It was the decade that gave us midnight movies, modern blockbusters, Blaxploitation epics, neo-noirs and the cream of the New Hollywood crop. The “Film Brats” were in full bloom, and after the studio system had let the bearded barbarians in through gate, audiences were gifted with what seemed like some new beautiful, bleak vision of American life on a weekly basis. Later, boxers, biking teens, baseball kids and broken-down hockey players would prove that sometimes, the underdogs win even if they don’t actually win. These were the years when we learned to be scared of sharks, masked slashers and pea-soup-spitting youngsters. (In all fairness fair to Regan MacNeil, the devil made her do it.)
There’s a reason that the 1970s are idolized, fetishisized and consistently namechecked by several generations of cinephiles: the sheer abundance of great movies that came out during that 10-year span, especially (but not exclusively) from American filmmakers. Looking back at the second golden age of Hollywood while this group of writers attempted to wrestle with the notion of the 100 best movies of the 1970s, it’s mind-boggling to think so many of what we now consider the high points of a still young-ish art form came from this small pocket of time. Our only regret is that we didn’t take this list up to 200, or even 300 titles. (Forget it, Jake — it’s a deadline thing.)
Here are our picks for the greatest movies to come out of that fertile era of filmmaking, from godfather-led family businesses to tales in a galaxy far, far away. You won’t agree with all of these choices, but hopefully you’ll revisit every single film on this list and find something new in these documents of a wild, wacky, weird decade of movies. To quote a wise man: “It’s showtime, folks!”
100. ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1975)
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There were “midnight movies” before the big-screen version of Richard O’Brien’s tongue-in-cheek stage show, assembled from the spare parts of science fiction double features, musical theater and underlined passages of “Notes on Camp.” But this would come to both define and refine the entire concept of filmdom cults, turning its after-hours screenings into interactive cosplay gatherings designed for a communal experience. O’Brien himself is Riff-Raff, the hunchbacked handyman who initiates lost innocents Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon into a world of freaks, geeks and sexual fluidity; their resistance is, of course, futile. And who needs Dr. Frankenstein when you have Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Tim Curry’s iconic mad scientist in fishnets and a man capable of making you shiver in antici…pation. It’s enough to make you believe that liberation was just a jump to the left — and then a step to the ri-iii-iiight — away. —David Fear.
99. ‘Saturday Night Fever’ (1977)
Meet Tony Manero, age 19, a native of Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge. During the day, this outer-borough everyguy sells paint and bickers with his Italian-American family. But when the sun goes down and the lights at the local discotheque go up, Tony is a god. John Badham’s movie is so closely associated with the late ’70s disco craze that if you look the word in the dictionary, you’ll simply see a picture of John Travolta in white leisure suit, right hand pointing toward heaven. This was the movie that turned the Welcome Back, Kotter kid into a genuine star, as well as selling mainstream America on what had mostly been an underground club culture and giving the Bee-Gees a serious second-wind boost. The dance scenes are such kinetic time capsules that you almost forget how gritty and bleak the rest of the film is, and that it’s really a coming-of-age story about a guy outgrowing his knucklehead friends, his neighborhood and his own limited set of options. Just, y’know, watch his hair, ok?! He worked on it a long time. —D.F.
98. ‘Cooley High’ (1975)
Set in 1964 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and scored by Motown’s vibrant back catalog, this coming-of-age tale follows a group of young, Black high schoolers in Chicago — led by the burgeoning poet Preach (Glynn Turman) and his college bound best friend Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) — through a series of teenage hijinks (sneaking out of class, fights at house parties). During a moment in which most Blaxploitation movies were pulling the public’s gaze toward stories of sex, crime, and drugs, director Michael Schultz (Car Wash) turned his attention to the rich inner lives of these young Black men. That pivot toward their bond of friendship didn’t just set Cooley High apart from the more sensationalistic movies it shared screen space with; it virtually redefined the perception of what a Black film could be during the decade. —Robert Daniels.
97. ‘F for Fake’ (1973)
Orson Welles is at his slipperiest in this essay film, as he imports his gift for telling plummy tall tales on the talk-show circuit to a feature-film format. He starts by focusing on notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory, only to iris back and turn the proceedings into a meditation on the nature of truth itself, as well as the myths we tell ourselves to imbue our lives with meaning. Meanwhile, Welles’ partner — the enigmatic Oja Kodar — looms in the background, both clothed and unclothed. It’s a delightful head-trip and a reminder that an unbiased look at his rich catalogue yields more than just the Greatest Film of All Time. Even as a minor gem, F for Fake shines bright in his back catalog. —Mosi Reeves.
96. ‘Ganja and Hess’ (1973)
Novelist, playwright, director, and actor Bill Gunn created Ganja & Hess at the invitation of an independent film company eager to market a blaxploitation film. But his resulting symphony of Afro-Caribbean heritage, voodoo rituals, Christian guilt, homoerotic allusions, and sexual tension didn’t meet his backers’ desire for a Black vampire quickie akin to Blacula. The plot centers on Hess Green (Duane Jones, who also starred in another horror masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead), an anthropologist who drinks the blood of an assistant (played by Gunn) who’s killed himself. He then falls in love with his assistant’s wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) when she comes to investigate. Gunn’s unique camerawork and garish visuals makes this as much an art film as an indie horror; it earned rave reviews at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and is now properly recognized as a classic. —M.R.
95. ‘Vanishing Point’ (1971)
There’s all other stoner desert-highway movies, and then there’s Vanishing Point. Twilight Zone veteran Richard C. Sarafian made a midnight movie that could give anyone a contact buzz. Barry Newman is Kowalski, the lone driver, behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger on a high-speed mission to reach San Francisco. Are the cops in hot pursuit? Does he meet a Jesus-freak rock commune? Does he see a mystic vision of a blonde hippie biker riding her Harley naked to the guitar riffs of “Mississippi Queen”? Yes, yes, and obviously. His only guide: Cleavon Little as the blind radio DJ Super Soul, hailing Kowalski as “the last American hero… the last beautiful free soul on this planet!” His DJ rap has been set to music by both Guns N Roses (“Breakdown”) and Primal Scream (“Kowalski”) — a tribute to this meta-road flick’s impact. —Rob Sheffield
94. ‘Wattstax’ (1973)
Seven years after the Watts rebellion sparked by Martin Luther King Jr’s death, a concert featuring the recording artists of Stax Records took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Its aim was to heal the area. “I am somebody,” spoken proudly by Jesse Jackson, became its battle cry. Director Mel Stuart’s stirring documentary differs from similar chronicles of memorable shows like The Last Waltz, because it’s not really about the featured artists (such as the Staples Singers, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, among others). Instead, its interest arises from giving voice and witnessing the pointed conversations between Black folk about colorism, interracial dating, and the Blues. It’s the one concert film that tells Black people “you are somebody” in every single shot. —R.D.
93. ‘Annie Hall’ (1977)
For just a moment, try and forget your feelings about Woody Allen in 2023, and go back in time to 1977 — when Annie Hall upended notions of the romantic comedy with its mix of direct address to the camera, lobster-cooking, and existential malaise. This Oscar-winning masterpiece plunges its audience into the neurotic psyche of Allen’s alter-ego Alvy Singer, as he becomes smitten with the eponymous WASP flibbertigibbet played by Diane Keaton. In part a study of American Jewish assimilation and in part the saga of falling in and out love, Annie Hall is still more than the sum of its perfect bits. And, yes, the bits still are delightful, from Christopher Walken’s creepy turn as Annie’s terrifying brother to the cocaine sneeze. But it’s the melancholy that made this the template for so many filmmakers to follow in the years to come. And, of course, there’s Keaton’s Annie herself, a dream woman with a deep soul beneath all her la di das. —Esther Zuckerman.
92. ‘Hester Street’ (1975)
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Joan Micklin Silver’s stunning debut about Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side almost feels like an artifact from another time — not from the 1970s, to be clear, but from the late 19th Century when it takes place. Shot in black-and-white and spoken often in Yiddish, Hester Street begins as the story of Jake (Steven Keats), formerly Yankel, a man who believes he is thriving in his new home of New York City. But the perspective deftly, and heartbreakingly, shifts upon the arrival of his wife, Gitl (Carol Kane). Jake is disgusted by her old world ways and wants her to assimilate…just not enough so that she abandons her place in the home. His conflicting instructions are cruel, yet Gitl is not Jake’s limited picture of an American woman. Instead, she adapts to her environment in her own way. Silver cedes the film to Carol Kane’s incredible, Oscar-nominated performance, and the actor inhabits Gitl with wide-eyed worry as if she, too, has just arrived in this country. —E.Z.
91. ‘The Bad News Bears’ (1976)
The Bicenntennial summer of ’76 was such a peak season to be a young baseball fan: the game’s hottest pitcher was Detroit’s longhair kid Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, while the hottest movie was The Bad News Bears. Michael Ritchie’s comedy starred a Little League squad full of misfit children who cuss like Marines, but it’s one of the most emotionally accurate — and funniest — sports movies ever made. Walter Matthau has the role of his life as Buttermaker, the cigar-chomping drunk asshole coaching a team sponsored by Chico’s Bail Bonds. (“Let Freedom Ring!”) But the Bears start to win when they get a girl pitcher, Tatum O’Neal, plus Harvey-riding delinquent Jackie Earle Haley. Every kid here became a cult hero: Lupus, who fixes the coach’s martinis. Engelberg, who tells him driving with an open whiskey bottle is illegal. (“So’s murder, Engelberg. Now put that back before you get me in real trouble.”) Ogilvie, pop culture’s first baseball stats geek, at a time when Bill James was still mailing his Abstract out of his garage. And Tanner, who basically invents Gen X the moment he tells the rival team, “Hey Yankees — you can take your apology and your trophy and shove ‘em up your ass!” Even the sequels bat above the Mendoza line. —R.S.
90. ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ (1977)
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It’s the ultimate Southern-fried good ol’ boy comedy, the most Burt Reynoldsian of Burt Reynolds’ 1970s movies (which is saying something), and the Citizen Kane of Redneck Cinema. A legend in bootlegger circles, the Bandit and his partner “Snowman” (country musician Jerry Reed) are hired to transport a truckload of illegal Coors beer — no, really — from Texarkana to Atlanta in a little over a day. Per Reed’s theme song, they “got a long way to go, and a short time to get there,” which gets complicated by Sally Field’s runaway bride and a posse of “smokeys” on their trail. Stuntman and longtime Reynolds buddy-turned-director Hal Needham not only tapped into his star’s inherent charm and comic timing, he also realized that the combo of car chases, trucker culture and Hee-Haw level humor (give it up for Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice) would be one hell of a drive-in movie trifecta. The film was D.O.A. upon release until someone at Universal figured out to concentrate directly on the Southern theater market — at which point the movie took off faster than state troopers in hot pursuit of a speeding Trans Am. —D.F.
