The 140 Essential 1970s Movies

Welcome to the days of disco and dirty deeds as we plunge into a new wave of movies: raw and renewed, unfiltered, while laying the groundwork for blockbuster era to come. Welcome to the 140 essential movies of the ’70s.

The two moods we aimed to capture in this countdown: The wilting of ’60s flower power optimism under the harsh light of urban reality and decay; meanwhile the destruction of the musty Hays Code — a musty ruleset that dictated what could be depicted on-screen for decades — suddenly allowing directors to pursue more personal expressions in film, often violent and sexual. 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). Low-budget exploitation (The Last House on the Left, Mad Max), and a few things a willing warped mind can get off on (The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Holy Mountain). All movies considered for this list needed to have a Tomatometer (after 5 reviews) and have been made during the decade, even if it didn’t get a major release until later, e.g. Hausu or Killer of Sheep.

Now, let’s strut them mean streets, let’s do the time warp again, let’s have ourselves a close encounter with 140 essential 70s movies!


More Essential Movies By Decade
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#140
#140
Adjusted Score: 64730%
Critics Consensus: Its visceral brutality is more repulsive than engrossing, but The Last House on the Left nevertheless introduces director Wes Craven as a distinctive voice in horror.
Synopsis: Teenagers Mari (Sandra Cassel) and Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) head to the city for a concert, then afterward go looking for... [More]
Directed By: Wes Craven

#139
#139
Adjusted Score: 71748%
Critics Consensus: Although it is not consistently engaging enough to fully justify its towering runtime, The Towering Inferno is a blustery spectacle that executes its disaster premise with flair.
Synopsis: Classic 1970s disaster movie about a fire that breaks out in a state-of-the-art San Francisco high-rise building during the opening... [More]

#138

The Tenant (1976)
88%

#138
Adjusted Score: 89602%
Critics Consensus: A rough-edged thriller that lacks the precision of Polanski's best work, but makes up for it with its skillful mounting of paranoia, dread, and dark themes.
Synopsis: In Paris, isolated Eastern European émigré Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski) rents an apartment in a spooky old building whose inhabitants regard... [More]
Directed By: Roman Polanski

#137

Sholay (1975)
92%

#137
Adjusted Score: 57717%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: In the village of Ramgarh, retired police chief Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar) plots to bring down the notorious bandit... [More]
Directed By: Ramesh Sippy

#136

Watership Down (1978)
82%

#136
Adjusted Score: 84978%
Critics Consensus: Aimed at adults perhaps more than children, this is a respectful, beautifully animated adaptation of Richard Adams' beloved book.
Synopsis: When a young rabbit named Fiver (Richard Briers) has a prophetic vision that the end of his warren is near,... [More]
Directed By: Martin Rosen

#135

Grey Gardens (1975)
94%

#135
Adjusted Score: 95359%
Critics Consensus: Edith and Edie Beale are eccentric subjects who offer a generous amount of themselves in Grey Gardens, an inquisitive and nonjudgmental exploration of the isolated socialites' lifestyle.
Synopsis: This film explores the daily lives of two aging, eccentric relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Edie Bouvier Beale and her... [More]
Starring:

#134
Adjusted Score: 72257%
Critics Consensus: Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom will strike some viewers as irredeemably depraved, but its unflinching view of human cruelty makes it impossible to ignore.
Synopsis: Four fascists kidnap young men and women and subject them to torture and perversion.... [More]
Directed By: Pier Paolo Pasolini

#133

Pink Flamingos (1972)
82%

#133
Adjusted Score: 85334%
Critics Consensus: Uproarious and appalling, Pink Flamingos is transgressive camp that proves as entertaining as it does shocking.
Synopsis: A bizarre fat woman (Divine) and her misfit family compete with a Baltimore couple (David Lochary, Mink Stole) to be... [More]
Directed By: John Waters

#132
#132
Adjusted Score: 55164%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Following the murder of Countess Federica Donati (Isa Miranda), an heiress possessing a beautiful piece of beachfront property, members of... [More]
Directed By: Mario Bava

#131

Soylent Green (1973)
69%

#131
Adjusted Score: 72142%
Critics Consensus: While admittedly melodramatic and uneven in spots, Soylent Green ultimately succeeds with its dark, plausible vision of a dystopian future.
Synopsis: In a densely overpopulated, starving New York City of the future, NYPD detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) investigates the murder... [More]
Directed By: Richard Fleischer

#130
#130
Adjusted Score: 95700%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully directed and utterly unique, Two-Lane Blacktop captures the spirit of its era as smoothly as it evokes the feeling of the open road.
Synopsis: In this cult favorite road film, a mechanic (Dennis Wilson) and a driver (James Taylor) live only to race and... [More]
Directed By: Monte Hellman

