that's why it's better.”
51: Silent Running (1972)
Silent Running is one of the most thought provoking sci-fi films of all time. Director Douglas Trumbull previously worked as a special effects supervisor on 2001: A Space Odyssey, and was obviously affected by the scope of Kubrick’s film. Silent Running tells the story of Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), the sole crew member of a spaceship containing the remains of the Earth’s forests. The film’s environmental message is still relevant today and its depiction of the individual’s isolation in space subsequently had an impact on films such as Dark Star and Moon.
Notable Quotable: “Poor Louie, God bless him... he's not with us anymore.”
50: Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
George Romero finally returns to the theme of zombies after a decade of semi-successful experiments in horror and other genres. DotD is a chaotic, sprawling epic of post-apocalypse cinema, with David Emgee, Galen Ross, Ken Foree and Scott H. Reiniger as the fleeing survivors who spy the possibility of safety by turning a shopping mall into a fortress against the ravening corpses outside. Thrilling, funny, endlessly rewatchable, Dawn Of The Dead proved a fan favourite with a long shelf-life.
Notable Quotable: " When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth "
49: The Wicker Man (1973)
Edward Woodward is the wound-too-tight policeman sent to a mysterious Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl, and is shocked at the pagan culture and libidinous atmosphere he finds. As the island's patriarch, Christopher Lee gives one of his finest-ever performances, in a film that explored the 1970s fascination with the occult, and the disillusionment with conventional religion to chilling effect.
Notable Quotable: "[God's] dead. Can't complain - had his chance and in modern parlance, blew it."
48: Play It Again, Sam (1972)
Perhaps Woody Allen's most widely-accessible romantic comedy, Play It Again represents the only film he wrote (originally as a stage play) that he didn't direct. Instead Sunshine Boys helmer Herbert Ross proves an adroit hand at wringing laughs and tears from the audience in this tale of a film critic who falls in love with his best friend's wife, whilst egged-on by the wise-cracking spirit of Humphrey Bogart. A genuine crowd-pleaser with big laughs and heart-rending pathos in equal and generous amounts.
Notable Quotable: “I wonder if she actually had an orgasm in the two years we were married, or did she fake it that night?"
47: Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
Michael Sacks is the WWII veteran who can't seem to stop himself time-slipping between his horrendous war experiences and a peculiar, if very comfortable, imprisonment as an alien race's zoological experiment on the distant planet of Tralfamadore - a race that threads five of source-author Kurt Vonnegut Jr's novels. Vonnegut is among the hardest SF writers to meaningfully adapt for the screen, but director George Roy Hill and screenwriter Stephen Geller make a successful transliteration of a truly fascinating and thought-provoking novel.
Notable Quotable: "If you protest, if you think that death is a terrible thing, then you've not understood what I have said."
46: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Given that Tobe Hooper's Ed Gein-inspired Texas Chain Saw Massacre is widely considered to be one of the most notorious horror movies of all time, it is surprisingly bloodless. It relies instead on the sheer relentless pace and the intensity generated by Marilyn Burns's almost constant screaming and crying throughout the third act, much of which was genuine due to Hooper's gruelling directorial demands, to fool the audience into thinking they've seen much more than they actually have. That, and Leatherface, the dead skin-masked maniac who rightly sits in the upper echelons of movie villainy to this day. An essential horror film, but not for the faint hearted.
Notable Quotable: “You could have dinner with us...my brother makes good head cheese! You like head cheese?”
45: The Stepford Wives (1975)
In a decade that paid more lip-service than it provided genuine progress in women's rights, director Bryan Forbes and writer Ira Levin (Rosemary's Baby) created a nightmarish glimpse into the secret heartlessness of the threatened 1970s male, as independent Katharine Ross discovers something creepy and horribly compliant about the women in the community she has just moved into. Enough to say that 'Stepford' became a byword for feminine docility in the following decades.
Notable Quotable: "She cooks as good as she looks, Ted."
