Best 70S Movies Hbo Max Must Have In Classics Catalog
Credit: Warner Bros.

Hollywood faced a financial slump in the beginning of the 1970s, however, that didn’t stop cinema developing into not only an art form, but a business. Young filmmakers started taking greater risks during this time with restrictions like language and sexuality, creating some of the best 70s movies that we now know and love.

Because of this, the 1970s was one of the most critically acclaimed and financially successful eras in cinema. This decade also brought the rebirth of gritty crime films, like you’ll notice below, as well as horror movies. There were even some powerful films that chronicled the Vietnam War, focusing on the horrors residing during it and the psychological damage that it causes.

If you’re interested in diving into some of the best 70s movies, then look no further than to this comprehensive list. From horror, war, gritty crime dramas, sci-fi and even some cult classic, there are a plethora of films that represent the 70s as a whole, and some of the best options to pick from.

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20. Alien (1979)

A popular name when it comes to science fiction and horror, Alien is a 1979 film directed by Ridley Scott and is based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett.

The story follows a crew of commercial space tug, “Nostromo”, who, after coming across an unknown transmission from a spaceship on an uncharted planetoid, find themselves up against an aggressive and deadly extraterrestrial set loose on their ship.

The crew must fight to survive in order to get back to safety. It’s one of the best 70s movies and also one of the best horror movies, with a large fan base that still appreciate it even today.

19. The Conformist (1970)

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the 1970 political drama written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, based on the 1951 novel sharing the same name by Alberto Moravia.

The movie is set in the 1930s in Italy and follows a weak-willed Italian man who becomes a fascist flunky. He goes abroad to arrange the assassination of his old teacher and now political dissent. However, his mission gets complicated after he begins an affair with the professor’s wife.

18. American Graffiti (1973)

This 1973 film is a coming-of-age comedy film about a group of teenagers in California spending one final night after their 1962 high school graduation cruising the strip with their buddies before they pursue their various goals.

Viewers will witness each character dealing with their own dilemma, whether it’s about doubts leaving home for college, or getting a date with a cute girl, each one deals with their own issues and prepares for the future. This is one of the best 70s movies for those that want a more light-hearted viewing experience.

17. Chinatown (1974)

This neo-noir mystery film directed by Roman Polanksi starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway is inspired by the California water wars, a series of disputes over southern California water during the beginning of the 20th century.

The story is set in 1937 where a woman hires a private investigator to trail her husband whom she suspects of infidelity. But while he exposes an adulterer, he doesn’t anticipate being caught up in a web of deceit, corruption, and murder.

16. Rocky (1976)

It would be hard to make a comprehensive list on the best 70s movies without including this title. Rocky is a 1976 sports drama film directed by John G. Avildsen, written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, and is one of the most well-known films.

There were five additional movies after this, and then spin-off films including Creed, Creed II and Creed III from 2015 to 2023.

The film follows a small-time Philadelphia boxer that gets a rare chance to fight the world heavyweight champion, where he strives to go the distance for self-respect.

15. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Based on the 1962 novel sharing the same name by Ken Kesey, this psychological drama film stars Jack Nicholson who plays a new patient at a mental institution in order to escape labor duties in prison.

Once there, he endures and stands witness to the abuse and degradation of the oppressive Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who gains superiority and power through the flaws of the other inmates. Nicholson’s character and the other inmates band together to make a rebellious stage against the atrocious nurse.

14. Apocalypse Now (1979)

This epic war film was produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It’s loosely based on the 1899 novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, with the setting changed from late 19th century Congo to the Vietnam War.

The film follows a river journey from South Vietnam into Cambodia undertaken by Captain Willard, who is on a secret mission to assassinate Colonel Kurtz, a renegade Special Forces officer who is accused of murder and presumed insane as he sees himself as a god.

13. The Deer Hunter (1978)

Another epic war film is the 1978 drama co-written and directed by Michael Cimino about a trio of Slavic-American steelworkers whose lives were upended after fighting in the Vietnam War. The Deer Hunter is one of the best 70s movies as it received acclaim from critics and audiences, with praise of Cimino’s direction, the performances of the cast, and its realistic themes and tones.

The film is an in-depth examination of the ways in which the Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of several friends in a small mill town in Pennsylvania.

Deer hunting was once an enjoyable pass time for the three friends, but after the horrors they faced, and the forced Russian Roulette game they had to play, deer hunting is not something they enjoy anymore.

12. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

Of course, we couldn’t have a list of best 70s movies without including one of the most famous franchises in the world. Star Wars is an epic space opera film directed by George Lucas and is the fourth film in the chronological chapter of Skywalker Sage.

The movie is set “a long time ago” in a fictional universe where the galaxy is rules by the tyrannical Galactic Empire and focuses on the group of freedom fighters known as the Rebel Alliance as they work to destroy the Empires weapon, the Death Star.

It’s up to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, the cocky pilot, Han Solo and his best friend, Chewbacca, to protect the galaxy.

11. Jaws (1975)

Jaws is one of the most well-known horror movies that people will recognize. The thriller is directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the 1974 novel by Peter Benchley.

Its set on the beach town of Amity Island where a young woman goes for a late-night ocean swim. An unseen force attacks and pulls her underwater, her remains found washed up on the beach next morning. It’s up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down and prevent any more deaths.

It’s a frightening film, and even though it was made in the 70s, it’s one of the best movies during the time. It might be a bit out of date for some horror buff’s preferences, but still a must watch.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

This neo-noir psychological thriller is directed by Martin Scorses and stars popular names like Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, and many more.

Set in a decaying and morally bankrupt New York City following the Vietnam War, the film follows Travis Bickle, a veteran and taxi driver, and his deteriorating mental state as he works nights in the big city. It’s a powerful that talks about heavy topics and is one of the best movies that you should watch from the 70s.

