100 Favorite Films To Recommend Part 6: The 1970s
In half a century from the roaring twenties to the swinging sixties, Hollywood had built a film industry that had become an american past time, ingrained into the country’s culture and fabric of existence and by the final years of its golden age it was even providing such epic and lavish displays in film that it had almost become like going to a Broadway play. But by the late sixties and into the seventies, the film industry was having trouble with the rise of the television industry which itself was going through its own phases of ingraining itself into american lives. But this issue did not just stay on domestic shores, other countries’ cinemas were going through the same problems and found themselves trying out different gimmicks. For instance in some Asian markets, a gory and bloody kung-fu genre of films seem to attract niche audiences. Japanese cinema might have had the biggest embarrassment of all though when “soft-core” adult films began to take over their box office more, an era of their film history that some might argue was like a lost time for them — though in their defense the states’ too saw a golden age in these sort of films and a few even made some box office history.
But in Europe something interesting was happening and it had been going on just as American studios were having short-term success with the box office musicals and epics that had dominated the last leg of the Hollywood golden age. Overseas the “French New Wave” was taking over. This was a movement started in the late fifties and into the seventies where the filmmaker was to be treated not just as a Director but as the storyteller of the movie in the same way an Author writes his or her own novel with little oversight. This was mainly pushed by younger and hungrier new pioneers of film who took risks that seemed like a big deal then but are pretty standard for today’s movies. Moving cameras, artistic and meaningful edits or cuts, experimental cinematography, and purposely chosen background scores. It was a time to break the rules and try out new ways to present film. This was arguably also the origins behind the independent film and as awards organizations in the states rewarded epics and musicals, their European counterparts were being won over by smaller films instead that in time would be the kind of movies the Academy would tend to be attracted to award.
Eventually, that spirit of creativity reached the states by the late sixties and it dominated the seventies. Studios had watched their grips on Americans’ viewing habits, their actors and actresses projects or personal lives, and now the way films were to be presented all slipped away from them. Eventually they knew to stop fighting it and most studios began to work with filmmakers to create whatever artistic expression they felt they wanted to make — and coincidentally then use that artistic expression to make money at the box office. This is the decade where artistic movies with messages to tell seemed to be all the rage, one critic that I follow closely and respect once referred to this decade as “the last time it was about the art.” Most fellow Cinephiles I’ve talked to have expressed a high regard for this decade in film, a sentiment I do not share.
Now before you accuse me of not understanding how important this decade was to american cinema, know that I will not debate that it is an important one from a film making standpoint. The filmmaker being allowed to experiment and thus getting new techniques like moving cameras, artistically chosen edits and scores, and some beautiful cinematography. As I stated beforehand, what started as a french movement that eventually came to the states, was integral in helping film progress forward in its presentation. I consider the seventies an intersection between the golden age of Hollywood’s past and the big blockbuster driven franchise money maker ways of modern Hollywood. A bridge of sorts as the industry went through changes and “the Auteur” began to make their mark on cinema.
But personally for me this is without a shadow of a doubt my least favorite decade in film. While I appreciate all the important changes that came from this era of movies, and as a content creator myself I can appreciate the artistic experimentation, more movies than not from this decade have left me underwhelmed. And perhaps that’s a matter of personal taste because there seems to me to be this inherent grittiness to seventies films that always turns me off and the experimentation by the filmmakers of this decade are personally hit and miss for me with some cinematography in certain films being gorgeous and other times coming off as dirty and grimy thanks to some natural lighting choices. Furthermore, as a Disney fanatic, this decade is a pretty rough time for the company. Disney struggled to find an identity after Walt’s death, coming out with animated films less often and trying out a bunch of live action films that never became classics.
I don’t mention this to beat up on the decade but to give you some background before I mention my recommended favorites from each year in the decade. And if these movies can rise above that bias from me, then imagine just how good they must actually be. So with all that griping out of the way, time for some positives; let’s take a look at some of the best films the seventies had to offer. A biopic about a controversial General, a trip to a world of imagination, two linked classics that are in the debate for greatest film ever made, a horror film that may have driven people back into Church, the ultimate creature feature in many’s minds, the launch of the biggest sports movie franchise there is, a rare Disney gem during a rough time for the company, a horror film that launched a new era for the genre, and one of the greatest sci-fi horror films of all time.
