The 25 Best Films of the Seventies

I am almost certain that the seventies is my favourite decade of cinema. I love it for the daring and incredible variety of films that came in its mist, fresh from the sixties (my second favourite decade of cinema) and reinvigorated by a new atmosphere both of censorship and creative freedom, an atmosphere which wouldn’t last and would be killed by the eighties and the new era. But most of all, I love the films. There are so many of them, and such great ones. Originally this was going to be a top ten list but I decided to expand it to 25, because there is just such greatness through this whole decade from all countries and genres.

25: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Ever since childhood, The Poseidon Adventure has been a favourite of mine (I’ve seen it more than ten times), and I firmly believe it’s the greatest disaster film ever made. The final quarter, particularly, is surprisingly moving and powerful. Gene Hackman is stunning.

24: Eraserhead (1976)

In the late sixties, David Lynch made a short film called The Alphabet which is only four minutes long but ranks as one of the three scariest horror movies I’ve ever seen. Imagine it stretched out over 88 minutes. This essentially sums up the gritty, dark and horrific style of this surreal artwork by one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers.

23: El Topo (1971)

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surrealist western El Topo consists of a bombardment of images and symbols, nightmares and dreams, religion and politics, stereotypes and clichés, originality and colour, vibrance and darkness, turmoil and disturbance and a hell of a lot of blood. Fantastic arthouse classic.

22: Amarcord (1973)

Federico Fellini’s last truly great film was a hell of a way to end an era of winning streaks for the director. Though he had already made such timeless masterpieces as Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita and 8 ½, the director incredibly managed to top them all (well, maybe not 8 ½) with Amarcord, a delightful and wondrous ode to childhood and Italy. For all its beauty and transcendance, it is essential for anyone interested in the director.

21: Barry Lyndon (1975)

This is perhaps the film Stanley Kubrick always wanted to make, or the closest to it. Though for years he envisioned making a film about the life of Napoleon, it never eventuated, but Barry Lyndon is the film that, in style and narrative, comes closest. Kubrick’s longest and most beautiful film, Barry Lyndon is a tragedy and a comedy about war, upper class stature, and insanity.

20: Autumn Sonata (1976)

In the middle of the night, Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann sit down and talk. And talk. And talk. And the other Bergman – that is, Ingmar – watches from behind his camera, and so do we, as what can only be called pure human emotion is unleashed.

19: Deliverance (1972)

One of the most important and greatest American films from the latter half of the twentieth century, John Boorman’s Deliverance is a journey through Hell. The acting performances by Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox are simply perfect, and from start to finish, this is one of the most terrifying, enthralling films ever made about human survival.

18: Network (1976)

Sidney Lumet’s greatest film, Network examines the effect television has over humans (and vice versa) in a way no other film has dared, and does so in a manner that is way ahead of its time, and is still relevant today in a personal, terrifying way.

17: The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

Luis Buñuel loves to fuck with his audience, but not in the same way as, say, Jean-Luc Godard. He does it differently. Both directors are great, but Buñuel is greater because you enjoy the way he plays with his film and provokes the audience. No film of his is crazier than The Phantom of Liberty, and that works well in the film’s favour. Who else would think of mocking the bourgeoisie by having a married couple report their daughter as kidnapped despite the fact she is with them all the time, and they are just far too ignorant to notice?

16: Stroszek (1976)

Despite what some audiences believe, Werner Herzog’s Stroszek is not a film that mocks American society, or even criticises it. It is a criticism and mocking of society in general, the way we persecute and ruin each other with violence and selfishness, and the way society seems hellbent on giving some people a hard time for no real reason. The final ten minutes of Stroszek sums all this up brilliantly.

15: Scenes from a Marriage (1973)

Whether it’s the cut just short of three hours or the cut just short of five hours, Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage is a film that provides, for audiences, a hell of an experience, that a lot of people will react to differently. It is not a criticism of marriage, nor does it support divorce; it simply analyses a relationship that started off well but slowly disintegrated. Some sequences are hard to watch even though they only consist of dialogue!