89. ‘Wanda’ (1970)
Writer-director-actor Barbara Loden’s sole feature film centers around a woman who’s just left her husband and lost her factory job. She then passively teams up with a small-time crook, flitting from barstool to backseat with the resignation of a prisoner who no longer dreams of escape. It’s a portrait of a broken spirit that was bleak even by the era’s standards. (Loden’s screenplay attracted little interest, which is why she ended up directing it herself; it’s a movie about someone paralyzed by society’s expectations, made by someone paralyzed by society’s expectations.) Yet it’s since been recognized as a compassionate, highly personal landmark of American independent cinema, and an object of fascination for writers and filmmakers intrigued by Loden’s short life and extraordinary sense of humanity. —Katie Rife.
88. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’ (1979)
For a brief but beautiful “1-2-3-4!” moment, the Ramones were movie stars. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School was Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Markie, rocking their own black-leather A Hard Day’s Night. Since the average kid had no hope of hearing the Ramones on the radio, much less at CBGB’s, director Allan Arkush’s exploitation flick was the gateway drug for countless fans. (Big shout-out to Siskel & Ebert, who gave it a hey-ho let’s-go boost when nobody else did.) The hero: P.J. Soles as Riff Randall, the punk rebel who tells her evil principal (Warhol Factory dominatrix Mary Woronov), “I’m a teenage lobotomy!” Centering the film around the feminist fangirl was a prophetic move, which is why it was a sacred text for the 1990 riot-grrrl revolution, right down to Sleater-Kinney’s “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.” It peaks with a blazing live set where Da Bruddas bash “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “She’s The One”; for the climax, they help Riff blow up the school. Gabba gabba hey! —R.S.
87. ‘Small Change’ (1976)
François Truffaut emerged from a difficult childhood to become a filmmaker acutely sensitive to the perils faced by children and the ways the world takes advantage of the innocent and vulnerable. That makes Small Change, a slice of life set amongst the children of the French city of Thiers, of a piece with earlier Truffaut films like The 400 Blows and The Wild Child. That’s particularly true when its focus turns to the story of Julien (Philippe Goldmann), a boy whose abuse at first goes unnoticed by his teachers and classmates. But Truffaut makes the kid’s story part of a tapestry that mixes the whimsical with the bittersweet as it weaves together a variety of childhood experiences. It’s a tour de force on a miniature scale. —Keith Phipps.
86. ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid’ (1973)
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Sam Peckinpah gives us one elegiac ode to the Western, with Kris Kristoffersen as the wild-eyed outlaw and James Coburn as the cynical sheriff hired to gun his old friend down. The filmmaker also cast a kindred spirit: Bob Dylan, another poet of American mythos, in his first dramatic role. Dylan plays a wily drifter named Alias, handy with a guitar or a switchblade. (Alias what? “Alias anything you please.”) It’s practically The Last Waltz of Westerns, full of renegades beaten down by the road. The signature song: Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” playing as dying gunslinger Slim Pickens sits by the river with wife Katy Jurado, two legends of the genre watching that long black cloud coming down. In a sadly typical story, the studio totally botched Peckinpah’s version — it took until the 1988 director’s cut for Pat Garrett to get recognized as one of his masterworks. —R.S.
85. ‘The Passenger’ (1975)
In Michelangelo Antonioni’s last great film, Jack Nicholson plays an enterprising reporter, David Locke, so hellbent on covering a revolution in Chad that he hastily assumes the identity of a deceased arms dealer who died at his hotel. Locke weaves himself into his own story as he follows the trail that the dead man left behind, putting himself in danger as he befriends a woman (Maria Schneider — here billed only as “The Girl,” since it was still the sexist Seventies) who goes on the run with him. The Passenger in the title might well be the viewer who must make sense of who’s good and who’s bad in this nuanced, compelling thriller that benefits from Antonioni’s trademark slow reveals. —Kory Grow.
84. ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’ (1972)
Welcome to Luis Buñuel’s dinner party, where you can check out any time you like but you can never eat. The Spanish filmmaker’s late-career masterpiece gathers together a group of upper-middle-class folks — a who’s who of mid-’70s international stars, including Delphine Seyrig, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Bulle Ogier, Stephane Audran, and Fernando Rey — for a soirée. When they’re host is unprepared to serve them food, they all go in search of a communal meal, only to encounter terrorists, bishops, ghost-story-telling soldiers, and dreams within dreams within dreams. Curiously, none of them can get a bite to eat anywhere. Buñuel was always the missing link between André Breton and Monty Python, and this cockeyed comedy of manners still feels like his most perfect distillation between the satirical and surreal. Bon appétit. —D.F.
83. ‘Night Moves’ (1975)
Arthur Penn’s neo-noir riff is a quintessential work of New Hollywood: a classic genre piece, given a fresh coat of paint and a contemporary sensibility, to say nothing of a bummer ending. In this case, the genre was the hard-boiled detective movie, but our gumshoe (Gene Hackman, at his bristling best) is a cuckolded, frustrated, perpetually disappointed former athlete whose deeply felt personal code is as much an anachronism as his disreputable profession. One dialogue exchange sums up not only the movie, but the decade in general: Asked who’s winning the football game he’s watching on television, Hackman replies wearily, “Nobody — one side is losing more slowly than the other.” —Jason Bailey.
82. ‘Amarcord’ (1973)
Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini drew from the well of his formative experiences often, but arguably never as effectively as he did in this look back at his youth in 1930s Rimini, where kids run wild, townspeople play pranks on each other, everyone lusts after the local beauties and Mussolini’s black shirts start to creep, slowly but surely, into the provinces. It’s equal parts nostalgic for the past and wary of sentimentalizing it, combining a frightening look at the rise of Fascism with vignettes involving mentally unstable relatives, kooky local traditions and one extremely horny, buxom tobacco-shop owner. This set the template for almost every “memory” movie to follow, and you can see its DNA in everything from Roma to Armageddon Road. And it’s a great introduction to the singularly surreal, dreamy and mondo overripe style — an aesthetic that more than earned the filmmaker his own adjective of “Felliniesque.” —D.F.
81. ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra van Kant’ (1972)
Some films treat the notion that “you always hurt the ones you love” as a passing thought — Rainer Werner Fassbender’s caustic, cutting parable about amorous masochists turns it into a mantra. The insanely prolific German director outdid himself with this adaptation of his own play, about a fashion designer (Margit Carstensen) who falls madly in love with a model (Hanna Schygulla) and proceeds to put them both through hell. Power dynamics between the couple constantly shift back and forth; meanwhile, Petra’s silent maid (Irm Hermann), herself head over heels for her employer, bears witness to all of it and goes about her daily business. It’ll end in tears, and dear god, will they be bitter. You could not find a better example of scratching Fassbinder’s cynical, ironic surface and finding the bleeding romantic underneath. Nor, for that matter, a more devastating use of the Platters’ “The Great Pretender.” —D.F.
80. ‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974)
If Mel Brooks had just released Blazing Saddles in 1974, dayenu. (For the goyim reading, that means: “it would have been enough.”) Instead, in one year he gave us both that classic and this perfect parody of Universal horror movies, a double whammy of zany tributes to the very act of moviegoing. The grandson of the legendary doctor Victor Frankenstein Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) — it’s pronounced “frah-ken-steen” — ventures to Transylvania to take over his family’s estate. He encounters all kinds of creepy characters, such as Frau Blücher [Horse sound], and eventually goes into the family business. The gags are not only goofy winners (“What hump?”) but also demonstrate Brooks’ deep reverence for cinema, specifically in this case the 1930s monster-movie canon. The film is also proof of Brooks’ belief in the power of putting on a show — or rather, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” — as long as nothing goes wrong and startles the monster. —E.Z.
79. ‘A Touch of Zen’ (1971)
Sweeping epics were out of style in the New Hollywood of the ‘70s, but cinematic grandeur was alive and well in Taiwan. The first hour of King Hu’s masterpiece plays like a combination fairy tale and old-fashioned Western, telling the story of provincial artist Ku Shen Chai (Chun Shih) and his tentative romance with runaway princess Yang Hui-ching (Feng Hsu). Then the swordplay comes in, and the film unfolds into a transcendent, thrilling martial-arts tale. Its balletic fight scenes and feminist message have influenced directors like Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou, confirming it as a cornerstone of the wuxia genre. —K.R.
78. ‘Suspiria’ (1977)
Dario Argento’s Pantone-perfect giallo dynamo may touch on haunted houses, witches, and other clichéd horror tropes. But the way he presents the terror that ballet student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) encounters at a creepy boarding school makes you feel like you’re in the nightmare with her. When a character gets stabbed through the heart, you see a closeup of a knife piercing a beating heart; same with the screenplay’s maggots and barbed wire. Throughout, the rock group Goblin makes its own hellish racket by turning a ballerina jewel box theme into one of the most haunting and unforgettable scores in horror. You don’t watch Suspiria — you feel it. —K.G.
77. ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ (1974)
You can glimpse the fingerprints of Joseph Sargent’s adaptation of Peter Godey’s novel on everything from Reservoir Dogs to Die Hard, but above all else, it’s one of the great New York movies. When Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) announces to the riders of the downtown 6 that he and his three armed accomplices are taking their train and holding them hostage, it prompts the kind of bemused laugh that you can only get in New York. And only in New York would their plot unravel at the hands of a transit cop like Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau); his poor bedside manner, rumpled wardrobe, and face like a catcher’s mitt provide a Columbo-like distraction for investigative prowess — fully revealed in one of the finest closing shots in all of American cinema. —J.B.
76. ‘Fantastic Planet’ (1973)
Even in a year that brought such far-out fare as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain and Eiichi Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness, René Laloux’s hallucinatory human-rights parable stands out. This animated film is strangely alluring, and not only because both the towering blue Draag humanoids and their human-like Oms pets are frequently unclothed. It’s filled with bizarre squid-like creatures, and the animation is stark and rigid, eschewing the fluid expressiveness of Disney film. Meanwhile, Alain Goraguer’s famed jazz-funk score whiles away in the background, making the proceedings seem like Jonathan Swift-like satire. Fantastic Planet is Laloux’s most famous work; the French animator directed several shorts and two more features (notably 1987’s Gandahar) before his death in 2004. —M.R.