44: The Taking Of Pelham 123 (1974)
Tony Scott's 2009 remake gives very little clue to the nail-biting quality of Joseph Sargent's original spin on the 'kidnapping' scenario. Robert Shaw is icy and terrifying as the ex-forces criminal determined to swap a trainload of subway passengers for a shedload of civic money, with Walter Matthau implacable as the NY transit officer who must deal with the ruthless gang. The cast are golden down to the smallest walk-on, the script sparkling, with tragedy leavened by gritty New York wit...and to boot, Pelham 123 may have the best 'final shot' of any movie, ever - even Inception.
Notable Quotable: “Now, then, ladies and gentlemen, do you see this gun? It fires 750 rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition per minute. In other words, if all of you simultaneously were to rush me, not a single one of you would get any closer than you are right now. I do hope I've made myself understood."
43: Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975)
A magnificent panorama of style over substance as a group of 1914 schoolgirls head off into the bright, expansive Australian outback for the titular lunch under the watchful eye of their sour faced chaperone. Though not a great deal happens apart from three of them disappearing amid the dreamy atmosphere and mesmerising murmured poetry, Peter Weir's beautiful film enchants, seduces and sedates the viewer for a couple of hours before daringly leaving us drifting in ambiguity at the movie's conclusion. Though the original novel offered a solution to the enchanting riddle of the missing girls, it was so ridiculous that Weir's decision to allow the audience to draw their own conclusions (dingoes? aliens? Skippy?) was absolutely the right one.
Notable Quotable: “What we see and what we seem are but a dream, a dream within a dream.”
42: Duel (1971)
Originally made for TV, Spielberg's adaptation of a Richard Matheson short story simply proved too powerful and popular for the boob tube, and was released theatrically with extra material added. Dennis Weaver is the nervous businessman driving across America, pursued by a nightmarish and unseen trucker who seems determined to kill him in the harsh desert roads of Arizona. Nail-biting psychological suspense and spectacle in equal measure.
Notable Quotable: “The highway's all yours Jack... I'm not budging for at least an hour. Maybe the police will pull you in by then... maybe they won't... but at least you'll be far away from me..."
41: M*A*S*H (1970)
Before the long-running television series, there was Robert Altman’s film based on the novel of the same name. Here, Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper John (Elliot Gould) are a couple of nihilistic surgeons who’ve been drafted into service during the Korean War. Along with bunkmate Duke (Tom Skerritt), they patch up soldiers, drink excessively, and make life hell for Major Houlihan and Major Burns, two regular Army officers who want everyone to conform to military life. The film was intended to be a scathing commentary on the Vietnam War, which caused studios to force Altman to ensure that the film was, indeed, about Korea.
Hotlips Houlihan: I wonder how such a degenerated person ever reached a position of authority in the Army Medical Corps.
Father Mulcahy: He was drafted.
40: Blazing Saddles (1974)
Long before he started turning his classic movies into Broadway fodder, Mel Brooks was the master of the spoof, and he gives us a unique look at the Western genre in this film. It’s the story of Bart (Cleavon Little), a railroad worker who attacks his racist boss, and is sent to the gallows by Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (another brilliant performance by Harvey Korman), who then appoints him sheriff of Rock Ridge, a town he has been trying to acquire for railroad land. Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, and Brooks himself all turn in marvelous performances.
Notable Quotable: “Mr. Taggart specifically asked for two n*****s? Well, to tell a family secret, my grandmother was Dutch.”
39: American Graffiti (1973)
Nostalgia is a tricky emotion to play with. With one of the most stacked soundtracks of all time, American Graffiti absolutely could have become another film capitalizing on someone else’s art. Instead it uses the music mostly as score, to give a different perspective on the events rather than simply emphasizing them. The nostalgic elements are felt most strongly in its elemental nature, exploring issues of finding love when you’re young and where to go when it’s time to grow up.
Notable Quotable: “Someone wants me. Someone roaming the streets, wants me.”