14: Last Tango in Paris (1971)

Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris fused American and French cinema in a beautiful way, by having an American man and a French woman fall into something that is not love, nor is it obsession, but something in between: raw desire. Yes, Bertolucci’s film is sexually explicit, but never overly so, and always at a level that is warranted, sensible and even beautiful. Brando’s greatness is unparalleled.

13: Taxi Driver (1976)

Martin Scorsese’s perfect analysis of alienation, repression, sickness, insanity and rebellion is a film widely acclaimed for good reason. It understands completely the nature and realism of true insanity, and highlights it on film in a stunning, resonant way. No film before it was quite like it. Its style and beauty is a complex but vital part of its comforting façade masking true mindless craziness.

12: Blazing Saddles (1974)

Not only is it one of the funniest American movies ever made, Blazing Saddles also completely challenged and changed a film genre and brought the then-strange-and-inappropriate notion of breaking the fourth wall into the mainstream. No film breaks the fourth wall like Blazing Saddles. Was Jean-Luc Godard a guest director?

11: Days of Heaven (1978)

As well as being one of the most beautiful American films ever made, Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven is a soft, lovely, transcendant cinematic experience in a realm beyond basic film. To see it is to see beauty in a manner no American film had been able to capture in quite this way before it, and Malick proves himself so well and easily to be an all-time great that we didn’t need another film after this. At least, not for twenty years.

10: Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)

Jacques Rivette, one of the few French New Wave filmmakers still actively working, is perhaps the most underrated – or better yet, underestimated – filmmaker of his era. He has made films that challenge and provoke cinema and his audience, like the 12-hour Out 1 which I’ll be watching soon, and although some of his films are slow, there is always some entertainment or provocation to keep us going. Celine and Julie Go Boating is like a French New Wave version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but better and even trippier. Try and find a better way to spend three hours. If you can, then reconsider. This movie is all kinds of awesome in ways I still can’t fathom.

9: The Godfather (1972)

As great as this movie undeniably is, it wasn’t originally on the shortlist for this post. Of course, when I realized I’d forgotten it I added it straight away, but to me at least it stands out as a bit of an odd-one-out compared to other choices. But still, it is fucking magnificent, and I can watch it over and over and over. No doubt is it one of the most influential movies ever made, it is also one of the most impressive. Gotta love The Godfather.

8: Cries and Whispers (1972)

“You look so disconcerted. You thought our talk would be different, didn’t you? Do you realize that I hate you? And how foolish I find your insipid smiles and your idiotic flirtatiousness? How have I managed to tolerate you for so long and say nothing? I know of what you’re made, with your empty caresses and false promises. Can you conceive how anyone could live with so much hate, as has been my burden? There’s no relief, no charity, no hope. There is nothing. You see… nothing can escape me for I see it all.”

7: Solaris (1972)

Andrei Tarkovsky: master of the camera, of the slow, long take, and of the deep, evocative imagery. Solaris is a slow film, all right, but in its slow pace it achieves so much more than a film of faster pace could hope to try. It revels in the beauty of images and its special effects are dazzling for its time. A sci-fi movie unlike any other.

6: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Francis Ford Coppola’s labour of love and hard work, Apocalypse Now is the most effective anti-war film ever made. In its two and a half hours, it presents us with stunning images, powerful moments of purity, utterly magnificent image/sound correlation and lots of horror. An experience unlike any other, and one I richly enjoy often.

5: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

I have never in my filmgoing experience seen a film as attentive to detail as Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman. What’s more, Akerman was in her twenties when she directed the film. I find it stunning and inspirational that someone so young could make a film so perfect and so difficult to decode. Every single shot in this 200-minute masterpiece (this is an occasion where that term deserves to be used) is framed perfectly, lit perfectly, and obsessively edited to complete perfection. It’s nothing less than jaw-dropping. Watch it here.

