The 10 Best Classic 70s Films You May Not Know About

Updated on April 22, 2019
Jon Carthy profile image

Films express life and are as diverse as the characters we meet along the way. Nathan has a BA (Hons) Literature degree and lives in the UK.

Welcome to my look at classic films you may not know about. This time we look at the 70s. This was an interesting decade for film with Jaws starting the trend for big blockbuster films, which continues to this day. However, it was a really experimental decade for films as well, which reflected the political era of paranoia and intrigue and pushed the boundaries of screen violence and what could be shown. I hope you enjoy this series and maybe find some classics which had passed you by!

Klaus Kinski in Aguire: Wrath Of God
Klaus Kinski in Aguire: Wrath Of God | Source

Director Werner Herzog On Klaus Kinski

“People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other’s murder.”

10. Aguire: Wrath Of God

Where to start with this film! Directed by Werner Herzog and featuring a suitably unhinged and mesmerizing performance by Klaus Kinski, it follows the vaulting ambition of an insane Spanish conquistador dragging a ship through the Amazonian jungle in search of El Dorado—yes you read that right. They really built a ship and they really dragged it through the jungle. I would say this is what makes this unique but frankly there's so much to choose from!

  • Herzog and Kinski's working relationship grew so tense that Herzog carried a loaded weapon with him. He was so convinced that Kinski would try and kill him. And yet despite this animosity, what they captured on screen is utterly unique and spellbinding. The limits Kinski pushes himself for his art are only mirrored by that which Herzog demands.
  • A perfect companion piece to this epic adventure is the behind the scenes documentary from 1982 called Burden Of Dreams. It aptly captures the limits which were pushed beyond breaking point and crystallizes why the relationship between Herzog and Kinski was so unique.

9. The Red Circle (Le Cercle Rouge, 1970)

Director Jean-Pierre Melville and Alain Delon reunite after the success of Le Samourai for another crime epic as a released criminal plots a heist with two others. Brilliantly staged scenes and shot with an expert eye make this a cut above your average crime thriller. So why should you steal a look you say?

  • Delon is magnificent in it perfecting the laconic style which was his trademark and the near silent heist scene is brilliantly staged and reminiscent of the great Rififi, perfectly evoking the tension of the robbery.
  • Melville is a great director capable of combining striking imagery with apparently effortless coolness. The real trick though is in showing the grim reality which descends and how difficult it is to keep your head above water when you've already sunk to crime.

8. Frenzy (1972)

Hitchcock obviously saw something in Peeping Tom as he casted Anna Massey in this serial killer thriller with an innocent man arrested for the crimes of a strangler. A lesser known Hitchcock film, it still has some masterful touches. So why should I hang around and watch this you ask?

  • The story takes its inspiration from the real life case of Neville Heath, a British serial killer who impersonated an RAF officer as part of his disguise. Although based on a novel, Hitchcock interwove facets of this story into it and asked the lead actor to read two books about the case.
  • Filled with classic Hitchcock touches right from the opening shot. It takes the viewer down the Thames complete with stirring music straight to the first body floating face down. Or the brilliant way the camera leaves a key character behind as it moves further and further away leaving her more and more exposed.

I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach.

— Alfred Hitchcock

Anna Massey And Jon Finch In 'Frenzy'


7. Charley Varrick (1973)

Yes, it's that man Matthau again, proving he was a real star of the 60s and 70s with another witty yet dramatic role. Part of the brilliance of this film is his stillness as he plots his way into and out of trouble after stealing form the mob. Proving acting chops are just as important as action, Charley Varrick's director Don Siegel crafts a suitably firm jawed crime thriller. So why should I stick up and stay around for this?

  • An ingenious plot keeps you guessing as much as Varrick seems the underdog he runs rings around everyone including the audience in a winningly charismatic performance from Matthau.
  • Siegel directed Clint Eastwood and brings the same taut and action-packed adventurousness he showed in the Dirty Harry films, but by having Matthau at the helm adds a certain twinkle Clint can't match.

6. Sorcerer (1977)

William Friedkin had already directed the era-defining French Connection and The Exorcist, but as if that wasn't enough he ended the decade with this nerve shredder of a film. Ostensibly a remake of an old foreign film called The Wages Of Fear, it concerns an intrepid band of men driving old dynamite across treacherous conditions, knowing any minute it could go up. So what bang for my buck do I get with this film?