38: Superman (1978)
Director Richard Donner brought magic, idealism and heroism to the down-at-heel 1970s with his epically challenging adaptation of the Man Of Steel, played, some say definitively, by the late Christopher Reeve. Marlon Brando earns a notoriously big pay-check for playing Supes' dad for 15 minutes, but it’s the homely magic of Smallville and the excitement of Metropolis that combine with the menace and mirth of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) to make this a genuine all-time fantasy classic.
Notable Quotable: "Do you know why the number two-hundred is so vitally descriptive to both you and me? It's your weight and my I.Q."
37: Eraserhead (1977)
David Lynch stamped a unique imagination on this out-of-time tale of disaffected young fiancé Jack Nance as he descends into madness in a bleak and nameless industrial American town. Is the strange creature that his girlfriend Charlotte Stewart gives birth to a genuine freak or a figment of his increasingly hard-to-govern imagination? Dark, surreal, atmospheric beyond belief, Eraserhead proved to be beyond imitation, though it established some longstanding trademarks of its director.
Notable Quotable: "[song] In Heaven, everything is fine. In Heaven, everything is fine. You've got your good things. And I've got mine."
36: The Deer Hunter (1978)
Perhaps the most nihilistic film to emerge from America’s darkest period of filmmaking, The Deer Hunter teaches us that there really is nothing out there. No salvation, no redemption. For all the joy we may think we have, the world can still totally break us. The Deer Hunter is the rare war film that transcends its subject and becomes about the tragedy of the human condition – that our capacity for love is not always enough to save our friends, and we too may be ruined in the process.
Notable Quotable: “Stanley, see this? This is this. This ain't something else. This is this. From now on, you're on your own.”
35: Nashville (1975)
While it’d be tempting to make this the all-Robert-Altman hour (and his output in the 1970s would nearly be sufficient for a Top 50), it’s impossible to ignore Nashville. Altman’s take on the musical could have simply settled on taking potshots at its titular town (and they get them in there, don’t you worry), but his panoramic take on the musician’s paradise is prime Altman – cosmically funny and totally mysterious. I spent the better part of two hours talking with classmates about the ending after seeing it.
Notable Quotable: “Y'all take it easy now. This isn't Dallas, it's Nashville!”
34: Mean Streets (1973)
Beloved of fans of the 1970s, Martin Scorsese's low-budget love-song to New York hasn't held up as well as Taxi Driver, but remains distinguished for innovative camerawork and bravura performances from emergent major players Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, struggling for survival and advancement in the harsh environment of New York's 'Little Italy'.
Notable Quotable: "Honorable men go with honorable men."
33: The Offence (1972)
Dour, unremitting, increasingly topical in an age obsessed with pedophiles, The Offence, with its police brutality and determinedly bleak modern setting, is no 'date movie'. Sidney Lumet's study of an unsympathetic police detective (Sean Connery) who descends into violent mental decline when faced with the interrogation of a suspected child-molester/murderer (a superb performance from Ian Bannen), will leave you eviscerated - but very impressed. If you like 1970s cinema for its 'darkness', this is one to see; the movie's grim ambience and fatalism make Get Carter seem like a rom-com.
Notable Quotable: "Why aren't you beautiful?"
32: Dirty Harry (1971)
Don Siegel's still-unsurpassed masterpiece in which we discover that The Man With No Name's less secretive twin brother, Harry Callahan, is simultaneously cleaning up the streets of San Francisco and being the coolest man alive. We partner Inspector 29 as he tracks down future space tailor Andrew Robinson's Scorpio, a wonderfully deranged rooftop sniper and part-time kidnapper who runs Harry all over town to the chic tones of Lalo Schifrin's gorgeous score before running out of luck at the wrong end of the most powerful handgun in the world. Breathless, exciting, funny and still the best cop movie ever made.
Notable Quotable: “You've gotta ask yourself a question. 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?”
31: The Mirror (1975)
Here, finally, is a film that frees film from the bounds of narrative and allows it to simply be. While there is a sort of stream-of-conscious through line to guide it, Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece works primarily uses the power of a single shot or cut as a purpose unto itself, and proves that film needn’t be about something to be important.