75. ‘Gates of Heaven’ (1978)
The simplest way to describe this achingly poignant and off-handedly comic Errol Morris experiment is that it’s a deadpan documentary about pet cemeteries, featuring interviews with the owners and operators of one failing and one thriving business. But this movie is ultimately about so much more. It’s a frank examination of family legacies, peppered with vivid portraits of how naive American optimism feeds the grinding machinery of success. And it’s a slice-of-life that is framed like a piece of art, with shots that are precisely arranged and adorned with eye-catching props, and then populated by people who wax philosophical — not just about cats and dogs, but about the subtle differences between life and death. —Noel Murray.
74. ‘The Devils’ (1971)
Ken Russell’s blasphemous firebomb is the rare example of a movie that actually has been suppressed by the powers that be. (The film was not publicly screened in its uncut form until 2004.) The onslaught of depraved and profane imagery is the primary culprit for its dances with censors, much of it related to Vanessa Redgrave’s bravura performance as a perverse abbess who accuses Oliver Reed’s playboy priest of witchcraft. But the political implications of the story — a searing critique of corruption and hypocrisy among self-styled moral authorities — are just as dangerous. In Russell’s vision, the celibate is the sinner and the libertine the saint, an inversion as provocative as the frequently snipped-out scene where Redgrave sucks on Christ’s side wound. —K.R.
73. ‘Network’ (1976)
Nearly every absurd idea presented in the screenplay by Golden Age of television star creator Paddy Chayefsky has become unnervingly true in the era of Fox News. Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway both won Oscars for their respective roles: an anchorman whose on-air nervous breakdown (including the iconic “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” rant) somehow turns him into “the mad prophet of the airwaves”; and a sociopath network executive who will do everything, up to and including assassination, to goose ratings. Directed by Sidney Lumet, and featuring other magnificent performances by William Holden, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, and Beatrice Straight (who won an Oscar for one scene!), Network is as hilarious as it is chilling. What began as a satire has instead turned out to be prophecy. —Alan Sepinwall.
72. ‘Slap Shot’ (1977)
This hockey comedy feels like the demarcation point between Paul Newman’s young and beautiful movie-star phase and his weathered (but still beautiful) character-actor phase. He plays Reg Dunlop, player-coach for a failing minor league team in a dying steel town, who tries to drum up attendance with a new and incredibly violent style of play — spearheaded by the simplistic, ruthless Hanson brothers. Written by Nancy Dowd and directed by George Roy Hill, Slap Shot leans hilariously into the crude caveman personalities of Reg and his teammates, with Newman playing his role without the slightest trace of vanity, and the mix of profanity and physical comedy making this the funniest sports film ever. —A.S.
71. ‘Get Carter’ (1971)
This landmark British crime flick marks the moment when the stage-y kitchen-sink dramas of Sixties British cinema coagulated into gloriously brutish thuggery. It finds London gangster Michael Caine hurtling on a train back to his Newcastle hometown to solve his brother’s mysterious death by alcohol poisoning, a journey that ends in bullets and blood. Director and screenwriter Mike Hodges based Get Carter on Ted Lewis’s pulp novel Jack’s Return Home, and he fills the screen with scenes of gray, cloudy exteriors and working-class malaise, and every character seems to hold secret trauma. At its center is Caine, who seems to radiate an uneasy calm that only breaks with violence. —M.R.
70. ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978)
One of the first American movies to take a cold, hard look at the aftermath of our involvement in Vietnam, the 1978 Best Picture Oscar-winner follows a trio of steel workers — played by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage — who enlist in the Army to fight overseas. All three become prisoners of war. Two return home with physical wounds and psychic scars; one remains in country, reliving his P.O.W. trauma on a nightly basis. Michael Cimino’s epic is mostly remembered for the intense sequences of the Viet Cong forcing them to play harrowing games of “Russian roulette.” But seen now, it’s the film’s first half that really stays with you, in which these young men and their hunting buddies drink, hang out, talk shit and let loose at a wedding. You get a real sense of this small town’s blue-collar community and the men’s camaraderie, which only makes the abrupt switch to the killing fields that much more jarring (imagine watching Diner and having someone suddenly switch the channel to Apocalypse Now halfway through). Yet that perfectly mirrors the sense of violent disorientation these all-American everyguys go through in ‘Nam, and the alienation De Niro’s character feels after returning home. This was also the movie that gave Meryl Streep her first big film role and gave us the last performance of the late, great John Cazale. —D.F.
69. ‘Harold and Maude’ (1971)
Part black comedy and part guide to living, Hal Ashby’s beloved cult film stars a cherubic Bud Cort as Harold, a directionless child of privilege who spends his days attending strangers’ funerals and performing fake suicides for a distant mother (Vivian Pickles). He meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), an elderly woman and fellow funeral enthusiast who possesses a zest for life that the morbid Harold can only dream of. As they become inseparable, Maude’s enthusiasm becomes infectious, tempered only by hints of the hard road she’s followed to reach the age of 79 and the suggestion that she doesn’t have much time ahead of her. Defiantly and inspiringly naive, it’s a black comedy that stares despair in the face and dares to laugh. —K.P.
68. ‘The Life of Brian’ (1979)
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This standout entry in Monty Python’s filmography may have one of the greatest final scenes in comedy history. The premise is that Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) is born in a stable in Jerusalem, right next to the one where Jesus Christ was born. Much hilarity ensues and, without giving the obvious away, let’s just say that Brian’s fate isn’t much different from the son of God. As Eric Idle famously sings to the reluctant messiah at the end, “Always look on the bright side of life”; the song has since become a national anthem, with Idle reprising it at the 2012 London Olympics. All the Python members are great here, and Sue Jones-Davies stands out as Judith Iscariot. Watch out for a cameo from George Harrison, who financed Life of Brian through his HandMade Films company. —M.R.
67. ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)
May Day, 1973: a police sergeant arrives on the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, to investigate a missing child. But he finds himself in a strange pagan society where the locals dance around the maypole, practice ancient Celtic rituals, and have sex in the fields. Robin Hardy made The Wicker Man the ultimate folk-horror nightmare, right to the scream-worthy final minutes. Edward Woodward is the uptight Christian cop, aghast at the nudity on this island; Christopher Lee is the affable Lord Summerisle, who insists, “One should always stay open to the regenerative influences.” It’s a dark satire of post-hippie “back to the land” fantasies, where the innkeeper is Lindsay Kemp (a.k.a. David Bowie and Kate Bush’s real-life mime teacher) and his lascivious daughter is rock muse Britt Ekland. Paul Giovanni’s freak-folk music became part of the film’s legend — bizarrely, there was no official soundtrack album until the 1990s, yet tunes like “Willow’s Song” became hugely influential psych-prog classics. (As The Auteurs’ Luke Haines said, “Every British band makes its Wicker Man album.”) Tributes like Midsommar just reaffirm the original’s terrifying power. Sing, cuckoo! —R.S.
66. ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House’ (1978)
This National Lampoon production set the slobs-vs.-snobs template that would define much of film comedy for the next few decades, and was by far the best film vehicle for the prodigious but specific comedic talents of the late, great John Belushi. As Bluto Blutarsky, the hard-drinking, filthy (in every sense) member of the disreputable Delta House fraternity, the SNL star is such a force of nature that you can’t help thinking of it as his film, even though fellow Deltas Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, and Tom Hulce all have more prominent roles. He’s so charismatic that, when Bluto asks in the middle of an inspirational speech, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?,” nobody wants to interrupt to him to explain. —A.S.
65. ‘Woodstock’ (1970)
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One of the first major films of the 1970s looked back at one of the major events of the 1960s — and, in its own way, at the ethos of the entire decade. Director Michael Wadleigh led a team of young filmmakers (including a baby-faced Martin Scorsese) to Bethel, New York, to document the August 1969 festival of music and peace; their shoot was nearly as chaotic as the festival itself, running multiple cameras and exposing 50 miles of film during performances. Yet they gathered impressions and insights from organizers, attendees, and Bethel’s blindsided residents in addition to capturing artists like Santana, the Who, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Jimi Hendrix at their height — and the result is a 360-degree portrait of a culturally defining event. It’s assembled with a you-are-there immediacy and coked-out energy — the vibes are exquisite and the performances are electrifying. With Altamont falling between the festival itself and the film’s release, this legendary concert film already played, even in those first screenings, like wistful nostalgia. —J.B.
64. ‘Badlands’ (1971)
Over the course of two months straddling 1957 and 1958, a 19-year-old garbage collector named Charles Starkweather brought his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate on a Heartland killing spree that left 10 death and captured the public imagination. The story suggests another lovers-on-the-lam thriller like Bonnie & Clyde, but in his first feature, Terrence Malick heads off in own iconoclastic direction, ignoring the celebrity brouhaha to focus on the relationship between Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) — one an antisocial greaser with an itchy trigger finger, the other a bored kid who thinks he looks like James Dean. Malick’s career-long interest in the natural world gives Badlands a dreamy, innocent quality that contrasts sharply with the casually shocking spasms of violence. —Scott Tobias.
63. ‘The Phantom of the Paradise’ (1974)
In a cooler alternate universe, Brian De Palma’s satirical riff on the Phantom of the Opera myth would be a Rocky Horror Picture Show-level midnight phenomenon. Paul Williams (who wrote most of the songs for this cult musical) stars as a diabolical producer whose plans to opens a new concert hall with a rock opera version of Faust; his plans are thwarted, however, by the mangled singer-songwriter (William Finley) who haunts the place. De Palma may have been early in his career, but he still unleashed his full arsenal of stylistic tricks — screens are split like crazy — and showed a willingness to bite hard on the hand that feeds him. —S.T.
62. ‘Spirit of the Beehive’ (1973)
In the Spanish countryside of 1940, a six-year-old girl named Ana (Ana Torrent) finds herself haunted by Frankenstein, a film whose meaning she struggles to grasp but which seems profound in ways she can’t quite understand. After Ana befriends and aids a republican soldier who takes shelter in a crumbling sheepfold, she’s invested Frankenstein with a meaning of her own invention, incorporating its vision of a gentle, misunderstood monster into her growing understanding of death, disillusionment and the first stirrings of discontent. Set shortly after the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War and the ascent of Francisco Franco (and released in the Franco regime’s final years), director Victor Erice’s meditative, visually lush debut works both as a universal story about the end of childhood innocence and a barbed depiction of how complacency opened the door for authoritarianism — and the succeeding generation’s obligation to close it again. —K.P.
