March 7th, 2021 | Updated on June 28th, 2022
The 1970s were the days of disco and dirty deeds as we plunge into a new wave of movies. You’ll find stories of lone men (Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon) and women (Wanda, Norma Rae) against the system, and paranoid political thrillers (All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor).
There are the horror hallmarks (Alien, Halloween) including international (Suspiria, Deep Red), and box office game-changers (Star Wars, Jaws).
Here are 20 Essential 1970s Movies ranked by Rotten Tomatoes.
1. THE GODFATHER (1972)
The Godfather “Don” Vito Corleone is the head of the Corleone mafia family in New York. He is at the event of his daughter’s wedding. Michael, Vito’s youngest son and a decorated WW II Marine is also present at the wedding. Michael seems to be uninterested in being a part of the family business.
2. STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE (1977)
The Imperial Forces, under orders from cruel Darth Vader, hold Princess Leia hostage in their efforts to quell the rebellion against the Galactic Empire.
3. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)
McMurphy has a criminal past and has once again gotten himself into trouble and is sentenced by the court. To escape labor duties in prison, McMurphy pleads insanity and is sent to a ward for the mentally unstable.
4. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
It is the height of the war in Vietnam, and U.S. Army Captain Willard is sent by Colonel Lucas and a General to carry out a mission that, officially, ‘does not exist – nor will it ever exist’. The mission: To seek out a mysterious Green Beret Colonel, Walter Kurtz, whose army has crossed the border into Cambodia and is conducting hit-and-run missions against the Viet Cong and NVA.
5. TAXI DRIVER (1976)
Travis Bickle is an ex-Marine and Vietnam War veteran living in New York City. As he suffers from insomnia, he spends his time working as a taxi driver at night, watching porn movies at seedy cinemas during the day, or thinking about how the world, New York in particular, has deteriorated into a cesspool. He’s a loner who has strong opinions about what is right and wrong with mankind.
6. JAWS (1975)
It’s a hot summer on Amity Island, a small community whose main business is its beaches. When new Sheriff Martin Brody discovers the remains of a shark attack victim, his first inclination is to close the beaches to swimmers. This doesn’t sit well with Mayor Larry Vaughn and several of the local businessmen. Brody backs down to his regret as that weekend a young boy is killed by the predator.
7. ANNIE HALL(1977)
Alvy Singer, a forty year old twice divorced, neurotic, intellectual Jewish New York stand-up comic, reflects on the demise of his latest relationship, to Annie Hall, an insecure, flighty, Midwestern WASP aspiring nightclub singer. Unlike his previous relationships, Alvy believed he may have worked out all the issues in his life through fifteen years of therapy to make this relationship with Annie last, among those issues being not wanting to date any woman that would want to date him, and thus subconsciously pushing those women away.
8. ALIEN (1979)
In the distant future, the crew of the commercial spaceship Nostromo are on their way home when they pick up a distress call from a distant moon. The crew are under obligation to investigate and the spaceship descends on the moon afterwards.
9. STALKER (1979)
In a small, unnamed country there is an area called the Zone. It is apparently inhabited by aliens and contains the Room, where in it is believed wishes are granted. The government has declared The Zone a no-go area and have sealed off the area with barbed wire and border guards.
10. THE GODFATHER, PART II (1974)
The continuing saga of the Corleone crime family tells the story of a young Vito Corleone growing up in Sicily and in 1910s New York; and follows Michael Corleone in the 1950s as he attempts to expand the family business into Las Vegas, Hollywood and Cuba.
11. CHINATOWN (1974)
In 1937 Los Angeles, private investigator Jake ‘J.J.’ Gittes specializes in cheating-spouse cases. His current target is Hollis Mulwray, high-profile chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, whose wife suspects him of infidelity. In following Mulwray, Gittes witnesses some usual business dealings, such as a public meeting for construction of a new dam to create additional water supply for Los Angeles, as fresh water is vital to the growing community during the chronic drought; Mulwray opposes the dam.
12. THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)
William Friedkin’s gritty police drama portrays two tough New York City cops trying to intercept a huge heroin shipment coming from France.
13. ROCKY (1976)
Rocky Balboa is a struggling boxer trying to make the big time, working as a debt collector for a pittance. When heavyweight champion Apollo Creed visits Philadelphia, his managers want to set up an exhibition match between Creed and a struggling boxer, touting the fight as a chance for a “nobody” to become a “somebody
14. HALLOWEEN (1978)
The year is 1963, the night: Halloween. Police are called to 43 Lampkin Ln. only to discover that 15 year old Judith Myers has been stabbed to death, by her 6 year-old brother, Michael. After being institutionalized for 15 years, Myers breaks out on the night before Halloween.
15. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
En route to visit their grandfather’s grave (which has apparently been ritualistically desecrated), five teenagers drive past a slaughterhouse, pick up (and quickly drop) a sinister hitch-hiker, eat some delicious home-cured meat at a roadside gas station, before ending up at the old family home… where they’re plunged into a never-ending nightmare as they meet a family of cannibals who more than make up in power tools what they lack in social skills…
16. THE EXORCIST (1973)
A visiting actress in Washington, D.C., notices dramatic and dangerous changes in the behavior and physical make-up of her 12-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, a young priest at nearby Georgetown University begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother’s terminal sickness.
17. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)
In the run-up to the 1972 elections, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward covers what seems to be a minor break-in at the Democratic Party National headquarters. He is surprised to find top lawyers already on the defense case, and the discovery of names and addresses of Republican fund organizers on the accused further arouses his suspicions.
18. DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)
John and Laura Baxter are in Venice when they meet a pair of elderly sisters, one of whom claims to be psychic. She insists that she sees the spirit of the Baxters’ daughter, who recently drowned. Laura is intrigued, but John resists the idea.
19. NASHVILLE (1975)
Five days in the Nashville country and gospel music scene, filled with stars, wannabe stars, and other hangers-on – individual stories of this small group intertwined – provides a commentary on American society.
20. BEING THERE (1979)
Simple-minded gardener Chance has spent all his life in the Washington D.C. home of an old man. When the man dies, Chance is put out on the street with no knowledge of the world except what he has learned from television.
21. BLAZING SADDLES (1974)
The Ultimate Western Spoof. A town where everyone seems to be named Johnson is in the way of the railroad. In order to grab their land, Hedley Lemar (Harvey Korman), a politically connected nasty person, sends in his henchmen to make the town unlivable.
22. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975)
History is turned on its comic head when, in tenth-century England, King Arthur travels the countryside to find knights who will join him at the Round Table in Camelot. Gathering up the men is a tale in itself but after a bit of a party at Camelot, many decide to leave only to be stopped by God, who sends them on a quest: to find the Holy Grail.
23. DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)
Based upon a real-life story that happened in the early seventies in which the Chase Manhattan Bank in Gravesend, Brooklyn, was held siege by a bank robber determined to steal enough money for his wife (a trans woman) to undergo a sex change operation.
24. THE CONFORMIST (1970)
This story opens in 1938 in Rome, where Marcello has just taken a job working for Mussollini and is courting a beautiful young woman who will make him even more of a conformist. Marcello is going to Paris on his honeymoon and his bosses have an assignment for him there. Look up an old professor who fled Italy when the fascists came into power.
25. A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1975)
Peter Falk is a blue collar man trying to deal with his wife’s mental instability. He fights to keep a semblance of normality in the face of her bizarre behavior, but when her actions affect their children, he has her committed.