Memory Lane: Iconic movies of the 1970s

As part of our memory lane series, we are taking each decade from 1960 onward and showcasing some of the most memorable aspects of sport, film and music. In this blog, we will look at some of the most iconic movies of the 1970s, some of which have shaped cinema as we know it today.

The 70s was also a decade of film that introduced new character tropes, genres and cinematic styles which are now staples of the industry. This decade saw the rise of New Hollywood, a movement that challenged traditional filmmaking conventions and brought about a wave of innovative storytelling and bold narratives, while also exploring themes of social change, political unrest, and artistic experimentation which left a lasting impact on the industry.

Rocky (Avildsen, 1976)

While the 1970s cinema certainly embraced a commendably sombre tone, no decade is truly fulfilled without its fair share of uplifting films. Sylvester Stallone’s breakthrough performance as a debt collector-turned-boxer facing adversity struck a chord with audiences, transforming the drama into an unexpected sleeper hit and finding acclaim at the Oscars. This heartening tale captivated the masses, ultimately becoming a crowd-pleaser of monumental proportions, winning Best Picture and Best Director in the process and launching the Rocky franchise that is still alive in cinema today.

The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)

“The Godfather” (1972) is an iconic crime drama film that delves into the powerful world of the Italian-American Mafia. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on Mario Puzo’s novel, it tells the captivating story of the Corleone family, led by the patriarch Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). The film explores themes of loyalty, honour, family, and the consequences of a life entrenched in organised crime.

The Godfather is one of the most cited movies in all-time-great lists, signified by its Best Picture and Best Actor wins. With its brilliant performances, intricate storytelling, and memorable dialogue, “The Godfather” has solidified its place as a cinematic masterpiece, renowned for its rich character development and the exploration of the dark underbelly of power and violence.

Grease (Kleiser, 1978)

“Grease” is a beloved 1978 musical film that became a cultural phenomenon. Directed by Randal Kleiser, it tells the story of high school students in the 1950s, focusing on the romance between Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John). With catchy songs and energetic dance numbers, “Grease” captured the spirit of the era and played a significant role in the resurgence of movie musicals, inspiring future films in the genre. The enduring popularity of “Grease” lies in its nostalgic appeal and cultural impact, making it a cherished classic.

Star Wars (Lucas, 1977)

Following the enormous success of Jaws, which demonstrated the pulse of mainstream audience preferences in the 1970s, George Lucas took the concept of a blockbuster to a whole new level by embarking on the creation of a franchise. In the original instalment, widely regarded as the finest of his groundbreaking series, Lucas masterfully constructs a thrilling and unparalleled universe that redefined the cinematic experience. It introduced moviegoers to a realm unlike anything they had witnessed before, and in doing so, Lucas revitalised the appeal and commercial viability of science fiction.

Jaws (Spielberg, 1975)

While Star Wars is frequently credited with pioneering the concept of the summer blockbuster, it was actually Steven Spielberg’s bone-chilling narrative of the battle between man and shark that truly revolutionized Hollywood’s perception of the genre. Although the term “blockbuster” has been diluted by numerous mindless action films, Jaws successfully blended gripping suspense with unforgettable performances, even earning itself an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Despite inspiring numerous imitations in the thriller genre, it remains an unrivalled original that proudly holds its ground.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Jones, 1979)

“Monty Python’s Life of Brian” is a satirical comedy film that humorously explores the life of a man named Brian Cohen, who coincidentally finds himself mistaken for Jesus Christ during biblical times. Directed by Terry Jones and featuring the comedic genius of the Monty Python troupe, the film cleverly parodies religious themes, social conventions, and political institutions through a series of absurd and irreverent situations.

With its sharp wit, clever wordplay, and memorable musical numbers, “Life of Brian” offers a thought-provoking and hilarious commentary on faith, fanaticism, and the human condition. It has become a cult classic in the United Kingdom and worldwide, known for its subversive humour and fearless approach to satire. However, not everyone back in 1979 saw the funny side, with the movie being banned in Ireland and given an X rating in the UK, with some local councils banning the film from their cinemas.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Stuart, 1971)

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is a whimsical 1971 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book. Directed by Mel Stuart, it follows the adventures of Charlie Bucket as he wins a golden ticket to explore the eccentric Willy Wonka’s magical chocolate factory. The film’s vibrant visuals, memorable songs, and Gene Wilder’s iconic portrayal of Wonka have made it a cherished classic.