61. ‘American Graffitti’ (1973)
Anticipating the viscous wave of greaser nostalgia that would soak the Seventies from the Fonz to Grease, filmmaker George Lucas wrote American Graffiti about the happy-ish days of 1962, the year he turned 18 — when cool cats would cruise the strip to pick up chicks, drag race, prank cops, and talk trash. A sharp ensemble cast that included Richard Dreyfus, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, and Paul Le Mat brought out the characters’ small-town, teenage ennui as they prepared to “finally get out of this turkey town” (Howard’s words.) Amid all the hi-jinks (“Your car’s uglier than I am,” 13-year-old Mackenzie Phillips says), there are also moments of real heart, like the the high-speed end sequence. Plus, the movie boasts what all the imitators lacked: Wolfman Jack. —K.G.
60. ‘Harlan County USA’ (1976)
Immediacy and intimacy are crucial components in so many great documentaries, but Barbara Kopple’s potent debut is a masterclass in bringing audiences into her subjects’ lives, making their struggles as palpable as our own. She takes us to the frontlines of the tense strike waged by Kentucky coal miners in the early 1970s, when they faced off with Duke Power Company, led by the monstrously callous capitalist Carl Horn. Shoving aside patronizing clichés about working-class life, the film stands as a tribute to honest labor, presenting the blunt decency of ordinary Americans forced to endure dangerous mining conditions while barely being able to keep their heads above water financially. It’s stirring in its simplicity — never more so than when activist and songwriter Florence Reece delivers a powerfully spartan rendition of “Which Side Are You On?” — and as gripping as a thriller once Duke Power starts threatening the striking workers’ lives. Kopple’s camera is right there to capture the terror and chaos. There’s little doubt whose side you’ll be on in this David-and-Goliath confrontation. —Tim Grierson
59. ‘Day for Night’ (1973)
Francois Truffaut spent most of his early career making movies about a movie-mad young man (big up Antoine Doinel!) and/or films dedicated to emulating the styles of his auteur idols. In 1973, he finally got around to the subject of moviemaking itself — and gave us what may be the most passionate, poetic chronicle of capturing magic 24 frames per second. Starting with its famous opening crane shot, Day for Night (the title itself refers to an illusionary filmmaking trick) uses a fake film shoot to pull back the curtain on the agony and the ecstasy of telling stories with a camera, a crew and cockeyed notion of cinema as an art form. Yet even when Truffaut’s onscreen director Ferrand is struggling to get his vision onscreen or get his stars (namely Jean-Pierre Léaud and Jacqueline Bisset) to hit their marks, the movie never treats the sheer work of filmmaking as anything less than a miracle. It’s both an expose on how the cinematic sausage gets made and a love letter to those brave or foolish enough to make sausages at the same time. —D.F.
58. ‘The Harder They Come’ (1972)
Ivan (Jimmy Cliff), a nobody with dreams of musical stardom, returns to Kingston hoping to be seen. He records a reggae track, one he’s sure will be a hit, called “The Harder They Fall.” But the strictures of authority — the church, the disc jockeys, the police—remain hostile to this outsider. Ivan becomes an outlaw after he murders a cop. Ironically, the notoriety rockets him to stardom. Perry Henzell’s rebellious film initially struggled to find an audience: It mostly played midnight-movie slots, while its accents required subtitles for American theaters. What didn’t need translating, however, was the reggae music, and the film’s soundtrack — featuring seminal hits like the title track, “Many Rivers to Cross” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want” — introduced Jamaica’s unique sights, sounds, and people to the world ready to devour it. —R.D.
57. ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ (1973)
A true epitaph for the Seventies: “This life’s hard, man. But it’s harder if you’re stupid!” Peter Yates made this massively influential, anti-glamorous gangster movie about small-time Irish crooks in Boston — guys like Eddie “Fingers” Coyle (Robert Mitchum), a world-weary gun-running loser, who spouts street proverbs like, “Never ask a man why he’s in a hurry.” These racket guys are working stiffs; nobody’s comparing them to the Roman Empire. Yates shot on location in diners, dive bars, bowling alleys, with an eye for gritty local detail based on George V. Higgins’ novel. The stellar cast has Peter Boyle, Alex Rocco, and the scene-stealing Steven Keats as a cocky Mick Jagger-esque hood in a ’71 Plymouth Road Runner. Eddie Coyle was the first of the Boston Irish mob movies — there’d be a few more where this came from — but it’s never been topped. —R.S.
56. ‘Carnal Knowledge’ (1971)
Long before “toxic masculinity” became grist for think-piece mill, director Mike Nichols delivered one of the nastiest portraits of bad men ever committed to celluloid. Working from Jules Feiffer’s contemptuous screenplay, Jack Nicholson and “Arthur” Garfunkel play college chums Jonathan and Sandy, each of them pining for pretty coeds and jockeying to prove their sexual swagger. Candice Bergen’s Susan becomes relatively-more-sensitive Sandy’s girlfriend, but soon, scheming Jonathan wants her for himself. This sets in motion a decades-spanning study of these men’s cruelty, insecurity and competitiveness, which often targets innocent women (including Ann Margaret, whose role deservedly earned her an Oscar nomination) unlucky enough to cross their paths. Ruthlessly acted and unsparingly bleak, Carnal Knowledge draws its dark laughs from Jonathan and Sandy’s wretchedness, this poisonous satire gleefully mocking fragile male egos imperiled by the then-burgeoning women’s liberation movement. —T.G.
55. ‘Sweetsweetback’s Badass Song’ (1971)
Towards the beginning of Melvin Van Peebles’ 1971 protest film, sex-show performer Swwet Sweetback ends up killing a pair of cops when their brutality towards a Black activist goes too far. That sets our hero on a quixotic path through the underbelly of Los Angeles, where he encounters hustlers, sex workers, Hell’s Angels, and more racist pigs on his way to freedom in Mexico. The character’s lone-wolf attitude reflects that of Van Peebles himself, who ditched a deal with Columbia Pictures to make an independent feature that’s raw and revolutionary in both form and content. It ended up becoming one of the most successful indie movies ever made, helped give birth to a genre and has been cited by everyone from Huey Newton to Spike Lee as a cinematic call to arms. —K.R.
54. ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978)
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In 1968 George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead gave birth to the modern zombie movie while proving, however accidentally, that the swarms of undead could offer a dark reflection of the times that created them. A decade later, he was ready to truly harness the dark, satirical possibilities of the walking dead with this sequel to his horror classic. When a quartet of survivors reclaim a Pittsburgh shopping mall in the middle of a zombie-horde danger zone, they turn it into a paradise of consumerism all their own while doing their best to isolate themselves from the world outside. Their perilous existence serves as a perfect metaphor for a decade that had left the idealism of the 1960s behind and the limits of blinkered, materialistic pleasures — though Romero doesn’t exactly skimp on the shambling zombies or shocking gore, either. —K.P.
53. ‘Cries and Whispers’ (1972)
Ingmar Bergman’s s punishing melodrama is drenched in the blood of unkempt emotions. The opening title cards are bright red, and so are the walls of the 19th century Swedish estate where one woman, Agnes (Harriet Andersson), is dying of cancer. Her two sisters, Maria (Liv Ullman) and Karin (Ingrid Thulin), wait her for death, losing themselves in memories of past trauma. Maria remembers how her infidelity led her husband to stab himself; Karin admits suicidal thoughts, thinking of an incident where she maimed herself with glass. When her husband sees her, she smears the blood on her face. Bergman’s oeuvre is filled with psychologically fraught fare, but few are as uncomfortably intimate and enthralling as this. —M.R.
52. ‘Dusty and Sweets McGee’ (1971)
Talk about a lost ’70s-cinema gem ripe for rediscovery: Writer-director Floyd Mutrux’s docudrama takes a sympathetic, but seriously unflinching at the junkie life, casting a handful of actual users to recreate scenes of scoring, stealing and scraping to get by. In between these gritty vignettes, he has other addicts give direct testimonials to the camera. All of it paints a harrowing picture of Los Angeles street life, which doubles as a snapshot of the idealistic Sixties sliding — or rather, spiraling downward — into the Seventies. And the movie’s incredible use of L.A. pop radio as a constant Greek chorus on the almost assuredly inspired Quentin Tarantino’s similar drive-time soundtrack in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. —D.F.
51. ‘Coffy’ (1973)
She’s an emergency room nurse in Los Angeles who’s out for revenge after her sister gets hooked on dope…and believe us, you do not want to mess with her. Decked out with a massive afro and higher-than-higher heels, Pam Grier gives us nothing short of the first Black female superhero, going up against the pimps, pushers, crooked cops and politicians rotting America’s inner cities. With big punches, broad kicks, a sawed-off pump-action rifle and winking one-liners delivered with unbridled cool, Grier showed the Blaxploitation-flick game wasn’t just for men. Black women could take the system down too. —R.D.
50. ‘Breaking Away’ (1979)
Both a funny and heartwarming coming-of-age story and an inspiring underdog sports film, Breaking Away follows a quartet of friends seeking direction in their lives in the year after graduating high school. Dave (Dennis Christopher) is so desperate to escape his depressing life as a “cutter” (the derisive nickname the jocks at nearby Indiana University give to the townies) that he begins talking, acting, and riding like the great Italian cyclists he admires. Eventually, he and his pals (including a young, never hotter Dennis Quaid as a bitter ex-quarterback) wind up racing against their college rivals in the Little 500. A lovely movie that works on every level, including great work by Paul Dooley and Barbara Barrie as Dave’s loving but puzzled parents. —A.S.
49. ‘Stalker’ (1979)
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Andrei Tarkovsky’s enigmatic sci-fi drama, a loose adaptation of the novel Roadside Picnic, is an epic quest that’s as much about the physical journey as it is about the psychic terrain the characters traverse. A man known simply as the Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky) guides two men — the Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and the Professor (Nikolai Grinko) — through a stark post-apocalyptic landscape called the Zone in search of the Room, a mysterious realm in which individuals’ wishes can supposedly be granted. Let this film’s slow, meditative rhythms subsume you — and the story’s ambiguous parable about religion, death and rebirth work its way through your mind and soul — and Stalker emerges as one of Tarkovsky’s most haunting metaphors for humanity’s fragile, searching nature. These three men enter the Zone thinking they know what they will find, only to have their expectations shattered. Anyone who encounters Stalker will know exactly how they feel. —T.G.
