A Warning: I was born in 1975, so a lot of the films from these years got by me.
A Cause for Optimism: As it turns out, I've seen a lot more of the movies from 1975-1979 than I have of those from 1970-1974. They must have been on television more often.
Biggest Movies of 1975: Jaws, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Shampoo, The Return of the Pink Panther, Funny Lady, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Aloha, Bobby and Rose, The Other Side of the Mountain
Jaws is excellent. Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss make this movie. The star, Roy Scheider, is ok, but he spends most of the time playing straight man to the other two. This movie scared the hell out of me when I was little.
Never could stand The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It has quite a following in Seattle (where I'm from), but I never understood its appeal.
Rewatched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest recently. Still a great film that hasn't aged a day. I would say that it was Nicholson in his prime, but he's also made a lot of great films more recently.
Dog Day Afternoon is solid, but not exactly the Al Pacino movie you've been waiting for. He was much better in other movies, and Dog Day Afternoon is fairly conventional.
Shampoo is a forgotten classic. Warren Beatty stars as a hairdresser with a penchant for sleeping around. If you look very hard, you'll see Carrie Fisher in one of her earliest film appearances.
Peter Sellers was great, but The Return of the Pink Panther's brand of slapstick hasn't aged that well. A couple of the scenes had me grinning, but it's definitely not laugh-out-loud funny.
Haven't seen the other five blockbusters of this year. Maybe another day?
Honorable Mentions: Barry Lyndon, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Death Race 2000, A Boy and His Dog, The Eiger Sanction, Rollerball, Shivers (a.k.a. "They Came from Within")
Barry Lyndon is an incredibly underrated film by Stanley Kubrick. It's not my favorite (that honor would have to go to Full Metal Jacket), but it's up there.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is hands-down my favorite Python film ever. I think most people would agree.
Rollerball (like Logan's Run) is one of those 70s sci-fi classics. It is SO much better than the remake!
Shivers is very early Cronenberg. It foreshadows a lot of horror films yet to come.
Biggest Movies of 1976: Rocky, To Fly!, A Star is Born, All the President's Men, The Omen, In Search of Noah's Ark, King Kong, Silver Streak, The Enforcer, Midway
Rocky's a classic. Can't say anything bad about Rocky!
To Fly! was the first Imax movie... hence its popularity.
A Star is Born. Man, you don't get more mid-70s than this movie. Having endured The Way We Were, I can say that Kristofferson and Streisand have a lot more chemistry than Redford and Streisand, but this movie is still extremely corny at times. If you look very closely, you can see a young Robert Englund (that's right, Freddy Krueger himself) in the bar near the beginning of the movie.
Fun Fact #1: Streisand co-produced this film with her then-boyfriend Jon Peters. Jon Peters was the inspiration for Warren Beatty's character in Shampoo.
Fun Fact #2: Elvis Presley was initially approached to play Streisand's love interest, but was later passed over because he was asking for too much money.
Fun Fact #3: There are plans (very serious plans) afoot to remake this movie, with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga as the leads.
The Omen is good, but probably not as good as you remember it being. Unlike The Exorcist, it looks fairly old-fashioned now, and it moves slowly. As far as horror movies go, I'd put it in the same category as The Amityville Horror: i.e., horror movies that don't really deserve their reputation.
In Search of Noah's Ark is a documentary. Not as influential as Chariots of the Gods, but noteworthy as 70s mystery/conspiracy movies go. You can see the whole thing on YouTube.
I'd have to take Peter Jackson's more recent version of King Kong over the 1976 edition, but it's not a bad film. Kind of hokey now, but keep in mind that this was made long before CGI.
I'm certain I've seen The Enforcer, but for the life of me I can't remember any of it. Must not have been very good.
Haven't seen Midway (a.k.a. The Battle of Midway). Funnily enough, it features one of the first screen appearances of Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid).
Honorable Mentions: Assault on Precinct 13, The Bad News Bears, Carrie, Logan's Run, Marathon Man, Network, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Song Remains the Same, Taxi Driver
Assault on Precinct 13 is one of John Carpenter's earliest movies. It won't blow your mind, but it does point the way to a lot of his later, greater films.
The original Bad News Bears is still the best, but the remake with Billy Bob Thornton has its moments.
Carrie is right up there with The Exorcist. A truly excellent horror movie.
Logan's Run is straight out of the 70s. It would make a good double feature with Rollerball.
