Movies of the Early 70s
As said elsewhere, I didn't happen to be alive in the early 70s. I was born in 1975, and my memories of that decade are fleeting at best. I can remember seeing the first Superman in the theater, and I can remember seeing the first Star Wars in the theater, but that's about it.
Yet I did get very bored recently, and since I'd already seen the recent movies that interested me, I thought I'd go back to the 70s and see if I had missed anything. As it turns out, there were plenty of good movies during that decade, too.
A warning at the outset: if you're going to sit through any of these, you'll need to calm yourself down. Movies nowadays are ten times more hyperactive than anything produced in the 70s, and the business of movie-making has also changed quite a lot.
Oh, and unlike the entries on later decades, what is written here is only a reflection of the movies I've seen, and not so much a consideration of each movie's overall quality. There are hundreds of movies from the 70s that I haven't seen - and will never see - so take the recommendations below for what they're worth.
Biggest Films of 1970: Love Story, Airport, M.A.S.H., Patton, Woodstock, the Aristocats, Little Big Man, Ryan's Daughter, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Chariots of the Gods
Love Story is pretty corny, but I can understand why it was such a smash hit. Watching it now, it's hard not to smirk at that line "love means never having to say you're sorry," but I think it's the inherent corniness of that movie that won people over. It's a movie full of things that people want to say to each other, but never do.
Airport has held up surprisingly well. This isn't to say that it doesn't look extremely dated, but it's still an entertaining movie. Even in 1970, many critics were complaining that it seemed a bit old-fashioned, and having seen it recently, I can tell you that yes, it seems more like a movie from the 1960s.
Unlike Airport, M.A.S.H. hasn't held up well. Seen from a 2016 standpoint, this movie is about as politically incorrect as you can get. ALL of the women in the movie are sex objects, one of the black characters is named "Spearchucker," and the camp doctors even manage to "cure" a man of his homosexuality. Sally Kellerman looks great nude, but it's not worth sitting through this movie for.
Fun Fact: M.A.S.H. was the first big-budget movie in which the word "fuck" was used.
Patton is a great movie. Period. I used to work with a guy who had Patton's speech memorized.
Little Big Man is also great. This is probably my favorite movie from that year. A lot of Dustin Hoffman's movies are celebrated, but this one? Not so much.
You can see Chariots of the Gods on YouTube. It has been borrowed from and copied so many times it's not worth seeing now, but it's definitely historic.
Aside from the Aristocats, a Disney movie, I haven't seen the other big movies of 1970s. Ryan's Daughter sounds kind of good, but I wasn't able to find a copy.
Honorable Mentions: The Boys in the Band, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, El Topo, Five Easy Pieces, The Great White Hope, Two Mules for Sister Sara
If you're gay, or if you like the films of John Waters, you'll probably like The Boys in the Band. I've been watching it on YouTube and it's great.
El Topo is one of the weirdest movies you'll ever see. Keep in mind that I'm not saying it's good...
Five Easy Pieces is classic Jack Nicholson.
The Great White Hope is James Earl Jones before he was the voice of Darth Vader. It's an excellent movie about race relations in the U.S.
Two Mules for Sister Sara is not one of Clint Eastwood's better films, but it's alright. I always thought Shirley Maclaine was kind of hot.
Biggest Films of 1971: Fiddler on the Roof, Diamonds Are Forever, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Billy Jack, The Summer of '42, The Last Picture Show, Carnal Knowledge, A Clockwork Orange, Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Fuck YES Diamonds Are Forever. Not only is it one of the best Bond films, but it's Sean Connery's last (Eon) outing as the character. It's got one of the best theme songs, Blofeld spends part of the movie cross-dressing, and 007 rescues a noted person in the sausage industry.
The French Connection might be a bit slow for modern viewers, but it's got a great car chase and some excellent dialogue. If you haven't seen it, the ending will probably take you by surprise.
Dirty Harry is still a great, quotable movie. I think what makes this movie good is more the loathsomeness of the bad guy. A truly loathsome bad guy is what the other Dirty Harry movies needed.
Billy Jack is chock-full of zeitgeist, but it's also one of the worst movies ever made. It starts off as White Men vs. Indians, then turns into Hippies vs. The Establishment, then tries to turn back into White Men vs. Indians. The acting is cringe-worthy, and parts of this movie make almost no sense at all. Still, in an age of fading flower power, communes, and youth culture, I can understand why it was popular.
Of the movies above, the only other one I've seen is Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. I can't rank it among Kubrick's best, but it makes a great point about individual vs. collective responsibility. Or... something. I don't know. You'd have to see it and tell me!
Honorable Mentions: Shaft, THX 1138, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Play Misty for Me, The Beguiled, The Big Boss, Brian's Song, Duel, Johnny Got His Gun, The Omega Man
THX 1138 is an overlooked film, directed by a then-unknown George Lucas.
Neither Play Misty for Me or The Beguiled are Clint Eastwood at his best, but they're worth watching.
The Big Boss is Bruce Lee in his prime.
Brian's Song remains one of the best football movies ever.
Duel is Spielberg's first movie.
Johnny Got His Gun is the movie they play in the background of Metallica's "One" video.
The Omega Man is SO much better than the shitty Will Smith remake. Charlton Heston had a career that went back to nineteen-freaking-forty-one, and he was still going strong in the 70s.
