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

Barry Lyndon (1975, UK), 184 minutes, D: Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick's lengthy dramatic period film, an adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's 1844 novel, told about the tragic exploits of scheming Irish rogue Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), who attempted to enter the 18th century aristocracy by marrying the rich widow - Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson). It was one of the most visually-beautiful films ever made, and captured the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The lush, opulent, romanticized views of English countryside landscapes often dominated the screen, carefully composed as artistic paintings and appearing similar to the works of English portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough. When the camera pulled back, characters were often dwarfed by the breathtaking beauty of the surroundings. Technical innovations in some indoor scenes involved using only natural lighting - the golden illumination from candles.

The Day of the Locust (1975), 144 minutes, D: John Schlesinger

Dersu Uzala (1975, Jp./Soviet Union) (aka The Hunter), 137 minutes, D: Akira Kurosawa

Dog Day Afternoon (1975), 130 minutes, D: Sidney Lumet

Jaws (1975), 120 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg
Director Spielberg's blockbuster giant Great White Shark tale, a quintessential summer film and action/adventure/horror classic, was derived from the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley. It also featured a thrilling, memorable and rousing score by John Williams. In the story set in 1975, a popular Massachusetts seaside resort area known as Amity Island (fictional) was gearing up for the profitable summer tourist season beginning with the July 4th Independence Day weekend. The new chief of police from New York, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), who was fearful of the water, had been called upon to investigate a brutal shark attack upon attractive blonde Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) in the film's gripping opening. In truly frightening, scary and surprising attacks on the New England coast, an unseen monstrous man-eater was preying on the unsuspecting inhabitants and vacationers alike. Brody was confronted by the eager Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) and others to keep the town open. Three unlikely partners teamed up on a suspenseful 'fishing trip' to hunt down the rogue sea creature and destroy it: Brody, young university-educated marine oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and crusty, grizzled old-time fisherman Sam Quint (Robert Shaw) resembling the obsessed Ahab in the Moby Dick tale. In the climactic finale, the shark ended up pursuing Quint's boat, the Orca, and ultimately both Quint and the shark died bloody deaths and the boat was destroyed. Brody and Hooper were forced to assemble a makeshift raft and paddle back to Amity's shore.

