I continue my summary of my favourite films by year and by decade with this, my favourite films of the 1970s. Now that we’re in the decades I’m much more familiar and comfortable with, knowledgeable and fond of, the films in the overall decades post have a more arbitrary listing – in most cases any one of these could be number two or number twelve. Basically, the rankings don’t matter much.
20: The Omen (1976)
From here on out we’re going to have a lot of horror entries. Sci-fi and action too, but lots of horror. Few horror films can claim to have the same lasting cultural impact as The Omen. This began a trilogy, followed by an ill-advised gender switching fourth entry and remake. None are as good as this, and while most of the credit should go to director Richard Donner, it’s the cast who lends credibility to the proceedings. Thanks to the critical success of some earlier horror films, big stars found themselves drawn to the genre – here Lee Remick and Gregory Peck excel in their roles as the unwitting parents of the Anti-Christ. Few films generate their own personal urban legends and mass hysteria, as I mentioned in one of my previous decade posts. The Omen is one of those few, with a number of wonderfully macabre myths or creepypasta-bait facts.
The film was a commercial hit, it was nominated for a woefully inadequate two Oscars (winning one), and religious types around the world inexplicably freaked out. This is hilarious for any number of reasons – the fact that, while obviously a work of fiction, the film apparently supports Christian fears and myths, so why would the same group rally against it? Well, it’s not like Christian groups ever contradict themselves now, is it? There’s also the fact that the plot takes liberties with Biblical and historic stories to create or mimic that unknown entity called The Antichrist. In the film, Damien, is apparently the child of Satan who will one day grow up in great wealth, come to a great position of power, and bring about the end of days. Where to begin? First, why would you try to prevent the End Of Days if that event was part of the prophecy to fulfill God’s promise of Resurrection and Salvation? Secondly, the Antichrist has nothing to do with Satan or 666 or The End Of Days, at least according to, you know, THE BIBLE. According to the Bible, an Antichrist is, as the name suggests, anyone who is Anti-Christ – not some dude with a nifty heavy metal tattoo on his scalp who can control dogs with his mind, and probably not Obama.
Putting all the crap aside, it’s a film which works – even without being a believer or having knowledge (however incorrect) of Christianity – it teaches what you need to know to get pulled in to the story; there’s an evil kid who is adopted by an influential political family, various creepy people position themselves around the family to protect him, and when he grows up he will essentially destroy the world. As strange events and deaths occur, the family realizes what they have living with them and try to destroy it. Featuring fantastic music, performances, and some of the most iconic death scenes in history, The Omen is a must for horror fans.
19: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
One of the most successful films of the Seventies from an Academy Award perspective, winning ‘The Big Five’ Awards, this is a showcase of Jack Nicholson’s talents most obviously on the surface, but also features terrific writing, flawless direction, and wonderful support from the likes of Louise Fletcher, Danny Devito, and Will Sampson. It’s another perfect film that everyone needs to see, and one which shouldn’t take much convincing to get people to watch. The film follows Randle McMurphy as he decides to feign mental illness as he believes a stay in a psych home would be easier than actual prison. There he comes to blows with the abusive staff and makes friends with many of the other inmates, becoming a pseudo hero to them. There is hijinks and hardship and it’s utterly compelling.
18: The Big Boss (1971)
For all intents and purposes, The Big Boss is Bruce Lee’s first film. He had been appearing in movies since childhood, but this is the first major release, the first starring role. His on screen persona and energy essentially transformed what a leading man could be, and couple with his immense physical ability he rejuvenated and revolutionized martial arts and action cinema. The plot is fairly straightforward – Bruce Lee has had a spot of trouble and is sent to Thailand from China to stay with family for a while. He works with his (five million) cousins at an ice making factory, which is actually part of a drug smuggling ring. His cousins begin to disappear mysteriously, but it doesn’t take long for the truth to drip out and Bruce strides into the mix. Bruce’s first fight here is electric, making a mockery of the local thugs in a matter of seconds. The bad guys get worse, more cousins die, and Bruce vows revenge. You know the score – most martial arts movies tend to be about revenge or honour. Throw in some hilarious drunken antics, familial distrust, and prostitutes, and you have an excellent first showing for Lee. The film wasn’t under Lee’s full control and you can tell the difference between content here and in later films – the violence is more bloody, the action is more cartoonish, and the boobs are more exposed. Still, it’s a vital entry in the history of Cinema.
