May 22, 2005

protein wisdom’s TOP 20 Films of the 70s

In order.  Bitches.

  1. The French Connection (1971)
  2. The Bad News Bears (1976)
  3. The Godfather:  Part II (1974)
  4. Jaws (1975)
  5. The Exorcist (1973)
  6. Nashville (1975)
  7. The Godfather (1972)
  8. Rocky (1976)
  9. Taxi Driver (1976)
  10. Three Days of the Condor (1975)
  11. Serpico (1973)
  12. The Sting (1973)
  13. Dog Day Afternoon (1973)
  14. Deliverance (1972)
  15. Alien (1979)
  16. Breaking Away (1979)
  17. Day of the Jackal (1973)
  18. The Wanderers (1979)
  19. Dirty Harry (1971)
  20. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Runners-up (21-40) The Panic in Needle Park, Slapshot, A Clockwork Orange, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, The Deer Hunter, The Life of Brian, Sorcerer, Network, Chinatown, The Paper Chase, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, MASH, The Last Picture Show, Marathon Man, Duel, Manhattan, All The President’s Men, The Man Who Would Be King, The Warriors

Honorable Mention (41-50) The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Halloween, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, McCabe and Mrs Miller, The Long Goodbye, Badlands, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Jeremiah Johnson, American Graffiti, All That Jazz, Mean Streets

Discuss at your leisure.

Posted by Jeff G. @ 5:35pm

Comments (44)

  1. So of your excellent Top 40, my percentage skyrocketed to 85% (missing only 6). When aggregated like this, it’s an awesome list. While it may have been a slum of a decade, these movies are gold among the offal. Thanks.

  2. Chinatown, not bleeding edge in any way I can see, may be a perfect movie. And no, I don’t even know what I mean when I say that. It’s just that every time I watch Chinatown I walk away saying, “Man, that’s filmmaking.”

  3. I had a hard enough time with top films of the 90s, I don’t even think I could begin with what’s the most creative decade in Hollywood history. In my personal top 20, I’m sure that I would list Barry Lyndon, although it probably wouldn’t make anyone else’s list.

    As I’ve seen all of these (except for 3 in the 21-50 range), the only ones that I definitely wouldn’t include in my personal list would be Rocky, Breaking Away, and The Wanderers; and I definitely would include 10-11 of those listed.

  4. Fun list.  I’m another who would have Chinatown much higher.  I love the fact that you put Bad News Bears second.  I would not make my top fifty, but it is a very well made movie (best kid sports movie ever?) and I could see that if it hit you at the right time in your life it would stay with you.  So many personal things here: I’d probably switch the positions of McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Nashville, though I know that very few people would do the same.

  5. This was a very tough list to do. I love Chinatown.  And had I watched in more recently, it probably would’ve cracked the top 20.  It’s a great great flick. 

    And yeah, both Bad News Bears and Nashville are the types of movies that if they hit you right and resonate with you, they really really resonate with you.

  6. How does Network get two honorable mentions and not make it into the top 20?

    Just askin’

  7. Oops. That second Network should be Duel.

  8. Good picks.  How about Breaker Morant, The Long Good Friday (First film for Bob Hoskins and Pierce Brosnan), Cross of Iron or Bridge Too Far?  No James Bonds (Live and Let Die or Spy Who Loved Me)?  Andromeda Strain? Planet of the Apes?

  9. I think Long Good Friday is 1980, isn’t it?  Great flick.  The original Get Carter almost cracked the list.  I like Breaker Morant, too.

    Live and Let Die is my favorite Bond flick, but it’s not in the league with the others.  Andromeda Strain made one of the lists of underappreciated movies from the 70s, but I can’t think of any in the top 50 I’d replace with it.  Ditto Cross of Iron.  Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, The Getaway, and Straw Dogs are my first 3 70s Peckinpah picks.  Liked Cross of Iron a lot, but we’re in a tough decade to crack the top 50 here. 

    Still upset that I couldn’t get Junior Bonner on there.

    Glad to hear someone else appreciates A Bridge Too Far. Vastly underrated.  Anthony Hopkins and James Caan are particularly good.

  10. Network is one of my all-time favorites, and I would have put it higher, but then it’s not my list, so I guess I shouldn’t whine.

    How about some Top-20 lists by genre, as opposed to by era?  That’s always been the way I rank movies, as it’s hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison of, say, The Big Lebowski and Bridge on the River Kwai.

  11. Eh. Genres are too slippery.  Easier just to keep it to decades.  Of course, the 70s is (to my mind, at least) the greatest decade for films, so 27th ain’t bad. Network is a great flick, no doubt about it.