1970: “Patton” (Won The Oscar For Best Picture)
We’ve all seen that classic and magical scene, George C Scott as George Patton with old glory behind him making a speech that might even drive a pacifist to want to enlist. A scene that was actually almost written out of the script because the studio wasn’t sure about the young man who had helped out on the script that had placed such an artistic opening to the biopic. Scott’s performance as the rough and tough controversial World War II General is the highlight of the film but he also may have helped put the cherry on top of making it a memorable classic that remains in our consciousness today, because he demanded that scene not be written out and then gave a hell of a performance for it. Scott earned an Oscar for Best Actor for this role in Patton, but like a boss he rejected it based on his principle of not believing in such an award. The movie itself ended up winning the big prize of Best Picture at the Oscars as well. By the way that young scriptwriter that the studio had little confidence in? Just some schmuck named Francis Ford Coppola.
1971: “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory”
A beloved children’s book adaptation , a quirky and eccentric tale where bad kids get their comeuppance, memorable musical numbers, various quotes that stick with us, a career defining performance by Gene Wilder, a movie that received praise from critics that amounted to comparing it to The Wizard Of Oz, and a box office bomb. Oh yeah this iconic kids movie that most of us grew up with and has become ingrained for most as a must see film bombed badly at the box office and the source material’s author hated the movie (Though for what it’s worth this was typical of his reaction to films adapted from his works). But thankfully the movie somehow in time became bigger than just a come and go money maker, it became one of the greatest family movies to ever come out of Hollywood.
1972: “The Godfather” (Won The Oscar For Best Picture)
I’m not sure how much I can say when a movie like The Godfather is mentioned. After all we’re not just talking about a beloved movie that shows up in many lists for all-time favorite movies, we’re talking about one of those movies that is competition in the debate greatest film ever made. Which makes past references in actors’ diaries and journals to its source material, a novel, kinda funny in hindsight. Two years after Francis Ford Coppola helped write Patton, he directed a movie that also won the Oscar for Best Picture, and a movie that would make him the king of the seventies when it came to successful Directors. This epic arguably launched the modern genre of gangster and mobster films. One last note, the great and late and um…eccentric Marlon Brando won the Best Oscar for his role in this, a waning time for the actors’ career in terms of his effort in movies as he began to eventually become a known behind the scenes nightmare to deal with in his later years. Like George C Scott, he too refused his award but did so under protest on how Native Americans were depicted in film.
1973: “The Exorcist”
Regarded by many to be perhaps the scariest film ever made, The Exorcist is both a supernatural and psychological horror masterpiece based on a well regarded book that came at a time in horror was itself trying to find a new identity (More on that later in this list.). It was claimed this film had people rushing out of the movie theaters and even drove some back to the Churches. The movie serves as one of the few horror films to get Oscar nominations and among those were big awards like Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and even Best Picture. From an artistic standpoint one could argue this film’s success was a measuring stick for the horror genre. One last amazing note — this movie was released the day after Christmas!
1974: “The Godfather Part II” (Won The Oscar For Best Picture)
Only two direct sequels have won the Oscar for Best Picture, but unlike the other (The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King) this one was attached to a film that won the prize as well, The Godfather Part II is such a perfect sequel that not only is it argued as one of the best sequels in film history, but I’ve even seen some argue it could be up there with the original in debates of what’s the best film of all time. Crazily enough, Francis Ford Coppola who had been an important part in the making of three Best Picture winners in five years also went up against himself this year as his other 1974 film, The Conversation, which was also nominated for the big prize.
Arguably one of the seeds to the modern blockbuster driven franchise Hollywood system, Jaws is a young Stephen Spielberg’s break out film. A creature feature that delivers a little adventure and plenty horror elements. The behind the scenes issues with the mechanical shark for the film ended up a blessing in disguise as the antagonist gets to have a shroud of mystery through most of the running time. The film’s many memorable quotes, scenes, and an edge of your seat climax round out an amazing cinematic ride. This is also one of the few times I’d argue the movie is better than the book.