4: Day for Night (1973)

François Truffaut’s ode to cinema and a film that everyone who loves cinema should see, Day for Night is hilarious, moving, sad, comedic, dramatic and fabulous. It’s one of those films like Amelie and Life is Beautiful that people not used to foreign cinema can watch and easily enjoy. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if you like movies, you have to see this.

3: The Last Picture Show (1971)

“He was sweepin’, ya sonsabitches.” Maybe my favourite quote from a movie in the 70s. It’s hard to rank quotes. But that one’s pretty damn fantastic. As is all the rest of Peter Bogdanovich’s great film The Last Picture Show. An American classic if ever there was one, the film examines so much of American culture in the 50s without ever being annoying or over-the-top. We are introduced to a world that no longer exists, but is the object of so much nostalgia and joy, both in the good times and the bad.

2: Grin Without a Cat (1977)

The elusive, rarely seen Chris Marker has made dozens and dozens of films, some provocative and complex, some simple and full. Grin Without a Cat is his greatest achievement. Consisting almost completely of archive footage, Grin Without a Cat examines a tense and politically corrupt era of history where the revolutionaries were fighting for a cause and doing so with utter determination, whilst the political leaders frowned on them and oppressed them almost constantly. This film isn’t just a documentary: it is a statement, and a real, powerful one. Some people (including myself) believe that a three-hour documentary about politics sounds boring, but even I still am constantly surprised by how brilliant, moving, and utterly masterful Grin Without a Cat is. If there is one documentary about history you go out of your way to see, it is this one. It is cruelly underrated, shockingly underseen and absolutely phenomenal.

1: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

Luis Buñuel hated the upper class, and the bourgeoisie. If there was one thing he hated, it was them. He absolutely loathed everything about them. It is easy to make a film about something you hate and how bad it is, but Buñuel’s film does it with style, grace, smarts and in a way that, in the end, makes the mass murder of all the main characters agreeable and very, very funny. No one dared do it like Buñuel. When the Spanish censors read the screenplay for his film Viridiana, they asked him to change the film’s ending, which was originally the implication of an orgy. He did so, but did it cleverly and using subtle sexual language, so that the “new” ending implied something even more scandalous: incest. But, in 1972, Buñuel no longer had to worry about censorship or editing: he got to make his own films his own way. And the result was some of cinema’s most daring, provocative, incredible movies. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is only one, but it is the best. There is no plot here; the film simply consists of a group of upper-class assholes being constantly thwarted by random and unlikely events every time they try to sit down and have dinner together. On one occasion, it’s because the host has died. On another, it’s because the hosts have snuck out into the bush to have sex. On another, they’re unable to eat because they’re on a stage being laughed at by a theatre audience. Can you think of any other director that would have the nerve to do this, and would do it so awesomely and originally? Only Buñuel. There has never been another director like this guy, and there never will. He challenges humour, drama, love, hate, emotion, people, class, politics, religion, and cinema itself.

There. That’s my list of the top twenty-five. There are a handful of others I originally had in the shortlist but didn’t make it, so here are a few honourable mentions: Murmur of the Heart (1971), Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), Turkish Delight (1973), The Mirror (1974), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Gates of Heaven (1978), Stalker (1979), Woyzeck (1979).

Anything I missed? What do you think of the choices? Leave a comment below.

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Posted on June 2, 2012, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. Great list. A surprise at number two I do believe. I personally would include Chinatown, Annie Hall, Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Nashville and Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Nice to see Poseidon Adventure on there. A fun but underrated film.

    • Yeah, number two will be a surprise for many but I believe it should be there. Of the ones you mention, I’ve only seen Chinatown and Annie Hall but I’ve had my eye on the other three for a while. The Poseidon Adventure is underrated. Very underrated.

