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70s Movies Essentials: A Decade of Cinematic Revolution

When you think about 70s movies, images of gritty crime dramas, groundbreaking science fiction, and influential film directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese might flash through your mind. This era, often hailed as Hollywood’s second golden age, produced films that pushed the boundaries of storytelling and technical wizardry.

It was a decade where filmmakers began to explore themes more deeply, with nuanced characters and complex narratives that reflected the social and political climate of the time.

As you dig into the treasures of the 70s, you’ll encounter movies that define the decade, such as “The Godfather,” which carved a permanent place in cinematic history, and “Taxi Driver,” a film that captured the dark underbelly of urban America.

More than just entertainment, these films acted as a mirror to society, with keen insights on human nature and contemporary life. The decade was also pivotal for introducing a new wave of blockbusters. Films like “Star Wars” brought epic storytelling to the big screen, coupled with special effects that transformed the landscape of cinema.

The 1970s was an era of bold experimentation and remarkable creativity in film, giving you a gallery of movies that remain influential to this day. From the raw authenticity of life portrayed in character-driven dramas to the majestic fantasies that became a staple for future generations, the movies of the 70s continue to captivate audiences and inspire filmmakers.

The 120 Must-See Films of the 1970s

From the gritty streets of crime thrillers to the far-off galaxies of space operas, the ’70s offered a rich tapestry of cinematic experiences that continue to entertain, provoke, and inspire. Let’s embark on a journey through the decade’s most iconic films, exploring the diverse array of storytelling that defined a generation. Here are 120 popular movies from the ’70s, categorized for your browsing pleasure.


  1. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
  2. The French Connection (1971)
  3. Superman (1978)
  4. Dirty Harry (1971)
  5. Enter the Dragon (1973)
  6. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  7. Mad Max (1979)
  8. The Warriors (1979)
  9. Deliverance (1972)
  10. The Poseidon Adventure (1972)


  1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  2. Annie Hall (1977)
  3. Blazing Saddles (1974)
  4. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
  5. The Jerk (1979)
  6. Young Frankenstein (1974)
  7. The Sting (1973)
  8. MAS*H (1970)
  9. Caddyshack (1980, close to the ’70s)
  10. The Odd Couple (1968, popularity extended into the ’70s)


  1. The Godfather (1972)
  2. The Godfather Part II (1974)
  3. Taxi Driver (1976)
  4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  6. Chinatown (1974)
  7. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
  8. Rocky (1976)
  9. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
  10. Serpico (1973)


  1. The Exorcist (1973)
  2. Jaws (1975)
  3. Halloween (1978)
  4. Alien (1979)
  5. Carrie (1976)
  6. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
  7. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  8. The Omen (1976)
  9. The Amityville Horror (1979)
  10. Suspiria (1977)

Science Fiction/Fantasy

  1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  2. THX 1138 (1971)
  3. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
  4. Solaris (1972)
  5. Logan’s Run (1976)
  6. The Andromeda Strain (1971)
  7. Silent Running (1972)
  8. The Omega Man (1971)
  9. Westworld (1973)
  10. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)


  1. The Conversation (1974)
  2. Marathon Man (1976)
  3. Klute (1971)
  4. The Parallax View (1974)
  5. Three Days of the Condor (1975)
  6. All the President’s Men (1976)
  7. The Day of the Jackal (1973)
  8. The Boys from Brazil (1978)
  9. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
  10. Duel (1971)


  1. Grease (1978)
  2. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
  3. Cabaret (1972)
  4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
  5. A Star is Born (1976)
  6. Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
  7. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
  8. Hair (1979)
  9. Tommy (1975)
  10. The Wiz (1978)


  1. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  2. The Muppet Movie (1979)
  3. The Aristocats (1970)
  4. Charlotte’s Web (1973)
  5. The Rescuers (1977)
  6. Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
  7. Watership Down (1978)
  8. The Many Adventures of Winnie thePooh (1977)
  9. The Black Stallion (1979)
  10. The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)


