7 Essential Films From the 1970s

  • Director Ridley Scott
Director Ridley Scott
Credit: Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/ Moviepix via Getty Images

With all due respect to Hollywood’s golden age, you could make a convincing argument that the 1970s were the best decade in cinematic history. As the New Hollywood era reached its peak and visionary directors were given previously unseen control over their productions, creativity flourished in Tinseltown like never before. It came to a (perhaps inevitable) end in the early ’80s after a string of high-profile box-office failures, but even the movies considered responsible for ending New Hollywood (such as William Friedkin’s Sorcerer and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate) have since been reassessed as severely underappreciated in their own time.

Though there are hundreds of movies from the ’70s well worth your time — including such classics as The Godfather, Jaws, and Star Wars that you’ve likely already seen — these seven films are a great place to start exploring the decade further.

Credit: Collection Christophel/ Alamy Stock Photo

Wanda (1970)

There are innovators, and then there’s Barbara Loden. The actress-turned-filmmaker wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the semi-autobiographical film Wanda, a landmark of the then-nascent independent film movement. The movie centers on an aimless housewife who joins up with a bank robber after leaving her husband in Pennsylvania’s coal country. Made for just $100,000, it won an award at the Venice Film Festival in Italy for Best Foreign Film and paved the way for countless female filmmakers to follow. Sadly, it was the only feature Loden would direct. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978 — by which point she’d also helmed two short films and a number of off-Broadway plays — and died in 1980 at the age of 48. Her legacy has only grown with time, as has Wanda’s.

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