The 10 Most Underrated Thriller Movies of The 1970s

6. The Hot Rock (1972)

Robert Redford looms over the proceedings in this wickedly fun proto-Ocean’s Eleven ensemble crime caper based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake. Fresh off his “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” breakout role, the then-burgeoning Hollywood A-lister oozes an ice-cool charm and confidence as John Dortmunder, a career thief who just got out of prison and immediately teams up with his brother-in-law for another high-stakes job to seize a precious African diamond that was stolen during colonial times.

As would be further established in “The Sting”, Redford is an ideal lead for high-octane heist movies, and the actor shows off a fantastic chemistry with every member in his oddball team of thieves — George Segal, Ron Leibman and Paul Sand — which creates the perfect dynamic as we watch their plan fall through many times over in a series of bungled robbery attempts. Despite the razor-sharp script, top-caliber action and palpable chemistry between the cast, “The Hot Rock” was a financial disappointment that failed to find much of an audience when it was released. If you’re looking for a full serving of thrills, though, we suggest you keep this one on your radar.


7. The Passenger (1975)

Michelangelo Antonioni became a household name and something of a global ambassador for highbrow arthouse cinema with postmodern explorations of urban alienation and bourgeois ennui that were generally more concerned with creating a distinct mood than providing conventional answers (as far as missing-person mysteries go, “L’avventura” was high in style, dialogue and flowery metaphors — not so much in the ‘edge-of-your-seat thrills’ department).

For his English-Language collaboration with Jack Nicholson, though, the Italian maestro switched gears into something that your average moviegoing Joe could probably wrap his head around, telling the story of a globe-trotting reporter recently dispatched to North Africa who assumes the identity of an arms dealer he found dead in a neighboring hotel room. Other than “Five Easy Pieces” and “The Shining”, “The Passenger” is perhaps the most utterly convincing acting showcase of Nicholson’s uncanny gift for being able to convey emotion and carry an entire film on his shoulders with little to no lines of dialogue.


8. The Getaway (1972)

The Getaway (1972)

Quentin Tarantino dedicated an entire chapter of his latest book on film criticism to this gripping 1972 caper, an underseen title in Steve McQueen’s catalog still not nearly as appreciated as it deserves to be that happens to feature one of the legendary actor’s most rugged performances. “The Getaway” finds the perennial badass as the master of his domain, bringing the best of his grit to the role of a timeworn ex-con who gets his ten-year sentence reduced by a shady parole officer with the condition that he agrees to join in on a high-stakes bank job.

Sure enough, the plan soon spins out of control in unexpected ways, which screams trouble for our recently released man-on-the-run, who frantically tries to fend off the authorities hot on his trail, as he races against time in order to make it to the Mexican border and start anew with his wife with the $500,000 he managed to get away with. As should be the case with any movie directed by Sam Peckinpah, don’t go in expecting usual bad guy/good guy dynamics or many characters to sympathize with.


9. Charley Varrick (1973)

Charley Varrick (1973)

Through his consistently successful collaborations with Clint Eastwood, trailblazer director Don Siegel established himself as a major creative force in Hollywood as well as a common target for American censors with something of a reputation for morally gray antiheroes, startling on-screen violence, and high-testosterone set pieces.

Hot on the heels of his big “Dirty Harry” triumph, Siegel knocked it out of the park once again the following year with the now largely forgotten “Charley Varrick”, a heart-racing shoot-em-up that sees veteran character actor Walter Matthau chew up the scenery playing against type as a former stunt pilot-turned-outlaw-dissident who is tipped over the edge after robbing a New Mexico bank, which he later learns actually serves as cover for a mob money laundering operation.

A heist-gone-wrong action joyride that suggests a cross between “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Reservoir Dogs” and encourages the audience to side with a trigger-friendly murderer, Siegel’s late-career gem holds up remarkably well and handedly out-thrills lesser contemporary knockoffs.


10. The Drowning Pool (1975)

Though technically a loose sequel to the 1966s “Harper”, you don’t need a refresher of any kind to get the most out of this noir-adjacent Paul Newman vehicle about a wisecracking LA gumshoe who travels across country to New Orleans to investigate an attempted blackmail scheme involving an old flame (Joanne Woodward).

You can sense everyone involved is having a blast — Newman apparently loved the role of Lew Harper so much that he took a huge pay cut to help get the sequel off the ground — and the red-hot chemistry, pitch-perfect banter and push-pull dynamic between the real-life power couple alone keeps the film afloat during the occasionally dull stretches of exposition. Throw in an intricately woven plot based on Ross Macdonald’s 1950 potboiler novel that involves murder, kidnapping, blackmail, femme fatales, a sleazy oil magnate, and a pair of star-crossed lovers, and you get a pulpy noir throwback that would make Raymond Chandler himself proud.

Not a barn burner at the box office by any means, but “The Drowning Pool” is still a title worth seeking out if you’re looking for some good, old-fashioned popcorn thrills.