Many critics and audiences regard the 1970s as a renaissance in American cinema.
The previous decades had left the film industry struggling financially. In response, Hollywood developed a new kind of action film that appealed to a younger audience: the blockbuster. The first blockbusters, Star Wars (George Lucas) and Jaws (Peter Benchley), broke box office records and set a precedent for modern cinema. Similarly, some of America’s first favorite cult classics emerged in the 70s, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Richard O’Brien) and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl.)
Another very prominent theme in 1970 cinema is the use of trauma in war dramas. Post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t even being formally acknowledged at this time, yet there are dozens of films from the 70s that involve post-Vietnam trauma in soldiers: The Deer Hunter (Deric Washburn,) M*A*S*H (Ring Lardner Jr.,) and Taxi Driver (Paul Schrader) to name a few.
The horror and thriller genres also started to take shape during these years. Classics like The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty,) Carrie (Lawrence D. Cohen,) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Kim Henkel,) Alien (Dan O’Bannon,) and Halloween (John Carpenter) created a firm basis for the genres that many of our modern favorites still use. These 70s horror films launched franchises and created tropes with paranormal, serial killer slasher, paranormal slashers, and space thrillers.
Directors who are still celebrated today were thriving in the 70s as well. Steven Spielberg (Jaws), George Lucas (Star Wars), Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver), and Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now) are only a handful of the many directors who created influential films in the 70s that continue to be adored.
Overall, the 1970s was a time in Hollywood that wasn’t lacking in creativity and innovation. Thanks to the screenwriters and directors that remain influential, the changes in cinema during the 1970s laid the groundwork to the movies we still watch today.
After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as a distress call, its landing on the source moon finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious lifeform, and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.
All the President’s Men
“The Washington Post” reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college.
A U.S. Army officer serving in Vietnam is tasked with assassinating a renegade Special Forces Colonel who sees himself as a god.
An impressionable teenage girl from a dead-end town and her older greaser boyfriend embark on a killing spree in the South Dakota badlands.
In order to ruin a western town, a corrupt politician appoints a black Sheriff, who promptly becomes his most formidable adversary.
Carrie White, a shy, friendless teenage girl who is sheltered by her domineering, religious mother, unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her classmates at her senior prom.
A private detective hired to expose an adulterer finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption, and murder.
In the future, a sadistic gang leader is imprisoned and volunteers for a conduct-aversion experiment, but it doesn’t go as planned.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Roy Neary, an electric lineman, watches how his quiet and ordinary daily life turns upside down after a close encounter with a UFO.
A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple, on whom he is spying, will be murdered.
The Deer Hunter
An in-depth examination of the ways in which the U.S. Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania.
Intent on seeing the Cahulawassee River before it’s dammed and turned into a lake, outdoor fanatic Lewis Medlock takes his friends on a canoeing trip they’ll never forget into the dangerous American back-country.
Dog Day Afternoon
A man robs a bank to pay for his lover’s operation, which turns into a hostage situation and a media circus.
When a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.
Five Easy Pieces
A dropout from upper-class America picks up work along the way on oil rigs when his life isn’t spent in a squalid succession of bars, motels, and other points of interest.
The French Connection
A pair of NYC cops in the Narcotics Bureau stumble onto a drug smuggling job with a French connection.
The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
The Godfather Part II
The early life and career of Vito Corleone in 1920s New York City is portrayed, while his son, Michael, expands and tightens his grip on the family crime syndicate.
Fifteen years after murdering his sister on Halloween night 1963, Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois to kill again.
When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community, it’s up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down.
A small-town detective searching for a missing man has only one lead: a connection with a New York prostitute.
Kramer vs. Kramer
Ted Kramer’s wife leaves him, allowing for a lost bond to be rediscovered between Ted and his son, Billy. But a heated custody battle ensues over the divorced couple’s son, deepening the wounds left by the separation.
The Last Picture Show
In 1951, a group of high schoolers come of age in a bleak, isolated, atrophied West Texas town that is slowly dying, both culturally and economically.
An idyllic science fiction future has one major drawback: life must end at the age of thirty.
The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor and high jinks to keep their sanity in the face of the horror of war.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table embark on a surreal, low-budget search for the Holy Grail, encountering many, very silly obstacles.
Mysterious deaths surround an American ambassador. Could the child that he is raising actually be the Antichrist? The Devil’s own son?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
A criminal pleads insanity after getting into trouble again and once in the mental institution rebels against the oppressive nurse and rallies up the scared patients.
The World War II phase of the career of the controversial American general, George S. Patton.
The Poseidon Adventure
Nine people explore a cruise ship at sea in a manner that turns their whole lives upside down.
A small-time boxer gets a supremely rare chance to fight a heavy-weight champion in a bout in which he strives to go the distance for his self-respect.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
A newly engaged couple have a breakdown in an isolated area and must pay a call to the bizarre residence of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope
Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the mysterious Darth Vader.
An alien orphan is sent from his dying planet to Earth, where he grows up to become his adoptive home’s first and greatest superhero.
A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action by attempting to liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute.
In the near future, a charismatic leader summons the street gangs of New York City in a bid to take it over. When he is killed, The Warriors are falsely blamed and now must fight their way home while every other gang is hunting them down.
The Wicker Man
A Police Sergeant is sent to a Scottish island village in search of a missing girl who the townsfolk claim never existed. Stranger still are the rites that take place there.
Article by Tristan Wold
Tristan Wold is a 2017 graduate of SUNY Purchase with a degree in Playwriting & Screenwriting. He currently splits his time between being a barista, an intern, and a writer. @caffn8dshark