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The best 70s movies: the 43 best movies of the 1970s

From Chinatown to A Clockwork Orange, these are the best 70s movies.

The best 70s movies: the 43 best movies of the 1970s
Marc Chacksfield
08 November 2023

Looking back, the 1970s was when Hollywood movies gained a real edge. It was the decade of the rise of Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese, and was the decade of some of Kubrick's most subversive works.

You've come to the right place if you want to get better acquainted with 70s cinema, or revisit some of the critical hits you've forgotten.


UPDATE:We have three new contenders for fans of 1970s cinema. Punishment Park is the one you may not have seen before, a gripping fake documentary from 1971 that works as both a thriller and biting satire. And there are a couple of new entries you almost definitely do know about. These are Dawn of the Dead and Life of Brian, a pair of stone cold classics. Give them an upvote if they are among your 70s favourites.


This collection of top movies from the 1970s pushed the boundaries of filmmaking so much that it flung grit in the eye of old Hollywood. This period was considered the new golden era for Hollywood for a reason. It's when mainstream movies would be imbued with an intelligence and riskiness that has since been somewhat watered down. Over a period of only 10 years, we were given a whole selection of rewatchable classics.

There's no denying that the end of the '60s was a difficult time, a period of both darkness and light, whether we're talking politically or cinematically. After the end of the summer of love, which was punctuated by Woodstock, there were plenty of cuturally-defining moments, including student uprisings, the Tate murders and antiwar protests. All of this brought about a feeling of unease and change. A tension that's possible to see in many of the following best movies of the '70s.

To celebrate everything that this iconic time period brought to the film industry, we’ve selected a list of the 40 best movies of the '70s.

Don't forget to upvote your favourite movie. Then check out the following lists:

Best 70s movies

Best 70s movies

1. The Godfather Part II (1974)

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Whenever the argument arises over the inferiority of sequels, Francis Ford Coppola’s first follow-up to The Godfather is commonly used as a classic example that bucks the trend. Along with Addams Family Values of course. Opening up the world of the original film and adding in some Oscar-winning De Niro brilliance, it’s pretty much the greatest gangster movie ever made. Sorry Goodfellas.

Image Credit: Paramount

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Best 70s movies

2. Star Wars (1977)

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After Jaws showcased just what mainstream audiences were looking for in the 70s, George Lucas took the idea of a blockbuster one step further. He decided to create a franchise. In the original, and arguably best, of his ground-breaking space operas, Lucas perfectly sets up a thrilling and totally unique universe that was like nothing cinemagoers had ever seen up until that point. He also made science fiction hip and marketable again. So for that, we can almost forgive Jar Jar Binks. Almost.

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Best 70s movies

3. Jaws (1975)

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While Star Wars is often seen as the film which invented the summer blockbuster, it was actually Steven Spielberg’s terrifying tale of shark v man which changed how Hollywood viewed the warmer months. While the term might have been bastardised by countless examples of empty-headed action flicks, Jaws managed to combine seat-edge thrills with memorable performances and even bagged itself an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It spawned many copycat thrillers but it still stands proudly as the original and the best. Take that, Deep Blue Sea.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

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Best 70s movies

4. Alien (1979)

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One of the last films of the decade was also one of the most important. Blending sci-fi and horror in a way that hadn’t been done before (at least not quite as successfully), Ridley Scott’s terrifying thriller kicked off a franchise that’s still going today - a sequel to 2017’s Alien: Covenant is currently in the works. Subverting audience expectations by placing a woman in the lead role, Alien created a feminist icon in Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Oh and it included the best dinner scene ever.

Image Credit: Fox

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Best 70s movies

5. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

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This deservedly Oscar-sweeping drama caught Jack Nicholson at his very best as he played a reckless criminal who hoped to avoid his sentence by heading to a mental institution with unforgettably devastating consequences. It also gave us one of the decade’s most formidable villains in the passive-aggressive Nurse Ratched, played with chilling conviction by an Oscar-winning Louise Fletcher. Oh and random fact: it played in Swedish cinemas for 11 years straight.