Its cultural significance lies in its timeless appeal, promoting imagination, wonder, and the importance of kindness. With its enduring popularity, the film has become a cultural touchstone, enchanting generations and remaining a beloved cinematic gem.

The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973)

Following his success with “The French Connection,” director William Friedkin demonstrated his remarkable range by venturing into the realm of horror with this timeless masterpiece. Even today, “The Exorcist” is hailed as one of the most terrifying films ever created, garnering the distinction of being the first horror movie to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

Despite the existence of lesser sequels and a prequel, the film’s ability to shock and haunt audiences endures, leaving an indelible impact. Furthermore, it served as a catalyst for the horror genre to be regarded with greater reverence and legitimacy, paving the way for its recognition as a genre capable of profound storytelling.

This was another movie that courted controversy when it was released, with pressure groups calling for it to be banned, and home sales of the film remaining illegal in the UK until 1999.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975)

This exceptional drama, which rightfully swept the Oscars, showcased Jack Nicholson’s unparalleled talent in portraying a reckless criminal’s ill-fated attempt to evade his sentence by seeking refuge in a mental institution, leading to profoundly haunting consequences. Additionally, it introduced us to one of the most formidable antagonists of the decade: the passive-aggressive Nurse Ratched, impeccably portrayed by the Oscar-winning Louise Fletcher, whose chilling conviction left an indelible mark.

As an intriguing fact, it’s worth noting that this film had an astonishing run in Swedish cinemas, captivating audiences for an uninterrupted span of 11 years.

Taxi Driver (Scorcese, 1976)

After delivering an Oscar-winning performance in “The Godfather Part II,” Robert De Niro faced the daunting task of following up with another remarkable role. At the age of 33, he embarked on a golden streak, teaming up with Martin Scorsese for a searing and intense thriller that revolved around a former marine turned taxi driver on the brink of psychological unraveling. This riveting portrayal earned De Niro yet another Academy Award nomination, while the character of Travis Bickle, immortalised by the unforgettable line “You talkin’ to me?” etched its place in the annals of pop culture history.

Kramer vs Kramer (Benton, 1979)

1979 multiple Oscar wins – Best Picture, Best Actor Dustin Hoffman and Best Supporting Actor Meryl Streep, Best Director Robert Benton Almost had a clean sweep of Oscars.

Kramer Vs. Kramer boldly challenged conventional views on divorce, emerging as an early pioneer in addressing this sensitive subject matter. It fearlessly defied societal norms and redefined the essence of parenthood for many. As the era witnessed a transformation in the concepts of motherhood and fatherhood, this film presented a profound narrative, illustrating that a father can assume the role of a single parent, while a mother may lack any inclination towards child-rearing.

The exceptional performances by Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, both recipients of prestigious Academy Awards, further elevated this movie, making it one of the most emotionally powerful dramas of its time. It received a whole host of major Oscar awards, winning Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director.

Enter the Dragon (Clouse, 1973)

One of the standout martial arts films of the 1970s, Bruce Lee delivered his most remarkable performance in a movie that stands among the finest of its era. This iconic film introduced the world of kung fu to Hollywood, propelling Lee to international stardom beyond his homeland of Hong Kong. Tragically, it premiered merely a month after the untimely passing of its lead actor.

However, despite this sorrowful timing, the enduring impact of the film remains a testament to the extraordinary legacy Bruce Lee left behind. His profound influence forever altered the landscape of action cinema, solidifying his place as an irreplaceable figure in the history of film.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (Eastwood 1976)

This iconic Western was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood as the film’s titular anti-hero. Set during the American Civil War, the film follows Josey Wales, a Missouri farmer whose family is brutally murdered by Union soldiers. Driven by a desire for revenge, he becomes an outlaw and embarks on a journey across the lawless frontier. Along the way, he encounters a diverse group of companions and finds himself caught between the violence of the war and his own moral code.

Eastwood’s exceptional talent as both director and actor shines through in the film, portraying the complex character with depth. The film’s gritty realism, exploration of themes like vengeance and redemption, and its unflinching portrayal of violence make it an iconic Western that leaves a lasting impact.

The 1970s was a decade that left an indelible mark on cinema, birthing a plethora of iconic films that continue to captivate audiences to this day. These films not only entertained but also reflected the social and cultural changes of the era. With their enduring legacy, these iconic 70s movies remain a testament to the power of storytelling and the lasting impact that great films can have on our lives.