9. The Godfather (1972)

One of the most iconic names in cinema history is The Godfather, an epic crime film that is based on 1969 novel sharing the same name. The Godfather is one of the best 70s movies as it’s regarded as one of the “greatest and move influential films ever made”.

Following the Corleone family with the head of the family, or don, being Vito Corleone. The film follows when the don decides to hand over his entire empire over to his youngest son Michael, however, his decision unintentionally puts the lives of his loved ones in grave danger.

If you’re looking to find one of the best crime, gangster dramas, this three-part movie is the best choice.

8. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Any Stanley Kubrick movie is a classic, so it’s no surprise his dystopian, futuristic world is featured on this list.

The main plot follows a criminal named Alex and his gang of delinquents. He’s eventually captured after committing heinous acts. Alex then endures drastic attempts to recondition his mind.

A Clockwork Orange is among the most twisted takes you’ll ever see on nature vs. nurture. It’s probably among the darkest movies of all time, yet Kubrick’s artistry makes it worth sitting through, making it one of the best 70s movies that you can find today.

7. All the President’s Men (1976)

Movies about journalism can be a drag, but not in this instance. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman costar as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein respectively.

The Washington Post reporters blew the top off of the Watergate scandal that forced U.S. President Richard Nixon’s resignation. It’s excellently acted and earned eight Oscar nominations.

6. Barry Lyndon (1975)

Another Kubrick movie but notice how different this one is from Clockwork. That’s what made the filmmaker so exciting: his filmography is so diverse.

Although it’s glacially paced at over three hours, Barry Lyndon is a beautifully realized period piece set around the Seven Years’ War.

It follows an Irish rogue who wins the heart of a rich widow and assumes her dead husband’s aristocratical position.

5. Blazing Saddles (1974)

Blazing Saddles laughs in the face of political correctness. No one would finance it today. You’d be forgiven for turning this one off about 10 minutes in due to the racially-charged language and content.

But that’s precisely what makes Mel Brooks’ satire brilliant. It’s worth sticking through, and if nothing else, you’ll love the madcap, absurd ending.

It follows a corrupt politician who appoints an African American Sheriff, who promptly becomes his most formidable adversary.

4. Dirty Harry (1971)

Clint Eastwood’s iconic turn as Dirty Harry Callahan spawned a franchise, but this original is among the best thrillers ever. It’s based loosely on the Zodiac Killer, and is a stunning depiction of San Francisco.

The killer Scorpio, played by Andy Robinson, isn’t on screen for terribly long. However, he’s transcendent as one of cinema’s most underrated, creepy villains.

If not for Eastwood’s legendary, “Do I feel lucky?” lines, Robinson might have outright stolen the show. Their cat-and-mouse game is one for the ages.

3. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

We can’t get through the 70s without an Al Pacino headliner, which netted him his third of four Oscar nominations in the decade.

Sharing the screen with close friend John Cazale, Pacino chews the scenery as a charismatic bank robber. His motivations aren’t clear at first, but oh, there’s a twist!

Without a doubt, Dog Day Afternoon is one of the best 70s movies of all time, and if you haven’t seen it, get Tubi for free and watch is now.

2. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever. That was the buzz upon initial release, and that reputation holds up today. Even slightly dated special effects don’t detract from the disturbing content.

The film follows an actress who is starting to notice physical and behavioral changes in her 12-year-old daughter. When she starts to realize that her daughter is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.

Many movies about demonic possession have followed, yet none have had the impact or enduring legacy of this horror epic. It’s expertly crafted and shot and merited 10 Academy Award nominations.

1. Mean Streets (1973)

Another directing giant, Martin Scorsese, in his first collaboration with Robert De Niro. Scorsese based the movie on his own experiences, and set it in Little Italy, New York City.

This crime drama follows Charlie who works for his uncle by making collections and reclaiming bad debts who falls in love with a woman he can’t be with. While trying to figure out his life, and his future, he deals with the harsh streets all while trying to keep the peace between his uncle and his creditors.

Without a doubt, Mean Streets is the best 70s movie on this list of big hitters and is the start of an age of cinema that delivered countless cult classics.

Was the 70s the Best Decade for Film?

Many consider the 1970s to be one of the best decades for films due to how films started pushing the boundaries, and optimistic films started changing to deeply pessimistic work. It was gritty, real and dark, which created some of the best films we know today.

While there are several amazing decades in cinema, the 70s was indeed one of the best.

Who Were the Best Directors from the 1970s?

There are a lot of big names when it comes to the 1970s, especially with directors. Some of the top names that you might be familiar with include Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now), Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver), George Lucas (Star Wars) and over course Steven Spielberg (Jaws).

Who Were the Top Actors/Actresses from the 1970s?

The 70s brought in a lot of amazing films directed and produced by talented, big names, but it also starred several amazing actors.

Some names that you’ve seen on the list that are on the list of the best include Jack Nicholson (Chinatown), Jane Fonda (Klute), Marlon Brando (The Godfather), Barbra Streisand (Yentl), Al Pacino (The Godfather) and Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment).

Best Streaming Platform to Watch 70s Movies

One of the best streaming services that you can use to watch the best 70s movies is Amazon Prime Video. From the list above, the majority can be found on Amazon, so if you’re trying to binge-watch though the decade, it’s the best option.

Amazon Prime Video Memberships

Amazon Prime is only $14.99 a month, unless you’re a student, then it is $7.49 a month with a one-week free trail.

The membership allows you to stream shows, movies, live sports, games, and songs through Video, Music and Gaming. It also gives you access to two-day, one-day, same-day delivery on orders, as well as quick food delivery.

Prime members also receive access to special deals, like Prime Day deals, that gives you discounted rates on countless of items.

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