Image Credit: United Artists

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Best 70s movies

6. Apocalypse Now (1979)

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Helping to usher out what was a rather remarkable decade for Francis Ford Coppola, this seminal masterpiece meant that he’s been in charge of not only the finest gangster film of the 70s but also the greatest war movie as well. Involving philosophy and existentialism within the framework of a war movie helped create a dedicated cult following who have been discussing and dissecting the film ever since.

Image Credit: United Artists

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Best 70s movies

7. Rocky (1976)

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While we definitely applaud the bravely downbeat tone of 70s cinema, no decade is complete without a few feel-good films. Sylvester Stallone’s breakout turn as the down-on-his-luck debt collector turned boxer was a massive crowd-pleaser, turning the drama into a surprise sleeper hit and a success at the Oscars. It’s a series that’s still going, as well - Creed 2 is a highlight of the series.

Image Credit: MGM

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Best 70s movies

8. Taxi Driver (1976)

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Following up an Oscar-winning role in The Godfather Part II was never going to be easy. But 33-year-old Robert De Niro continued his golden run with Martin Scorsese’s blistering thriller about a marine turned taxi driver who is slowly losing his mind. It gave De Niro another Oscar nomination and catapulted Travis Bickle, and his immortal line “You talkin’ to me?”, into pop culture history books. Rumours of a sequel and a remake have thankfully quietened down. Stay away, yeah?

Image Credit: Columbia

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Best 70s movies

9. Chinatown (1974)

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Another 70s offering that boasted a leading man with more depth and moral ambiguity than we ever get to see these days, Chinatown remains the most effective American crime film ever made. Despite strong turns in Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, it was Jack Nicholson’s performance as private detective Jake Gittes that truly turned him into a star. It’s also one of the rare films that boasts a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Which means you’re literally not allowed to dislike it.

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Best 70s movies

10. The Sting (1973)

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Re-teaming the unbeatable duo of Paul Newman and Robert Redford after the massive success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a bit of a no-brainer. Thankfully their next project lived up to the large expectations that were placed upon them. The 30s set crime caper was a runaway hit thanks to the effortless charm of the two leads and the smart, surprising script. It was deservedly showered in Oscars and still remains one of the finest con-artist movies ever made.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

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Best 70s movies

11. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

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After his ground-breaking blockbuster Jaws, Spielberg wisely turned down offers to direct Jaws 2, King Kong and Superman to focus on an original science fiction script that he’d written, re-teaming with Richard Dreyfuss to bring it to the screen. It was a huge success, both commercially and critically and perfectly encapsulated the sheer scale that Spielberg wanted to work with in his career. Opening in the same year as his close friend George Lucas’s Star Wars, it was a banner year for science fiction.

Image Credit: Columbia

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Best 70s movies

12. All The President's Men

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The best movie about journalists ever made and perhaps the best movie ever made. This is a brilliant, heart in mouth look at Nixon and the Watergate scandal, told through the point of view of two journalists that uncovered the crime - Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Hoffman and Redford are brilliant as the journos but it's everything about this film that makes it a classic.

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Best 70s movies

13. The French Connection (1971)

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The first R-rated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars helped to bring in a new era of gritty crime dramas that typified the edgy cinema of the 70s. Gene Hackman’s Oscar-winning turn as a take-no-prisoners cop showcased the breathtaking moral ambiguity that pervaded in films of the era. Unwilling to make the leads overly sympathetic or easy to like, William Friedkin’s film was a breath of fresh, or actually rather filthy, air.

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Best 70s movies

14. The Exorcist (1973)

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After The French Connection, director William Friedkin showcased his considerable versatility by moving onto the horror genre with this iconic masterpiece. Still perceived now as one of the scariest films ever made, The Exorcist became the first horror movie to ever get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Ignoring the lesser sequels and the prequel, its power to shock and haunt remains intact and it paved the way for the horror genre to be taken more seriously.

