10 Great 1970s Movie Classics You Probably Haven’t Seen

The 1970s was a new chapter in cinema. The director now had the power to make the stories they wanted. Before the 70s, studios were in charge and would take the power back in the following decades. But until they did, the director was king.

Some of the greatest directors of our time came from that decade, including Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese because they followed through with their visions. It was a glorious decade with incredible acting and authentic stories which produced a lot of cinema gold.


1. Saint Jack (1979)

Director Peter Bogdanovich gained momentum in his film career during the 70s. His first film of the decade and second in his career was The Last Picture Show which got nominated for eight Academy Awards including Picture and one for his directing. His follow-up, the screwball comedy What’s Up Doc?, was an even bigger hit and then Paper Moon, his third successful film, earned an Academy Award for ten-year old Tatum O’ Neal who would be the youngest actor ever to receive one. A streak of three hit films is an amazing feat. However, the next three were all bombs. After those three, the next film would also be a financial failure, but creatively it’s a film not to be missed – Saint Jack.

This hidden gem stars the incredible Ben Gazzara as an American pimp in Singapore. Gazzara never seems like he’s acting which makes his performance enthralling. He’s an actor who isn’t remembered as much as others from that period which makes this film required viewing. The legendary independent director John Cassavetes used him in some of his films like Husbands and Opening Night. Another legendary independent director produced Saint Jack – Roger Corman. Gazzara worked with Bogdanovich in his next film They All Laughed which along with Saint Jack, were two of Bogdanovich’s best films that never got the recognition they deserved. After watching Saint Jack, it will be evident he’s right in that assessment.


2. Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

Johnny Got His Gun

Some people may know this movie from the 1988 music video “One” by Metallic where clips are shown from the film. It’s an independent film about a young American soldier during World War I who loses all his facial and bodily appendages yet remains conscious in a hospital bed.

Written and directed by the famous screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, it’s based on his 1938 novel of the same name. Trumbo was a veteran of Hollywood as he wrote the scripts for Roman Holiday and Spartacus. He was blacklisted by Hollywood after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. He continued to work in the industry under fake names to get work. After years of writing scripts under pseudonyms, he got back in Hollywood’s good graces and received full credit for his scripts. Johnny Got His Gun was the only film Trumbo would direct and was a minor success but was eventually forgotten in the years before home video and cable television. Its appearance in Metallica’s music video gave it cult film status.


3. California Split (1974)


Directed by the specific style of Robert Altman, this film is a comedy about the friendship of two gamblers. They are played by two bona fide movie stars of the 70s – Elliott Gould and George Segal. This was Segal’s only performance in an Altman film, but Gould would appear in three others which all happened to be popular among Altman’s filmography. The first was M*A*S*H which was a breakthrough role for Gould and he followed that with The Long Goodbye. He even played himself in Nashville a year after California Split.

The original director of California Split was Steven Spielberg who worked with writer/producer Joseph Walsh on the script for months. Spielberg was hired to do his first theatrical film The Sugarland Express and Altman was brought on to direct. Altman has a very casual style with his films – slow-camera pans, subtle dialogue, perpetual scenes. He gained his reputation for making movies the way he wanted them and when they were good, they were great.


4. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976)

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane

In the same year that 14 year-old Jodie Foster received an Oscar nomination for her work in Taxi Driver, she acted in four other films. Among them, the comedies Bugsy Malone and Freaky Friday. And then there was this little horror film which she stars as a young child who just moved to a village with her father. However, her father is never around and she’s always by herself. Adults consistently check on her, but she’s smart enough to tell them what they want to hear.

With any other child actor this film could have been silly, but a young Foster brings gravitas to the role. Martin Sheen co-stars as the adult son of the landlady who checks in on the child but seems to have a hidden agenda. The film is very unique especially in the 70s and is worth checking out for the strong performances and the creepy tone that haunts the film.


5. The One And Only (1978)

The renowned comic genius Carl Reiner directs this movie that stars Henry Winkler in one of the few films he made while starring as The Fonz on the popular TV show Happy Days. Amid Happy Days’ ten-year run, Winkler plays an aspiring actor who is forced to enter the world of professional wrestling to make ends meet. Winkler is incredibly charming and funny as a very different character than Arthur Fonzarelli. He meets a girl he wants to marry played by the equally charming Kim Darby.

Herve Villechaize, also amid a popular TV show at the time, Fantasy Island, helps Winkler get into wrestling. Winkler takes his dreams of becoming a star and applies them to the theatrics that appear inside the squared circle. Even though Winkler didn’t receive a major award until his role on the HBO series Barry, it’s clear that he’s an amazing talent. While it’s hard to distinguish actors who are known for one role, Winkler was able to show audiences he had range.