48. ‘Barry Lyndon’ (1975)
Stanley Kubrick followed up his zeitgeist-defining masterpieces Dr. Strangelove, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange with this William Makepeace Thackeray adaptation — a literary historical drama that in some ways is both his most “normal” and his most challenging. Ryan O’Neal plays a scheming Irish rogue who has a series of episodic adventures across mid-18th century Europe, observing the preposterousness of the European class system firsthand as he tries to secure his place within a skeptical aristocracy. The candle-lit interiors and twilit exteriors are astonishingly gorgeous, and the film takes its time to allow viewers to live inside them for a while, experiencing the slower pace and the social savagery of the distant past. —N.M.
47. ‘Mikey and Nicky’ (1976)
Paranoia and craven self-interest are the driving forces of this scrappy mid-’70s stunner, anchored by the phenomenal chemistry between stars Peter Falk (Mikey, the responsible one) and John Cassavetes (Nicky, the wild card). The film is technically a gangster drama, but it’s more character-driven than that label implies: It takes place over a single night, as the title characters flit around inner-city Philadelphia trying to avoid the hit man that Nicky’s convinced is after him. The film blends writer-director Elaine May’s sardonic comedy with Cassavetes’ interest in volatile masculinity, launching with festering unease and building to resigned acceptance. As with much of May’s work, clashes with the studio led to behind-the-scenes strife, and the result landed her in director’s jail for a decade. It’s now considered her masterpiece. —K.R.
46. ‘Shampoo’ (1975)
Has the sexual revolution ever seemed so exhausting (or exhausted) as it does in Hal Ashby’s satire of late ’60s mores? It’s not surprising that George Roundy — a motorcycle-riding hairdresser played by writer-producer-star Warren Beatty, deftly riffing on his own reputation as New Hollywood’s stud-in-residence — is able to convincingly woo any number of Beverly Hills women into bed. (I mean, that head of hair alone is a hell of an aphrodisiac!) It’s the way this himbo seems to be constantly lost and distracted as he pinballs from conquest to conquest, his hair-dryer tucked into his belt like a gunslinger. The thrill is gone, except the chase goes on and on. There’s such a delicious bitterness that Beatty and his cowriter, Robert “Chinatown” Towne, give to this Me Decade bedroom farce. It may be set in 1968 on the eve of Nixon’s election, but it’s very much a ’70s hangover movie, bleary-eyed from the fallout of new freedoms. The ensemble cast (including Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Jack Warden, a very young Carrie Fisher and Lee Grant, who won an Oscar) is pitch-perfect. The film itself, to quote George, is “great, baby. Just great.” —D.F.
45. ‘Rocky’ (1976)
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Sylvester Stallone wrote the script — about a never-was boxer given an improbable title fight against flamboyant champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) — as a showcase for an industry that seemingly had little use for him. It became much more than that, winning the Best Picture Oscar for 1976 (beating All the President’s Men and Network), turning Stallone into an A-list star, and essentially inventing the underdog sports movie genre as we know it today. Between Bill Conti’s rousing score, memorably staged training and fight sequences from director John G. Avildsen, and Stallone’s surprisingly effective approximation of Brando in On the Waterfront, is it any wonder the franchise (in the form of the Creed films) is still going nearly 50 years later? —A.S.
44. ‘Halloween’ (1978)
The plot is simple: A masked psych patient (Michael Myers) who once murdered his sister (on Halloween, of course) escapes for a mental institution. He returns to his hometown and starts stabbing babysitters. The bare-bones storyline, along with scream queen/nepo baby Jamie Lee Curtis’ star-making performance as Laurie Strode, made the low-budget picture a surprise blockbuster. The movie never explains why Myers embarks on his rampage — the backstory involving him and Strode came later in the sequels — and it’s the randomness of it, coupled with the picture’s claustrophobic cinematography and director John Carpenter’s off-kilter score, that tapped into filmgoers’ innate vulnerability. The victims could be anyone, and something this horrible could happen to you. The appeal was clear cut (pun intended). —K.G.
43. ‘Days of Heaven’ (1978)
In this enchantingly melancholy melodrama, Richard Gere and Brooke Adams play migrant workers who plan to con a dying farmer (Sam Shepard) out of his fortune, but worry they’ll be kicked off of his idyllic estate if he learns the truth. Writer-director Terrence Malick describes this tragic love triangle in the words of a tough-talking teenage girl (Linda Manz), who narrates the story without really understanding it. The film’s wryly ironic take on greed, need and what “paradise” really means is supported by some of the most visually arresting images of ‘70s cinema, overseen by cinematographers Haskell Wexler and Néstor Almendros. The result is a singular masterpiece which took so much out of its creator that he didn’t make another picture for 20 years. —N.M.
42. ‘Grey Gardens’ (1975)
Albert and David Maysles’ verité documentary plops you down right alongside Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale — the Jackie O relatives who, by the time the filmmakers came along, were living in squalor in their Hamptons mansion. The circumstances of the Edies’ existence as depicted in Grey Gardens are overwhelmingly grim, but the Maysles (and the audience) are also captivated by Little Edie’s irrepressible spirit. Her kooky fashions, musical numbers, and vocabulary words (see: “staunch”) have survived in drag queen performances and parodies, but the movie gives context to her flag-waving routines. They are an act of coping with what is essentially a doomed and abusive situation. Her antics are funny, yes, but also filled with sorrow and in that sorrow is a picture of what many believed to be a great American family in decline. —E.Z.
41. ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)
You could say that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was when Jack Nicholson, a leading actor of magnificent complexity, turned into “Jack,” a grinning, Oscar-winning star in the Hollywood’s constellation. This adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 best-seller revolves around Nicholson as petty criminal Randle McMurphy, who sweet-talks his way into an Oregon psychiatric hospital to avoid doing hard time for assault. He’s in nearly every scene, outwitting Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, charming fellow patients like Brad Dourif and Danny DeVito, and savvily making love to the audience. Even if he doesn’t explore the same haunted depths as past triumphs like Five Easy Pieces and Chinatown, he still dazzles as he rebels against a system that inevitably crushes him. —M.R.
40. ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973)
A British couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) loses their only daughter in a drowning accident. When they go to Venice to relieve their guilt and grief, a series of serial murders are gripping the city. What does one thing have to do with another? In Nicolas Roeg’s chilling psychological thriller, they’re all folded into the same nightmare, tied together by a red raincoat and the disturbing interplay between a past this couple is eager to forget and a present that keeps reminding them of their trauma. Roeg’s boldly associative editing style pays off in one of hottest sex scenes of the era — in which a lovemaking session is intercut with the couple putting their clothes back on — and a true heart-stopper of a climactic reveal. —S.T.
39. ‘The Parallax View’ (1974)
There are movies that tap into the paranoia of the era — and then there’s Alan J. Pakula’s mother of all conspiracy thrillers, centered around a journalist (Warren Beatty) who stumbles across a mystery involving the murder of a prominent senator during a public appearance. The perpetrator fits the traditional profile of the “lone-wolf” assassin…only he seems to fit it a little too well. The fact that every witness to the event is soon found dead makes it that much more suspicious. Beatty’s muckraker starts to pull on the thread, and soon discovers a corporation that may or may not be responsible for any number of state-sanctioned exterminations. Guess who has a target on his back now? Made a decade after the Warren Commission’s findings about the Kennedy assassination and released on the eve of Watergate, this look at the way the powers that be maintain their position couldn’t feel more of its time or more contemporary. And the brainwashing scene, in which a jumble of images scrambles a potential assassin’s sense of good, evil and self, remains one of the single most chilling sequences of the ’70s. —D.F.
38. ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973)
Say “kung fu movies,” and what’s the first image that comes to mind? A shirtless Bruce Lee, his chest scarred and his hands in a fighting position. Having done time in TV as the Green Hornet’s sidekick, the Chinese-American star went east in the early 1970s to star in a series of movies for the Hong Kong production company Golden Harvest. The results — The Big Boss (1971) and Fists of Fury (1972) — made him a household name all across Asia. Hollywood wanted to lure the continent’s biggest star back, so a story about an undercover agent infiltrating a nefarious villain’s fighting tournament was ginned up for him. The rest is history. Enter the Dragon would cement Lee’s legacy as something close to a real-life superhero, and to see the man plow through dozens of men in a flurry of fists, feet, staffs and nunchucks is to understand how he turned martial arts into a global phenomenon. The final battle, in which Lee fights his metal-clawed nemesis in a hall of mirrors, remains an all-time banger. —D.F.
37. ‘A Woman Under the Influence’ (1974)
The most searing of filmmaker John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands’ many onscreen collaborations, this volcanic drama remains one of the great portraits of mental unraveling and marital discord. Rowlands plays Mabel, a Southern California mom barely holding it together, causing both her children and her temperamental husband Nick (Peter Falk) to worry that she may finally snap at any moment. Cassavetes’ messy, theatrical realism was never more potent, allowing his brilliant wife to explore all of Mabel’s pain, confusion and fiery independence, the camera desperately trying to keep up with the star’s impassioned unpredictability. But beneath this film’s surface chaos is a compassionate, tightly focused reflection of an era in which women were chafing at the patriarchal strictures placed upon them. Mabel and Nick fight so violently because, deep down, they love each other so enormously — Rowlands and Falk make each anguished wail and tearful recrimination hit with poignant force. —T.G.
36. ‘Gimme Shelter’ (1970)
The beauty of the Rolling Stones came from their hedonistic embrace of rock’s sex-and-danger ethos. The horror of this documentary comes from its clear-eyed view of the band’s kinetic live power, which could be both hypnotic and terrifying in its intensity. Gimme Shelter is best remembered for its chilling finale — the death of concertgoer Meredith Hunter at the Stones’ free 1969 show at Altamont — but throughout, directors Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin craft a spellbinding sense of the band’s dark energy, which suggested liberation and nihilism. And Mick Jagger’s final reaction shot is haunting. —T.G.
35. ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ (1972)
Can a movie still be called a romantic comedy if it makes falling in love look ridiculous? For her second film as a director, the influential improv comedian Elaine May delivered a pitiless dissection of middle-class American mores and mating rituals, based on a Bruce Jay Friedman short story and adapted by screenwriter Neil Simon. Charles Grodin is hilariously nebbishy, playing a newlywed who thinks he’s finally found his soulmate (Cybill Shepherd) while on his honeymoon with his wife (Jeannie Berlin). In the free love era, this biting social satire brilliantly spoofed the way some entitled guys took “if it feels good, do it” as a license to make women miserable. —N.M.
34. ‘Richard Pryor: Live in Concert’ (1979)
No single performer changed the art of stand-up comedy in the 1970s like Richard Pryor, who morphed from a toothless Bill Cosby imitator in the previous decade into a taboo-busting, once-in-a-generation talent, equally and blisteringly honest in his explorations of social ills and personal hang-ups. His 1978 tour was immortalized on film by director Jeff Margolis, who captured the comic at the height of his powers — and provided consumers of his brilliant ‘70s albums with the visual accompaniment they needed. Pryor doesn’t just tell jokes, or funny stories; he becomes the subjects of his material, anthropomorphizing into dogs, horses, monkeys, car tires, his children, and (most devastatingly) white people. Pauline Kael called it “the greatest of all recorded-performance films,” and she wasn’t wrong. —J.B.
33. ‘Scenes From a Marriage’ (1973)
No disrespect to the superb 167-minute theatrical version released in the States, but Swedish master Ingmar Bergman’s staggering exploration of a couple falling out of love reaches even greater heights in its original 281-minute miniseries form. Either way, Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson bring their unhappy characters, Marianne and Johan, to life, articulating the pain and need of two people who, even after their marriage implodes and they latch onto new partners, find themselves tethered to one another. Bergman drew from the discontent he saw around him — including in his own failed relationships — to tell this unsparing but humane story, which treated divorce as a phenomenon as enthralling as love at first sight. Despite the hurt they’ve caused one another, Marianne and Johan have a tough time letting go. Bergman no doubt understood their complicated emotions by heart. —T.G.
32. ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974)
A general atmosphere of stagnation permeates Tobe Hooper’s 1974 feature debut like the smell of rotten meat. (The set of the film, characterized by a naive recklessness that’s very of its era, also reportedly smelled quite bad.) This independent production landed in drive-ins at exactly the right time, setting the template for the emerging slasher genre with its tale of backwoods cannibals — led by Gunnar Hansen’s hulking, grotesque Leatherface — chasing screaming teenagers through the East Texas brush. It also established an archetype, in the form of Marilyn Burns’ dogged performance as “final girl” Sally Hardesty. —K.R.
31.‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (1976)
David Bowie’s feature film debut arrived at an apt moment for the singer to play someone untethered from life on Earth but in danger of falling victim to gravity’s pull. Made in an era when Bowie was living on a diet that consisted heavily of cocaine, milk, and mystical arcana, this Nicolas Roeg film casts him as Thomas Jerome Newton, a fragile visitor from a drought-stricken planet seeking to make a fortune on Earth as a means of saving his home planet and the family he left behind. The source material, a novel by Walter Tevis, used its premise to explore how genius gets subsumed by addiction and other earthly pleasures. Roeg’s adaptation keeps those themes while adding hallucinatory layers that turn ’70s America into a fantasia in which the past and the future keep collapsing into the present, as seen through the eyes of a creature who mistakenly believes he’s only a visitor — and not a prisoner. —K.P.
30. ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ (1971)
Monte Hellman’s indie road-trip classic is the ultimate existential hot-rod noir, starring two rock stars in a 1955 Chevy 150: James Taylor is the driver, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson is the mechanic. They’re a pair of hippie hustlers who roll into a new town, cruise the local muscle-car spots looking for suckers, then con some mark into a high-stakes drag race. Laurie Bird is the hitch-hiker they pick up on Route 66. Warren Oates is the stranger in a GTO who talks his way into their trip; in one tense scene, Oates rescues them from hippie-hating rednecks with a little wary banter. (“Sure did talk to you.” “Sure did see you.”) For both Wilson and Taylor, it was a one-time shot at the movies, but they’re both riveting. If all you know of JT is his “Sweet Baby James” image, his brooding charisma here might shock you — it’s no surprise Joni Mitchell visited him on the set and came away with the portraits on For The Roses. Two Lane Blacktop is about races nobody wins, on a road nobody escapes. —R.S.
29. ‘Mean Streets’ (1973)
Robert De Niro has been in movies for so long that it’s easy to forget a time when he was a twitchy, unpredictable, almost dangerously magnetic young star. His slo-mo introduction to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough film, strolling into a bar with a girl under each arm, is one of the decade’s most galvanizing movie moments, kicking off a collaboration that always hummed with volatility and explosive potential. As a ne’er-do-well from the scuzzier corners of Scorsese’s Little Italy, his Johnny Boy dooms Harvey Keitel’s small-time hoodlum, who can’t stop giving him second chances until the chaos that constantly trails him finally swallows them whole. —S.T.
28. ‘Being There’ (1979)
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Beware of a holy fool. Hal Ashby’s fable-like satire gifts us with Chance (Peter Sellars), a simple-minded man who enjoys simple pleasures, namely watching television and tending to his guardian’s garden. He’s soon forced to evacuate his longtime home and, after a “chance” encounter with the limousine of a wealthy socialite (Shirley MacLaine), becomes the guest of and her terminally ill tycoon husband (Melvyn Douglas). Chance the gardener eventually becomes “Chauncey Gardiner,” a staple of Washington D.C. high society; his parroting of TV slogans and platitudes about planting rosebushes is viewed as politically savvy folk wisdom. Even the President of the United States (Jack Warden) begins to seek his counsel. Novelist and screenwriter Jerzy Kosinki clearly has a bone to pick with celebrity culture, TV’s influence on everyday life and power players so desperate to be dialed in that they’ll mistake the oblivious utterings of a mentally disabled man for think-tank level intellectualism. Yet the kindness that Ashby and Sellars — especially Sellars — show this character counterbalances the sheer amount of cynicism on display. The climactic sequence, played out as casually as possible, is still enough of a headscratcher to spark arguments about what Ashby & Co. meant in regards to the “holy” part of the equation. What we can say is that it’s the sort of ending that could have only happened in the end of the ’70s filmmaking era, before the next decade elbowed things like nuance and ambiguity into the sidelines. —D.F.
27. ‘Star Wars’ (1977)
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For the first half of the ‘70s, Hollywood turned westerns, horror, gangster pictures, and just about every other B-movie genre into something darkly shaded and socially relevant. Then along came George Lucas with a fast-paced, feel-good science fiction saga, inspired by samurais, superheroes and World War II fighter pilots. His story about a gung-ho farm boy named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who learns the ways of the Force and helps save the galaxy from an oppressive Empire, launched a multi-billion dollar franchise and changed the whole blockbuster industry. And all because of one simple idea: What if someone applied the intelligence, craft and enthusiasm of art films to crowd-pleasing entertainment? —N.M.
26. ‘Cabaret’ (1972)
From the first time you see the eerie reflection of Joel Grey’s Master of Ceremonies, his face painted in the unnatural colors of a clown, you recognize that Bob Fosse’s drama is dragging you into an underworld unlike any other. If All That Jazz is Fosse’s personal exorcism, Cabaret is his demonic seance, as he brings to life the world of the Weimar Republic slowly being infected by Nazism. The director took the 1966 stage production with music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, itself based on a play adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s stories, and invented a new template for the movie musical. The story of Sally Bowles (the iconic Liza Minnelli) operates on two planes of existence: There is the world of the Kit Kat Club, a sort of liminal space for the musical numbers, and the quote-unquote real world where the breezy hedonism of Sally’s life cedes way to fascism. It’s a film that’s as chilling as it is toe-tapping. —E.Z.
25. ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (1975)
On August 22, 1972, three real-life bank robbers attempted to pull off a heist to pay for mastermind John Wojtowicz’s lover’s sex-change operation. They ended up botching it. Yet filmmaker Sidney Lumet saw the story’s cinematic appeal and had the good sense of casting Al Pacino and John Cazale, both hot off the Godfather films, in leading roles. Dog Day Afternoon feels like more than a heist film though, since it holistically shows all the screw-ups (on the part of the thieves and the cops), as well as the chaos at home as Pacino’s character’s wife and mother realize what’s going on and his lover (Chris Sarandon) befuddles the fuzz. The tension builds as the robbers win over the gathered Brooklyn bystanders and charm the media, leading to a quick-paced, bloody finale. —K.G.
24. ‘Touki Bouki’ (1973)
With this early triumph for African cinema, Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty exploded onto the international scene as a Jean-Luc Godard disciple who tied the restless invention and experimentation of the French New Wave to a regionally specific tale of l’amour fou. The young lovers of Touki Bouki, a cowherd (Magaye Niang) with a bull-horned motorcycle and a student (Mareme Niang) from Dakar, are tired of life in Senegal, so they cook up criminal schemes to raise money to get to Paris. Their outlaw antics lead to a tense, roundabout race from justice, but the episodic nature of their adventure gives Mambéty the freedom to fiddle around with color, movement and road-movie conventions, all while offering a vibrant travelogue of the country they’re so eager to leave behind. —S.T.
23. ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978)
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“It was a shame that Marty wasn’t gay,” producer and former Scorsese girlfriend Sandy Weintraub famously quipped in Peter Biskind’s juicy 1970s Hollywood tell-all Easy Riders, Raging Bulls“ “The best relationship he ever had was probably with Robbie.” That would be Robbie Robertson, the charismatic frontman of the Band, who Scorsese affectionally memorialized in this boisterous concert documentary chronicling the group’s final performance. Combining band interviews with footage of their blowout 1976 Thanksgiving show at the Winterland Ballroom — complete with guest spots from Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison and Eric Clapton — The Last Waltz isn’t just a tribute to the Americana quintet but also to a classic-rock era that would soon be swept away by punk, disco and rap. Each member of the Band gets a few moments to shine (rest in peace, Rick Danko, your rendition of “It Makes No Difference” is crushingly beautiful), but Scorsese’s clear adoration for his old friend Robertson is palpable, giving him the spotlight both on stage and in the interview segments. The frontman saw his band as mythic. The Last Waltz encourages viewers to print the legend. —T.G.