1976: “Rocky” (Won The Oscar For Best Picture)
The fourth and final film on this list to have won the Oscar for Best Picture, Rocky is a great underdog story that can also be seen as a sports flick, a romance, or a human drama. Sylvester Stallone’s performance as the Philadelphia fighter was also nominated, and four decades later he would be nominated for playing the same character again in Creed. The character of Rocky made such an impression, the city of Philadelphia even has a statue dedicated to him like Godzilla and Luffy from One Piece have in Japan.
1977: “The Rescuers”
Walt Disney passed away in the mid-sixties just as the company was finally getting to work on its “Florida Project” or what we now know today as Disney World. Walt’s passing left his successors searching for an identity and throughout the late sixties and into the seventies and eighties the company would enter a bit of a dark period for it save for a few successes. One effect from Walt’s death was much less often produced animated features but in 1977 they actually released two of them, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh and The Rescuers, those two ended up being the ones that were atop my list for this year among films I saw and ultimately the latter won out. I remember finding this movie to be a bit dull as a kid and preferring the 1990 sequel instead, but the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve appreciated this one. Its a fun tale with mystery, thrills, and eccentric and memorable characters.
The genre of horror was due for a new era as the eighties loomed and the original Halloween was arguably the start that new era needed. After the real life horrors of serial killers started to become more and more well known to the public, horror focusing more on slashers and high body counts was probably inevitable. Add in young helpless girls, a slow pace that builts up tension, a lore building doctor, and a villain with a blank emotionless mask, and you get the recipe for one of the best horror flicks ever devised by horror master himself John Carpenter.
This was a hard year to pick from given Apocalypse Now and Rocky II also came out this year, but Alien just won out. This sci-fi horror classic at times can feel like Jaws in space with the antagonizing creature not showing up through most of the run time. The film is actually a loose remake of sorts of a 1958 horror classic I watch every Halloween time, It! The Terror from Beyond Space. The creature’s design comes from an HR Ginger painting from a few years before its release of such horrifying and creepy beasts.
You’ll note a bit of a pattern at the end of these seventies picks which films that would go on to be franchises. I think these are seeds for the upcoming shift in Hollywood towards more franchises and popcorn flicks. But i’ll get to that in the next part of this series.
And thus ends my list of my favorite movies from the 1970s. If you haven’t yet please do read my similar lists for the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s, and the 1960s. The goal of this series is to hopefully help others discover some great films they might want to try out while most of us are stuck at home and as always I do enjoy others’ recommendations mentioned in the comments. Next time, I look at a decade that I argue was when Hollywood decided to have fun at the movies again – the 1980s.
The Godfather Part II is one of those flicks that I hated in the first half. What the hell is going on?, I asked. The first movie had a narrative. This one is a bunch of montages that don’t have anything to do with each other! And then the montages all started showing how they were all interlinked and, by the ending, you saw how everything was connected and were willing to have the argument about sequels that were better than the originals.
As for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory… I’m torn about it. I *LOVED* the book and when I saw the movie, I thought that it had nigh-nothing to do with it. I mean, sure. It had characters that had the same names as the characters in the book, but everything else was Hollywoodified. How tough would it have been to stick to the book?, I asked over and over again as I watched it.
Then when the Johnny Depp movie came out, I thought it was amazing. The first half stuck to the book. Like, they changed a couple of things but that was due to some things just not surviving the translation from book to screen. I didn’t resent them for leaving them out.
AND THEN THEY EXPLAINED THAT WILLY WONKA GOT HIS POWERS FROM MIDICHLORIANS. And the movie is now worse than the Gene Wilder one because I understand the vision that Gene Wilder had (even as I think he should have stuck to the book).
Which brings me to 1977. How recently would it have been that another Disney property would have been in that slot? Alas… I understand why The Rescuers is there instead of that other flick.