  1. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
  2. High Plains Drifter (1973)
  3. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
  4. Little Big Man (1970)
  5. The Shootist (1976)
  6. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
  7. Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
  8. The Candidate (1972)
  9. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
  10. A Man Called Horse (1970)


  1. The French Connection (1971)
  2. Serpico (1973)
  3. The Godfather (1972)
  4. The Godfather Part II (1974)
  5. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
  6. Mean Streets (1973)
  7. Scarface (1983, though not the ’70s, its development and impact began in the late ’70s)
  8. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
  9. Chinatown (1974)
  10. Death Wish (1974)


  1. Love Story (1970)
  2. Annie Hall (1977)
  3. Harold and Maude (1971)
  4. The Way We Were (1973)
  5. A Star is Born (1976)
  6. Manhattan (1979)
  7. The Goodbye Girl (1977)
  8. Summer of ’42 (1971)
  9. The Last Picture Show (1971)
  10. Coming Home (1978)


  1. Patton (1970)
  2. Gandhi (1982, though not the ’70s, it is heavily influenced by the political climate of the decade)
  3. All the President’s Men (1976)
  4. Lenny (1974)
  5. The Great Gatsby (1974)
  6. Papillon (1973)
  7. The Message (1976)
  8. A Bridge Too Far (1977)
  9. Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)
  10. The Hindenburg (1975)

Cultural Impact of 70s Movies

In the 1970s, your cinematic experience was transformed in ways that still resonate in today’s movie culture. This era not only redefined what constituted a blockbuster but also introduced you to more complex narratives and unconventional heroes through the emergence of New Hollywood and auteur-driven films.

Evolution of the Blockbuster

The concept of the “blockbuster” evolved dramatically with the arrival of movies like Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977). These films reshaped the financial landscape of Hollywood by demonstrating that huge box office success was achievable. They set new standards for box office performance and how movies were marketed and consumed.

  • Jaws: Established the model of wide release and heavy promotion
  • Star Wars: Expanded merchandising opportunities tied to films

New Hollywood and Auteur Filmmaking

The 1970s heralded the New Hollywood era, where directors had more creative control and became known as “auteurs.” This shift brought you powerful, character-driven stories such as The Godfather (1972), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. These films often portrayed more nuanced characters and tackled themes that were previously considered too controversial for mainstream cinema.

  • Auteur Directors: Gave rise to a new generation of filmmakers with distinctive styles and visions.
  • Themes: Grittier and more realistic narratives gained popularity.

Rise of New Genres and Themes

During the 70s, filmmakers began exploring genres and themes with a newfound freedom, which introduced you to a wider, more diverse cinematic world. Important new genres, such as the modern horror film, were born with titles like The Exorcist (1973), setting the foundation for the entire exorcism genre.

  • Horror Movies: Became more visceral and psychological
  • Disaster and War Films: Reflected contemporary societal fears and historical events

Iconic Directors of the 70s

As you explore the landscape of 1970s cinema, prepare to meet trailblazing directors who forever changed the art of filmmaking. They brought to life stories that captivated and unsettled audiences, setting new cinematic benchmarks that resonate to this day.

Steven Spielberg’s Breakthrough

In the 1970s, Steven Spielberg made waves with his directorial hand in Jaws (1975), a thriller that not only instilled a deep fear of the ocean but also showcased Spielberg’s ability to craft suspense and spectacle. This film, along with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), marked Spielberg’s indelible mark on the science fiction and thriller genres.

Francis Ford Coppola’s Masterpieces

Francis Ford Coppola cemented his legacy with the magnificent Godfather series. The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974) are often hailed as some of the greatest films in world cinema, showcasing Coppola’s masterful storytelling and command of the crime drama.