Biggest Films of 1972: The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, What's Up, Doc?, Behind the Green Door, Deliverance, Jeremiah Johnson, Cabaret, The Getaway, Fritz the Cat, The Legend of Boggy Creek
The Godfather remains one of the best movies ever made, and if you somehow haven't seen it, you really ought to get on that RIGHT NOW.
Yes, Marilyn Chambers was hot, but Behind the Green Door is quite boring. A surprising percentage of this movie is taken up by an extended come shot.
Deliverance is excellent.
Jeremiah Johnson is still one of the best Westerns ever made. It tells a great, timeless story, in wonderful detail. I love the attention paid to woodcraft in this movie - little things like how they fixed doors on log cabins, or how they kept warm in freezing conditions. I've seen this film more times than I can remember.
Fun Fact: Clint Eastwood was originally cast as the lead in Jeremiah Johnson, but later left the project to star in Dirty Harry.
Honorable Mentions: Pink Flamingos, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Deep Throat, Fist of Fury, Game of Death, Pink Floyd - Live at Pompeii
Pink Flamingos might be John Waters' best film. For me it's a toss-up between this one and Female Trouble. Bring a strong stomach.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God. That scene were the raft is falling apart, overrun by monkeys, and Klaus Kinsky is suffering a mental breakdown. The story of how this movie was made is a movie in itself.
Deep Throat is fairly low-grade porn, but it's better than the other "porno chic" hit from the decade, the overly arty Behind the Green Door. In an age when women of all ages routinely gag themselves on oversized penises, this movie is fast losing its novelty value.
Fists of Fury and Game of Death - probably the height of Bruce Lee's career. Of the two, Fists of Fury is way better.
I've never been a big Pink Floyd fan, but Live at Pompeii is one of the best "concert" movies from that era. I love that scene of them playing in the Acropolis.
Biggest Films of 1973: The Sting, The Exorcist, American Graffiti, Papilion, The Way We Were, Magnum Force, Last Tango in Paris, Live and Let Die, Robin Hood, Paper Moon
The Sting hasn't aged as well as other movies from this year, but coming after a game-changer like The Godfather, it's hard to fault the movie. It's great to see Redford and Newman on screen together, but compared to other films from this year, it moves fairly slow.
The Exorcist might just be the best horror movie ever made. In the top 5, anyway.
American Graffiti is one of those movies where you're reminded of it, and you're like.... "Have I seen that? 'Cause it sounds really familiar. I mean, I really think I've seen it, but I'm not entirely sure...."
Let me assure you that yes, you've seen it. It's a good movie I guess, but completely forgettable.
Like Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were is another Robert Redford-Sydney Pollack pairing. Unfortunately there's little chemistry between Redford and Streisand, and one wonders what his character would be doing with such a neurotic, rude, judgmental woman. They're both good actors, but the relationship doesn't make sense.
Live and Let Die is another classic Bond film, featuring the first appearance of Roger Moore as 007. As Moore's Bond films go, it might be the best.
Honorable Mentions: Westworld, Serpico, Cleopatra Jones, Fantastic Planet, La Grande Bouffe, High Plains Drifter, The Holy Mountain, Mean Streets, Soylent Green
Westworld is not bad.
Fantastic Planet is wonderful. I've seen that move so many times! It's probably the closest anyone will ever come to animating King Crimson or ELP's early album art.
La Grande Bouffe (sometimes translated as "The Big Feast") is a strange Italian movie about several guys retiring to a cottage to eat themselves to death. I can't say it's great, but if you're looking for something weird...
High Plains Drifter might be my favorite Clint Eastwood movie. Excellent film.
The Holy Mountain would make a nice double-feature with La Grande Bouffe. If you thought El Topo was strange, this one puts it to shame. I tried to get through it, and failed.
Mean Streets is Scorsese starting out. Robert de Niro and Harvey Keitel also appear. It's a solid film.
"Soylent Green is...." No, I won't ruin it for you.
Biggest Films of 1974: Blazing Saddles, The Towering Inferno, The Trial of Billy Jack, Young Frankenstein, Earthquake, The Godfather Part II, Airport 1975, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, The Longest Yard, Benji
Blazing Saddles? Not nearly as funny now. I was never a big fan of Mel Brooks, though this movie it still has its moments. Definitely a lot funnier in 1974.
The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, and Airport 1975. With these three movies, we enter the heyday of 70s disaster films, wherein everything - both natural and man-made - is trying to kill us. I'd have to take The Towering Inferno over the other two.
I like the first Godfather more than the second, but the sequel is also great.
The Longest Yard is Burt Reynolds in his prime. It looks fairly dated today, but if you're bored, and can't think of anything more exciting to watch, it's ok.
Honorable Mentions: Chinatown, Female Trouble, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Zardoz
I liked Chinatown, but I don't worship it or anything. I often think that the praise this movie receives is way out of proportion to its merits.
Female Trouble is another excellently weird film from John Waters. I have a lot of this movie's dialogue committed to memory.
The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is worth seeing, but only because it's so influential. As horror movies go, it's not all that gory, or even scary.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot features Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges on a cross-country chase. It has really grown on me over the years.
Zardoz is one of my all-time favorite films. John Boorman directed this story of a utopian society in decline, and both Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling are amazing in it. Gotta love 70s movies about "the future."