22. ‘The Conformist’ (1970)
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Throughout his career, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci would make several films about characters swept up in the forces of history (The Last Emperor, 1900) — but this astonishingly evocative thriller about the fascism that seized his country during World War II focuses on the passive souls that make it possible. As Marcello, a member of Mussolini’s secret police, Jean-Louis Trintignant isn’t playing a fervent ideologue, but a weak man whose mission to assassinate his former professor is waylaid by an adulterous interest in his wife (Dominique Sanda). There are few films of the era more beautiful to look at, but the true achievement of The Conformist is how well it explores the dark interiors of a Marcello’s soul. —S.T.
21. ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977)
A lesser filmmaker than Steven Spielberg might have fumbled their follow-up to Jaws, but whatever pressure he felt is entirely absent onscreen. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a supremely confident and uncommonly thoughtful mash-up of science fiction and family drama, with his Jaws avatar Richard Dreyfuss returning as a blue-collar electrician whose life is inextricably altered by an alien encounter. By the time it hit theaters in fall of 1977, Spielberg’s friend George Lucas had changed sci-fi (and movies in general) forever with that summer’s Star Wars. But Spielberg’s stirring exploration of ordinary people encountering extraordinary events is its own kind of thrill ride: thoughtful, prickly, challenging, and awe-inspiring. —J.B.
20. ‘Jeanne Dielman, 32 Quai des Commerce’ (1975)
Last December, British film magazine Sight & Sound named Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman as the greatest movie of all time, prompting a wave of would-be cineastes to stream this feminist classic ASAP. What they found was a beguiling two-and-a-half-hour meditation on how housework and lack of opportunity grinds away at women’s lives — even one as industrious as Delphine Seyrig’s Dielman, a mother and widower who turns tricks for a bit of extra money. The movie centers on three days in the life of Dielman, but the lasting effect is how the Belgian director manipulates time and cloistered apartment space, draws incredible tension acts as ordinary as peeling potatoes, and wrenches tragedy out of an ordinary life gone awry. —M.R.
19. ‘All That Jazz’ (1979)
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You’d wouldn’t charge director/choreographer/Broadway godhead Bob Fosse with the crime of modesty, any more than you’d accuse him of being lazy or uninterested in hedonistic pleasures — he was someone who displayed absolute creative brilliance, burned dozens upon dozens of bridges, and burnt himself out in the name of living life at a 120mph. All That Jazz is all about that endless pursuit: of women, of work, of inspiration and oblivion. It’s also about the toll it takes on the artist, his collaborators and his loved ones. Roy Scheider’s Joe Gideon is working on both a Broadway musical and a movie about a comic at the same time. (Any resemblances to Fosse’s original production of Chicago or his biopic on Lenny Bruce are, um, completely coincidental.) He’s a lying, cheating, chain-smoking, pill-popping son of a bitch; the filmmaker is essentially writing his autobiography onscreen. Yet he’s also taking a theatrical form he helped revolutionize and pushing its fantastic qualities even further in the name of self-critique. Only Fosse could have turned a reckoning for his self-destructive lifestyle into a portrait of an artist, costarring Jessica Lange as Death. And only Fosse could have given us the showstopping “Bye Bye Love” closing number, in which Scheider and Ben Vereen share the stage with dancing arteries as our man soft-shoe shuffles off this mortal coil. That last cut still feels like a cold slap in the face. —D.F.
18. ‘The Long Goodbye’ (1973)
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“It’s okay with me.” With that muttered catchphrase— made between puffs of an ever-present cigarette — Phillip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) expressed the weariness of a generation for whom permissiveness had curdled into cynicism. He’s on the trail of what he suspects to be the murder of an old friend, though this version of Raymond Chandler’s gumshoe is the last principled man in the zonked-out vipers’ nest of ‘70s Los Angeles. (He’s certainly the last to wear a tie.) Marlowe’s man-out-of-time aura also reflects the film’s intergenerational creative team: The Long Goodbye was written by Leigh Brackett (who adapted The Big Sleep for Bogey and Bacall in 1946), and directed by Robert Altman, who described his iconoclastic take on the classic antihero as “a loser all the way.” —K.R.
17. ‘The Exorcist’ (1973)
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Even after half a century, The Exorcist remains the scariest movie of all time because of the way Ellen Burstyn portrayed a mother’s helplessness. Her character, actress Chris MacNeil, slowly realizes her 12-year-old daughter (Linda Blair) isn’t just acting erratically — she may well be possessed by the devil. So the frazzled Chris has to get over her agnosticism and ask priests for help as her daughter spins her head 360 degrees like an owl, projectile vomits pea soup, and stabs her crotch with a crucifix. The priests feel just as helpless no matter how many times they repeat, “The power of Christ compels you,” and the bridge they build between belief and disbelief functions as well as any of the picture’s special effects (which are still shocking and visually stunning) in making William Friedkin’s horror film an enduring, matchless classic. —K.G.
16. ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979)
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“I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one.” Francis Ford Coppola had initially set out to turn John Milius’ script — which transposed Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness onto the landscape of wartime Vietnam — into an old-fashioned epic. What he ended up with was a cinematic fever dream, filled with gung-ho surfing obsessives, gyrating Playboy bunnies, ghostly French colonialists, and Marlon Brando in greenface. Martin Sheen is given orders to go deep into the jungle and “exterminate, with extreme prejudice,” a former Green Beret who’s gone mad and fashioned himself a God. Along with a boat crew, he’ll sail through some of the most surreal imagery to ever grace a big-budget war movie, until he reaches the rogue officer’s compound. And the shit gets really weird. The chaos onscreen was more than matched by the chaos happening behind the scenes, and Coppola famously said that the movie was not about Vietnam, it was Vietnam. Yet it remains both a landmark and a last gasp of New Hollywood auteurism, as well as singularly encapsulating the madness, moral free fall and the horror — the hor-ror! — of life during wartime. And though it’s available in original and extra-crispy recipes, we heartily recommend the recent “Goldilocks cut” as your go-to version. —D.F.
15. ‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’ (1974)
The legendary French New Wave director Jacques Rivette’s most delightful film takes off from Alice in Wonderland and Henry James, and ends up morphing into a new kind of movie that nobody else could have dreamed up. Celine (Juliette Berto) is a librarian; Julie (Dominique Labourier) is a magician. They become soulmates as soon as they meet in a Paris park, entering each other’s imaginations and sharing their most surreal fantasies. Together, they make up their new reality as they go along, dreaming their way into an adventure where they rescue a little girl in a haunted house. The film is a joyful love letter to the idea of friendship as a folie a deux, an elaborately staged game, and a one-of-a-kind meditation on how human beings can give each other magic powers. And despite clocking in at 3 hours and 20 minutes, it’s over far too soon. —R.S.
14. ‘Eraserhead’ (1977)
Filmed in stop-and-start fashion over several years as time and money allowed, David Lynch’s feature debut announced the arrival of a fully formed filmmaker — one more interested in pushing viewers into strange territory of his own creation than meeting them on familiar ground. Henry (Jack Nance) is a timid everyman living in a wasteland (inspired by Lynch’s time living in a decaying industrial neighborhood in Philadelphia) and who’s thoroughly unprepared for the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood, both depicted by Lynch as darkly comic nightmares from which Henry can never escape. Eraserhead displays a purity and confidence of its vision now makes it look like a wellspring for the Lynch films that followed. Its arresting visuals, aggressive sound design, and casual, homespun surrealism made it a cult hit at the height of the midnight movie circuit. —K.P.
13. ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (1975)
Monty Python had sextuple-handedly progressed comedy from old-school, setup-and-punchline jokes into weirder territory by the time they attempted a full-length feature with The Holy Grail, which became a triumph in absurdity. In their surrealist retelling of the Arthurian legend, the foolhardy King (Graham Chapman) has no horse but a lackey who clacks coconuts together, nefarious knights demand … a shrubbery, and modern-day detectives investigate all the film’s casualties. And, at least in Python’s reality, the French are still rude. The film wasn’t the blockbuster its financiers — Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson — likely hoped for, though the lack of success was “just a flesh wound.” It would become a worthy cult hit whose legacy continues to grow (ahem, Spamalot). —K.G.
12. ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976)
It’s risky to make a movie dramatizing a historical event a mere four years after it happened. Alan J. Pakula not only proved it can be done, but that you could do it in a way that could stand the test of time. We know so much more now about the Watergate break in than we did in 1976 when All the President’s Men was first released, including the identity of Deep Throat — and yet that doesn’t stop Pakula’s thriller about Woodward and Bernstein’s groundbreaking Washington Post investigation from being the anxiety-inducing masterpiece that so many other journalism films aspire to be. Robert Redford (with his high WASP air) turns Bob Woodward into the perfect foil for Dustin Hoffman’s nervous energy as Carl Bernstein; together, they make answering the phone look like the most exciting activity to ever take place on screen. And as timeless as this journalism procedural turned out to be, it’s also one of the most quintessentially ’70s movies — not just in subject matter but in the paranoia it exudes. —E.Z.
11. ‘Alien’ (1979)
After the crew of the spaceship Nostromo is unexpectedly stirred from stasis before their journey’s scheduled end, they barely wake up before the complaining starts. Like Dark Star (another film with a Dan O’Bannon script credit) before it, Alien offers a vision of interstellar travel that’s more workaday grind than cosmic wonder — until, that is, the crew takes on an unexpected passenger in the form of a parasitic creature. It starts by nesting inside one member before bursting out of his chest; then it slowly, methodically begins picking off the others. Space, it turns out, is not a place removed from Darwinian struggle. The contrast between Alien’s metallic, man-made (if grungy) setting and a xenomorph with a biological imperative to kill is just one element that’s made this Ridley Scott film sear itself into the nightmares of all who see it. (H.R. Giger’s creature design — a disturbing assemblage of bones, goo, and sexual imagery — is another.) Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley begins the film as just one of several characters threatened by the ship’s interloper, by the end of the film, she’d secure her place on any shortlist of sci-fi’s greatest heroes. Life is for the survivors. Even the xenomorphs understand that. —K.P.
10. ‘The Conversation’ (1974)
In the downtime between the first two Godfather films, Francis Ford Coppola made a different sort of masterpiece, one that tapped into the paranoid mood of the moment. Gene Hackman stars as Harry Caul, a San Francisco-based surveillance expert whose latest assignment — eavesdropping on a couple walking through a busy downtown park — presents an irresistible professional challenge and threatens to draw him into a deadly mystery. It’s a stylish thriller, exploring how technological advances were destroying the bounds of privacy; and a haunting depiction of alienation and disintegration, in which Harry discovers the walls he’s erected to protect himself from the rest of the world may, in fact, be a trap. —K.P.