  12. The problem with A Bridge Too Far is that you can’t understand the film or the battle without a map.

  13. This is the first I’m hearing that A Bridge Too Far is underappreciated.  Great list, though, of course my order might differ a little.  You’re also right that it’s the best decade of movies.  Not that you need me to tell you that you’re right, being a CITIZEN JOURNALIST, and all.

  14. Actually, A Bridge Too Far has a good IMDB score—especially for a film that met with a lot of less-than-stellar reviews when it came out.

    Like a lot of movies, though, it appears to have escaped its initial reputation and garnered something of a decent following.  Still, as 70s war movies go, Ask a hundred people to name their top 5 and maybe 7 people will list A Bridge Too Far.

  15. I’m curious about your criteria.  Is this just a gut-level thing, or is there a specific method to your choices?  Frinstance, from a purely film-making standpoint, The Conversation makes Rocky look pretty silly.  Still, there’s no denying the achievement in fight filming, and it’s a rousing and influential story—essentially the blueprint for a million mid-level movie execs to visit their bosses with the words “It’s like Rocky, but with __________!” [Insert here skis, skates, surfboards, karate chops, yachts, bobsleds, breakdancing, and bartending, to name a few.]

    Just asking.

  16. I’m a huge fan of The Conversation and have introduced it to more people than I can remember.  It’s a great movie with fantastic performances from Hackman, Cazale, and Allen Garfield. And Rocky, sadly, suffers in many people’s memories from its relationship to its inferior sequels, from its formulaic, quasi-related successors (to which you allude), and to other Stallone “frachises,” like the execrable Rambo series (beyond First Blood, which was actually quite good).

    But people forget just how well-done Rocky is. I disagree with you when you say that The Conversation as a film makes Rocky look sill; in fact, Rocky, like The Conversation, benefits from a host of great performances (the scene between Stallone and Burgess Meredith where Meredith’s Mickey shows up, hat in hand, to ask to train Rocky, is one of the best moments in 70s cinema, as far as I’m concerned; and even the bit players, like the late great Joe Spinell, are perfectly wrought)—and the cinematography, gorgeous.

    Overall, I think Rocky is a nearly perfect film; if it suffers at all, it suffers from fight sequences that are unrealistic (though at the time were considered quite groundbreaking).  The Conversation, while great, is a bit slow in parts—even for a film that quite clearly is taking its time. 

    There are days when The Conversation makes my top 20.  But Rocky never leaves it.

  17. El Jefé,

    Oops!  The Long Good Friday was made in 1980.  I concur with you on the “hat in hand” scene in Rocky being Stallone’s finest work.  As for A Bridge Too Far being difficult to follow without a map, the scene where LtGen. Horrocks (Edward Fox) briefs his commanders is good exposition for the audience as well as historically accurate, but Robin might want to read the book or tab the pages while watching the film.  The greatest drawback of ABTF is Ryan O’Neal’s awful performance and weird costuming (wearing a khaki shirt in the hairy-chest disco mode and apparently borrowed Sessue Hayakawa’s Japanese helmet from The Bridge On The River Kwai).

  18. Well, hard to argue; although, consistent with mainsteam critics, neither comedies, sci-fi or horror comprise a significant portion of the top 20. Young Frankenstein is certainly worthy of a ‘70’s top 20, as is Star Wars, regardless of Lucas’ later clumsiness–to say this was not a top 20 film of the ‘70’s indicates a late-coming, panoptic snapshot of ‘70’s cinema. And while I certainly can applaud your favortism toward realistic, character-driven dramas, you’ve allayed the aggregate impact and atmosphere of much of ‘70’s films by limiting your scope to films already in the canon. Some of the films that will be most representational of the ‘70’s must needs include not necessarily the auteur showpieces (e.g. Nashville, Godfatherer) but rather the small films that were so symbolic of the zeitgeist of the era, whether that means including Car Wash or not; if you’re picking the top 20 of the ‘70’s, a predilection toward drama shouldn’t preclude that decade’s most emblamatic popular works, many of which were comedies.

    ps, yes, I know Bad News Bears is an exception, and, Alien really belongs to the ‘80’s–alternately, BC&tSDK is superior to The Sting, but was 1 year too early for your list.

  19. Big fan of YF; but straight comedies in the seventies suffer for having been made in a decade marked by outstanding and gritty dramas, which I happen to love.  As for Star Wars (which I saw in ‘78 during its second theater run and have watched probably 30 or so times since)—enjoyable, sure; important, undoubtedly (it and Jaws are often cited as the films that derailed the era of the independents and brought on the era of the blockbuster); but the fact remains that it’s not as good as Empire Strikes Back, which makes my 80s list, or American Graffiti, made honorable mention here.