Marathon Man isn't, in my opinion, that great of a film, but it does have that classic interrogation scene with the "dentist." Is it safe?
I never seem to get tired of Network. In my heart I know that it's a bad movie, but I never get tired of watching it.
The Outlaw Josey Wales is one of Clint Eastwood's best.
The Song Remains the Same is Led Zeppelin before they self-destructed. Robert Plant was already starting to lose his voice, but it's a fascinating look at one of the biggest rock bands ever.
Taxi Driver? That movie speaks for itself. "Are you talking to me...?"
Biggest Movies of 1977: Star Wars (of course!), Smokey and the Bandit, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl, Saturday Night Fever, Oh, God!, A Bridge Too Far, The Deep, The Spy Who Loved Me, Annie Hall
Star Wars is the first film I remember seeing in the theater. I was three years old. Is it a great film? No, but it did open the door to a lot of other great science fiction films - its sequel being one. I can't fault it too much, mostly because George Lucas was really trying something new.
Surprising as it may seem, Smokey and the Bandit was actually #2 at the box office in 1977. It spawned a whole horde of car chase/trucker movies. Cannonball Run, which appeared in 1980, is just one of many imitators. Sally Field sure could work a pair of tight pants...
Fun Fact: Several cast members from the Dukes of Hazzard TV show appear briefly in this movie. Burt Reynolds, the star of Smokey and the Bandit, would also feature in the 2005 Dukes of Hazzard movie as Boss Hogg.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is epic. Not only one of my favorite Spielberg movies, but one of my favorite science fiction movies, too.
Saturday Night Fever is the movie that brought disco to the forefront of American culture. In many ways it's similar to Rocky, though of course Rocky is a far better film. It's worth seeing, not only for its historical value, but also because it's a good movie.
Oh, God! is a movie about John Denver meeting The Lord Almighty in an office building. Teri Garr plays Denver's smokin' hot wife, and George Burns plays The Notorious G.O.D. It's a strangely touching movie, and its enduring popularity is easy to understand. The two sequels? Not. So. Much.
A Bridge Too Far is a big, sprawling WWII epic directed by Richard Attenborough. Many 70s stars round out its cast, including Redford, Caine, Connery, O'Neal, and Hackman. The scene where James Caan rescues his fellow soldier is great, and if you look closely, you can make out a young Anthony Hopkins behind that mustache.
The Spy Who Loved Me is Roger Moore's third outing as Bond, after Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. It features some great sets, an even greater villain, and one of the most beautiful Bond girls ever. Oh, and Jaws makes his first appearance!
Annie Hall? I'm just never going to be a fan of Woody Allen. Lord knows I've tried.
Honorable Mentions: Desperate Living, The Duellists, Eraserhead, Kingdom of the Spiders, Pumping Iron, Stroszek, Suspiria
Desperate Living is another great John Waters movie. Lesbians escape to a town for criminals. It only gets weirder from there. "You've got a lot to learn about living in Mortville!"
The Duellists is a very early film by Ridley Scott. Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine star.
Eraserhead is early David Lynch.
Kingdom of the Spiders isn't all that good, but that movie also freaked me out as a kid. William Shatner stars.
Pumping Iron is the movie that made Arnold Schwarzenegger (and, some would say, the sport of bodybuilding) famous. Lou Ferrigno features as his "adversary."
Stroszek is an excellent film by Werner Herzog. The legendary Klaus Kinsky stars.
Suspiria might be the best of Argento's movies. It's about as artful as any slasher film has a right to be.
Biggest Movies of 1978: Grease, Superman, National Lampoon's Animal House, Every Which Way But Loose, Heaven Can Wait, Hooper, Jaws 2, Revenge of the Pink Panther, The Deer Hunter, Halloween
Never could get into Grease.
Richard Donner's Superman is the movie that started it all. Written by Godfather scribe Mario Puzo, and starring Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman, this film was the beginning of a genre that dominates the box office today. It's a very honest and straightforward movie, lifted straight out of the comics. Yes, the romance elements look a little silly now, but this film is still great.
Animal House has its moments, but it's been copied so many times that a lot of the tropes it introduced into the "frat house genre" will go right by you. If you look real hard you can see Kevin Bacon, in his first movie ever.
Fun Fact #1: This movie, despite its Ivy League appearance, was filmed at the University of Oregon.
Fun Fact #2: National Lampoon's Animal House is/was one of the most profitable films of all time. Filmed on a budget of $2.8 million, it went on to make more that $140 million. The budget was so low, in fact, that many of the costumes seen in the movie were purchased at thrift stores in Eugene, Oregon.
