The 1970s was a decade that produced some of the greatest and most iconic films in cinematic history. However, while many of these films are widely known and beloved, there are also a number of hidden gems that have been overlooked and forgotten over the years. These movies offer a unique and often overlooked perspective on the cultural and social issues of the time, as well as showcasing the artistic talent and creativity of some of the most innovative filmmakers of the era.
From offbeat comedies to intense dramas, these movies from the 1970s may not be well-known, but they are definitely worth watching.
1. Harold and Maude (1971)
Harold is a young man obsessed with death and attending funerals for entertainment. Maude is an 80-year-old woman who teaches Harold to embrace life and enjoy every moment. As their friendship develops into a romance, Harold begins to see the world differently but faces opposition from his wealthy and conservative family.
2. The Last Detail (1973)
Two naval officers, Buddusky and Mulhall, are assigned to transport a young sailor, Meadows, to military prison for stealing $40 from a charity. Along the way, they try to give Meadows a last taste of freedom but soon become aware of the harshness of the military justice system and the corrupt bureaucracy.
3. Scarecrow (1973)
Max and Lion are two drifters who meet on the road and decide to start a business together. As they travel through California, they encounter a series of misadventures, and their bond is tested. With outstanding performances by Al Pacino and Gene Hackman, “Scarecrow” is a poignant tale of friendship and redemption.
4. The Conversation (1974)
Harry Caul is a surveillance expert hired to record a conversation between a young couple. As he becomes more deeply involved in the case, he suspects that the couple's lives may be in danger. Torn between his professional duty and conscience, Harry tries to unravel the mystery, but the consequences are devastating.
5. Serpico (1973)
Frank Serpico is a New York City police officer who becomes aware of widespread corruption within the department. As he tries to expose the corruption, he faces hostility from his colleagues and superiors and puts his life in danger. Based on a true story, Serpico is a gripping and powerful film about one man's fight against injustice.
6. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Eddie Coyle is a small-time criminal who is caught between the police and his fellow criminals. He tries to make a deal with the authorities to reduce his sentence, but the consequences are not what he expected. With superb performances by Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a gritty and realistic portrayal of the criminal underworld.
7. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Four gunmen hijack a subway train in New York City and demand a ransom of one million dollars. As the authorities negotiate with the criminals, tensions rise, and the situation becomes more and more dangerous. With outstanding performances by Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is a thrilling and suspenseful action movie.
8. Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Robert Dupea is a talented pianist from a wealthy family who has given up music to work in the oil fields. When he learns that his father is dying, he travels home with his girlfriend but soon becomes entangled in family tensions and personal conflicts. With a stunning performance by Jack Nicholson, Five Easy Pieces is a complex and thought-provoking drama.
9. Performance (1970)
Chas is a violent and ruthless gangster who goes into hiding after a botched job. He ends up in the house of a reclusive rock star, Turner, and the two men develop an intense and dangerous relationship. With surreal and psychedelic imagery, Performance is a groundbreaking and influential movie that explores themes of identity, sexuality, and violence.
10. The Long Goodbye (1973)
Philip Marlowe is a private detective involved in a complex case of murder and deception. As he tries to unravel the mystery, he encounters a cast of eccentric and unpredictable characters and becomes increasingly disillusioned with the corrupt and decadent world around him. With a masterful performance by Elliott Gould, The Long Goodbye is a stylish and witty adaptation of Raymond Chandler's classic novel.
11. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Winslow Leach is a talented composer whose work is stolen by a powerful music producer, Swan. Seeking revenge, Winslow becomes the Phantom, a disfigured and vengeful figure who haunts Swan's music palace. With a brilliant score by Paul Williams and a surreal and satirical storyline, Phantom of the Paradise is a cult classic that defies categorization.
12. Badlands (1973)
Kit and Holly are two young lovers who embark on a killing spree across the American Midwest. As their crimes become more daring and brutal, they attract the attention of the police and the media. With stunning performances by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, Badlands is a haunting and mesmerizing movie exploring violence, youth, and rebellion themes.
13. Straw Dogs (1971)
In Straw Dogs, a mathematician moves with his wife to a village near her childhood home in the Cornish moorland. When they arrive, though, some of the men in the village and from his wife's past, don't like that an outsider has married her and begin to tournament the young couple.
14. Paper Moon (1973)
This 1970s film feels like it's from the 1940s with its black-and-white production, but this 1973 film is about a con man who finds himself stuck with a young girl, who might be his daughter. While navigating the Great Depression, they form a bond that's stronger than if they're blood-related or not.
15. Fantastic Planet (1973)
Fantastic Planet is an interesting watch from the 1970s, where humanoids are oppressed by the blue giants that rule the faraway, fantastical planet. The animated experimental film follows as the humanoids begin to rebel against their leaders and discover that knowledge is the key to their survival.
16. Little Big Man (1970)
This American Western film follows 121-year-old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) as he recounts his extremely long life in the American West.
17. Night Moves (1975)
When private investigator, Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is hired to find a client's missing daughter, Moseby realizes he got himself into something much darker and intriguing than just looking for a runaway teenager.
18. Nashville (1975)
This satirical film about five days and 24 different characters in the country music haven of Nashville, is not only funny but pokes fun at different movie musicals that were popular in the 70s. The movie has a star-studded cast with everyone from Shelley Duvall to a young Jeff Goldblum!
19. Sweeney! (1977)
When a detective is brought into a deadly political plot after one of his informants is killed, he can only rely on himself and his wits to evade the hitmen who are now after him.
20. California Split (1974)
In the world of gambling, taking big bets can pay off, or they can ruin your life. In California Split, an amateur gambler befriends a professional one, and as the two win and lose their money at the table, they get brought deeper and deeper into the seedy world they inhabit.
Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.
At Wealth of Geeks, Jaimee places an emphasis on film and television analysis, ranking the best [and worst] in media so you can find more diamonds in the rough and waste less time on box-office duds. You can find her articles on politics and culture in Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, Lotus Eaters, and Her Campus. You can also find her find her episode of Popcorned Planet, where she analyzes the Johnny Depp & Amber Heard trial. She has written extensively about due process, free speech, and pop culture.