    If I somehow “allayed the aggregate impact and atmosphere of much of 70s films by limiting [my] scope to films already in the canon”, and so as a result excluded “small films that were so symbolic of the zeitgeist of the era”, I did so because my list is based on personal preferences and was never meant to be scientifically “representative” of the era.  It was meant to rank my choices for the top 20 of the era.  Hopefully my other lists established that I don’t shy away from smaller films.  It just so happens I find these to be best (though, looking back at the list now, I wish the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers had made it).

    And for what it’s worth, BNB, The Wanderers, Breaking Away, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore are each outside of the established 70s canon. Each has a strong undercurrent of comedy, as well.  Add to that the comedy in Nashville (and even The Sting), and suddenly my list doesn’t seem so unrelentingly grim wink

  20. Then there’s Slapshot at 22, Life of Brian, 26, MASH, 33, Manhattan, 37.

  21. Fair enough, and true–and I can’t find fault with your list–least reason which, it’s entirely your own preference, so who can argue?

    My point is that oftentimes when asked, one will stategically construct a panoply of artists that will always include the required “canon;” e.g. grad students’ list of 20th century authors will always include Joyce whether or not one has waded through the entirety of Ulysses–he rates simply because it’s required to put him on the list.

    Could be wrong, but I would like to see a list of films that personally inspired JG–not the requisite, and agreed upon “great” flms of the period, but which inspired you personally–whether great or semi, even quasi-great.

  22. You ignored Rollerball.  I tried to point you in the right direction, but you ignored Rollerball.

    You are pathetic.  Your credibility is totally gone.  How can you expect anyone to take you seriously after this?

  23. Toby —

    Well, my list of 20th century authors includes Salinger, who’s been bumped from the canon for lesser lights who better represent the 21st century lit department’s embrace of identity politics.  I taught Richard Brautigan and Tom Robbins.  I like the “bourgeois” works of Updike and Cheever and Roth.  I even taught Curious George in a honors seminar.

    So no, I’m not one of those who feels a need to put a particular film on my list simply because I’m answering to some conscious or unconscious impulse to align with the critical canon.  These films I’ve listed just happen to be my favorite films from the decade (okay, I forgot to add Saturday Night Fever; but it slipped my mind until just now; and I love What’s Up, Doc).

    Now of course, there are several factors that give the movies on my list the advantage of being named—they were likely more widely available on VHS or on cable during the eighties, for instance, or are more readily available now on DVD (Panic in Needle Park I was able to track down in a UK edition), which gives me a familiarity with them, as well as a freshness of perspective, that I don’t have with many of the smaller films of the decade that I can’t revisit on home video.  But that’s just part of evolution of the industry.

    The films that truly inspired me are there. But I also listed an additional 150 that I truly like for one reason or another—and those were just titles I wasn’t convinced people’d heard of.

    Add to those such films as Billy Jack, or Blume in Love, or such guilty pleasure fare like Every Which Way But Loose, and you have my 70s sensibilities in a nutshell.

    For me, comedy happened in the 80s—though I include The Graduate among my top 20 of all time.  That list, incidentally, will be hard to put together and will likely be dominated by many of the films you see on my 70s list. But I suspect it would also include more sci-fi (The Terminator is a great film) and comedy (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and maybe something like The Philadelphia Story).

    Michael—it’s a tough list to crack, what can I say.  I really like the flick, but I just the like the other 50 or so better.  In another decade, it probably cracks the list.

  24. Was Animal House on any of these lists?

  25. Although it’d never make my (or anybody else’s) Top 50 list, Papillon with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman definitely deserves honorable mention, if only for the most nihilistc line of dialog ever delivered: “If you’re going to catch leprosy, it’s better to catch it from money than from people.”

    Plus: We get to watch McQueen eat insects.

  26. Two words. Dolemite. And …. uhhhhh… I’ll stop with Dolemite. “Dolemite is my name, and fuckin’ up motha fuckas is my game.”

  27. I really like Papillon, and it came very close to making the top 50.  Ditto The Getaway.  On a different day, both make it, probably.  The top 50 for me is generally made up of about 70 or so films jockeying for position.

    Animal House is too well known to make the earlier lists, which were geared more toward listing films people may not have heard of; like Papillon, on a different day it makes the top 50. 

    In fact, here, off the top of my head, are some additional titles that could very well have made the top 50:


    The Longest Yard

    The Getaway

    Animal House

    Saturday Night Fever

    What’s Up, Doc?