Love and Death (1975), 85 minutes, D: Woody Allen

The Man Who Would Be King (1975, UK), 129 minutes, D: John Huston
Co-writer/director John Huston's old-fashioned, rousing costume adventure film and morality tale (about avarice) was based on Anglo-Indian novelist Rudyard Kipling's 1888 short story tale, told in flashback. [Note: Huston had originally wanted to make the film in the 1940s, with Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable in the lead roles as soldiers of fortune, and then in the early 1960s with Marlon Brando and Richard Burton.] DreamWorks SKG's film version, its second feature-length animated film The Road to El Dorado (2000), with Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline, was set in Central America instead of Afghanistan. Huston's film garnered four Academy Award nominations including: Best Adapted Screenplay (John Huston & Gladys Hill), Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design (Edith Head), and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. Shot on location in Morocco, it opened in the 1880s in Lahore, India where young Rudyard Kipling (Christopher Plummer) was working as a newspaper editor. He met two roguish former British soldiers-adventurers, Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine) and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery), who were planning to set out from Raj-ruled India to a remote region known as Kafiristan in E. Afghanistan (a province now called Nuristan). Their objective was to acquire wealth by ruling over the area's many warring tribes and setting themselves up as protective kings. After studying maps, making a pact to not drink or womanize, and supplying themselves with 20 rifles and disguises, they left Kipling and began their journey. When they finally (with lots of good luck) reached the primitive area, and were aided by an ex-Gurkha soldier named Billy Fish (Saeed Jaffrey), they began to train the natives to conquer their rivals. While serving there as military officers, the pair happened to be mistaken for gods or kings by the members of a priestly cult, when an arrow from a renegade attack struck Daniel's chest, but he survived without injury. Rather than actually being immortal, the arrow struck his bandolier and failed to penetrate into his flesh and wound him. The natives also believed he was the incarnation of Alexander the Great due to the Masonic medallion he was wearing. But then, due to a combination of greed, narcissism, and pride, their streak of luck turned tragic, when Daniel actually believed himself to be godly. He began to arrogantly assert his own divinity and invincibility, and his right to take their rich royal treasures from the holy city of Sikandergul. His assistant Peachy, on the other hand, suspected that eventually their fraud would be found out, and attempted to get Daniel to give up the delusion and leave before calamity struck. Daniel insisted on taking a native wife named Roxanne (Shakira Caine, Michael's real-life wife in her screen debut). The marriage turned out to be a disaster, because Roxanne, in fear of marrying a god, bit Daniel's face and drew blood - thereby exposing the two as mortals. As the two fled the city and its outraged natives, Daniel was killed when he was chased onto a rope bridge, and fell to his death into a deep gorge, while Peachy was caught, tortured and crucified, and left for dead. He eventually survived and made his way back to India where he met with Rudyard Kipling and told his amazing story (already viewed). He punctuated his horrific story with the dessicated, golden-crowned head of his partner Daniel.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975, UK), 89 minutes, D: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
The silly, chaotic, sick joke-filled and zany Monty Python troupe, a close modern equivalent to the Marx Brothers, first appeared in their late 60s BBC-TV show, Monty Python's Flying Circus. Afterwards, the group compiled a retelling of the show's sketches for the big screen in And Now For Something Completely Different (1971). This was their second film and first feature-length film - a raucous, anarchic retelling of the Middle Ages legend of King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his quest, that skewered medieval action epics, mythology, war, religion, the Arthurian legend, Camelot and more. The opening credits in this popular, outrageous, and original cult film slowly gave way to mock Swedish titles, and drifted into ravings about the moose and its virtues, before grinding to a halt with: "We apologize for the fault in the subtitles. Those responsible have been sacked." The opening credits resumed, but still with odd credits added for everything from "Moose Costumes" to "Moose trained to mix concrete and sign complicated insurance forms," which was followed by another apology: "The directors of the firm hired to continue the credits after the other people had been sacked, wish it to be known that they have just been sacked. The credits have been completed in an entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute." Their style of humor was best exemplified by the comically-gruesome encounter with the unbelievably persistent Black Knight (John Cleese), who still insisted on fighting ("It's just a flesh wound") after his limbs had been hacked off by King Arthur. Many fans can instantly recite many of the memorable scenes, vignettes and set-pieces, such as the "Bring Out Your Dead" scene, or the rude, taunting Frenchman, a bloodthirsty killer rabbit, and the tree-shaped Knights who said "Ni." Over the years, the troupe's popularity would grow with additional Monty Python films, such as Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983).

Nashville (1975), 159 minutes, D: Robert Altman
Altman's great country-music, Bicentennial epic length drama was set in the capital city of Nashville. Its view of a microcosm of America was summed up in one of the film's lyrics: "We must be doing something right to last 200 years." It was one of the great American films of the 1970s with its multi-level, original, tragic-comedic epic study of American culture, show-business, leadership and politics. Altman was cynically commenting upon the confused state of American society with its political emptiness and showy commercialism. The satirical film commented upon religion, politics, sex, violence, and the materialistic culture. The business of country-western music co-existed with the election campaign of an unseen, independent (populist) party candidate. It was told as an intricate, free-form, impressionistic, intertwining tale, tangentially linking together twenty-four protagonists who arrived on the scene to be part of the Nashville showbiz crowd, and appeared at a pop concert and a political rally for the "Replacement Party." Colorful characters, both performers and audience members in the mosaic-style film, converged in a massive traffic jam and were present during a violent assassination scene by the film's conclusion. The main characters were: Presidential hopeful Hal Philip Walker, frail, crooning country western sweetheart Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley), singing rival Connie White (Karen Black), folk-singing lecherous lover Tom Frank (Keith Carradine), BBC tele-journalist Opal (Geraldine Chaplin), a groupie from LA (Shelley Duvall), and master of ceremonies Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson). Altman keenly observed the differing agendas of the characters - companionship and/or sex, a shot at stardom or political advancement, and musical aspirations, to name a few. There were multiple means of communication to connect the characters (phone calls, tape recordings, radio and TV, and P.A. announcements), most of whom gave a public performance at some point.