17: Mad Max (1979)
Mad Max does for Australia and Mel Gibson what The Big Boss did for Bruce Lee and Hong Kong/China. When I first saw this, I was already a fan of post-apocalyptic movies and fiction, but didn’t really know what it was or that it was a whole genre. Mad Max is probably the first film to make me pull all those strands together, and one of the first to truly show the insanity of a lost future. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it, but it’s still unsettling to me, more than many horror movies whose job it is to unsettle. There’s an atmosphere sown through this film – the performances, the direction, the music -which is devastatingly disturbing, something few fans or critics tend to discuss, but it’s always the first thing I mention – long before the character of Max, the cars, or the plot. The plot can be as simple or as complex as you wish, but as a whole it’s evasive and confusing as hell. It takes place in an almost unnamed, unspecified time and place, where it is clear that something has gone seriously wrong in society, in the world. It’s made stranger by the normal stuff, and by the fact that most of the characters don’t seem to recognize or vocalize that anything has gone wrong. As a viewer, we are stepping into an alien world which has already changed past the point of return, and whose inhabitants have either become so accustomed to it to not care, or haven’t noticed. At times it’s like a Western, but with bikers and V8 Interceptors instead of horses. It’s bizarre.
Max is a young cop who has been dealing with a violent motorcycle gang. He has a pretty young wife, a toddler, a solid moral compass, and a fiery cop partner called Goose. Max and Goose come to blows with members of the biker gang over the course of the movie, but when they finally catch one in the act it looks like things are on the up. Due to some legal technicalities and fear, the guy gets off without charge and Goose is attacked and maimed, sending Max over the edge. Things somehow get much worse and Max… goes Mad.
For such a cheap film, Miller does extraordinary stuff. The action here is ferocious, with car chases revving with malevolence through some stunning backdrops. Many of the performances are entirely out of the top making the whole thing even more otherworldly, and in truth the story is all over the place. At several points do characters, doomed to die, escape from certain death only to be dispatched in the next scene. It seems like an excuse to extend the running time or pack as many ideas in as possible, but to me it’s always heightened the farce of the situation – nobody is getting out of thing thing unscathed. It’s incredibly influential, it launched Mel Gibson’s career, and the entire Saw franchise was basically based off the final scene of the movie. Excellent stunt work. Few films have such a unique atmosphere.
16: The Exorcist (1973)
I talked about influence and hysteria and urban legends in my entry for The Omen. Take all of that and multiply by ten and you’ll get somewhere close to the legend that is The Exorcist. This is the one – the single horror film all horror fans need to see, the single horror film all non-horror fans need to see if you could only pick one. Again it’s a film with a lewd but captivating central premise which would easily have fallen to pieces in the hands of lesser professionals. Friedkin directs the shit out of this, and you have Max Von Sydow, Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, and Jason Miller giving iconic performances. The poster is one of the most famous ever. The soundtrack is instantly recognizable – doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the film or not. There are lines from this movie that are quoted in other movies, on TV, in memes, in everyday life. Scenes which were removed from the film became legendary in their own right. The film has such an aura around it before you even see it that it’s easy to be disappointed by it once you dive in. You expect it to be this life-changing, soul-destroying thing. To have been there at release and experience it first hand would have been glorious, and is probably the only way to truly experience it. That of course isn’t possible, so try to which it without hype and see it for its own merits, free of bias.