Notable Quotable: “And I can't wait to see this dream in which ill be a child again and feel happy again because everything will still be ahead, everything will be possible...”
30: Suspiria (1977)
The 'Giallo' enters full maturity along with Dario Argento in the movie that twinned Eraserhead in defining the abstract and nightmarish horror of the 1970s. Jessica Harper is the American dancer lost both in Europe and in a nightmarish, Polanski-style vision of hell, as she realises that the ballet school she has joined has a far more sinister side - and may be concerned with a murder that she witnessed.
Notable Quotable: “Now death is coming for you! You wanted to kill Helena Markos! Hell is behind that door! You're going to meet death now... the living dead!"
29: Badlands (1973)
This semi-fictionalised story of a rural couple who head on a tour of mayhem and carnage is a long way from Bonnie And Clyde. Martin Sheen steals the show from the superb Sissy Spacek in the performance that brought him worldwide attention, and Terence Malick a new cult of admirers (the more so as his sparse output in the following two decades rivalled even Kubrick's). The Dakota panoramas are as haunting as the blank visage of the man staining them with blood, and the film's emotional minimalism has a correspondingly profound effect.
Notable Quotable: "Suppose I shot you. How'd that be?"
28: Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Terry Jones said in a recent interview that Monty Python was only occasionally funny. Well, Mr. Jones, Life of Brian is bloody hilarious. It’s not the story of the Son of God, but about a child born on the same day in a manger next to a messiah. Controversial and laugh out loud funny, Brian is the best Monty Python film they made. Look on the bright side of life and remember, don’t get caught saying 'Jehovah', even if it is a really good piece of halibut.
Notable Quotable: "He’s not the messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!"
27: The Passenger (1975)
Antonioni’s Italian period was marked by subtle emotional complexity, but once he started making films in English, he focused on more intellectually vexing questions to a very different, but still very satisfying end. Blow-Up asked if we can trust our sense, Zabriskie Point asked if we can trust our country, and The Passenger asked if we can trust our very identity. Antonioni’s most disciplined film is also one of his best.
Notable Quotable: “Your questions are much more revealing about yourself than my answers would be about me.”
26: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Richard O'Brien's gloriously self-indulgent musical romp/horror-satire presages the advent of punk and remains fabulously entertaining to this day. Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick are the naïve newlyweds drawn into the spider-like web of mad scientist Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry in a career-defining performance) and his odd retinue of followers. Despite a poorly-received 1981 sequel, there will probably never be anything remotely like this again.
Notable Quotable: “So come up to the lab and see what's on the slab. I see you shiver with antici...pation!"
25: Deliverance (1972)
In a newly-liberated cinema largely freed of censorship, Deliverance almost stands alone as the film that turned the new liberalism back on men. The horrendous rape scene between homicidal country-hick Bill McKinney and Ned Beatty has lost none of its power to shock. John Boorman's visual commentary on the rape of the land by man - a theme which threads his work - is even more relevant now than at the time. The success of Deliverance was to build on the already soaring career of Midnight Cowboy's Jon Voigt, and launched Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty into the 'A'-league.
Notable Quotable: "I bet you can squeal like a pig. Weeeeeeee!"
24: Barry Lyndon (1975)
Kubrick’s unsung masterpiece is oddly the most perfect distillation of his vision – that the universe does not care about your dreams or even accomplishments, and in the end your fate and legacy can come down to a split-second decision and the willingness (or lack thereof) of someone else to extend to you basic decency. Barry Lyndon is best known for its stunning cinematography, and that note is not without merit, but it should be primarily known as either the work of a true atheist or a deep believer in karma.
Notable Quotable: “I have now come to claim that satisfaction.”
23: The Last Picture Show (1971)
A lot of people read The Last Picture Show as a retort to nostalgia for the “simpler times” of the 1950s, which it contends was a den of sex parties, prostitution, deception, and a general feeling of uncertainty. It’s still idyllic in its own way, and the title alone alludes to the end of an era already longed for. Peter Bogdanovich’s directorial debut is a wonderful portrait of lost youth and missed opportunity.