Night Moves (1975), 100 minutes, D: Arthur Penn

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), 133 minutes, D: Milos Forman
The mid-70s baby-boomers' counter-culture was ripe for a film dramatizing rebellion and insubordination against oppressive bureaucracy, and an insistence upon individual rights, self-expression and freedom. Director Milos Forman's drama won five major Oscar awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress - it tied the record with the similar lauded romantic comedy from Frank Capra It Happened One Night (1934). Writer Ken Kesey's celebrated, best-selling 1962 novel was cinematically adapted - first into a 1963 Broadway play (with Kirk Douglas), and then into this film. It presented the compelling, socially-conscious portrait of mental institution patients pitted by the protagonist - free-spirited, ebullient, rebellious convict Randle P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), against a tyrannical head nurse who kept her cool disguised by a sinister smile. The energetic, flamboyant, wise-guy anti-hero McMurphy feigned insanity to avoid a jail sentence for statuatory rape in 1963, and was incarcerated in the Oregon insane asylum. His crazed struggles against oppression, the status-quo, conformity and the manipulative, authoritarian Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher) symbolized the rebellious 60's era. He served as a catalyst and invigorating inspiration for the subdued, troubled patients against the mental institution ("the cuckoo's nest"). At first, he complained about the rationing or confiscation of cigarettes and restrictive card-playing rules. When he protested additional arbitrary and heavy-handed rules about watching a game in the World Series live in television, and then illegally staged a fishing field trip for the ward, he was restrained and punished with a series of electroshock therapies. When he returned to the ward, he faked being a zombie, greeting them with: "How about it? You creeps, you lunatics, mental defectives. Let's hear it for Bull Goose Randall back in action..." The last straw was McMurphy's organization of a midnight Christmas party or celebration (a pre-escape party with alcohol and prostitutes, his two girlfriends Candy (Marya Small) and Rose (Louisa Moritz)). After being discovered by the staff the next morning, Nurse Ratched publically shamed and humiliated stuttering and anxious patient Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif) for apparently losing his virginity with Candy during the party, and the guilt-ridden Billy committed suicide by slitting his throat with a piece of broken glass. Feeling utterly hopeless and powerless, McMurphy attacked Nurse Ratched and attempted to strangle her. His punishment was capped by a zombie-producing, paralyzing lobotomy. He returned glassy-eyed, catatonic, totally passive, and obediently captive to the ward. He was taken down and paid the ultimate price for his messianic, outrageous non-conformity. The strong and silent Indian "Chief" Bromden (Will Sampson) that he had befriended earlier (and was feigning being a deaf-mute), relieved McMurphy's pitiful misery by a mercy-killing - smothering him with a pillow before crashing through the outer wall of the hospital (he threw a heavy hydrotherapy console through a window) and escaping from 'the cuckoo's nest.'

The Passenger (1975, It./Sp.) (aka Professione: Reporter), 125 minutes, D: Michelangelo Antonioni