While the film, at its most simple, concerns a young girl apparently possessed by a demon who is visited by a bunch of priests who perform an exorcism. It is of course so much more, a film of obsession, parental guilt and fear, the mystery of adolescence, the fear of God or Satan, faith and more. What people don’t expect is the long stretches where apparently nothing happens. When the actual exorcism begins though, we have spent so much time with these characters that it make what happens all the more intense. I don’t even need to mention vomiting, head spinning, bed rising, or crucifixes – you know already. I knew most of that long before I ever saw the movie. I’d read the book before I’d seen the movie, thanks to it being banned in the UK until the late 1990s. What I wasn’t expecting was the jump scare demon faces, wonderful sound design, and unearthly atmosphere. I hated the book with a passion when I first read it. I love the film from first frame to last. Like most horror movies, this spawned a bunch of sequels, remakes, and a TV series. It spawned urban legends which spun off into their own world to the point that it looks like everyone attached to the series died in mysterious ways. The original was never bettered – winning two Oscars and being nominated for ten. That is unheard of in horror, yet it’s entirely deserved.
15: The Godfather Part 2 (1974)
I probably don’t need to go into much detail for most of the films on this list – almost all of them are have extensive critical acclaim and if you’re reading this post the you’ve probably seen them. The Godfather Part 2 is one of the best films ever made, one of the best sequels, and one of the most revered. I don’t have a lot to add – there isn’t anything particularly personal in my love for it – I love it for the same reasons you do. It’s perfect and everyone should see it.
14: A Clockwork Orange (1971)
I said I hated The Exorcist book but loved the film. With A Clockwork Orange I loved both, even though there are many more differences between book and film here than with The Exorcist. Kubrick was noted for making films of two halves, or distinct parts – think training and war in Full Metal Jacket. That trick comes into play here too, as we meet Alex and his droogs and see what they get up to – violence, rape, and what not, followed by the ‘rehabilitation’. Again, in the hands of lesser visionaries and artists this would be a mess. With Kubrick and McDowell it is a revelation, colourful, energetic, and… playful? If you don’t know what this film is, don’t read any more about it – just get it and be absorbed in all its messed up glory.
13: Enter The Dragon (1973)
It’s Lee again and this is the one all you non-foreign movie watching savages have seen. It’s the one which introduced the world to Lee – it’s a pity he didn’t live to experience it. This is the one Martial Arts movie which has been regurgitated and mimicked and memed more than any other. Everything about the film reeks of badassery and 70s cool. The only questions you’ll have when it’s over are ‘has there ever been anyone more epic than Bruce Lee’ and ‘why can’t I be as cool as Bruce Lee’?
Lee is approached by a British spy/detective guy who wants him to infiltrate a fighting competition on a remote island so that they can prove the guy who runs the competition and island is a murdering, drug kingpin scumbag. The fact that Lee’s sister’s killer is one of the known henchmen only sweetens the deal. We meet several other badass fighters on route. The rest of the film is an assortment of tournament fights and Bond-esque investigation as Lee sneaks around, snapping spines and busting nuts. It’s all about the action – from super stylized set pieces to wide shots of Lee being, well, unbelievable. There’s a single kick in this film that you won’t believe. They use a dummy in the scene because a human head would have caved in or exploded with the impact – it’s ridiculous, but what makes things even more insane is the fact that they had to slow the shot down in order for the camera to catch it adequately. The fastest kick you’ve ever seen was slowed down – imagine what it was really like.
12: Fist Of Fury (1972)
Lee again, and this time he had more control even though Lo Wei was still at the helm. Lee tackles racism alongside the usual martial arts revenge plot. I have little to no idea about race relations in early 20th Century China, but basically it seems here like the Chinese are treated like slaves in their own country – mocked primarily by the Japanese, but others too. This all fuels the anger of Lee’s character, whose sense of justice is befouled at every turn, and setting his short temper aflame. All you really need to care about are the fights, with Lee’s destruction of an entire school of fights being a marvel. The film is probably the most shocking of all of Lee’s, and while the violence is less gruesome than in The Big Boss Lee’s character almost comes across as an invincible, murdering Robocop hanging each successive kill from a lamppost – there’s a potency and stark quality to the violence and aftermath, all leading to a futile cliffhanger with only one possible outcome.
