The 70s are often considered the second golden age of Hollywood. Emboldened by the success of Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider that closed out the 60s, many of the studios showed a willingness to entrust young producers, writers and directors to give a whole new voice to cinema. The result was a unique slate of classics from new filmmaking mavericks such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Bob Rafelson, Terrence Malick, Steven Spielberg, Hal Ashby, William Friedkin, George Lucas and Peter Bogdanovich, to name a few. How they differed from previous greats was through forgoing classicism for a closer association with reality, through more sounds or rock ‘n roll songs instead of scores, through more intimate plots in following a character more than their story and venturing off the sound stage and out into the real world.
Although many of those names were the lynchpin of new storytelling success for the decade, the 70s had many great films that also tapped into the rebel spirit of the new auteurs without continuing to receive a classic shine. Every decade has forgotten films, but the 70s are a treasure trove of movies that are rebellious, eccentric and alive, but no longer mentioned.
To create this initial list, I just had one criteria: the film had to receive less than 10,000 votes on IMDb, which seems to be a good barometer on whether or not a film has been left behind in the retrospective zeitgeist. With this methodology a few things were discovered. First, many of the films that could potentially land here were experimental with narrative, or grindhouse or foreign, which is of no surprise, of course. But more surprising was that many of the great American films from this decade that seem to no longer have a fervent following but were directed by an accepted auteur such as Altman or Ken Russell, frequently featured a female lead.
The great 70s films largely belonged to men, were made by men, and told the stories almost exclusively through the eyes of men and tried to de-code what it means to be an honorable man. They’re still great films, of course, but 70s cinema was the first real gender barrier for movies; all the praise and awards were going to The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, The French Connection, The Deer Hunter etc. and it’s stark in comparison to previous decades where female-led films like The Apartment, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, etc., could still win the top film prizes through the 60s. The 70s is when the acclaim and prestige really became one sided and the vast majority of prestige pictures focused on men. I might argue that that was when the idea of a man’s picture and a woman’s picture really splintered as well. Since the 70s also gave us the idea of a blockbuster that forever changed film, with Star Wars, that divide increased in the 80s and we’re only now starting to see a return to prestige female pictures being made from major directors.
That’s not to critique the amazing films like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Badlands, Dog Day Afternoon, and more and more that came out in the 70s, but it is worth noting that most of the films on this list — that did not receive initial studio support and no longer have the support of a voting system like IMDb — feature women in the leading roles. The rest are foreign, fringe and naughty. Or in some cases, they are the directorial debut of a director who’d go on to have a cult following, like Walter Hill and Elaine May. Peruse some of the picks and sound off on which films you agree with or might want to check out, or which mega classics you think are overrated.