Notable Quotable: “I guess if it wasn't for Sam, I'd have missed it, whatever it is. I'd have been one of them amity types that thinks that playin' bridge is about the best thing that life has to offer.”
22: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Still one of Spielberg’s greatest films, and the one that most effectively demonstrates the sense of awe he often tries to instill in us. Aside from simply being a gorgeous film – cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond was one of God’s gifts to the ‘70s – the film’s greatest strength lies in showing the intense sacrifice of curiosity.
Notable Quotable: “I just want to know that it's really happening.”
21: A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Could anyone have made a movie adapted from Anthony Burgess’ dystopian nightmare other than Stanley Kubrick? It seems doubtful. Even today the movie is a swarm of controversy, host to some of the most depraved acts committed to film. Yet for all the slander, there is a powerful message behind A Clockwork Orange, one all too often ignored in favour of focusing on the ultra-violence. Droogie little Alex and his chums are silver-tongued devils, true purveyors of chaos and while repugnant to some, they are spellbinding to others.
Notable Quotable: “Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures! “
20: Cabaret (1972)
Musicals are easily dismissed by those not predisposed to them, but Bob Fosse’s adaptation of a sixties Broadway smash won eight Oscars, only losing Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay to The Godfather. The movie details a bisexual love triangle at the tail end of the Weimar Republic, under the perpetual ascendance of the Nazi party and features completely diegetic musical numbers mostly performed by Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, who both took home Academy Awards for their performances.
Notable Quotable: ‘Your paper and your party are pure crap, sir! I said “Das ist reine Scheiße!” And so are you!"
19: Five Easy Pieces (1971)
As a launching pad for future movie star Jack Nicholson, Five Easy Pieces would be notable enough, but it’s also just an amazing film in its own right. Bobby Dupea (Nicholson) is relatable only in that we recognize the ugliest aspects of ourselves in him – our tendency to hurt the ones we love (and enjoy it), ignore aspects of life that are too unpleasant to deal with, and take out the inequitability of the world on something as simple as a sandwich. And we hate ourselves for it, and everyone around us for bringing it out.
Notable Quotable: “Yeah, well, I didn't get it, did I?”
18: Annie Hall (1977)
Annie Hall has been imitated by countless romantic comedies but, to its credit, it has never been outdone. Diane Keaton gives her best performance as the quirky female at the heart of the storyline. Meanwhile, the non-linear narrative jumps back and forth as the hapless Alvie singer, brilliantly played by the film’s writer-director Woody Allen, constantly breaks the fourth wall as he tries to figure out the intricacies of their relationship. Annie Hall is hilarious from start to finish, with everyone involved at the top of their game.
Notable Quotable: “Hey, don't knock masturbation! It's sex with someone I love.”
17: Network (1976)
Network is one of those rare films that never lets up from being a comedy in spite of its many moments that could bring you to tears. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s prescient view of American television was shocking for audiences in 1976, and is downright creepy today. One-off jokes have now become our nightly viewing, and an impartial news department seems downright quaint. But it can still shock; it can still break your heart.
Notable Quotable: “After living with you for the last six months, I'm turning into one of your scripts. Well, this is not a script, Diana. There's some real, actual life going on here.”
16: The Last Detail (1973)
Though it bears perhaps the worst-chosen promotional photoshoot ever undertaken for a classic movie, this tale of a couple of career Navy men (Jack Nicholson and Otis Young) escorting dumb-but-loveable Randy Quaid to a largely undeserved eight years in a harsh Navy prison is a tour-de-force introduction to the fractured soul of 1970s film-making. Superb performances from all parties combine with Hal Ashby's semi-documentary style to create an unforgettable road-movie through the detritus of the dead 1960s.
Notable Quotable: "Any pussy you get in this world, you gonna have to pay for, one way or another."
