Sunday, 6 November 2011

Best films of the 1970s

Dressing up like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever for a 70s themed party last night got me wondering what other classic films from this turbulent decade I need to see.  I know some people who say they just wouldn't watch films made before the 80s!  I must admit I find many of the films made before the 60s a bit dated and though I can appreciate why they are classics, they generally won't end up in any top 10 list of mine.

But the 70s!?  This decade was a real turning point for cinema.  Well the end of the 60s is really where it's at.  Films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Easy Rider (1969), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and even Psycho way back in 1960 were revolutionising film and young audiences and filmmakers were getting what they wanted as the dinosaurs of old Hollywood started to become extinct.

Many of the films of the 1970s are still undisputed classics and what's more I think most audiences weened on 80s and 90s movies would still appreciate them.  Everyone seems to still love the big ones; The Godfather (1972), Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979) and Jaws (1975) but you'll only find one of these on my list.

So let the countdown begin; my top 10 films from the 70's.  I hope you will agree that these films still have the extrordinary power to shock, to make us laugh, cry and squeal (like a pig) even over 30 years later.

10.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)  A grubby, low-budget masterpiece of horror cinema.  Iconic villain Leatherface and his freaky family of cannibals make the hillbillies from Deliverance look normal.  At first glance, the film is just a shameless exploitation picture, an early slasher that, like Psycho before it, was based loosely on the true story of Ed Gein.  But look closer, and it's a critique of capitalism and like so many other horrors of the 70s, a savaging satire of the idea of the ordinary all-American nuclear family.

9.  The Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)  One of the best comedies of all time.  Satirical, clever, outrageous, possibly blasphemous and offensive to so many, this is the best of the Python films by a considerable margin.  It still holds the power to offend but it is an innocent piss-take not of Jesus but of mass delusion.  The Python team are at their anarchic best, all tackling multiple roles and nailing the scripts hilariously quotable dialogue.  Still so funny, todays comedy kings and queens can't hope to match this.

8. Grease (Randal Kleiser, 1978)  Sorry but this is one musical I love.  Great music and chemistry from leads Travolta and Newton-John.  I grew up wanting to live in this film.  Cool dudes in leather jackets, driving cool cars and hanging out with cool chicks.  Despite the teens looking way too much like they are at least 30, the smoking in school, talk of teenage pregnancy and abortion is all pretty risque for a flick aimed at teens.  The music still rocks, the dancing impressive and Sandy's transformation is still great fun to watch.

7.  Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)  Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight versus rapey rednecks out in the backwoods of America.  Four city slickers get more than they bargained for when rowing down river.  Another shocker that once seen, won't be easily forgotten.  Immortalised the line 'squeal like a pig' and like other 70s films like Straw Dogs and The Hills Have Eyes showed the lengths 'ordinary' civilised folk will go to survive when faced with the raping, murdering ways of those creepy folk who live out in the country.

6. Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)  Al Pacino here with another of his great roles of the 70s.  Michael Corleone may be the obvious choice for this list but The Godfather and its sequels have never been that enjoyable to me.  Pacino is off the chain in this 'heist gone wrong' caper as a homosexual hero.  It's a bold film for the times and a bold move for Pacino.  But thank goodness someone had the courage to greenlight this and give us a very moving heist thriller that takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster.

5. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971) A difficult and disturbing but utterly absorbing film.  Great music, great central performance and a bleak look into England's future.  A great book adaptation with another spellbinding performance; Michael McDowell has certainly never been better as the vile, but strangely alluring Alex.  Iconic and challenging, this is still a real thought provoker.

4. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)  Forget the sequels and especially the prequels, this is where it all started.  Though most may prefer Empire, this is where Lucas' myth-making all began.  A classic fairytale with some of the greatest and most iconic heroes (Obi-Wan, Han Solo), villains (Vader, Stormtroopers) and showdowns (lightaber duels, rebel attacks) in cinema history.  With constant (unnecessary) updates to the visuals, this is as easy to watch as the day it was released.

3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Milos Forman, 1975)  Another remarkable performance.  With this and The Shining, Nicholson was unleashed and never better.  A killer ending and a killer villain.  Nurse Ratched is an authoritarian nightmare whose pretty face hides the sinister bitch on the inside.  Based on a book, I imagine this has to also go down as one of the greatest book to film adaptations.

2. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)  The most powerful acting I've ever seen in a film.  The best performances from De Niro and Walken in careers full of amazing performances.  Ignore accusations of racism.  This is a film about war and the horrors and trauma it causes.  Unforgettable and often imitated/parodied, the russian roulette scenes will be imprinted on your mind forever and contrasted with the early wedding scenes, are a harrowing reminder of why we should think VERY carefully before sending men off to war.

1. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)  Still the freakiest, most shocking and disturbing horror movie ever made.  I don't agree with those that think the special effects are dated.  Linda Blair still looks terrifying under layers of make up and the lack of CGI makes this a much more believeable film than many other more recent attempts at horror.  The voice of Mercedes McCambridge emanating from a little possessed girl is one of the most frightening things you will ever see.  Hide the crucifixes.

So what do you think?  Only a madman wouldn't include The Godfathers Part 1 and 2, Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver?  Have I shown a complete lack of respect for the 70s work of Woody Allen?  Does this list need more Kubrick or Scorcese?  If you're reading this... let me know!


  1. We all have favorites etc and it is hard to select just 10! But what is worse is the 1970's I believe was the best era of cinema ever, period. The ten you have here are worthy contenders and not everyone has to like The Godfather even though a masterful film. There are others from the decade I prefer over it.

  2. Don't get me wrong, I do like The Godfather, just not enough to make this list. Thanks for reading!

  3. amazing list! Im actually reading a book about the best of the 70's films. I have seen some of these. Clockwork orange is a definite for the best of the 70's. You have a new follower now :) Be sure to check my blog out at>

  4. @Tom Cool what's the book? Easy Rider, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind is an excellent read and covers some of the films here! Clockwork is disturbing and unforgettable, loved your post on it and thanks for following, commenting and reading!


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