#129

Dersu Uzala (1975)
73%

#129
Adjusted Score: 73527%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: "Dersu Uzala" is epic in form yet intimate in scope. Set in the forests of Eastern Siberia at the turn... [More]
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

#128
#128
Adjusted Score: 89187%
Critics Consensus: Sexual taboos are broken and boundaries crossed In the Realm of the Senses, a fearlessly provocative psychosexual tale.
Synopsis: A former prostitute (Eiko Matsuda), now working as a servant, begins a torrid affair with her married employer (Tatsuya Fuji).... [More]
Directed By: Nagisa Ôshima

#127

Claire's Knee (1970)
96%

#127
Adjusted Score: 96703%
Critics Consensus: Told through precise body language and sunny wit, Claire's Knee makes an unusual love story feel universal.
Synopsis: Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy) decides to prepare for a lifetime of matrimony by enjoying one last vacation by himself. Upon arriving... [More]
Directed By: Eric Rohmer

#126

A Touch of Zen (1971)
97%

#126
Adjusted Score: 98390%
Critics Consensus: A brilliantly directed feast for the eyes with an epic story to match, A Touch of Zen marks a groundbreaking achievement in the wuxia genre.
Synopsis: Ku Shen Chai (Chun Shih), an unmotivated artist in his early 30s, still lives with his mother, but he is... [More]
Directed By: King Hu

#125

Breaking Away (1979)
95%

#125
Adjusted Score: 98029%
Critics Consensus: At once a touching, funny coming-of-age story and a compelling sports film, Breaking Away is a delightful treat.
Synopsis: Dave (Dennis Christopher) and his working-class friends Cyril (Daniel Stern), Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) and Mike (Dennis Quaid) spend their... [More]
Directed By: Peter Yates

#124
#124
Adjusted Score: 98803%
Critics Consensus: Lean, taut and compellingly gritty, John Carpenter's loose update of Rio Bravo ranks as a cult action classic and one of the filmmaker's best.
Synopsis: When the LAPD kills several members of the South Central gang Street Thunder, the remaining members avenge themselves by way... [More]
Directed By: John Carpenter

#123

The Muppet Movie (1979)
88%

#123
Adjusted Score: 92109%
Critics Consensus: The Muppet Movie, the big-screen debut of Jim Henson's plush creations, is smart, lighthearted, and fun for all ages.
Synopsis: After Kermit the Frog decides to pursue a movie career, he starts his cross-country trip from Florida to California. Along... [More]
Directed By: James Frawley

#122

The Goodbye Girl (1977)
79%

#122
Adjusted Score: 80717%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Former Broadway hoofer Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason) and her young daughter, Lucy (Quinn Cummings), are outraged to find that Paula's... [More]
Directed By: Herbert Ross

#121

The Devils (1971)
68%

#121
Adjusted Score: 69643%
Critics Consensus: Grimly stylish, Ken Russell's baroque opus is both provocative and persuasive in its contention that the greatest blasphemy is the leveraging of faith for power.
Synopsis: In 17th-century France, Father Grandier (Oliver Reed) is a priest whose unorthodox views on sex and religion influence a passionate... [More]
Directed By: Ken Russell

#120
#120
Adjusted Score: 97761%
Critics Consensus: El Espíritu de la Colmena uses a classic horror story's legacy as the thread for a singularly absorbing childhood fable woven with uncommon grace.
Synopsis: In an allegory of life after Gen. Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War, life in a remote village in... [More]
Directed By: Víctor Erice

#119

Fantastic Planet (1973)
91%

#119
Adjusted Score: 90641%
Critics Consensus: Fantastic Planet is an animated epic that is by turns surreal and lovely, fantastic and graceful.
Synopsis: This animated tale follows the relationship between the small human-like Oms and their much larger blue-skinned oppressors, the Draags, who... [More]
Directed By: René Laloux

#118

Lady Snowblood (1973)
100%

#118
Adjusted Score: 47794%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A girl is born, raised and trained to be an instrument of revenge.... [More]
Directed By: Fujita Toshiya

#117
#117
Adjusted Score: 95389%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: In this animated feature, Arsene Lupin III, the world's most daring thief, pulls off a heist at a Monte Carlo... [More]
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

#116
#116
Adjusted Score: 93459%
Critics Consensus: Hanna Schygulla is a knockout in The Marriage of Maria Braun, an intimate epic that reaffirms Rainer Werner Fassbinder's mastery of examining multifaceted people and a complicated nation.
Synopsis: Near the end of World War II, Maria (Hanna Schygulla) marries Hermann (Klaus Lowitsch), who is immediately sent off to... [More]

#115

The In-Laws (1979)
88%

#115
Adjusted Score: 87113%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Mild-mannered dentist Sheldon Kornpett (Alan Arkin) is uncomfortable with his daughter's marriage after meeting her future father-in-law, Vincent Ricardo (Peter... [More]
Directed By: Arthur Hiller