15: The Conversation (1974)
Francis Ford Coppola’s output in the 1970s is staggering to behold, and in the middle of it he released by far his tightest, most concentrated effort – a murder mystery in which there’s very little mystery at all. But it is a terrifying thriller, in which doing the right thing will help nobody, least of all yourself, and it reinforced a concept that proliferated throughout the decade – you’re never safe. Not even in your home with nobody around.
Notable Quotable: “I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder.”
14: Get Carter (1971)
Michael Caine is the laconic London hitman who goes AWOL to his native Newcastle to find out why his brother was killed - and who did it. Director Mike Hodges creates a genuinely dark yet comic British gangster classic with a ton of style, the danger-element of an underused urban location - and plenty of violence, cruelty, wit and sex thrown in. The set-pieces are all memorable, the dialogue is sparkling, events unexpected, and Caine is at the top of his game in a truly iconic role.
Notable Quotable: "I want you to drink all of that!"
13: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
The film adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel emerges with elegance from long development hell under the helm of Milos Forman and producer Michael Douglas. Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher are the antagonist looney/head-nurse heading for a tragic end to a comic rivalry in a mental institution, and surrounded by some of the best character actors ever assembled for a movie. Both leads won Oscars, with five total wins and nine well-deserved nominations. A cinema classic, even if it does find Nicholson once again playing the doomed underdog.
Notable Quotable: "Ah...Juicy Fruit!"
12: The French Connection (1971)
Documentary film-maker William Friedkin was an inspired choice to direct one of the pivotal fonts of theme, style and philosophy for 1970s cinema. Friedkin brought all his documentary talents to the semi-fictionalised tale of narcotics detectives 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman in a career-making performance)) and 'Cloudy' Russo (Roy Scheider) hot on the trail of Fernando Rey as he seeks to flood New York with some of the best 'smack' its ever seen. The 'car/train chase' alone, filmed under shockingly negligent circumstances, is worth the price of admission by itself.
Notable Quotable: "You still picking your feet in Poughkeepsie?"
11: Alien (1979)
When Star Wars changed the face of 1970s box-office, it was ironic that the studio that made it had nothing immediately to hand with which to chase its success - except a little 'sci-fi horror movie' by Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett, which was about to be optioned by low-budget producer Roger Corman. Ridley Scott's seminal SF outing is a vision of hell populated by some of cinema's most legendary conceptualists, such as Ron Cobb and H.R. Giger, and launched Sigourney Weaver to well-deserved stardom. Alien still ranks with 2001: A Space Odyssey as a hermetically pristine film that can be imitated, but not improved upon.
Notable Quotable: "We ain't outta here in ten minutes, we won't need no rocket to fly through space."
10: The Exorcist (1973)
Falling like a lightning bolt into cinemas to frighten all mankind, William Friedkin’s adaptation of a bestseller about faith and psychiatry is still held up as one of the greatest movie scares ever seen. Having unfortunately jettisoned the novel’s ambiguous motivation (whether Regan is possessed or merely crazy is purposely kept vague), the film nevertheless provides excellent performances from Max von Sydow and Jason Miller as the titular priests and the steadily creepy degeneration of a twelve-year-old girl into a nightmare of vomit, profanity and open wounds.
Notable Quotable: ‘NIIIRRRREM! Nirrem! Eidrehtel. Tseirpehtraef! No-onmai. No-wonmai!’
9: Rocky (1976)
One of the most misunderstood films of all time. For its genre trappings as a sports film, there’s very little sport in Rocky. Much more of the focus is on Rocky’s quest to define himself, and boxing just happens to be the only way he knows how. It also has one of the simplest, sweetest love stories in cinema.
Notable Quotable: “I think we make a real sharp couple of coconuts - I'm dumb, you're shy, whaddaya think, huh?”
8: The Godfather (1972)
Francis Ford Coppola’s classic crime saga was (and continues to be) so influential that it has shaped an entire genre for almost forty years. The Godfather was the first gangster movie to truly explore the duality of ‘family’: the one of blood, and the one of business. A behemoth of cinema, it also won Marlon Brando his second Oscar and helped to establish relative unknown Al Pacino as a force of nature on the screen. A move that has truly stood the test of time, The Godfather is as compelling today as it was in 1972.