Stanley Kubrick’s Cinematic Contributions

Renowned for his meticulousness, Stanley Kubrick offered bold and visually stunning works. A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Barry Lyndon (1975) are prime examples of Kubrick’s innovative use of cinematography and narrative structure, enveloping you in tales that challenge and provoke.

The Versatility of Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s portfolio of the 1970s highlights his versatility, seamlessly transitioning from comedic antics in Annie Hall (1977) to the somber notes of Manhattan (1979). These films epitomize Allen’s witty narrative voice and his introspective look at relationships and the human condition.

Martin Scorsese and the Urban Narrative

With a keen eye for character-driven stories set against gritty urban backdrops, Martin Scorsese’s contributions in the ’70s, particularly Taxi Driver (1976), capture the era’s complex social realities. Scorsese’s ability to weave psychological depth into his characters opened a new chapter in dramatic storytelling.

Each director brought their unique vision and style to the silver screen, leaving an indelible mark on the fabric of 1970s cinema. From Spielberg to Scorsese, their bold narratives and innovative techniques have influenced countless filmmakers and continue to entertain audiences worldwide.

Notable Actors and Performances

The 1970s cinema saw remarkable talents rise to prominence. You’ll encounter electrifying performances that defined a generation, by actors like Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, and Robert De Niro. Their roles left an indelible mark on Hollywood and continue to inspire to this day.

Al Pacino’s Role Choices

Al Pacino emerged as a remarkable force with a penchant for taking on challenging and gritty roles. His portrayal of Michael Corleone in The Godfather solidified his place as a distinguished actor, showcasing an ability to evolve a character across a saga.

Breakout of Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone wasn’t just an actor, he was also the creative mind behind Rocky. This character became a symbol of perseverance and an icon. The film’s success turned Stallone into a household name, resonating with audiences worldwide.

Diverse Roles of Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson’s versatile acting throughout the ’70s brought us unforgettable characters. Be it the chilling detail of Jack Torrance in The Shining or the rebellious Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nicholson’s ability to inhabit diverse roles won him critical acclaim.

The Charisma of Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro gave a series of compelling performances, often collaborating with director Martin Scorsese. His role as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is a testament to his deep embodiment of complex characters, earning him a place among the era’s most revered actors.

These actors’ performances were often bolstered by strong supporting roles from talents such as Diane Keaton in “The Godfather” series and John Cazale, whose work alongside Pacino elevated every scene they shared. Christopher Walken’s unsettling turn in “The Deer Hunter” and Marlon Brando’s commanding presence in “Apocalypse Now” further exemplify the era’s rich ensemble of actors.

Influential 70s Films

The 1970s was a transformative era for cinema, with groundbreaking films that redefined genres and captured audiences’ imaginations. Let’s take a closer look at the essential movies that led movements in science fiction, horror, and crime genres.

Breakthrough of Science Fiction

The late 1970s witnessed a seismic shift in science fiction with the release of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. This epic space opera captured the wonder and expansive imagination of audiences, creating a lasting legacy.

Another game-changer was Alien, which merged the realms of science fiction with horror. Its portrayal of a formidable extraterrestrial creature set a new standard for sci-fi horror thrillers.

Revival of the Horror Genre

The ’70s brought new life to horror with films that went on to become cult classics. Halloween, directed by John Carpenter, refined the slasher sub-genre and introduced the world to Michael Myers.

Zombie films took a terrifying turn with Dawn of the Dead, which combined social commentary with the horror of an undead apocalypse.

And let’s not forget the sheer terror that The Exorcist brought to the silver screen, chilling audiences with its portrayal of demonic possession and leaving many sleepless with its unforgettable imagery.

Crime and Neo-Noir Expression

The French Connection served as a high water mark for crime dramas, featuring gritty scenes and a famous car chase that are still discussed today.

Film noir made a mighty comeback with Chinatown, weaving a complex tale of corruption and moral ambiguity that has influenced countless films since its release.

Lastly, the hard-boiled detective theme found a new icon in Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of Inspector Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, which tackled themes of justice and vigilantism within the urban decay of 1970s America.

