Hollywood Movies

25 Best Movies of the 1970s, Ranked

April 19, 202416 Mins Read

The 1970s was, to put it simply, a great decade for cinema. The end of the previous decade had been a time of change within Hollywood, which led to further radical films – and filmmakers – to shine in the 1970s. There was also something of a rise in international films, with more and more being appreciated worldwide throughout the 1950s and 1960s, which naturally continued into the 1970s, meaning it was a decade defined by far more than just New Hollywood.

There are too many great films to list them all here, but what follows is a shot at ranking many of the absolute greatest. As such, consider the following to be the best of the best; essential films of the decade that all film buffs should watch at some point in their movie-watching lives. The following titles aim to show just how good the 1970s were when it came to movies, and are ranked below starting with the great, and ending with the greatest.

25 ‘Days of Heaven’ (1978)

Director: Terrence Malick

Two people walking in a field in Days Of Heaven
Image Via Paramount

Days of Heaven is one of Terrence Malick‘s very best feature films, and as only his second released film, ultimately proved how he was a near-instantly masterful filmmaker. It’s a film that presents an experience more than it does a traditional narrative, with it being about several people who live/work on a farm in the 1910s, and a complex love triangle that unfolds.

There is still some story, but the things about Days of Heaven that leave the greatest impact end up being the spectacular visuals from cinematographer Néstor Almendros and the beautiful score by composer Ennio Morricone. It makes for an emotional, powerful, and unique viewing experience, with Days of Heaven easily standing as one of the decade’s best.

Days of Heaven

Release Date
September 13, 1978

Terrence Malick


Main Genre

24 ‘Halloween’ (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Michael Myers holding a knife in 'Halloween' (1978)
Image via Compass International Pictures

It may have started a huge franchise, but the original Halloween from 1978 is a surprisingly small-scale and eerily intimate horror movie. It’s about the famed Michael Myers escaping from a psychiatric hospital and going on a vengeful rampage around the town of Haddonfield, Illinois, all backed by an absolutely iconic horror movie score that ranks as one of the most memorable in the entire genre, courtesy of director John Carpenter.

He eventually comes across teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who proves to be far more resistant than most of his targets. Many movies followed, but the first Halloween movie (and the only one to be released in the 1970s) is easily the best, and also one of the most important films within the slasher sub-genre, which would explode in popularity during the 1980s.

Halloween (1978)

Release Date
October 27, 1978

91 minutes

23 ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ (1974)

Director: Ingmar Bergman

While almost three hours of two people arguing as their marriage slowly breaks down might not sound riveting, it somehow is made compelling to watch within Scenes from a Marriage. It’s a painfully honest and emotionally brutal movie, and ranks as one of Ingmar Bergman‘s greatest films.

It was also released as a miniseries in the 1970s, with a runtime approximately two hours longer. That miniseries cut also got its own remake in the early 2020s, with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac playing the couple to great effect, arguably just as effectively as actors Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson did in the 1970s original(s). Those who don’t mind watching movies about love (or the breakdown of it) that also happen to be surprisingly intense will find a lot to appreciate with Scenes from a Marriage.

Watch on Max

22 ‘The Ascent’ (1977)

Director: Larisa Shepitko

Anti-war movies don’t get much more bleak, downbeat, cold, or effectively powerful than 1977’s The Ascent, which is among the greatest World War II movies of all time. It focuses less on combat and more on survival, with its premise about two resistance fighters in Russia going on a dangerous mission to secure food and other supplies for their squad. While something like Come and See (directed by Larisa Shepitko’s fellow filmmaker husband Elem Klimov) is better known, The Ascent is equally compelling as an anti-war film.

It’s a film that aims to put viewers in a trance, in a way, with it effectively having an undeniably stressful and even depressing atmosphere throughout. It successfully argues that living through a war is like a waking, constant nightmare, making The Ascent difficult to watch, but incredibly easy to admire and appreciate.

Watch on Criterion

21 ‘All That Jazz’ (1979)

Director: Bob Fosse

Roy Schneider in All That Jazz

Bob Fosse more or less made a movie about his life with All That Jazz, a semi-autobiographical masterpiece that easily ranks among 1979’s best movies. Roy Scheider may be playing a man named Joe Gideon, but Gideon and Fosse aren’t so different, with both being womanizers, workaholics, and people suffering from heart conditions thanks to their high-stress lifestyles.

