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Looking Back at Five Great Movies From the Late 1970s

Some of my favorite movies ever came out in the 1970s, a decade that produced many great film triumphs that would define an era.

All The President’s Men dir. Alan J. Pakula

All The President’s Men (1976), directed by Alan J. Pakula, follows Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) as they investigate the Watergate scandal that involved President Richard Nixon. This four-time Oscar winner is memorable because of its detailed description of the painstaking, persevering, and tenacious work that Woodward and Bernstein did to bring truth to the American people. 

The last frames of the movie are burned into my mind because of the powerful simplicity they have. Both Redford and Hoffman’s performances are (as usual for these two) great as the two journalists. Jason Robard’s performance as longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee even won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. 

Saturday Night Fever dir. John Badham

Saturday Night Fever (1977), directed by John Badham, may not be one of the best movies ever, but it certainly defines the late 1970s. John Travolta strutting down the street, paint bucket in hand, to the Bee Gees’ hit “Stayin’ Alive” is an iconic moment in popular culture. John Travolta got his first Oscar nomination for his role as Tony Manero, a 19 year old who partners with dancer Stephanie to try and win a dance competition. Meanwhile, Tony faces other troubles with his friends and family that make this character’s journey meaningful and interesting. 

I’ve heard from a couple people that Saturday Night Fever has not aged great and that it doesn’t speak to an audience in this era. However, Saturday Night Fever stood out to me as a movie about more than dancing, but an interesting look at how an immature lead character handles having to grow up in a tough world. What I love about Saturday Night Fever is that it is not sugar-coated, and it’s not afraid to have an ending that is far from a fairytale. 

Star Wars (A New Hope) dir. George Lucas

Star Wars (1977), directed by George Lucas kickstarted arguably the most iconic franchise in film history. What was originally predicted to be a failure ended up being a huge success. It even earned six Oscars and a Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay nomination. Although Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of the series, A New Hope shines as the start to multiple generations worth of movies and TV shows. It’s hard to say what’s great about this movie because there really are so many wonderful and important things about it. A New Hope is available for streaming on Disney+.

The Warriors dir. Walter Hill

The Warriors (1979), directed by Walter Hill is a cult classic. It starts out with an idea that is good enough for a movie on its own: gangs in New York City realize that they outnumber the cops and prepare for a full scale riot against the police. However, this plan goes awry when a Coney Island gang, the Warriors, are framed for shooting the leader of the operation. Now on the run, the Warriors have to make it back to their own turf and battle out the other gangs that try to stop them. 

If you’ve heard of The Warriors, you might know Joe Walsh’s song “In the City” or David Patrick Kelly’s iconic improvisation of “Warriors! Come out to play-ee-ay!” This movie is fun, action packed, and has achieved cult-status. There’s so much I love about this movie, from the iconic costumes to all of the subway fights, and the overall style that screams the 1970’s.

Honorable Mentions: Taxi Driver (1976), Alien (1979), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Halloween (1978).

Apocalypse Now (1979) dir. Francis Ford Coppola

I put honorable mentions because there were many other great movies that could have made this list, but ultimately I chose Apocalypse Now because it really solidified Francis Ford Coppola’s mastery in the 1970s. With extreme success with the Godfather movies, Coppola moved on to adapt Heart of Darkness into a Vietnam War movie starring Martin Sheen among a stellar cast of actors, with greats like Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburn, Harrison Ford, and Dennis Hopper. Apocalypse Now is a harrowing representation of the Vietnam War that shows the audience the effect that the terror (the horror, if you will) of war can do to a person. Apocalypse Now overcame great triumphs to finish production and the result is a harrowing yet gripping war movie. 

Gillian Anderson is a journalism major at Emerson College. She's interested in film and loves writing about movies. Gillian's favorite movie is Good Will Hunting and her favorite director is Quentin Tarantino.
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