#114

Seven Beauties (1976)
68%

#114
Adjusted Score: 69074%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: In 1930s Italy, Pasqualino (Giancarlo Giannini), a low-level Sicilian thug, kills a man who disgraced his sister. Pasqualino pleads insanity... [More]
Directed By: Lina Wertmüller

#113

What's Up, Doc? (1972)
89%

#113
Adjusted Score: 92329%
Critics Consensus: Barbra Streisand was never more likable than in this energetic, often hilarious screwball farce from director Peter Bogdanovich.
Synopsis: Two researchers have come to San Francisco to compete for a research grant in music. The man seems a bit... [More]
Directed By: Peter Bogdanovich

#112

Klute (1971)
93%

#112
Adjusted Score: 97053%
Critics Consensus: Donald Sutherland is coolly commanding and Jane Fonda a force of nature in Klute, a cuttingly intelligent thriller that generates its most agonizing tension from its stars' repartee.
Synopsis: This acclaimed thriller stars Jane Fonda as Bree Daniel, a New York City call girl who becomes enmeshed in an... [More]
Directed By: Alan J. Pakula

#111
#111
Adjusted Score: 98602%
Critics Consensus: The Bad News Bears is rude, profane, and cynical, but shot through with honest, unforced humor, and held together by a deft, understated performance from Walter Matthau.
Synopsis: Hard-drinking, ex-minor-league hopeful Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) grumpily agrees to coach a Little League team at the behest of lawyer-councilman... [More]
Directed By: Michael Ritchie

#110

The Wicker Man (1973)
88%

#110
Adjusted Score: 88706%
Critics Consensus: This intelligent horror film is subtle in its thrills and chills, with an ending that is both shocking and truly memorable.
Synopsis: Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives on the small Scottish island of Summerisle to investigate the report of a missing child.... [More]
Directed By: Robin Hardy

#109
#109
Adjusted Score: 87728%
Critics Consensus: Naturalistic but evocative, Last Tango in Paris is a vivid exploration of pain, love, and sex featuring a typically towering Marlon Brando performance.
Synopsis: Distraught following his wife's suicide, American hotelier Paul (Marlon Brando) becomes transfixed by the beautiful younger Frenchwoman Jeanne (Maria Schneider)... [More]
Directed By: Bernardo Bertolucci

#108

The Getaway (1972)
86%

#108
Adjusted Score: 85013%
Critics Consensus: The Getaway sees Sam Peckinpah and Steve McQueen, the kings of violence and cool, working at full throttle.
Synopsis: When convict Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) is refused parole, he enlists his wife, Carol (Ali MacGraw), to strike a deal... [More]
Directed By: Sam Peckinpah

#107

Vanishing Point (1971)
79%

#107
Adjusted Score: 79236%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Vietnam War hero Kowalski (Barry Newman) has become a pill-addicted driver for hire. Transporting a car from Colorado to California,... [More]
Directed By: Richard C. Sarafian

#106

A New Leaf (1971)
94%

#106
Adjusted Score: 96277%
Critics Consensus: Elaine May is a comedic dynamo both behind and in front of the camera in this viciously funny screwball farce, with able support provided by Walter Matthau.
Synopsis: A spoiled and self-absorbed man who has squandered his inheritance, Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) is desperate to find a way... [More]
Directed By: Elaine May

#105
#105
Adjusted Score: 80623%
Critics Consensus: Not much in the head but plenty beneath the hood, Smokey and the Bandit is infectious fun with plenty of car wrecks to keep your eyes glued.
Synopsis: Big Enos (Pat McCormick) wants to drink Coors at a truck show, but in 1977 it was illegal to sell... [More]
Directed By: Hal Needham

#104
#104
Adjusted Score: 57424%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Tired of poverty, two Senegalese men steal money and clothing, then book passage to France to start new lives.... [More]
Directed By: Djibril Diop Mambety

#103
Adjusted Score: 76942%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová), a Czechoslovakian teenager living with her grandmother, is blossoming into womanhood, but that transformation proves secondary to... [More]
Directed By: Jaromil Jires

#102

Killer of Sheep (1977)
98%

#102
Adjusted Score: 99846%
Critics Consensus: By turns funny, sad, and profound, Killer of Sheep offers a sympathetic and humane glimpse into inner-city life.
Synopsis: In Watts, an urban and mostly African-American section of Los Angeles, Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) spends his days toiling away... [More]
Directed By: Charles Burnett

#101
Adjusted Score: 100844%
Critics Consensus: Breezy, thrilling, and quite funny, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three sees Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw pitted against each other in effortlessly high form.
Synopsis: In New York City, a criminal gang led by the ruthless "Mr. Blue" (Robert Shaw) hijacks a subway car and... [More]
Directed By: Joseph Sargent

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