All That Jazz is therefore quite a morbid movie, but its relentless honesty and self-exploration make it a fascinating watch. It’s also hugely successful as a stylish and visually bold musical, with increasingly surreal sequences – especially in the film’s final act – being unlike much else out there within the musical genre.

All That Jazz

Release Date
December 20, 1979

123 mins

Buy on Amazon

20 ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller’ (1971)

Director: Robert Altman

Julie Christie and Warren Beatty as Constance Miller and John McCabe in McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Image via Warner Bros.

By the 1970s, the Western was a dead genre, right? No, certainly not completely. Maybe there were fewer Westerns being made than there had been in the 1950s and 1960s, but something like McCabe and Mrs. Miller was a clear sign that the genre still had legs, even within the New Hollywood Movement.

It’s one of writer/director Robert Altman’s best, and boasts two great lead performances from Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. The two play unlikely business partners who clash with a large corporation that tries to establish itself within their small mining town, resulting in expectedly dramatic consequences for all involved.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Release Date
July 8, 1971

120 minutes

19 ‘Network’ (1976)

Director: Sidney Lumet


Satirical films rarely get quite as biting and savage as Network does, with its approach to tackling media and human nature making it still relevant all these years later. It’s about a news network that exploits the ramblings of one of its anchors, who has a nervous breakdown but ends up being a ratings hit, due to the things he says on air while in his heightened state.

Even if people don’t tend to get their news from TV networks anymore, the things Network says about news production and consumption still feel prescient. It’s a well-paced and very tense film, and boasts some incredible performances from a remarkable cast that includes the likes of Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, and Robert Duvall.


Release Date
November 27, 1976

121 minutes

Main Genre

18 ‘The Conversation’ (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Actor Gene Hackman as Henry Caul watching over surveillance equipment in Francis Ford Coppola's movie, The Conversation
Image via Rialto Pictures

Few directors had as good a decade in the 1970s as Francis Ford Coppola, with several films of his released between 1972 and 1979 being some of the greatest of all time. The least well-known of those movies within his incredible run is probably 1974’s The Conversation, but it still shouldn’t be ignored by fans of slow-burn thrillers.

It’s a movie that’s all about surveillance, and sees one expert becoming engrossed with one particular case to the point of obsession. The Conversation is a movie that takes its time, but makes everything worthwhile in the end, with a subtle and compelling lead performance from Gene Hackman. It’s also notable for briefly featuring Harrison Ford in one of his earliest roles, and overall functioning incredibly well as a deliberately paced and absorbing mystery/thriller film.

The Conversation

Release Date
April 7, 1974

Francis Ford Coppola

Gene Hackman , John Cazale , Allen Garfield , Frederic Forrest , Cindy Williams , Michael Higgins


Main Genre

17 ‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974)

Director: Mel Brooks

Jim the Waco Kid and Sheriff Bart smiling to each other in Blazing Saddles
Image via Warner Bros.

Blazing Saddles is sometimes thought of as a kind of edgy comedy that couldn’t be made today, but that’s not entirely fair. It is true that it has some risky humor, and deals with racism within a film that’s entirely comedic and packed with jokes, but it uses its humor to target racists and bigots, and can hardly be seen as something that punches down.

It tells the story of a backward Old West town, and the way they react when a Black man is appointed sheriff there. Blazing Saddles is crude, silly, slapstick-heavy, and frequently hilarious, all the while making valid points about the nature and ridiculousness of prejudice, both as it would’ve existed in the Old West, and as it existed in the 20th century, too. Whether it would’ve been better or worse if Blazing Saddles had somehow starred John Wayne (as had been planned), the world will never know…

Blazing Saddles

Release Date
February 7, 1974

Mel Brooks

Cleavon Little , gene wilder , Slim Pickens , Harvey Korman , Madeline Kahn , Mel Brooks


16 ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (1975)

Director: Sidney Lumet

Al Pacino as Sonny aiming a gun while at a bank in Dog Day Afternoon
Image via Warner Bros. 

There’s a strong argument to be made that Dog Day Afternoon is the greatest film of all time that focuses on a bank robbery, making it a crime movie classic. Really, the entire movie is about a single robbery, what goes wrong, and its dramatic aftermath, making it stand out from similar crime/thriller movies about bank robbers that either have the characters succeed or pull off a string of robberies throughout a film’s runtime.