9. ‘McCabe and Mrs. Miller’ (1971)
Many people would have taken one look at the mining town of Presbyterian Church and see nothing but a frontier shithole. John McCabe, however, sees opportunity. Along with another recent arrival — a British woman named Constance Miller — he establishes a high-class whorehouse and meets the supply-and-demand carnal needs of the workers and locals. Their duo’s successful business model attracts the attention of a corporate mining company, who want to buy them out. McCabe and Mrs. Miller decline the offer. Then things get violent. Robert Altman’s attempt to do to Westerns what he did to war movies with MASH is filled with the director’s signature touches: a large ensemble cast, overlapping dialogue that seems to come from everywhere yet nowhere, a Zoom lens that risks being mistaken for a Peeping Tom. Yet his usual irreverence comes laced with a fatalism that neither the real-life movie-star couple Warren Beatty and Julie Christie nor the flashes of funky humor can wash away. It takes that most American genres and muddies its waters (and its imagery), celebrating a makeshift, maverick sense of community before grinding it under the bootheel of the establishment. The endgame is either a drug-fueled haze or death. This is America. —D.F.
8. ‘Jaws’ (1975)
The Big Bang moment for the blockbuster era, Steven Spielberg’s horror phenomenon remains a master class in building suspense by stoking the audience’s imagination for a terror that mostly lurks out of sight. But to credit Jaws with the rise of big-budget, effects-driven entertainment is to miss everything great about it: the filmmaker’s famous struggles with a mechanical shark fed into brilliant strategy of teasing the presence of a Great White without turning the beaches of Amity Island into a gruesome buffet. Through wide-eyed reaction shots, offscreen action and the menacing strings of John Williams’ score, Spielberg makes the least-expensive parts the most effective, firmly establishing himself as the most naturally gifted studio director of his generation. That he also changed the landscape of moviemaking and added a touch of dread to the American beach vacation was simply a bonus. —S.T.
7. ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976)
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Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece is many things at once: a pinpoint-precise character study, a devastating portrait of loneliness, a subtle commentary on the psychological fallout of the Vietnam War, a blood-spraying grindhouse movie, a wacky office comedy. (Albert Brooks’s Tom and Cybill Shepherd’s Betsy were the Jim and Pam of their day.) Most of all, it’s a snapshot of New York City at its urban hellhole nadir, shot during the notoriously sweltering summer of 1975, in the midst of a garbage strike, police protests, and budget crisis (the “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD” headline hit the New York Daily News that fall). Scorsese’s picture boasts both immaculate stylization and you-are-there verisimilitude, regarding the rotting Big Apple with equal parts awe and terror. And Robert De Niro’s performance as disturbed cabbie Travis Bickle is still one of his most searing. —J.B.
6. ‘Chinatown’ (1974)
There are plenty of films about Hollywood, but few capture the original sin of Los Angeles with skin-crawling precision as Roman Polanski’s neo-noir, set in the 1930s that cracks open LA’s arid land to reveal the human cesspool driving it. Written by Robert Towne, the film follows Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes, a private eye on what he thinks is a simple cheating-husband case. Instead, he’s dragged into the hellish world of Los Angeles water politics, following the alluring but mysterious Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), whose secrets are far darker than anything he could have imagined. Towne and Polanski use the crime of how the drought-ridden city imported water through ill gotten means as a way to dissect the rot that comes along with greed. The images feel parched, the harsh lighting associated with noir giving way to almost oppressive light. It’s a film that leaves you feeling icky — like the good guys can never win. And that’s just the intention. —E.Z.
5. ‘The Godfather’ (1972)
If he’d been born into another family, maybe Michael’s life would have turned out differently. But he’s a Corleone, and there’s only one path for him. Over the last 50 years, the stunning first chapter in Francis Ford Coppola’s indelible mafia epic has been bestowed with every superlative. (The movie’s so legendary its making was turned into a lavish Paramount+ miniseries.) And yet, you still may not be prepared for the steely brilliance of Al Pacino’s performance as Michael, a man who insists to his true love Kay (Diane Keaton) that he’s nothing like the other members of his mobster clan. Yet there he is, seduced by power and obligation, restoring the Corleone’s standing once his beloved father Vito (Marlon Brando) is gunned down by their enemies. By this point, The Godfather’s themes and ideas have been fully absorbed into the culture — so much so that even those who have never seen this powerhouse know them by heart. But look past the oft-praised (and still outstanding) exploration of the dark side of the American dream, and you’ll discover a spectacularly entertaining, morally serious, grimly funny crime drama that’s also one of the most chilling coming-of-age sagas ever made. Alongside such future titans as James Caan and Robert Duvall, Pacino was a relative unknown at the time, but here he forever left his mark on American cinema. Audiences gasped as they watched Michael’s horrifying ascension to the throne while simultaneously thrilling to witness one of this country’s greatest actors announcing his arrival. —T.G.
4. ‘Nashville’ (1975)
From the ad-spoof opening credits to the omnipresent shilling for “Replacement Party” candidate Hal Philip Walker, Robert Altman’s mid-career masterpiece is about the selling-out of America, with the intersectional pull of fame, money, sex, and politics on stage in country music’s capital. It’s all chillingly contemporary — particularly the “Tennessee Twirlers,” school-aged color guards cheerfully spinning rifle-shaped batons. Between confederate flags and racial slurs, there are plenty of other triggers, too. But little feels gratuitous in Joan Tewkesbury’s prismatic script. And if it’s hard to discern parody from sincerity in the music, credit the songwriting actors, including Ronee Blakely, Karen Black and Keith Carradine (who’d chart with the soundtrack’s “It’s Easy”). At 180 minutes, with two roughly dozen significant characters, it’s a masterpiece of narrative compression worth a mini-series. —Will Hermes
3. ‘Killer of Sheep’ (1978)
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Charles Burnett shot his landmark film Killer of Sheep as a student at UCLA — where he was in a group of Black filmmakers that scholar Clyde Taylor later lionized as the L.A. Rebellion — and finished it as part of his Master’s thesis. He shot it in stark yet wondrous black and white cinematography and centered it on the barest of plots: Stan, played by character actor Henry G. Sanders, works at a slaughterhouse, a job that leaves him little energy to care for a loving but frustrated wife played by late actor Kaycee Moore and their two wayward kids. A handful of scenes push the 80-minute movie forward, including a sequence where Sanders and his friend Eugene (Eugene Cherry) try to take their partners out on a much-needed day trip to the racetrack, only for their car to break down midway. But Burnett is less interested in conventional storytelling than illustrating his hometown of Watts, a working-class community still scarred by the 1965 riots and bustling with inventive children, weary yet resolute adults, and occasional petty crime. He stocks the frame with untrained actors plucked from the neighborhood, leading to famed moments like a bushel of boys jumping across apartment rooftops with little care in the world, making fun and play out of virtually nothing but spirit. —M.R.
2. ‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974)
In the Vietnam/Watergate hangover of the 1970s, every move America made looked like the last act of a desperate man. But Mel Brooks didn’t care if it was the first act of Henry V. His parody of Westerns is a revolutionary burlesque of U.S. history, presenting the Old West as a slapstick pageant of racists, robber barons, nitwits, half-wits, dimwits, and Methodists. Cleavon Little is Black Bart, the new African-American sherriff in the town of Rock Ridge. Gene Wilder is his Jewish cowboy sidekick, the Waco Kid. Together, they stomp all over the most cherished myths of American exceptionalism — even the sweet old ladies are hateful bigots. This was Richard Pryor’s first time in a writers’ room, where he largely created Bart; his pet passion, however, was Alex Karras’ strongman thug Mongo. (It was Pryor who gave us “Mongo only pawn in game of life.”) Madeline Kahn — a virtuoso singer who’d made her Broadway debut in Kiss Me Kate — plays the tone-deaf saloon seductress Lili Von Shtupp, with her tragic lament, “I’m Tired.” Brooks was already a comedy legend, ever since the TV classic Your Show of Shows, but this is really where he earned his laurel (and hearty handshake). Nearly 50 years later, Blazing Saddles is still the exploding candygram of Seventies cinema. —R.S.
1. ‘The Godfather Part II’ (1974)
It’s the de facto answer to “what sequels are as good or better than the originals?” and one of the few follow-ups to an Oscar-winning movie that would also end up nabbing the Best Picture prize. To think of Francis Ford Coppola’s continuation of the Corleone saga as just a “Part II,” however, is to give both the film and its creator short shrift. The writer-director wasn’t even keen on doing a sequel at all to his blockbuster hit; he was getting so much pressure from his producers and the studio to repeat the success of his gangster movie that he was essentially given an offer he couldn’t… well, you know. Luckily, he did have one ace up his sleeve. “I’d been toying with the idea of making a movie about a man and his son, and trying to compare their stories when both were at the same age,” Coppola said several years ago. “It was just this idea I had floating around… totally apart from the first Godfather movie. But I thought it might work for that.”
What the filmmaker managed to accomplish by interweaving the stories of young Don Corleone (played by Robert De Niro) seeking his fortune in the early 1900s, and the older Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) consolidating his empire at the end of the 1950s, is nothing short of miraculous. We see the beginnings of what will become a criminal dynasty, formed by immigrants as a means of protection and communal strengthening. We also see what’s happened to that dynasty as the current Corleone-in-charge descends into paranoia and shuts himself off from the world around him. And the where we leave both stories, with one patriarch coming home to a celebratory dinner and the other completely alone, sitting atop a kingdom of dust, says as much about our nation’s conflicted character as the original did about the American experiment.
Like the first Godfather, Part II delivers incredible performances (notably Lee Strasberg’s wily Hyman Roth and John Cazale, whose Fredo is especially heartbreaking this time around), unforgettable scenes of irony and violence, an abundance of quotable lines (“We’re bigger than U.S. steel”). What you remember most, however, is the way it charts the gap between its optimistic “then” and its cynical, caustic take on “now.” Once upon a time in America, a man did what he had to look after his family. A generation later, a man would kill his kin to protect the family “business.” The suits had asked for a repeat and a sequel. Instead, Coppola gave them a saga in miniature, and a Great American Tragedy writ large in blood and tears. —D.F.
From Rolling Stone US.