  2. That is a nice list. I’ve seen 15 of those. Maybe 16 by the end of the month as I have Autumn Sonata in my DVR queue. I would definitely put A Clockwork Orange since it’s my favorite Kubrick film as well as Duck, You Sucker! (an incredibly underrated film once seen in its proper form), The Conversation, Manhattan, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Aguirre, the Wrath of God along with the films Kevyn mentions like Nashville and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

    • I love A Clockwork Orange and The Conversation – both were damn close to making the list, honestly. I’ll keep an eye out for Duck, You Sucker!

  3. You almost forgot The Godfather?? Really?? I’d add The Godfather II and Jaws as well.

  4. Always personal choices but I rate Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre” (1979) as one of his best. Other personal fave raves from the ’70s are Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude” (1971) a deep black comedy about age and death; Peckinpah’s “Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia” of all the great movies he made in the ’70s, especially because it stars the wonderful and much missed Warren Oates; Monte Hellman’s “Two lane Blacktop” (1971) which also stars Oates but is simply a great road movie; and Friedkin’s “French Connection” movie for Gene Hackman’s oscar winning role.

    • Of the films you mentioned, I’ve seen Harold and Maude, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and French Connection. I do love them all and they’d be great reasons to expand this list.

  5. Luke Caxford

    I would really place the Godfather higher on there, and definitely put Chinatown on there. I thought Annie Hall was overrated, so I glad that was left out.

  6. Luke Caxford

    You also missed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

    • Holy shit. I can’t believe I forgot about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That would easily be in my top ten. Son of a bitch. Too late now, I suppose, but I cannot believe I forgot about that film. I guess it’s because I haven’t seen it in so long. Should really give it a rewatch.

  7. Some interesting choices. I still need to see some of these. Clearly, I’m with you on Days of Heave, Apocalypse Now, Discreet Charm, Solaris and Godfather.

    Not crazy about Blazing Saddles. Didn’t find it funny at all. Also, Barry Lyndon is another one of those films that did nothing for me.

  8. I love your list and need to make time to revisit the decade. Thank you.

  9. Good list and good comments. I would add Alien, Dog Day Afternoon, and All the President’s Men. Personally, I would put Last Tango in my worst of the 70’s list.

  10. thefilmfreak

    Great list and a difficult one to make. That is the greatest decade of film, so narrowing it down to a mere 25 seems quite the challenge. All of the films mentioned in the comments I would consider as well. Actually, I think between your list and the ones mentioned in the comments, I could form my own list. But, I would still like to point out some other great films from the 70’s that might not necessarily make my top 25, but certainly would make some people’s list: That Obscure Object of Desire, M*A*S*H, Long Goodbye, Deer Hunter, Manhattan, The Conformist, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Being There, Shampoo, Lenny, All That Jazz, Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Exorcist, Halloween, Spirit of the Beehive

  11. Really interesting list. I am working my way through the Criterion BBS Story box set, and The Last Picture Show is coming up soon. Now I’m even more excited to check that out.

  12. I have not seen all on your list, but the ones I have are all great. Nice to see appreciation for EL TOPO. Still, it seems like you have little appreciation for horror, sci-fi and action films.

    I’ll add some to the list and ones not mentioned:

    – Dog Day Afternoon
    – Assault on Precinct 13 (yes, seriously; taut, efficient and brilliant filmmaking)
    – Dawn of the Dead
    – Halloween (again, seriously; I still don’t think many people see the brilliance of the filmmaking here)
    – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
    – Dirty Harry / Magnum Force (somedays I honestly think the latter is better)
    – Time After Time
    – Serpico
    – Alien
    – Patton
    – The Deer Hunter
    – Rocky
    – Monty Python and the Holy Grail / Life of Brian
    – Star Wars
    – The Exorcist (what’s strange is I’m indifferent to this one but even I can see why it’s great)
    – Mad Max
    – The Man Who Fell to Earth
    – Young Frankenstein
    – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (I prefer the ’56 version, actually, but still a great film)
    – The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
    – The Devils

    Etc. etc. etc.