Notable Quotable: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
7: Klute (1971)
Alan J. Pakula's gritty and truly claustrophobic film noir about a freelancing private detective (Donald Sutherland) seeking answers to his case with a streetwise call-girl (Jane Fonda) influenced many later films including Blade Runner. It's dark, intimate, compulsive, clever, brilliantly shot by Gordon Willis and to boot summons up the dark heart of New York's business culture decades ahead of the Yuppie boom. Watch out too for an early appearance by 1970s favourite Roy Scheider.
Notable Quotable: [Bree Daniels looking at her watch during intercourse] Oh my angel! Oh my angel!
6: Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was released amidst much controversy regarding its violent content. The film follows Travis Bickle, the ultimate anti-hero played by Robert De Niro, whose hatred for his surroundings, the decaying streets of New York, threaten to engulf him. Scorsese films his hometown with gritty realism whilst Bernard Hermann’s elegant score, his penultimate, illuminates this haunting backdrop. Although the film was turned down by many studios it was a surprise success upon its release. It subsequently won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, solidifying its status as one of the best films of its decade.
Notable Quotable: “You talkin’ to me?”
5: The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Following up the original masterpiece, some argue that Godfather Part II even surpasses the original. Now fully established as the Don of the Corleone family, Michael continues his descent into darkness while clawing desperately to legitimize his business. A more intimate story, we also learn the humble beginnings of Vito Corleone with an understated performance from Robert De Niro, as he struggles to establish himself in 1920’s New York. Meanwhile Michael’s escalating desire for power pushes him further from one family and closer to the other.
Notable Quotable: “I don’t feel I have to wipe out everybody, Tom. Just my enemies.”
4: Jaws (1975)
I’ve heard the argument that Jaws is the most quintessentially American film, and while I don’t agree with it, I also have a hard time disproving it. While these days Spielberg tends to focus on the upper class, it’s fascinating to go back and look at how right his look at the lower-middle-class was, and how perfectly he nailed the relationship between these three men. Oh, and it’s still one of the most entertaining summer films ever made.
Notable Quotable: “Okay, so we drink to our legs!”
3: All The President's Men (1976)
Helmer Alan J. Pakula further stamps his mark on the decade (in the wake of Klute) with a searing powerhouse of scripting, acting and direction, in this tale of the overthrow of Richard Nixon by two relatively down-at-heel journalists (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as 'Woodstein') who just wouldn't let go. Hal Holbrook and the inimitable Jason Robards bring maturity and depth to a movie that zips by at such breakneck speed as to be among the most rewatchable of all time.
Notable Quotable: “Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I'm going to get mad"
2: Star Wars (1977)
Although liberally borrowing imagery from earlier classics, including Seven Samurai and Metropolis, Star Wars’ iconic telling of the mythological Hero’s Journey captivated a generation of moviegoers and is arguably the one film more responsible for propelling the sci-fi genre into mainstream cinematic acceptance than any other. The story of Luke Skywalker leaving his nondescript farming life on a lonely desert planet and ultimately becoming the catalyst of the evil Galactic Empire’s destruction has spawned a legion of imitators, but none have ever come close to the original film’s sci-fi footprint.
Notable Quotable: “The Force will be with you…always.”
1: Apocalypse Now (1979)
If 1970s cinema was heading anywhere, it was heading here, to Joseph Conrad's 'Heart Of Darkness', reimagined for the post-Vietnam age. The bizarre and picaresque journey of Willard (Martin Sheen) on a mission to kill renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) is the ultimate declaration of the corruption both of systems and the wars that they start - and a seminal catharsis of the Vietnam era, which lost out in accolades at the time to Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, but has aged and endured far better. Full of pitch-black humour, horror and poetic spectacle that no viewer will ever forget.
Notable Quotable: "The horror... the horror... "
Top 50 movies of the 1980s
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