  • The film started out as a side project by Freidkin funnelled more and more money into it thinking it would become his magnus opus but guess what a certain Star Wars was released at the same time completely over-shadowing his film

A Precarious Bridge In 'Sorcerer'


The Top 5

5. The Driver (1978)

Directed by Walter Hill, who made such iconic films as The Warriors and Southern Comfort, this shares his themes of masculinity, crime and violence. Starring Ryan O'Neal as the titular taciturn driver, it's an exercise in style and flair reminiscent of Michael Mann's Thief, both concerning professionals looking to get out of the game, or at least make it out of the game in one piece. So why should I dodge traffic and go see this?

  • The action scenes are brilliant. This makes up for the lack of plot and symbolism of the key characters as it looks like Hill was aiming for a foreign film sensibility which I think he nails. Viewed on its own terms it's a fast, deadly thrill ride.
  • Influential to the extent that whole sections seem to have been lifted for Refn's Drive starring Ryan Gosling, especially the aesthetic of the quiet lead anti-hero, another staple echoes in Baby Driver which riffs on similar themes. If you liked either of those films you'll love this.

4. Don't Look Now (1973)

A great painterly film by celebrated British director Nicolas Roeg, starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, both at the peak of their fame as a married couple who try to move on from a terrible accident. So why should I look at this?

  • The use of the color red is very clever is this film. Red for danger but much wider than that it serves to echo backwards and forwards in time as events progress. The painterly style is fitting as much of the film is set in Venice, but allied to it is a sense of dread which is hard to define but expertly timed.
  • Brilliant scenes match with story and stars to provide a deeply emotional film which resonates long after watching. The clever use of time shows that everything we experience is illusory to some extent and perfectly matches the film's content.

3. The Hot Rock (1972)

This film is so of its era, yet sorely overlooked, which is surprising given its star power, pacey script and comic flourishes. A real caper film, it follows the misadventures of a group intent on getting their hands on a gleaming jewel...did I mention it might be cursed? So why should I hot foot it down to see this one?

  • Robert Redford and George Segal lead a brilliant ensemble cast and they seem to be having genuine enjoyment making the film which pays off. Ably supported by Zero Mostel who turns in another fine performance to compliment his in The Producers.
  • Just the right mix of action, tension, humor and pathos means you'll remember this film fondly after seeing it. In fact I think it's the comic element which means some people pass it by, but they shouldn't as not only is it finely judged but helps bookend the tense scenes.

2. Lennie (1974)

Lennie Bruce was the outspoken comic of his generation, unafraid to say the unsayable and hang the consequences, but this took a toll and this film is a warts and all look at his life with Dustin Hoffman playing the lead. So why should I stand up and see it?

  • Without Lennie Bruce there'd be no stand-up comics as we know them today. Outspoken is just the term for him allowing people to voice things polite society wasn't talking about and by breaking down those barriers he enabled the likes of Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks to come to the fore.
  • Dustin Hoffman really inhabits the nervous energy and restlessness of Bruce's character and there's a real sense of a kindred outsider knocking on the door of fame which gives the film a dynamic thrust.

Cops 'N' Robbers Redford


The Number 1 Spot

1. The Parallax View (1974)

This film perfectly captures the height of Nixon paranoia and conspiracy around the time of Watergate, and mixes in a pacey thriller right from the opening credits. Starring Warren Beatty in masterful piece of casting this is one of Alan J. Pakula's greatest films. So why should I read the file on this one?

  • Beatty's casting as the dogged journalist who uncovers a crime beyond his imagination is perfect, placing the heart-throb actor in such a role played well in confounding expectations, especially with the brilliant ending which dovetails nicely with the beginning.
  • It's not all dusty political intrigue though as this film combines stirring patriotic deeds with cynical manipulative forces and sets them against a range of startling backdrops and images which ensure this film remains a classic long after viewing.

Nowhere To Run In 'The Parallax View'


What Does Parallax Even Mean?

The term parallax is used to describe the difference in viewpoint of an object seen from two different perspectives, and perfectly suits the film.


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    • Jon Carthy profile imageAUTHOR

      Nathan Carter 

      14 months ago from UK

      Thanks Umesh I really appreciate the feedback! If you enjoyed it please check out my other articles on films from other decades too.

    • bhattuc profile image

      Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

      14 months ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

      Interesting article. Thanks.


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