The Greatest Decade for Movies

Is there a better decade for film than the 1970s? Feel free to try to convince me otherwise, but I doubt you’ll have much luck. Taken as a whole, the films of the 70s combine into a dazzling, divergent whole that challenges and delights, devastates and uplifts, while also remaining extremely relevant many years later. 


We don’t call “On Food And Film” hyperbolic for no reason. 


I’ll admit I fell in love with movies during the 70s. My parents, thankfully, loved movies and we often went to the theatre as a family. In my early childhood, there were three main theaters in my hometown. My favorite was The Village Theatre on Gulfway Drive, which sat over 1100 people! It was a huge, wonderful theatre with an enormous screen. It even had a balcony, which we loved as kids…. and loved even more as high-schoolers. Also a great theatre was The Park Plaza Twin Cinema, which was our town’s first double theatre. The Park Plaza had two theaters flanking a giant lobby with crystal chandeliers and a beautiful concession area. The theaters themselves were large and long, sloping beautifully down to very wide screens. Finally, we had a double drive in, Don’s Drive In, which was classic to a drive-in in every sense. My brother and I loved the drive-in but it was harder to convince my parents to venture there. I did have my first experience with James Bond at Don’s Drive In, a reissue double feature of Goldfinger and Thunderball. I’ve been a Bond addict ever since. And Don’s was where I saw the original King Kong for the first time, an incredible experience on the ginormous drive-in screen.


In many ways, I grew up in The Village and Park Plaza theaters. Some of my most influential moviegoing experiences, which means some of my most life informing experiences, were in those two buildings during the 70s. Jaws, Julia, Rocky, Star Wars, Superman, Halloween, Close Encounters, Young Frankenstein, The China Syndrome, Being There, all the great disaster movies of the 70s… these are just a few of the many movies I saw on these screens, movies that thrilled me in a variety of ways and kept me going back for more. 


While The Village was the biggest and best, the Park Plaza was great for our family because we could split up when our tastes diverged. Mom and I loved scary movies, for instance, which my Dad did not enjoy, so one night in the summer of 1976, Dad and my older brother David went to see The Outlaw Josey Wales while Mom and I went to see The Omen. The Omen was the first R-rated movie I saw in a theatre. Before anyone thinks ill of my parents, the Monsignor of our diocese okayed this decision. He loved the movie and told my parents it was thought-provoking and would provide good theological discourse afterwards. The fact it scared me so badly I almost wet my pants and had nightmares for a week never came up.


My favorite time we split up was eight months later when Mom and I planned to see Network (even more brilliant today than it was back then) while Dad and David would go see SlapshotBoth were also rated “R” but the ratings for both movies seemed to stem from language. Given Dad’s vocabulary, R-rated language was not a big deal in our house. That afternoon, however, one of Mom’s friends told her she shouldn’t let me see Network because it had an intense sex scene between Faye Dunaway and William Holden. Mom and Dad decided I would be seeing the sports movie instead. Sure, Slapshot was rated R but it starred Paul Newman… how bad could it be? I was supremely irritated by this decision and grumbled all the way into the theatre. Five minutes in, however, I was gleeful because besides being a terrific movie, Slapshot is one of the raunchiest, lewdest, most profane movies of all time. My Dad was white by the time it was over. When we met back up with my mom in the lobby, me goose-stepping joyfully out of the theatre with a grin of superiority on my face, Dad looked at Mom and dryly remarked, ‘We made a very big mistake.” 


1976, by the way, certainly was a phenomenal movie year, wasn’t it? Rocky, All The President’s Men, The Omen, Network, Carrie, Taxi Driver and Harlan Country USA were released in ’76 as were fun populist hits such as The Bad News Bears, Logan’s Run, The Marathon Man, Murder By Death and Silver Streak. This was also the year I discovered Pauline Kael, a fellow hyperbolic, who was hitting a magnificent stride in the New Yorker. My original copy of When The Lights Go Down hasn’t had a binding for years. What an amazing writer, what wonderful films. Such good times.


Why talk about 70s movies? Well, this is a bit of a preface. A teaser, if you will. Some of my upcoming posts will be about my favorites from the decade. Others will involve general discussions of seventies cinema. I have to defend my position. This is a dark, funny, deeply complex stretch of art that moves me to this day and will be fun to dive into with you here.


In case you want to avoid a spoiler or two and want to watch an amazing movie, the next post on the seventies will be:


A Great Movie You’ve Probably Never Seen, Vol 1: KLUTE

29 thoughts on “The Greatest Decade for Movies

  1. Yes, yes, and yes. I’d add Norma Rae, The Candidate, Godfather I & II, Blazing Saddles, The French Connection, and my personal favorite, Annie Hall, to that list. That decade was awesomeness for film.