I’m really enjoying these lists.Report
To me the new Wonka had two problems: Unrestrained Tim Burton always finds the cringe line and pole vaults it, and Johnny Depp couldn’t put wink-wink Wilder could to take the edge off the crazy just enough to make it all work.
I’m so thrilled the Rescuers is on this list it has long been a favorite of mine, and as a kid that dilapidated ship in the swamp was scary as all get out. Great world building in it.
I can not quibble with a single selection in this edition, great listReport
Never seen the Rescuers. Should probably watch it what with quarantine and Disney+Report
Ever since the Tim Burton version cam out, I’ve thought that if only you could blend the original with the new one you’d have the perfect Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.Report
I’m thrilled that one of my personal faves Rocky is the 1976 choice instead of that other movie that came out in 1976, I can’t remember its name, something about some wars in some stars or whatever.Report
Star Wars was in ’77 though.:)Report
weird, I’ve read like 10,000 articles claiming they came out the same year, but apparently those articles (and myself) are wrong. Thank you!Report
I only remember because a friend of mine is STILL angry that Annie Hall won the Academy Award that year. 🙂Report
Many artist have a work that’s a transition from their early to their mature style that’s one of the best things they’ll ever do. For the Beatles it’s Rubber Soul, for the Kinks Something Else, for Wodehouse Leave it to Psmith, for the Marx Brothers Monkey Business, and for Woody Allen it’s Annie Hall.Report
Oh, and for Lois Bujold it’s Mirror Dance. The first Vorkosigan novel I ever read and still my favorite.Report
Hmmm… Alien, on the one hand, is a great movie that might, might have changed cinema. But, on the other hand, Apocalypse Now. While creating nothing new, it is the fullest version of cinema; raw beauty and horror.Report
Those are basically my feelings toward Halloween on this list versus The Deer Hunter. But it’s been so long since I’ve seen that one I could be overestimating it.Report
Coppola and his audio team invented modern Surround Sound to make viewers hear the things all around them, such as helicopters zipping past or gunfire coming from particular directions. This made the movie experience vastly more immersive, and subsequent blockbusters adopted the new technology, which is still universal today as Dolby 5.1 6-channel surround sound.
Apocalypse Now’s innovations at some length in the recent documentary on cinema sound.
It is most interesting how many films on your list for this decade are legendary for their production issues & problems that could have credibly scuttled the entire project.Report
It was an era of young directors. Or, rather, young directors off their leashes. These days you have quite a few inexperienced creators being given big projects but with Disney executives steering them.Report
And that’s been working out about as well as having Boss Nass giving orders to Jar Jar Binks.Report
I dunno. Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, James Gunn, JJ Abrams. We’ve had some small-time directors get big projects and they worked out well. Interestingly, quite a few of them had worked in low-budget horror. (I’ll have to add Sam Raimi to the list, although it’s been a while since he made the jump to the big stage.)
You’re right though that I haven’t heard much buzz over the writers and directors of most of the recent Marvel and Star Wars movies. I think we’re in a new era, where the visionaries who are given latitude are the show runners on TV.Report
David Milch, David Simon, David Chase, Vince Gillligan, etc.. Those are the recent versions of Coppola and Altman.Report
It was the era of the American Auteur. What came out of the sixties writ large. With cocaine.Report
I’d have taken M*A*S*H over Patten in 1970, but I was of an age where Vietnam was a very big current thing (ultimately costing me an uncle and ruining a cousin for years, and almost forcing me to make potentially life-ruining decisions) while WWII was history. Dirty Harry in 1971 as another movie for the times. And Chinatown in 1974, but that’s just personal preference.Report
I love Godfather part 1.
But I just can’t stand part 2. That’s probably mostly a personal preference on my part.
Patton is a good choice. And so is Rocky.Report
A great set of films. We’re now far enough along that I saw a lot of them in theaters. Not The Exorcist though; it was R-rated and no adult take me. I streamed it a few years ago, and it just wasn’t scary, probably because of the small screen and normal home distractions.
Another great 1972 film is Sleuth, a British thriller with amazing performances from all involved. (The awful remake is no substitute.) But it’s not close to The Godfather.Report