Must-see films of the 1970s, from ‘Jaws’ to ‘Being There’


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When it comes to connecting the film industry‘s past to the present, perhaps no decade epitomizes the dividing line better than the 1970s.

Torn apart by Vietnam and Watergate, the ’70s saw a new generation of filmmakers create iconic works, as well as the rise of the modern blockbuster with ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’, which not only rewrote the models of summer release, but also studio expectations.

As a result, compiling a list of essential films from those years required many hard choices and still exceeded 10 years, with the added trick that “The Godfather”, for these purposes, is included in a sprawling two-part saga.

Even at that, the list seems incomplete, given the long tails of movies like “Apocalypse Now,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Animal House,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” ” American Graffiti”, “Alien”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “The Sting”, “Young Frankenstein”, “The Omen”, “The French Connection”, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show “, “Three Days of the Condor” and “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, although some of them have clearly aged better than others.

Heck, you could put together a perfectly respectable list just using a combination of movies from 1976 and those starring Jack Nicholson.

The choices were further complicated by the talent involved with them, raising the question of whether “Chinatown,” directed by convicted rapist Roman Polanski, can be separated from that and taken on its own terms. (Because a movie doesn’t just consist of its director, it ultimately made the cut.)

With that disclaimer, here are “The Essentials” from the 1970s, presented in chronological order:

Few film images are more striking than George C. Scott strutting before an American flag as a crass, self-destructive World War II general. Patton saw himself as a man living in the wrong time, but Scott’s performance is one for the ages.

Clint Eastwood in

Clint Eastwood’s detective carried a big gun, investigated a Zodiac-type killer, and defined a popular genre of vigilante films. There’s more nuance than that, and humor, to director Don Siegel’s original film, which inspired several sequels and spawned a character whose later “Go. Make my day” would be taken up, among others, by President Reagan.

Marlon Brando in

Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s mob novel belongs on any list of the best films of all time. Beyond Marlon Brando’s oft-cited performance, the films launched an entire generation of stars, including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, James Caan, Diane Keaton and Robert Duvall.

'The Exorcist'

William Friedkin’s mind-blowing horror classic about demonic possession gave audiences nightmares, starring in a decade that further altered the contours of the genre with “The Omen” and “Halloween.”

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in

Jack Nicholson played the tough-as-nails, nosy detective in Polanski’s gripping tale of greed and corruption in 1930s Los Angeles, with stellar work from Faye Dunaway and John Huston.


Audiences shouted in unison at director Steven Spielberg’s then 28-year-old ocean thriller, which filled theaters while making moviegoers think twice before taking the plunge.

Peter Finch in

Few writers have seen the future of media more acerbically than Paddy Chayefsky, with his dark satire of a newscaster (Peter Finch) who thunders, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to put up with it anymore. “. in a ratings dynamo on a network where the head of programming (again, Dunaway) will do anything – anything – for the ratings.


Sylvester Stallone’s underdog tale of a struggling palooka given a shot at the heavyweight championship is a moving sports movie with a level of charm and sweetness that has worn off in the series (and series) of sequels that followed.

Robert DeNiro in

The collaborative genius of De Niro and director Martin Scorsese has produced a disturbing look at alienation, violence and misplaced hero worship. The result is a film with disturbing aspects, even if it is difficult to fully appreciate the cinema of the 70s without it.

Journalism never seemed like a nobler calling than in this tense thriller starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein, the hard-working reporters who helped expose Watergate. Credit, too, writer William Goldman for coming up with the Deep Throat line never really said, “Follow the money.”

Diane Keaton in

Woody Allen is another problematic figure, but he wrote, directed and starred in a string of great comedies in the ’70s, none better than this quirky romance with Keaton as the title character.

Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in

While it’s not even the best film in the series, George Lucas’ space epic started it all, with an impact on movies, special effects and even video games that continues to ripple through the pop culture with a force that cannot be overstated.

Peter Sellers in

Released 12 days before the end of the decade, the whimsical tale of Chance (Peter Sellers) – a simple-minded gardener who stumbles into national politics – performs brilliantly on almost every level, not least as a cautionary tale 40 years later. . And you really have to watch the last takes to fully appreciate Sellers’ deadpan performance, as well as the restraint of those playing opposite him.

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