    Assault on Precinct 13

    Walking Tall

    Kentucky Fried Movie

    Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie

    Hard Times


    The Driver

    Billy Jack

    A Bridge Too Far

    Brewster McCloud


    The Outlaw Josie Wales

  28. Where is Patton?

  29. Heh.

    “Well? Are you bluebellies gonna pull them pistols or whistle dixie?”

    Dan George great, too.

  30. good list.  mine would hit a lot of those for sure, but also include Autumn Sonata, Don’t Look Now, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show, Last Tango in Paris, Love and Death, Straw Dogs, and Walkabout.

    spamword: “seen”…I suppose there are more than a few contenders I haven’t.

  31. Jeff,

    All these comments on movies of the 70’s…and yet…nothing on the current hot flick…Star Wars, ROTS.

    Waiting for your review…

  32. Finally, someone who recognizes what a good movie First Blood was.  Not really part of the Rambo franchise, in my opinion.  The scenes in the jail with Stallone staring stoically at the deputy were great, as was the cliff dive into the trees, which tiptoed along the edge of plausibility without going over, for me anyway.  One of the better Vietnam aftermath movies.

    Good list overall, Jeff, but leaving off Animal House means your membership to the Cannabinoid of the Month club is hereby revoked.

  33. What, no Blazing Saddles ? All of y’all are just ignorant fools – but I should have expected that from journalists, CITIZEN or otherwise.

  34. A better 70’s vietnam aftermath movie IMO is The Deer Hunter.

  35. Oh. Julia, despite being a Fonda movie, is “underseen” and worthy of mention don’t ya think?

  36. Haven’t seen it but will check it out now that you’ve brought it to my attention.  Part of the problem is it isn’t available yet on DVD.

    On a related note, Jerayln Merritt has promised to lend me Play It As It Lays, which she taped off of cable in the 70s.  I hope to burn it onto a DVD.

  37. I’ve been waiting forever for Julia to come out on DVD…and it looks like the wait is over:||||26714

  38. Crap. Link didn’t seem to work. It’s being released June 7th, 2005. Enjoy!

  39. Like most lists, this list is interesting more for what it says about Jeff than what it says about movies.  This is why most group lists are either boring or foolish.  They either banish choices that express a particular taste or include several of them with no clear reason.  Jeff’s list expresses his personality – including it’s hideous, shameful defects.

  40. Sure. But it also shows that I’m hung like a mule.

  41. Bob R,

    No, it’s remarkable but true, nothing intimates “hung like mule” more than an unabashed fondness for What’s Up, Doc?, myself?, I prefer to subtly draw attention to my monstrous scrotum by announcing, “So, who else loved The Owl and the Pusssycat?, huh? Am I right on this or what?


    Still like Salinger although I left Lit. at the dawn of identity-politics obession and not high noon. Glad to see you mentioned Robbins, I always enjoyed his stuff even as I find his politics ridiculously naive–you can’t help marveling at his metaphors. Went through a David Foster Wallace phase too, and could never finish the tome, fairly liked Broom of the System, though.

    Really, should have known you weren’t sticking to “canon” with Breaking Away, even if you did omit Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

    …and have I mentioned Americathon?

  42. You forgot Herbie Rides Againsmile

  43. While I give you major props for listing Rancho Deluxe and Winter Kills in previous lists (and way to go with including Cutter’s Way in the 80s roundup) your 1970’s top 20 is appallingly banal.

    The relegating of Apocalypse Now to Runner Up rank is deserving of lashes. (Yeah Coppola already had two of your twenty slots, but so what?) In fact, if you swapped your entire second tier slate for the top 20, that would save your exercise from absolute pedestrianism.

    And, for Pete’s Sake, what happened to our international friends that were sprinkled throughout the top 100? Where are the masterpieces from Herzog, Fellini, Bertolucci (1900 anyone?) Truffaut, Oshima, Varda, Bergman, Tarkovsky, etc.

    Also you gotta see Payday, it’s right up your alley. You might even dig El Topo.

    Now off to rake you over the coals on other threads for some of your ponderous memetic morassing.

  44. I own El Topo.  I tried for the most part to stick to American films for purposes of these lists (although I included a few foreign films), because that’s where MY interests lie.

    Haven’t been able to find a copy of 1900; and I believe I’ve included several Herzog flicks on my list, and—from Fellini in the 70s, Amarcord.

    As for my top twenty being banal, well, sorry.  Those are my favorites. And I should think listing The Bad News Bears at number two—and the inclusion of Kaufman’s The Wanderers, a sci-fi flick (Alien), and Scorcese’s low-key Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore in the top 20 of an impressive decade—would save me from having to wear the “pedestrian” label.