In Every Which Way But Loose, Clint Eastwood likes drinking beer. Clint Eastwood likes country music. Clint Eastwood likes his orangutan. Clint Eastwood likes Sandra Locke. And Clint Eastwood likes bare knuckle fighting. It's a good movie, but there's no way he could hit people like that and not break the bones in his hands.
Heaven Can Wait is... ok. In it Warren Beatty plays a quarterback for the L.A. Rams, searching for a new body. Kind of forgettable.
You might remember the Deer Hunter being an awesome movie, but you might want to revisit it if you haven't seen it in a while. Yes, the Russian roulette scene is great, but the pre-Vietnam part of that film just creeps by. Excellent performances from Streep, De Niro, and Walken, but it takes a long time to get going.
Halloween is another of those movies that only seems great if you haven't seen it in a while. Like the Deer Hunter it's a watchable film, but it hasn't aged as well as other horror classics from the same era. John Carpenter did a great job with a small budget, but this movie looks pretty dated now.
Honorable Mentions: Midnight Express, Dawn of the Dead, Up in Smoke, The Lord of the Rings, Force 10 from Navarone, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Swarm
When the pilot in Airplane! asks the little boy "Have you ever been to a Turkish prison?", he might be thinking of Midnight Express, which came out four years earlier. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Dawn of the Dead is the cornerstone of the entire zombie genre. Yes, you could point to the much earlier Night of the Living Dead, but Dawn of the Dead is where things really got interesting.
Up in Smoke is a Cheech and Chong movie. Remember those guys?
The Lord of the Rings mentioned above is the cartoon, not the bloated adaptation by Peter Jackson. It is much more faithful to the source material.
Force 10 from Navarone features early appearances by Harrison Ford, Carl Weathers, and the superfine Barbara Bach. It's not that good, but worth seeing for trivia purposes.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been remade so many times. This version features Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum. It's my favorite version of this story.
In The Swarm, Michael Caine tangles with a whole lot of bees. Not that great, but it scared me when I was little.
Biggest Movies of 1979: Kramer Vs. Kramer, The Amityville Horror, Rocky II, Apocalypse Now, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, 10, The Jerk, Moonraker, The Muppet Movie
Kramer Vs. Kramer ranks among Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep's best films. It's the story of a divorce, told from the father's point of view.
The Amityville Horror is not very good. How this movie won so many people over in 1979 I have no idea. The Conjuring II features the same "event," and does so much better.
Rocky II, in case you're getting your Rockies confused, is the one where he fights Apollo for the second time. It's not as great as the first, but it's still good.
Apocalypse Now is one of the all-time greatest Vietnam movies.
A lot of people complain that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is boring, but I always had a fondness for that film. If the other Star Trek moves are "soft" sci-fi, this one is "hard."
Alien will freak you out. I'm sure if freaked no end of people out in 1979.
In "10" a middle-aged Dudley Moore stalks Bo Derek. It's still an entertaining, funny movie.
The Jerk? It's ok I guess. I've never been a big fan of Steve Martin. It has its moments. "My own disco room! With my own disco dancers!"
Moonraker! What a way to close out the 70s. Much of this movie was a knee-jerk reaction to the massive success of Star Wars, but it's so wonderfully campy that I never get tired of it. My only complaint is that they didn't give Bond a light saber at the end.
Honorable Mentions: Norma Rae, 1941, The Brood, Escape from Alcatraz, Mad Max, Meatballs, Monty Python's Life of Brian
Norma Rae is, in my opinion, one of the best movies of the 70s. Sally Field earned an Academy Award playing a textile worker. Not many people bother to watch it now, but it's terrific.
1941 is a comedy by Steven Spielberg featuring several SNL alumni. Even Spielberg wasn't all that happy with the final product.
The Brood is David Cronenberg's first truly great film. Like all good Cronenberg movies, it gets truly weird and unsettling by the end.
Escape from Alcatraz is one of Eastwood's best movies. Kind of forgotten now, but it's still good.
Mad Max, however, isn't very good. Even so, it's very historic. The sequel, Road Warrior, was much better.
Meatballs is one of those movies that was always on "Skin-emax" when I was a kid. It's extremely juvenile, but then again most of us were juveniles when we first saw it.
Monty Python's Life of Brian isn't as good as Holy Grail, but it's worth a look.