11: Live And Let Die (1973)
For the longest time this was my favourite Bond film. It’s probably still the one I enjoy most on a pure entertainment level, and its the one which takes me back most to my childhood. This film used to creep me out as a kid – all that voodoo stuff and that final shot of Baron Samedi on the train frequently popping into my imagination as I crept upstairs to bed in the dark. Watching as an adult, it’s very much of its time, influenced by the blaxploitation movies of the seventies and all of the ghetto culture which was seeping into the mainstream. It’s a departure from the Big Bad wanting to destroy the world that we’ve come to expect from the series, instead finding Bond investigating the deaths of some British agents leading him to a mythic New York drug baron and Caribbean dictator. The film features one of my favourite Bond songs, one of my favourite Bond girls in Solitaire, a bunch of my favourite bad guys – Tee Hee, Samedi, Kananga, Whisper, and some of my favourite stunts and action pieces. It’s one of the weirdest Bond films, there hasn’t been another like it since, and the whole funky 70s attitude and style is nifty.
10: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
If The Exorcist and The Omen had all the surrounding urban legends and power of notable stars and directors, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre spat in their faces, pointed, and cackled maniacally – ‘you can have all the fairytales and celebs you want, this is the real thing’. This is the one that brought underground horror to the mainstream and created a billion imitators. It’s dirty, disgusting, it has a micro budget, but it has a nerve-shredding intensity that horror creators spend their entire careers trying to emulate but never coming within a mile of. The funny thing is, it’s nowhere near as gruesome as The Omen, but seems worse. There’s hardly a drop a blood in it, its the gritty realism and the sound which bleeds into your nightmares. It’s an onslaught on the senses and even though it now feels over the top, there’s still that nagging sense (especially when you take a wrong turn down a deserted country road) that one of the old townhouses you pass could be harbouring a family with very serious designs on consuming your flesh. This is the film that created that fear. Oh yeah, there’s a guy called Leatherface in it too.
9: Alien (1979)
This may not have been the first horror film about creatures from space, or set in space, but it’s certainly the bar by which all others are measured. The best thing about Alien is that it still holds up perfectly today – not a single moment feels dated in the slightest. For reference – Prometheus already looks dated. It’s almost the perfect horror film – interesting location for the story, a simple story with just a sprinkling of mystery, unexpected twists, a vicious killer, a great cast, score, and a director doing everything in his considerable power to leave his stamp on the world. Each of the characters feels like a real person, living in a real, tangible world. Once the early mystery is out of the way it becomes a cat and mouse game with the crew of the Nostromo getting picked off one by one in shocking ways. It’s a great introduction to horror for newbs, or one of the best films to show non-horror fans because it transcends genre; as a self confessed horror nerd I admit there are only a select few from any given decade that any film fan can’t fail to appreciate – this is one of the finest.
8: The Way Of The Dragon (1972)
The best Bruce Lee film, and maybe the best Martial Arts movie ever. With Lee in front of and behind the camera, writing the story, he could finally make the sort of film he wanted – one which not only showcased his own abilities as a fighter but which allowed him to share a wider philosophy. He would plan even greater things, but wouldn’t live to create them.
Lee takes the action to Rome – what would be a masterstroke and giving the film a unique look. Again he plays an outsider brought in to help family and friends who have been getting a hard time from local hoods. He is a skilled fighter and he easily dispatches of the bad guys. Bad guys have a habit of not staying down, and they soon take their violence to murderous levels, leading Lee on yet another quest for vengeance. There’s one moment in each Lee film that makes you wonder if he was really human, and question your own lack of talent. Here, that moment is something bewildering and simple; he’s speaking with the lead bad guy and the words from both sides are getting lost in translation. Some hoods interrupt, looking for a fight. Lee slowly looks up and sees a lightbulb hanging above his head. From a standing position he jumps straight up and kicks the bulb, smashing it to pieces. The light is a good three feet above his head. The bad guys leave. It sounds like nothing, but you’ll never forget it once you see it. if you still think it’s nothing – try to kick something at the same height as your own shoulder. Come back to me in a few weeks once your leg and spine are healed.