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Best 70s movies

15. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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One of the most controversial films of the era, Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus gave us an uncomfortable look at a dystopian future where gangs of youths engage in “ultra-violence”. Still pertinent now, the Oscar-nominated film was problematic on release due to the high levels of violence. Kubrick himself withdrew the film in the UK where it wasn’t seen until 2000, by which time its cult status had grown even larger.

Image Credit: Warner Bros

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Best 70s movies

16. Superman (1978)

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You’ll believe a man can fly, was the tagline for this big-screen version Superman and it’s very apt. This was the first blockbuster superhero movie - something that we are very used to in a Marvel world - and it treated its subject matter in the right way, focusing on the heroics of Supes and not the ridiculous idea that someone in red pants can fly and save the world. Christopher Reeve IS Superman, his performance nuanced and, well, perfect.

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Best 70s movies

17. The Deer Hunter (1978)

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One of the first films to examine the effects of the Vietnam war on soldiers when they return home, Michael Cimino’s powerful drama elicited another iconic performance from Robert De Niro who received yet another Oscar nomination for his work. It’s a tough, uncompromising film, culminating in a horrifying game of Russian Roulette which will stay with you long after the closing credits.

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

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Best 70s movies

18. Animal House (1978)

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Proving that 70s cinema wasn’t all doom and gloom, this frat house comedy heralded in a new era of gross-out movies, which might be seen as a blessing and a curse. But before the subgenre became overrun with fart jokes, John Landis’s late 70s classic was a refreshing change of pace. It also turned Saturday Night Live comedian John Belushi into a fully-fledged movie star, and the legacy of the film can be seen from Porky’sright through to American Pie.

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Best 70s movies

19. Deliverance (1972)

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Commenting on the noticeable cultural divide in America while also providing nail-biting suspense, Irish director John Boorman’s landmark thriller was a bit of a shock to the senses when it was initially released. Even now, the infamous “squeal like a pig” scene is still as harrowing as it was back then. It also turned Burt Reynolds into a star, giving him a breakout role as the macho leader of the group.

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Best 70s movies

20. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

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As an actor, John Cazale only made five movies before he died of lung cancer. But those films! The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter - just jaw dropping. Dog Day Afternoon is his best performance, alongside Al Pacino he stars as a pair of bank robbers who need money to fund a gender reassignment operation. Directed by Sidney Lumet, this is a wonderful movie, based on a true story, that was way ahead of its time.

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Best 70s movies

21. Enter The Dragon (1973)

Bruce Lee’s greatest performance is also one of the best movies of the 70s. It is a film that brought kung fu to Hollywood, made Lee a star outside of his native Hong Kong and changed action cinema as we know it, sadly premiering a month after its main star had died. What a legacy to leave, though.

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Best 70s movies

22. Halloween (1978)

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This micro-budget horror film should have been a throwaway B-movie at best but at the hands of John Carpenter, it became the film which has been credited as starting the slasher movie genre (although strictly speaking it was Black Christmas). With the unstoppable villain Michael Myers, Carpenter also created a bad guy who has haunted popular culture ever since and the spare, unshowy suspense of the film means that it’s aged horribly well.

Image Credit: Compass International Pictures

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Best 70s movies

23. Carrie (1976)

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While the horror genre suffered from overly trashy elements in the 80s, the 70s showed that movies could be scary and have a soul. Brian De Palma’s landmark adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller is a perfect example of this. Combining the requisite levels of gore and terror with a powerful tale of the dangers of both religion and bullying, the film surprised critics and even scored itself some Oscar nominations. The less said about the sequel the better.

Image Credit: United Artists

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Best 70s movies

24. Midnight Express (1978)

One of the best prison dramas ever made, Midnight Express has strong credentials across the board. It’s written by Oliver Stone, directed by the ace Alan Parker and has a stunning central performance by Brad Davis. Couple this with a Giorgio Moroder score and this is one movie that should not be missed.