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, Australia), 115 minutes, D: Peter Weir
Peter Weir's mystical, intriguing, and bewildering mystery-drama was about sexual repression at a private girls' school in Australia that experienced an unsolved and puzzling mystery regarding a field trip. The film's themes were voyeurism, peeping, repressiveness, gazing, coming-of-age, and dream worlds. The pre-credits prologue stated: "On Saturday 14th February 1900 a party of schoolgirls from Appleyard College picnicked at Hanging Rock near Mt. Macedon in the state of Victoria. During the afternoon several members of the party disappeared without trace..." On St. Valentine's Day in the year 1900, young nubile schoolgirls in the Victorian-Edwardian-era in Australia were preparing for a field trip - an ill-fated journey. They were instructed by strict authoritarian headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) (of Appleyard College, a finishing school) that the group would be visiting the geological wonders of Hanging Rock (near Woodend, Victoria) for a day's picnic - metaphorically, they would be entering into a primitive place of wild danger (similar to the passage into adult sexuality). There were hints of sexual, phallic danger and feminine crevices, openings and caves. Once they arrived by buggy for the day, an ominous thing happened. The watches of both buggy-coachman driver Ben Hussey (Martin Vaughan) and the young mathematics teacher Miss Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray) stopped exactly at 12 noon. Four of the girls went exploring amongst the menacing outcroppings and phallic-shaped forbidden volcanic rock crevices, including pretty, angelic, ethereal and popular blonde Miranda St. Clare (Anne Lambert) (described by a teacher as "a Botticelli angel"), smart glasses-wearing Marion Quade (Jane Vallis), pretty Irma Leopold (Karen Robson), and whining, fat Edith (Christine Schuler)). During their time at Hanging Rock, they stripped away their layers of clothing before mysteriously disappearing in the foreign location. Lagging-behind them, Edith screamed when she witnessed something at the moment of the three other girls' disappearance as they walked behind a rock face. Only Edith returned to the rest of the group, although hysterical, frightened, blubbering and unable to describe what had transpired. A late-night report was given to Mrs. Appleyard back at school, about the three missing girls and math teacher/chaperone Miss McCraw, by coach-driver Ben Hussey and young French teacher/chaperone Mme. Dianne de Poitiers (Helen Morse). The next day, a search party (with bloodhounds) at Hanging Rock resulted in Albert Crundall's (John Jarratt) discovery of an unconscious Irma. When Irma awoke, she had no recollection of what had happened. Meanwhile, Mrs. Appleyard was implicated in abusively threatening and punishing orphaned school girl Sara Waybourne (Margaret Nelson) and was planning to throw her out of the school for her indebtedness. After the disappearance of the girls at Hanging Rock, concerned parents began to withdraw their children from the school, and Mrs. Appleyard began drinking. Mrs. Appleyard asserted that Sara had been taken away and returned to the orphanage; however, the dead and bloodied body of Sara was shockingly discovered the next morning on the school grounds. After the discovery, Mrs. Appleyard (in black mourning clothes) was thought to have hurriedly packed up and quickly departed before she could be questioned. The final concluding narration described what happened to Mrs. Appleyard: ("The body of Mrs. Arthur Appleyard, Principal of Appleyard College, was found at the base of Hanging Rock on Friday, the 27th of March 1900....).

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, UK), 100 minutes, D: Jim Sharman
This low-budget, campy horror rock musical from writer/director Jim Sharman initially bombed at the box-office, but became, perhaps, the most popular cult film of all time, and one of the longest-running films. When the film began to play at midnight showings in Greenwich Village in April 1976, the film was revived as a multi-media, audience participatory experience and exploded as a worldwide phenomenon for many years. The bizarre film honored (and gently spoofed) the horror and science fiction genres of the past (RKO Pictures' King Kong (1933), Forbidden Planet (1956), The Wizard of Oz (1939), the Hercules films, The Day of the Triffids (1963), the classic "atomic age" sci-fi horror of the '50s, such as It Came From Outer Space (1953), and, of course, Frankenstein (1931)). The film was based on the 1973 British musical stage play The Rocky Horror Show by playwright/composer Richard O'Brien (who also played the butler named Riff Raff), about a haunted house inhabited by transexual aliens. The strange tale followed a straightlaced, wholesome, newly-engaged couple, Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick in his feature film debut) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon) who were forced to take refuge in a spooky mansion/castle on a rainy night when their car had a flat tire. The two were brought into a world of subversiveness by the bisexual host - the carnivorous "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania" Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), a mad scientist whose dream was to create the perfect man named Rocky "with blond hair and a tan." The film featured catchy, overtly-sexual songs like "The Time Warp," "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me," and "Sweet Transvestite."

Salo, Or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975, It./Fr.) (aka Salo O Le Centoventi Giornate Di Sodoma), 117 minutes, D: Pier Paolo Pasolini
This notorious and controversial film was directed by Italian poet, novelist, painter and film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was murdered before it was released. It was based on a work by the notorious Marquis de Sade - to depict the short-lived, lakeside republic of Salo in Nazi-controlled N. Italy at the close of WWII. There, four fascist officials in a secluded chateau near Marzabotto totally controlled, abused, tortured, enslaved and victimized an anonymous group of about 30 young and attractive peasant teenagers (both male and female) who had been rounded up. The group of four fascist officials (with four similar females) subjected them to sexual and physical tortures, psychological humiliation and violence over a period of a few days. This extreme exercise of power was supposed to symbolize the evil of fascism itself.

Seven Beauties (1975, It.) (aka Pasqualino Settebellezze), 115 minutes, D: Lina Wertmüller

Shampoo (1975), 109 minutes, D: Hal Ashby

Tommy (1975, UK), 111 minutes, D: Ken Russell

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