Dog Day Afternoon takes place in a short space of time, and often feels a little like it plays out in real time. The suspense is always high, and everything feels exceptionally gritty and realistic, with a dynamite screenplay that always keeps things moving steadily, and an all-time great lead performance from the legendary Al Pacino.

15 ‘Cabaret’ (1972)

Director: Bob Fosse

a female and male cabaret performers in full costume and makeup, in front of a blue curtain
Image via Allied Artists

Even those who don’t particularly love most movie musicals ought to give Cabaret a shot, because musicals don’t get much better or more iconic. It’s a film set in the early 1930s in Berlin, focusing on the various people involved with a cabaret club who are so wrapped up in their dramatic nightlife activities that they don’t notice the rise of the Nazi Party happening around them until it’s too late.

Beyond featuring great songs and memorable dance numbers, Cabaret is also an in-depth look at the rise of Fascism, and how some can fail to see it rising in popularity. What begins on the fringes of society can become the norm within years, making Cabaret a surprisingly stark warning about just how rapidly things can change for the worse.


Release Date
February 13, 1972

Liza Minnelli , Michael York , Joel Grey , Marisa Berenson

124 minutes

14 ‘Stalker’ (1979)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

A man in a stunning landscape in Stalker
Image via Goskino

Stalker has a simple sci-fi premise that unfolds slowly over a lengthy runtime of 162 minutes, touching on deeper themes as it goes along. It’s sci-fi that encourages audiences to engage mentally with what’s happening, and try to find deeper meanings to the otherwise straightforward narrative about three men searching for a mysterious location that will grant them whatever they desire.

It looks at human nature, the desire for knowledge of one’s self, the potential end of the world/collapse of society, and environmental degradation… or it can be something else entirely, depending on how one engages with it. There’s a lot to take in, but thankfully, filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky also made something that’s intoxicating to simply look at and feel, with eerie production design and mesmerizing camerawork that allows the influential sci-fi classic Stalker to function as something more direct, next to all the weightier stuff.


Release Date
May 25, 1979

Andrei Tarkovsky

Alexander Kaidanovsky

162 minutes

13 ‘Rocky’ (1976)

Director: John G. Avildsen

Rocky - 1976 - training

It may have kicked off a hugely successful franchise that’s continued into the 2020s with the Creed movies, but nothing quite touches the original Rocky from 1976. It’s perhaps the quintessential underdog movie, following a down-on-his-luck Philadelphia man who pushes himself to his limits to become a boxing champion.

The story of the film is inspiring, as is the story of its production, given Sylvester Stallone was similarly stuck in a rut in his life, and put his heart and soul into writing and starring in Rocky. The effort paid off, and today, it’s still held up as one of the all-time great sports movies, and is the film that helped elevate Stallone to superstardom. Rocky is one of those sports movies to which all others are compared, and it’s not too hard to see why, given it does just about everything right.


Release Date
November 21, 1976

John G. Avildsen

120 minutes

Watch on Max

12 ‘Alien’ (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott

Signourney Weaver in Alien 1979
Image via 20th Century Studios

Alien was one of Ridley Scott‘s first movies, and is still one of his best. Alien is a near-perfect blend of science-fiction and horror, telling an appropriately direct story that fits its title, given it’s about an under-equipped crew on a spaceship collectively trying to survive a deadly alien that’s gotten loose and is picking them off one by one.

Alien is far from an action movie (despite a few violent moments), and it’s also definitely not fast-paced, choosing to take its time and slowly build up tension. But that’s all for the better, with the approach working to make the final half-hour or so of the film ridiculously suspenseful. One can only imagine how tense audiences viewing it in 1979 would’ve been, given they didn’t know lead character Ripley would survive to appear in future sequels at that point.

Watch on Hulu

11 ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Alex in his iconic suspenders outfit looking into the camera in 'A Clockwork Orange.'
Image via Warner Bros.

Stanley Kubrick began to slow down his output in the 1970s, after directing several films in the 1960s. The 1970s saw him release two movies, as did the 1980s, and then his final one came out at the very end of the 1990s. Perhaps the way he took his time in the final decades of his career contributed to the idea that he was a perfectionist, but it did ultimately result in a run of incredible, groundbreaking films.

One of these was undoubtedly A Clockwork Orange, which still feels alarming and confronting to watch after more than 50 years. Its story about brutal crime versus brutal justice in a near-future dystopia (making it something of a sci-fi movie) is still an eerie and uncompromising viewing experience, but few films are quite as powerful and stomach-churningly engrossing as this 1971 classic.