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

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Best 70s movies

25. Marathon Man (1976)

“Is it safe?” One of the most chilling quotes in the whole of cinema, offered up by Nazi war criminal and part-time dentist Dr. Christian Szell. This is the most famous bit of The Marathon Man, but the rest of the movie is just as good, focusing on Thomas "Babe" Levy (Dustin Hoffman) who becomes embroiled in an illegal diamond trade, thanks to his brother.

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Best 70s movies

26. The Conversation (1974)

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On first watch, The Conversation is understated. Not much happens in the movie but it's all about the perception of what could be happening that makes it such a classic. Gene Hackman is superb as a surveillance expert who believes the people he is listening to will be murdered - which leaves it up to him to save them. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this is a brilliant, supertight thriller.

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Best 70s movies

27. Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)

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As one of the first movies to truly tackle the thorny issue of divorce, Kramer Vs. Kramer dared to subvert traditional expectations of what parenthood really means to most of us. As notions of motherhood and fatherhood started to shift throughout the era, we saw a film which showed that a father could be a single parent while it’s perfectly possible for a mother to have no interest in raising a child. Oscar-winning performances from Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep also helped to make this one of the most affecting dramas of the decade.

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

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Best 70s movies

28. Get Carter (1971)

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Michael Caine in Get Carter is as gritty as it gets. Leaving London for Newcastle, we get to see the UK in all its sordid glory, as Jack Carter delves into the underworld that might have had something to do with the death of his brother. Directed deftly by Mike Hodges, who went from this to Flash Gordon a decade later, it’s a superb 70s movie that’s both of its time and timeless.

Image Credit: MGM

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Best 70s movies

29. Annie Hall (1977)

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A bittersweet romantic comedy that showed perceptiveness beyond what audiences were used to seeing within the genre - and more than what we’ve seen since. Rom-coms are often trested disparagingly and dismissed as fluffy and daft, but this shows the emotional depths the genre can plumb. Funny and incredibly sad, it’s a must-see for anyone who’s ever had their heart broken.

Image Credit: United Artists

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Best 70s movies

30. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

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The original film version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory succeeds in bringing out the strange, off-kilter vibe of the source, Roald Dahl’s book. Gene Wilder shines as Wonka, with a layer of menace that alters as it is witnessed. A childhood favourite that has made an indelible mark on a million memories.

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Best 70s movies

31. Barry Lyndon (1975)

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It may be one of Kubrick’s less discussed movies among the average film fan, but Barry Lyndon is also one of the director’s best. This period drama epic charts the life of Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal), a young Irish man looking to make his way in society, searching for a foothold to do so. It’s a rich study of a flawed character, and a real piece of grown-up film-making. Make sure you set aside an evening for it, though, as its runtime is just over three hours.

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Best 70s movies

32. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

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Is this the best film of the 1970s? Perhaps not. But it is surely in contention for the most beloved. A horror-comedy musical by Richard O’Brien, Rocky Horror is part of the cultural landscape as much it is a movie. However, it remains rooted in some great songs and a beyond iconic lead performance by Tim Curry as Frank-N-Furter. One cinema in Portland has screened the film once a week for forty years straight, even during pandemic lockdowns when it was projected to an empty cinema. Now that’s dedication.

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Best 70s movies

33. Life of Brian (1979)

The greatest of all the Monty Python films follows Brian, who ends up being mistaken for Jesus despite being a hapless nobody from Judea. This one caused quite a stir in the UK back in 1979, with religious figures calling it obscene. It is a biting religious satire that remans funny more than 40 years later.

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Best 70s movies

34. The Getaway (1972)

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Based on Jim Thompson’s classic 50s novel, The Getaway was always destined for the big screen. Its relentless pace and suspenseful setpieces meant it was a natural fit for cinema and with Sam Peckinpah’s assured hand, the film was a massive success. The chemistry between Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw was given an added edge with the pair indulging in an affair off-screen while Peckinpah’s knack for directing while drunk worked out surprisingly well.