    • I wouldn’t say I have little appreciation for horror/sci-fi and/or action; perhaps it’s just that I haven’t seen enough, or they just didn’t make the cut. I’ve decided to do a follow-up list of another 25 films from this decade, and those genres, since they were in some cases snubbed on this list, will be featured prominently. Thanks for the suggestions too, I’ve noted down the ones I haven’t seen.

      • I wasn’t intending on making unsubstantiated claims against you. It’s an internet toplist, after all. Don’t add them just because they’re underrepresented. If they ain’t your cup of tea, then they ain’t. You probably aren’t pretentious; you’ve got POSEIDON ADVENTURE, EL TOPO and BLAZING SADDLES on your list. It’s just that I’ve come across people (read: film snobs) who tell me “Alien is no good because it’s a horror film”, which might be the most ludicrous thing ever uttered. Almost as ridiculous as, say, telling me a film is no good because it’s black-and-white or is silent or was made in the 1940s.

        Like I said, it’s a good list. I don’t think there was any for you to reduce the greatest of the 1970s down into a list of twenty-five.

        • Perhaps you’re right that a list like this is unnecessary. I’m going to post something eventually that will attempt to cover the ground of all the greatest 70s films, not just a mere 25.

          And that statement about Alien is awful. I love that film. I am open and willing to try films from every genre, and usually I find something to like or love from them. I certainly hope I’m not being pretentious or snobby; that is something I absolutely loathe, as you do as well.

          Anyway, I hope my next list regarding the 70s is more satisfactory.

          • I wouldn’t say unnecessary. Actually, I think it’s quite fun to read them. The point of these lists is not to tear the authors’ tastes apart, but to embrace them. “Greatest” lists always have a bit of personal bias attached to them (“greatest” might just be a thinly-veiled way of saying “favorite”) and it’s always interesting to read author’s perspectives; it also comes down to how you actually judge the films. I did something like that once with some friends, where each of us listed off the ten greatest sci-fi films of the 1980s. There were some films that seemed universal, but others that were unique to different people.

            I was in no way attempting to trash your tastes, and I have pointed out several times that it’s a great list. There are some films there that I’d either never heard of or forgotten all about. The reason I was being a jackass and listing off so many films was to concur with you that it was, indeed, a great decade for films (maybe not the greatest, but great, nonetheless).

            • I know you weren’t trying to be annoying or provocative, and I’ve enjoyed your comments greatly. I’m working on a new list you’ll like, just stay tuned.

    • thefilmfreak

      In all fairness, we’re talking about narrowing down 25 films from an entire decade of film making (and arguably the finest decade in cinema history) which is no easy task. Many great films will be left off, regardless of genre. I think it’s safe to say anyone making this type of list would finish it only to have another great film pop in their head, or have someone (like us!) mention films they’d completely forgotten about; you’re basically stuck trying to fit 100 films into a 25 film list.

      • Yeah. I’ve acknowledged that fact. Honestly, I like reading these lists, even if I don’t always agree with the placement of films. It’s interesting to see what films a particular person thinks are the best 25 out of countless, in a decade. Like I said, the reason I was listing off so many films was concur with the author that the 1970s was a great decade. Your list and my list would have likely been radically different.

  13. Shit… still more keep coming to mind:

    – Le Cercle rouge
    – All That Jazz
    – Sorcerer
    – Marathon Man
    – THX1138
    – American Graffiti

  14. Days of Heaven is stunningly beautiful! I’ve been meaning to check out ‘Barry Lyndon’ as I quite like period dramas. I actually did see ‘Last Tango’ and I don’t think I want to ever see that again or be reminded of it.

  15. Seen 14 of them.
    Few more contenders for best

    Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    Chinatown
    The Exorcist
    The Conformist
    Dersu Uzala

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