Critical Issues and Societal Reflections

In the 1970s, film was a prism reflecting deep societal issues and political unrest, and the era’s cinema dug into the fabric of contemporary life. Through the lens of war, surveillance, and political drama, these films captured the spirit of the time and commented on the issues that were shaping the world you lived in.

Cinema and the Vietnam War

Films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter offered you raw portrayals of the Vietnam War’s impact on the human psyche. Both films took you into the heart of the conflict, revealing not just the physical but also the emotional and psychological aftermath of war.

  • Apocalypse Now: A harrowing journey into the madness of warfare.
  • The Deer Hunter: An intimate look at how the war’s violence imprints itself on the lives of soldiers and their communities.

Detectives and Surveillance

This era saw a rise in films exploring the themes of detection and surveillance, reflecting your broader societal concerns about privacy and conspiracy.

  • Vigilantism and detective work in cinema echoed your sentiments about law, order, and distrust in institutions during a time of social upheaval.

Hollywood’s Take on Politics

Political cinema of the 1970s, such as All the President’s Men and Network, captured the zeitgeist of the Watergate scandal and the distrust in government institutions.

  • All the President’s Men: A stark inside view into the journalistic investigation that helped uncover the Watergate Scandal.
  • Network: Satirically conveyed your growing disillusionment with television and its role in shaping public opinion and discourse.

By showcasing these powerful themes, the films of the 1970s played a key role in how you perceived and understood critical societal issues.

Awards and Accolades

The 1970s saw an array of films that not only captivated audiences but also garnered significant recognition at the Oscars. You’ll find that many classics you know and love today were celebrated extensively during this era.

Oscar Winners of the Decade

  • Best Picture Winners:
    • The Godfather Part II (1974)
    • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
    • Rocky (1976)
    • Annie Hall (1977)
    • Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Each of these films marked a milestone in cinema, showcasing everything from the gritty realism and complexity of character in The Godfather Part II to the emotional depth and narrative innovation in Kramer vs. Kramer.

Films with Critical Acclaim

Beyond the shining Oscar trophy for Best Picture, films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Rocky also earned a place in the hearts of critics and audiences alike. These movies were notable for their powerful performances, atmospheric direction, and the ability to evoke a strong emotional response from you, the viewer.

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:
    • Critical Acclaim: A testament to the human spirit, it resonated with you by challenging the status quo and questioning the boundaries of sanity.
  • Rocky:
    • Critical Acclaim: An underdog story that punched above its weight, it inspired you with its rousing message of perseverance and determination.

The 1970s cinema landscape was decorated with films that not only won Oscars but also achieved lasting critical acclaim, leaving an indelible mark on film history that you can still appreciate today.

Filmmaking Innovations of the 70s

The 1970s was a pivotal decade for cinematic history, distinguished by technological leaps, narrative evolution, and the birth of movie series that would become cultural touchstones.

Advances in Film Technology

During the 70s, filmmakers embraced new technologies that revolutionized how movies were made and viewed. The introduction of Steadicam systems gave us fluid camera movement, immersing you in scenes as if you were part of the action—a technique notably used in Rocky.

Movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind brought advancements in special effects, especially with its awe-inspiring alien encounters that still dazzle audiences.

The emergence of synthesizers gave films like Superman their iconic scores, unforgettable and rousing, enhancing the storytelling experience.

  • Handheld Cameras: Enabled more intimate, dynamic shots.
  • New Lighting: Fostered a more natural, realistic aesthetic.
  • CGI: Took its first steps, increasing in sophistication from simple techniques in Westworld to more complex applications.

The Art of Storytelling

The 70s saw a shift in storytelling where filmmakers ventured into more personal and experimental narratives, often reflecting society’s complexities.

Movies like American Graffiti captured the essence of youth and nostalgia, while the Rocky Horror Picture Show defied norms with its audacious blend of science fiction, horror, and musical genres.

