Much like the social and political climate of the 70’s, Hollywood brought out a lot of films that went from the dark and dangerous, showing us that horror could be right around the corner without our knowing it, to films that gave pure fantasy and hope for a bright future where evil could be soundly defeated. What made these films all the more believable was the large advances in special effects that let audiences believe they were transported to worlds far away or to feel like there was nothing but pure menace lurking just below the surface of the water. This decade also began to show just how far reaching franchises, with new ones that launched out of it and ones that built upon shows from the past. Here are ten films that we feel define the seventies in genre films.
What could be simpler? Take a likable teenage girl and pit her against a hulking psychopath with a 12 inch butcher knife and see who wins. That is the premise of John Carpenter's 1978 low-budget indie movie "Halloween." The film terrorized teen-aged audiences and went on to earn 20 fold as much money as the budget. More importantly, it carved out a whole new genre of "slasher" films, with numerous imitators and follow-ons, each with escalating levels of graphic violence, countering Carpenter's premise that it's what you don't see that actually scares you.
9. Enter the Dragon
Enter the Dragon" deservedly holds a place in cinematic history for several reasons. Although Asian martial arts cinema was already going strong, this was the first produced by a major Hollywood studio. Bruce Lee stars as a Shaolin master tapped to infiltrate an underground fighting tournament. Lee is said to have reworked the script to allow the film to be a greater showcase for his Chinese heritage. It would sadly prove to be his last completed picture. He died just days before its release, but the film has gone on to earn its place in history.
8. A Clockwork Orange
It goes without saying that Stanley Kubrick must make the 1970s as well with his controversial adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. And unlike his 2001 odyssey, you won’t need hallucinogens to interpret it properly. While others have tried repackaging the futuristic violent tale over the years, Kubrick was first with his violent look into a futuristic chaotic version of Great Britain where Malcolm McDowell’s Alex DeLarge undergoes treatment to repress his lack of conscience towards humanity. Stanley would eventually have to pull “Clockwork” from U.K. circulation after receiving death threats and it wouldn’t be re-released there until 2000, the year after his death.
7. Monty Python's: The Holy Grail
The only comedy to make the list from this decade, the Holy Grail is a film that is still highly quotable to this day and has survived the test of time. The story of King Arthur and his quest for the Grail is one that is fraught with danger, from killer bunny rabbits to armless and legless knights as well as a visit to Castle Anthrax, and extended discussions on the political and social situation of the medieval times. After their compilation movie, the Monty Python group went for an all original movie that skewered a lot of material near and dear to their countrymen and sent it up in a way that it had not been done before and hasn't been done since. Few comedies can last past their decade of origin, especially as many date themselves, but the Holy Grail is a rare exception.
Prior to this 1978 movie, superheroes in the movies and TV could largely be chalked up to the old TV series of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. When Christopher Reeve donned the suit in Richard Donner's movie, audiences left the theater believing a man could fly. As an origin story, it's one that takes material from the various comic origins over the decades and reworks them into an engaging mainstream film that made audiences care about the characters, be amused by the villains and love the flying sequences. It was also a movie that made sure it wasn't all about the action as it spent time infusing plenty of heart into the characters, from the parents to the relationship between Lois and Clark.
5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Six months after Star Wars landed and changed science fiction film making, Steven Spielberg brought out his science fiction project that started some four years earlier and gave audiences a very human story. Where Star Wars was all about the fantastic and adventure, Close Encounters kept it all very close to reality, showing us what our first contact with aliens might be like. Draped in a mystery, the film shows the connection that some have to the visitors who were peeking into our world and trying to figure out how to communicate with us as they're on a different plane entirely. The family dynamic is very important in this film as is the drive to discover what's really going on for several people that are caught up in this.
4. The Exorcist
Rooted in "actual events" and encircled in controversy few horror films were as simultaneously acclaimed, successful, shocking and infamous as 1973's "The Exorcist". Based on a book which drew on a documented case of exorcism from decades earlier it wasn't the first "demonic child" film of the era, it's certainly one of the most prominent. The pillars of the film are a series horrific images (projectile vomit, a 360 head-turn) and sacrilegious acts performed by then 14-year-old actress Linda Blair. The result: a box office smash, several academy awards and Hollywood legend.
The summer of 1975 gave rise to a new kind of movie which came in the sleek, dorsal-finned form of a 25 foot long eating machine called "Jaws." The work of fledgling director Stephen Spielberg, the movie deftly blended suspense, shock and humor that was so wildly successful in test screenings that the studio pushed it into an unprecedented number of theaters, and gobbled up box office receipts. The movie, which still holds up nicely today, is considered the first summer blockbuster, and propelled Spielberg on his path to becoming one of the most prolific and influential filmmakers of all time.
Horror films had a good run over the years and the ‘70s were particularly good for the genre, but the real surprise was a science fiction horror movie that was essentially a haunted house in space. Alien took the horror concept in a new direction and chilled audiences in a way they hadn't before, giving them creatures that truly inhabited the shadows and made you wary of eating certain foods. It was also one of the films that helped to slowly expand the role of women in leading roles for genre movies as Sigourney Weaver became a household name with this film with her portrayal as a smart, tough and very human character in an extremely frightening situation.
1. Star Wars
Love or hate what it became in the years to come, the arrival of Star Wars in theaters was nothing short of a cultural event for many kids and adults. George Lucas brought in massive changes to how special effects were done with this movie and it helped to spawn Industrial Light and Magic as well as Skywalker Sound which has produced some of the best soundtracks out there. At its core though is a movie that inspired many with its straightforward space opera story, surface level characters that eventually found a lot of depth in other media and something that became a modern day fairy tale for children. Star Wars is truly the game-changing movie of the ’70s.