The 10 Most Underrated Thriller Movies of The 1970s

Tired of doom-scrolling through Netflix looking for a great thriller that will keep you on your toes? Have you already blazed through “The French Connection”, “Chinatown”, and “Dog Day Afternoon” and can’t seem to scratch that seventies itch? If that’s the case, we’ve got you covered.

The 1970s decade is deservedly regarded today as one of the greatest eras for American filmmaking. Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Alan J. Pakula and Sam Peckinpah among many others hit the scene and put their personal stamp in the thriller genre during that 10-year span, blessing regular moviegoers with a steady diet of crime capers, heist dramas, home-invasion chillers, and neo-noir throwbacks that were as transgressive, formally innovative and politically charged than ever.

To spice things up, we’re plucking out a selection of lesser-known titles that never cracked the mainstream but deserve your attention just as much as the stone-cold classics we love to revisit and keep cropping up on similar round-up lists. From Blaxploitation gems and Watergate-era conspiracy chillers to star-studded heist movies that will knock your wind out — keep reading for ten ’70s masterpieces hidden in plain sight that are begging for reappraisal.


1. Truck Turner (1974)

In the wake of the New Hollywood movement, ’70s Blaxploitation cinema opened up the floodgates for a new influx of independent releases that barely cost a dime, hit the equivalent a home run at the box office and, at their very best, marked a step forward for Black representation by subverting common racial stereotypes often perpetuated by Hollywood in the past.

Though rarely mentioned in the same breath as game-changing milestones like “Shaft”, this 1970s cult favorite about a Los Angeles professional bounty hunter hired to track down a pimp named Gator who skipped bail represents perhaps the platonic ideal of a Blaxploitation flick: A lean set-up is matched by leaner action, charismatic performances, white-knuckle car chase sequences, and a propulsive funk score. Sometimes you just want to watch a highly competent, all-around badass cruising through the sun-dappled streets of L.A. in his 73 Charger and taking down two-bit crooks with his 6”-barrel Colt Python. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and Jonathan Kaplan’s cult favorite delivers exactly what it promises.


2. Mr. Klein (1976)


This Kafkaesque slow-burner sees French icon Alain Delon step into the shoes of Robert Klein, a devious art dealer living in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II who earns a dime short-changing desperate Jews for their valuable paintings and who suddenly finds his own life turned upside down after being persecuted by anti-Semitic authorities in a tricky case of mistaken identity.

Despite acclaim for his breakthrough 1952 film noir “The Prowler”, director Joseph Losey was blacklisted from Hollywood for his connections with the Communist Party and forced into artistic exile. A career touchstone in his late-period European output, this wrong-man mystery thriller based on a real-life roundup of Jews that took place in France in 1942 shuttles its self-serving protagonist through a series of interrogations and grisly discoveries in an attempt to prove his innocence after being mistakenly ID’ed as an elusive Jewish man with the same name. Both as a follow-the-bread-crumbs thriller with drum-tight plotting and a window into a sinister chapter in history, “Mr. Klein” remains as essential viewing now as it was in ’76.


3. Winter Kills (1979)

Winter Kills (1979)

This hyper-paranoiac conspiracy thriller about the investigation of a presidential assassination is worth watching if for no other reason than to see what easily stands as one of the most stacked all-star casts ever assembled, littered with top-shelf names as Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Sterling Hayden, Toshiro Mifune, Eli Wallach and Elizabeth Taylor.

One in a long line of political thrillers that captured the ongoing sense of paranoia following the Watergate scandal and played like gangbusters during the ‘70s, “Winter Kills” reads today like the slightly unhinged, totally bonkers older cousin of Oliver Stone’s 1991s “JFK”. William Richert’s star-studded ensemble handed Jeff Bridges a gift of a role as the younger brother of an assassinated US President who must take matters into his own hands and try to unravel the big conspiracy after valuable new intel comes to light.

For a film with enough star power, political intrigue, and double-crosses galore to keep you locked in for every beat, “Winter Kills” flopped surprisingly hard on release and all but faded into obscurity before a recent theatrical re-release presented by Quentin Tarantino introduced it to a new generation of movie junkies willing to go down its rabbit hole.


4. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)

The unparalleled Meiko Kaji hacks and slices her way through fellow inmates and tormenting prison wardens in her blood-soaked path of vengeance after being double-crossed by her two-timing ex-boyfriend, a crooked cop in cahoots with the local Yakuza crime syndicate, who left her for dead and sent her to prison for a crime she didn’t commit.

On paper, the broad plot elements of this portrait of righteous female rage might sound overly familiar to any grindhouse film enthusiast or Tarantino geek out there who’s seen the “Kill Bill” series too many times to count. But it’s the way Japanese director Shunya Ito carefully stages the action whenever the titular heroine pops into frame, with a barrage of hyper-stylized compositions, creative camera angles and splatter-fest setpieces, that makes the first installment in the Female Prisoner Scorpion series essential viewing half a century later. The fact that it never inspired deep obsession overseas remains a head-scratcher in and of itself, but with a runtime that barely stretches past the 87-minute mark, this Japanese sleeper hit will give thriller fans with strong stomachs the best bang for their time.


5. The Silent Partner (1978)

A counterculture icon and generational heartthrob, Elliot Gould spent most of the 1970s decade being courted by the entire industry while shuffling between roles in Robert Altman movies — in fact, the actor might just as well be tapped for the present list for the disgustingly overlooked “California Split”. But not enough people seem to talk about his work in this underseen Canadian gem, which doubles down today as a solid primer for any budding cinephile who still associates Gould as the father of Monica and Ross in Friends and wants to see his happy-go-lucky on-screen persona put to better use.

The legendary actor found his sweet spot as a meek do-gooder working as a bank teller who finally gets his lucky break after realizing he’s about to be robbed by the mall Santa (an unrecognizable Christopher Plummer). In the heat of the moment while handing down the money on the counter at gunpoint, Gould’s character impulsively decides to keep part of the loot for himself without anyone noticing — that is, until the robber inevitably puts two and two together and begins to track him down across Toronto. Fun, exhilarating and a shade absurd, sure, but “The Silent Partner” is very much worth the ride.