Greatest Films of the 1970s
Greatest Films of the 1970s

Greatest Films of the 1970s
1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979


Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Alien (1979, UK), 116 minutes, D: Ridley Scott
A grisly, futuristic, suspenseful, atmospheric, memorable and popular science fiction/horror film about the intergalactic journey of a claustrophobic, commercial space cargo freighter, the Nostromo. With terrific sets designed by surreal artist H. R. Giger. The crew includes warrant officer heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in her starring debut role), Kane (John Hurt), Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Ash (Ian Holm), and others, who are awakened from hyper-sleep to investigate a distress signal on a mysteriously bleak, dead planet with a crashed alien spacecraft. In its interior, a lifeform with tentacles clings to Kane's helmet/face, incubates inside his host body, and ultimately bursts from his gut. The hideous, indestructible, carnivorous creature grows in size and hides within the hyper-tech spacecraft, menacing and picking off one crew member after another until self-reliant, resourceful Ripley outsmarts the primal, lethal monster in the explosive conclusion. Followed by three sequels, including James Cameron's Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997).

All That Jazz (1979), 123 minutes, D: Bob Fosse

Apocalypse Now (1979), 139 minutes, D: Francis Ford Coppola
A masterful, thought-provoking, pretentious film, with beautifully-chaotic visuals, about the nightmarish, moral madness of the Vietnam War, inspired by the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Considered by many to be the best war movie of all time, with incredible performances, especially that of hawkish Lt. Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) who "loves the smell of napalm in the morning." Sweeping, surreal, still-controversial Vietnam war epic. An Army captain (Martin Sheen) is sent into the Cambodian jungle aboard a patrol boat carrying a young, spaced-out crew. Their mission: to assassinate ("terminate") a Buddha-like Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has become an insane demi-god and now runs his own fiefdom. The grueling production in the Philippines led to vast budget overruns and physical and emotional breakdowns. A revised version, Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) followed.

Being There (1979), 130 minutes, D: Hal Ashby
Subtitled "A story of chance," this provocative black comedy is a wonderful tale that satirizes politics, celebrity, media-obsession and television, and extols the wisdom of innocence. The subtle film's slogan proclaimed: "Getting there is half the fun. Being there is all of it." It is a placid fable about Chance (Peter Sellers), a reclusive, illiterate, passive, and simple-minded gardener who is well-groomed, fed on schedule, and dressed in custom-tailored suits. He has lived his whole sheltered life within the walled, Washington, DC estate of an eccentric millionaire named Jennings. His only knowledge of the "real" outside world, an encroaching inner-city ghetto area, is through watching television. When his employer dies, he wanders out into the street with his TV's remote-control to aid him. When his leg is injured, and his name is thought to be "Chauncey Gardiner," he is befriended by Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), the wife of dying billionaire industrialist Benjamin Rand (Melvin Douglas). His simple statements about gardening, such as "Spring is a time for planting," are mis-interpreted as profound and wise political-economic advice to none other than President 'Bobby' (Jack Warden). His new-found popularity leads to talk-show appearances, insider parties, book publisher advances, and the potential to become a presidential candidate. The film was directed by director Hal Ashby (already known for Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Shampoo (1975), Bound for Glory (1976), and the acclaimed Vietnam war film Coming Home (1978)). The politically-satirical, overly-long film about mistaken identity and the television age was adapted from a 1971 novel by Jerzy Kosinski, with Sellers in a chameleon-like role in his second-to-last film.

The Black Stallion (1979), 118 minutes, D: Carol Ballard

Breaking Away (1979), 100 minutes, D: Peter Yates

The China Syndrome (1979), 122 minutes, D: James Bridges

The Jerk (1979), 94 minutes, D: Carl Reiner

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), 104 minutes, D: Robert Benton
Robert Benton's sensitive Best Picture-winning marital drama was about a dysfunctional yuppie family. Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman), a workaholic NYC ad executive, suffered an abrupt break-up with unfulfilled, bored and depressed wife Joanna (Meryl Streep), and was propelled into the uncomfortable paternal role of single dad with young son Billy (Justin Henry). Ted's first preparation of breakfast for his son was a hilarious disaster. He suddenly needed to take on a nurturing gender role, and balance demanding career obligations. He later persevered through a nasty custody battle when Joanna unexpectedly returned months later to take their son away with her, although she backed down with a sudden change of heart when she realized father-and-son's close bond.

Mad Max (1979, Australia), 93 minutes, D: George Miller

Manhattan (1979), 96 minutes, D: Woody Allen
A mature, B/W, tragi-romantic comedy enhanced by a George Gershwin score about infidelity, romances and relationships set in Allen's beloved urban NYC and within a group of intellectual Manhattanites. Neurotic TV comedy writer Isaac Davis (Woody Allen) turns from comedy to serious novels, and lives with an sweet, innocent, high-school-aged drama student Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), 25 years younger than he is. His lesbian, divorced ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep), who is writing an expose about their marriage/divorce (entitled Marriage, Divorce, and Selfhood), lives with Connie (Karen Ludwig). Davis meets Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton), the pseudo-intellectual mistress of his guilt-torn best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) - who is married to Emily (Anne Byrne). Initially, he disapproves of the extra-marital affair and Mary's personality but then becomes attracted and fascinated by her and begins his own affair with her. In a soda fountain, he must confess his affair to a tearful Tracy.

(Monty Python's) Life of Brian (1979, UK), 93 minutes, D: Terry Jones
Monty Python's satirical and insightful version of the New Testament, beginning with the three wise men at the wrong manger with a second "Messiah."

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (1979, Soviet Union) (aka Moskva Slezam ne Verit, or Москва слезам не верит), 140 minutes, D: Vladimir Menshov

The Muppet Movie (1979), 95 minutes, D: James Frawley

Norma Rae (1979), 110 minutes, D: Martin Ritt

North Dallas Forty (1979), 119 minutes, D: Ted Kotcheff

Nosferatu: The Vampyr (1979, W. Germ./Fr.) (aka Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht, or Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night), 107 minutes, D: Werner Herzog

Real Life (1979), 99 minutes, D: Albert Brooks

Star Trek - The Motion Picture (1979), 132 minutes, D: Robert Wise

10 (1979), 121 minutes, D: Blake Edwards

Tess (1979, Fr./UK), 170 minutes, D: Roman Polanski

The Tin Drum (1979, W. Germ/Fr./Pol./Yugo.) (aka Die Blechtrommel), 142 minutes, D: Volker Schlondorff

The Warriors (1979), 90 minutes, D: Walter Hill

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