Oh yeah, this also has Bruce Lee absolutely destroying the much hairier Chuck Norris in the Colosseum, a fight noted as one of the best ever committed to screen. It has an awesome score too, alongside good support from Nora Miao and a variety of skilled martial artists and performers.
7: The Godfather (1972)
It’s The Godfather. It’s one of the greatest films of all time and it’s one of my ‘Big Four’. It made a load of money, it won every award in the world, it features career best performances from some of the best performers of all time, and it has influenced essentially every film, director, and actor directly or indirectly made since. If you are remotely serious about film, as a fan or with any aspect of the creative process, you start with The Godfather and work your way from there.
6: Halloween (1978)
If you want to know about indie filmmaking, look no further than John Carpenter’s early efforts. Halloween is the most accomplished and assured of these, but beyond that it remains a timeless horror classic which has been endlessly imitated. There are maybe four horror movie scores that everyone knows – you play a piece and everyone instantly knows what it is – Halloween is one, and two of the others happen to be on this list. This made Carpenter a force to be reckoned with, it turned Jamie Lee Curtis into a star, it basically invented the Scream Queen, and it’s a sleek exercise in tension, effective scares, and a prime example of how to take a simple story and turn it into a masterpiece.
A few years back, a young boy went on a stabbing spree in his own home – shown to us in the film’s ever chilling first person opening scene. He spends the next decade or so in a mental home where Doctor Loomis refers to him as ‘pure evil’. One night he escapes, steals a car, and heads home to Haddonfield to wreak havoc on the local teens. The story is streamlined with machete blade precision, but Carpenter whips out every trick in the book for maximum scares and fun. I’ve said this quite a bit in my rundown of films, but in the hands of a lesser director this would be forgettable – hell, we’ve seen enough retellings of the same essential story in the decades since to know that Carpenter’s is a unique vision. This is the one film everyone should watch every Halloween.
5: Jaws (1975)
Here’s another one of those select horror films with a soundtrack everyone knows. You hear those opening notes, and you know what it is. You hear those opening notes, and something primeval within you makes you seek out dry land. You hear those notes, and you know some terrifying shit is about to go down. I feel like, at least in my generation, this is one of the first horror movies you get exposed to. It’s scary, but it’s not torture. There’s blood, but it’s not offensive. There are so many levels at play here that it does bombard a young mind – life, death, nature. There’s a scene where a kid, just kicking back and enjoying his summer, is eaten in a massive fountain of blood. For wannabe filmmakers, you look at the variety of shots, the ingenuity, the cast and performances, and you can just taste how real it all is. You can almost smell the sea, sun, and sand. It’s another film that never seems to age or bore. There’s a handful of films that are essential for childhood – beyond all the Disney stuff – this is one of them.
4: Rocky (1976)
If Jaws has a recognizable soundtrack which immediately evokes images of the film, and sparks wider fears, then the theme for Rocky does something similar – rather than scare, it inspires. How many people use this when they’re walking off their flab at the gym? How many people play this in their head before running a race at their kid’s Sports Day, or before delivering a key work speech? Don’t say you haven’t, you’re only lying to yourself. Those opening notes render you powerless to their charm, and before you can say ‘Yo Adrian’, you’ll be punching the air and reaching for a grey tracksuit.