A Clockwork Orange

Release Date
December 19, 1971

Stanley Kubrick

Malcolm McDowell , Patrick Magee , Michael Bates , Warren Clarke , John Clive , Adrienne Corri


10 ‘The Exorcist’ (1973)

Director: William Friedkin

Linda Blair as a possed Regan chewing on her hand in The Exorcist 
Image via Warner Bros. 

Demonic possession movies simply don’t get any better than the original The Exorcist. This was a horror film that shocked audiences upon release, and is likely to continue making people feel unnerved until the end of time, with its alarming story about a mother enlisting two priests to exorcise her daughter, who’s been behaving in increasingly alarming ways.

Like many horror movies from the 1970s, it can be described as something of a slow-burn, because it takes a great deal of time for the exorcism part of the film to happen. But it helps in the end that things unfold slowly, given The Exorcist devotes more scenes to its characters than many horror movies, making viewers inevitably care more about the eye-popping, alarming stuff, and hoping that the characters can eventually pull through.

The Exorcist

Release Date
December 26, 1973

122 minutes

Main Genre

9 ‘Jaws’ (1975)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Roy Scheider in 'Jaws'
Image via Zanuck/Brown Productions

Jaws wasn’t the very first movie Steven Spielberg ever directed, but it was his first arguably perfect (or close to it) one. It was released when Spielberg himself was only 28 years old, and like Alien – another one-word horror movie from the 1970s – Jaws has a very simple premise that essentially boils down to three men needing to kill a terrifying and murderous shark.

It’s hard to imagine how something so direct could be so endlessly rewatchable and remarkable, but the execution of Jaws is everything. It’s a movie that’s never lost its capacity to engross and entertain, and though other filmmakers have had almost 50 years now to try and equal or surpass it, no other shark movie has ever come close. As far as thrillers directed by Steven Spielberg go, they don’t get any better than Jaws.


Release Date
June 20, 1975

124 minutes

8 ‘The Conformist’ (1970)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Though it’s certainly not a musical (instead functioning more as a psychological drama), The Conformist is another early 1970s movie that joins Cabaret as a blunt, eye-opening exploration of Fascism. It’s an Italian film about a man who’s hired to assassinate one of his old mentors now living abroad, under the pretense that said mentor has become a political dissident.

It’s a constantly uneasy movie, unfolding steadily but never feeling slow, and instead being an incisive look at the film’s unlikable protagonist and the troubling things he agrees to do. The Conformist might not be everyone’s idea of a fun watch, but it’s an experience that’s difficult to shake, being a beautifully shot movie and featuring one of the late Jean-Louis Trintignant‘s best performances.

Watch on Kanopy

7 ‘Chinatown’ (1974)

Director: Roman Polanski

Two people driving in a car

Chinatown expertly brings the film noir genre into the 1970s, melding classic noir tropes and storytelling devices with a New Hollywood look/feel. To summarize it as simply as possible, it’s about a private investigator (played by Jack Nicholson, in one of his most iconic performances) who gets tangled up in an incredibly complex case during the 1930s in Los Angeles.

Being about conspiracies and complex things outside the protagonist’s control, Chinatown can often prove overwhelming and even confusing for viewers, but it’s expertly written in a way that never loses you completely. Things also wrap up and become uncomfortably clear towards the film’s end, leading to one of the most well-known final scenes in American movie history.


Release Date
June 20, 1974

Roman Polanski

130 minutes

6 ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Robert Duvall as Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore kneeling shirtless in Apocalypse Now
Image via United Artists

It’s easy to call Apocalypse Now a great war movie, but it’s also more than just a war movie. It’s a loose adaptation of the novella Heart of Darkness, following one man who’s given the task of traveling deep into a jungle for the purposes of killing another who’s said to have gone rogue, and therefore poses a threat.

With a runtime that varies between 2.5 and 3.5 hours depending on the version watched, Apocalypse Now certainly has time to be a nightmarish adventure film, a psychological drama, and a Vietnam War movie all at once. It’s another great 1970s film made by Francis Ford Coppola, and deservedly stands as one of the decade’s most iconic movies.

Apocalypse Now

Release Date
August 15, 1979

Francis Ford Coppola

153 minutes

Main Genre

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