The decade championed character-driven stories and pushed the boundaries of narrative ambiguity, letting you delve into the depths of more intricate plots.

  • Layered Characters: Films focused on deeper character development, making them more relatable and nuanced.
  • Diverse Genres: From gritty thrillers to space operas, the variety of genres expanded.

Emergence of Film Franchises

The concept of film franchises took root in the 70s, laying the groundwork for series that would become part of cinema’s lexicon. Superman (1978) showcased the potential of superhero movies and sequels, heralding a pattern of cinematic universes that paved the way for today’s blockbusters.

The era’s franchise-building mentality also gave rise to merchandising opportunities, intertwining cinema with broader cultural and commercial phenomena.

  • Superhero Origin Stories: Set the template for future franchises.
  • Merchandising: Opened new revenue streams for the film industry.

Personalities and Trends

The 1970s cinema landscape was shaped by iconic fashion statements and influential personalities, creating trends and cult followings that are celebrated to this day.

Fashion and Cult Following

You surely remember John Travolta’s sleek dance moves in Saturday Night Fever, a film that didn’t just entertain but also set trends.

The white suit worn by Travolta became a fashion symbol, one that epitomized the disco era’s glam and swagger. This movie didn’t just captivate audiences with its soundtrack; it also inspired a nationwide disco craze, with people imitating the style and dance moves, leading to a strong cult following.

Annie Hall introduced a different kind of trend in fashion. With Diane Keaton’s unique and quirky wardrobe, it wasn’t just a storytelling masterpiece but a trendsetter. Her androgynous style, involving vests, ties, and baggy pants, became unexpectedly popular and influenced the way women dressed, breaking away from traditional feminine attire.

Celebrity Impact on Popular Culture

The celebrity impact on popular culture during the 70s was significant. Alvy Singer, the character played by Woody Allen in Annie Hall, more than just a fictional character, influenced the American culture with his neurotic charm and intellectual wit.

Characters like Alvy made intellectualism trendy, and their influence extended beyond the screen, leaving a lasting impression on the society.

Travolta’s rise to fame with Saturday Night Fever highlighted how a film could catapult an actor to the status of a cultural icon. The celebrity was not only about the portrayal of a character but also about influencing your everyday life, from the way you dress to the music you listen to and the dance moves you try to replicate on the dance floor.

Regional Cinema During the 70s

During the vibrant era of the ’70s, regional cinema in the United States gave birth to some iconic films that reflected the unique cultures and narratives of their respective settings.

Whether you were catching a flick in the sun-kissed streets of California or within the gritty alleys of New York City, this period showcased a diverse range of cinematic styles and stories.

California Dreaming

The ’70s in California were a time of revolution in film, with a focus on youth culture and the changing American landscape. George Lucas’s American Graffiti painted a nostalgic picture of teen life and the car culture in San Francisco.

The film hit theaters in 1973, captivating you with its poignant depiction of adolescence and the looming uncertainty of adulthood. This movie not only celebrated California’s free spirit but also pioneered the use of rock ‘n’ roll soundtracks in films.

New York Narratives

In contrast, over in New York City, the films of the ’70s often portrayed a grittier, more visceral experience. Mean Streets, directed by Martin Scorsese, provided an intimate look at the Italian-American mob life in Manhattan.

Released in 1973, the same year as American Graffiti, it presented a starkly different narrative – one steeped in the harsh realities of urban life.

International Cinema in the 70s

The ’70s weren’t just about American cinema; international films also found an audience in the U.S. Director Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975), though an American creation, exemplified the confluence of storylines and ensemble casts that mirrored the narrative complexity often found in international cinema.

It gave you a sprawling tapestry of America, seen through the lens of characters converging in Nashville, Tennessee for a political rally.

Throughout the decade, these varied stories reflected their regions with authenticity, helping to define the mosaic of 70s cinema.