Image Credit: National General Pictures

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35. Suspiria (1977)

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This 1977 supernatural horror movie was directed by Dario Argento. It's about an American ballet student who enrols at a prestigious dance school, but soon comes to realise it's not what it seems after a series of killings. Suspiria has been greatly praised for its lighting and music, which make for a bizarre and horrifying watch – more like watching an art performance than a conventional movie.

Image Credit: Produzioni Atlas Consorziate

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Best 70s movies

36. Punishment Park (1971)

This confected documentary looks into a prison where 1970s malingerers are sent — anti-war demonstrators, hippies and draft dodgers. A BBC-style UK film crew follows this gang as they are sentenced to be sent to “punishment park” where brutal treatment is the norm and they are left in the desert with no provisions while being stalked by armed guardsmen. It’s a gripping watch that feels just as heavy-hitting today.

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Best 70s movies

37. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Is this a 70s film? Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy in 1978. But it didn’t make it to the UK until the beginning of 1980. It’s the greatest of all of George A. Romero’s zombie films, one in which the survivors batten down in a giant mall. It has it all: gore for the horror fans, social commentary for the thinkers and characters that are unusually well fleshed out for the genre.

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Best 70s movies

38. Stalker (1979)

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Tarkovsky’s Stalker is a bleak sci-fi film set around The Zone. It’s the crash site of an object from outer space. It destroyed a town, and people who go to the site now disappear. But there’s a tale of a room in The Zone in which people’s wishes are granted. We follow a group of people travelling into this cursed place.

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Best 70s movies

39. Don’t Look Now (1973)

One of the scariest movies of all time. One of the most beautiful movies of all time. One of the most fractured movies of all time. One of the most heart-breaking movies of all time. One of the greatest movies of all time. Director Nicolas Roeg never bettered Don’t Look Now - a stunning piece of cinema that keeps you guessing until the terrible end. Go Watch Now.

Image Credit: British Lion Fiilms

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Best 70s movies

40. The Parallax View (1974)

Ah, paranoia - the mainstay for 70s movies and put to great effect in The Parallax View. This is a movie about a secret organisation that is investigated by a roving reporter played by Warren Beatty, who goes after the organisation after a close friend of his ends up dead. Directed by Alan J. Pakula who a mere two years later would strike gold again with All The President’s Men.

Image Credit: Paramount

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Best 70s movies

41. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a terrifying movie - mostly because it comes across as a documentary. Everyone in it doesn’t feel or look like they are playing a part, the way it’s shot makes you feel like you’ve just been plonked into the middle of the most horrific family in the US and the atrocities that follow. You can smell the rotten meat emanate off the screen - and that first scene where you see Leatherface for the first time is still a shocker. Horror movies were never the same after the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and neither were cinemagoers.

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Best 70s movies

42. Performance (1970)

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There is so much mysticism behind Performance. Although the film is both directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, it’s really Cammell’s movie and what a stunning film it is. Starring James Fox and Mick Jagger, the movie at its most linear is about a gangster who hides out at a rockstar’s house while he is on the run. What ensues is a movie that’s an hallucinogen which holds a fractured mirror up to identity and relationships. Yes, it’s bizarre but it’s a movie that pushes the boundaries of what movies can be - and that’s why Warner Bros had no idea what to do with it.

Image Credit: Warner Bros

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Best 70s movies

43. Mean Streets (1973)

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The first film to bring attention to the 31-year-old director Martin Scorsese, this gritty crime drama was a refreshingly realist alternative to the glamour of The Godfather. It was also the first time audiences truly became aware of both Robert De Niro and Harvey Kietel who played small-time gangsters trying to fit into the larger scene. Looking back now, it provides a raw blueprint for not only Scorsese’s future output but for most gangster films made since.

Image Credit: Warner Bros

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