3: Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)
John Carpenter has so many great films, that every few years a different one is considered a cult classic to be re-evaluated. Almost all of his films not called Halloween have gone through this. Assault On Precinct 13 is spectacular and is another lesson in how to make a classic with little or no money. The central idea is one which has been seen time and time again – especially in Westerns of decades past. It’s a siege movie, one of my favourite sub genres; you know, a group of different people, typically with different agendas or on opposing sides of the law are trapped in a single location and face a bigger, more deadly outside threat. Rio Bravo, Night Of The Living Dead – they all follow this archetype. The location here is a Police Station in a bad neighbourhood – it’s closing down and so only a handful of cops and civilian staff are still around. Joining the mix is a supposedly deadly criminal called Napoleon, staying overnight while he gets transferred, and a semi-comatose stranger. The stranger, as we the audience delightfully bear witness too, was minding his own business and buying his daughter an ice cream when a gang decides to murder her for the laughs. He retreats to the police station, and the gang follows, just as night falls. The gang seem to be numberless and relentless, pouring wave after wave at the station while the cops, civilians, and criminals band together to survive.
This one oozes with 70s style and Carpenter touches – a sublime score, lots of terrific shots, a script filled with quotes I used all the time, anti-heroes, action, suspense, and lots of blurred lines. Carpenter’s first perfect film.
2: Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
The perfect zombie movie. The amount of times I’ve either watched this myself, or with someone who hasn’t seen it, and we’re either bewildered by the opening twenty minutes, or left mocking the effects and cheap look yet every time, without exception, the viewer is hooked and in love by the end. You should know the story by now – it’s mostly an extension of the first film – a siege film with a bigger budget. After the events of the first film, in which the dead have apparently come back to life, civilization is on the brink of collapse. TV pundits, scientists, politicians argue over the best solution, morality, reason, the police and the military, and every hick with a gun is either struggling to contain the problem or having a whale of a time doing so – killing without consequence. We bounce between two sets of characters – SWAT teams infiltrating a housing complex that has been overrun with the undead, and people at a TV studio trying to record one of those political/news opinion shows. At each place, two people are planning an escape – two SWAT guys Roger and Peter, and Stephen and Fran from the TV studio. Roger and Stephen are friends – Stephen is a helicopter pilot in a relationship with Fran, while Roger invites Peter to come along too as an extra pair of skilled hands. The four flee in the helicopter, we get some scenes of the outbreak in wider US, and they decide to land at a Shopping Mall to plan their future. The Shopping Mall is fully stocked, with large spacious areas, and is seemingly easy to protect – it seems like paradise. Others have the same idea.
This is one of the first overtly gory films I ever saw. I’d always seen plenty of horror films when I was young, lots of bloods and death, and plenty with gory scenes, but none which relished the carnage and lingered on each shot. The effects and make-up now range from dated and funny, to still gruesomely effective. Romero always said he wanted the blood in this one to have a comic feel, add in the music which ranges from stock tunes to epic Goblin pieces, funny set-pieces and dialogue, and you have a film which entertains almost as much as it chills. There’s the obvious stuff about Consumerism, but there’s quite a lot about Class too, and plenty of more general existential philosophy, as well as a bitter streak of nihilism. You can pick up on those things, or simply ignore and enjoy the fun of putting holes in zombie heads. As I’ve mentioned on other blog posts, this film seemed like it was pulled right out of my own imagination years before I was born and is one which will make the survivalist in you whoop with joy and debate the finer points relating to your own situation – if such an outbreak happened, where would you go, what would you do? I love the four central performances, I love the ideas, and I love the balance between humour, horror, and pessimism – the actual ending gives some semblance of hope, while the original ended with two suicides and no way out.
1: Star Wars Episode IV (1977)
As time has gone on, there are probably films on the list I like more and would choose to watch over Star Wars. But it’s Star Wars, and there’s no getting away from how good and how influential it is on a cultural and personal basis. If you haven’t seen this, then you’re either my wife, or you’re on the wrong blog. How does anyone get through life not seeing it? Of course, you can choose to be one of those hipster/dickhead types who just refuses to watch it because you enjoy depriving yourself of life’s delights. Then again, you can watch it and not like it. I understand that at least – as weird as it sounds, not everyone’s going to like it. That’s fine, it’s not for you. But for the other few billion of us, this is life-affirming, life-changing film making, and every film made since has been influenced by it in some way.
Let me know in the comments what you think of my picks and feel free to share your favourites!