    And your description of the Slapshot viewing? I have been in that situation as a parent. It’s horrifying. You want to be protective, you don’t want to open the door too early, and wham! There it is on the silver screen. Can’t run. Can’t hide. Gotta press on and sit there and act like it isn’t phasing you…that it’s all normative…but you realize in that moment that you just waved goodbye to Disney.

    1. yes, love them all! Norma Rae is such a terrific film. It holds up so well. I named my production company after The Godfather and Annie Hall I’ve already posted on before. Can’t wait to write about all these.

      ‘Waved goodbye to Disney’… Love that!

  2. My normally strict Catholic parents got all loosey-goosey when it came to the movies they would let me attend. In 1972 they took me to see The Exorcist. I still can’t do pea soup. Then came the movie Ben. I still have nightmares. And I blame Jaws for not being able to step foot in the ocean.

    Therapy might be beneficial… 🙂

    1. LOL. Jaws did a number on me as well. I vividly remember that experience. We were Catholic too… must be part of the religion to let kids go see R rated movies!

  3. When I was a boy the movie going experience was an all day event. You had one or two Tarzan serials, some cartoons then a news short and hopefully a double feature.
    Some favorites from the 70’s “Panic in Needle Park” Al Pacino’s second movie. “French Connection” and not really the 70’s but close “Easy Rider”. Was the 70’s so great for movies,music and fashion or was it great because we were growing up in it

    1. Kevin, I think it is great period. I will later try to make the case that although I grew up in the 70’s and was very affected by those films, they hold up remarkably well and still have an effect on people today who are new to them. I like all three you mentioned also!

  4. Oooh a challenge!! I guess I don’t really have a decade for films. I loved Jaws (still do for that matter, especially the early part of the film where you do not really see the shark), but most of my favourite films were made before 1965. From Pepe Le Moko (1937) through to Sanjuro (1962), the reasons for each one are so varied it is difficult to tie it down. Toshiro Mifune in Sanjuro is simply wonderful, his swordsmanship is unparalleled in film; wartime flag wavers Went The Day Well, One Of Our Aircraft is Missing and The Foreman Went To France (all 1942) are three of my favourites, yes they are pure propaganda but they are very human and believable for all that; Blithe Spirit (1945) simply because it is wickedly funny and it is Noel Coward (genius); Powell and Pressburger, I’ve seen The Battle of the River Plate (1956) maybe fifty times, Peter Finch is superb, he plays Langsdorff as an officer and a gentleman, not a strutting thug. I think there is something about the deceptive simplicity of these old films that just does it for me. Lansdorff scuttling the Graf Spee at sunset in Montevideo Harbour still brings tears to my eyes no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

  5. It was at the Park Plaza (yes, THE Park Plaza in Port Arthur!) where my parents made the HUGE error in taking me to see Paint Your Wagon – a musical western, how raunchy could that be, right?!? I was taken home at intermission, as was my brother who is five years older than I! We still laugh about that one!

  6. There was a certain visceral rawness to 70’s films, even with big budget, polished, studio films. Even STAR WARS (1977) had a certain kind of rawness to it. You could practically smell and taste them (making them a very appropriate topic for this blog!). Maybe it’s not that apparent on home video, but when you catch them in the theater, it’s true. JAWS in the theater is a very different experience than in your living room, and I’m not just talking about the environment. It FEELS different, texturally.

    1. Very much agreed, Bob. I want to dive into a lot of those New York films for that reason. I love NYC in the 70’s films. I saw Jaws on the big screen at the Cinerama Dome a while back, the first time on the big screen since it opened. Wow. A completely different movie.

  7. I’m so in shock right now…
    I caaaaaan’t believe you actually saw in theaters JAWS, HALLOWEEN and THE OMEN! OMG! Tom! I sooo envy you!
    Ok, I let everything out.
    Now… I agree with you, I guess. I just the 70s and the 80s. Such an amazing era of great great films.
    I think I’m gonna take a look at Klute!

    1. David, Klute is incredible. One of my favorites of all time. Be sure to get a wide screen version or don’t watch it at all. As for Halloween… I was way too young to get into an ‘R’ movie… so my mom brought my best friend, Marty, and I to see it. Village Theatre. We were all in one seat during the last 30 minutes.

  8. This really took me back to my childhood. I totally agree – growing up on many of these is also what made me fall in love with movies. Fun post!

  9. Hey Tom — just getting around to reading some of your blog posts! Fun stuff.

    Loved your descriptions of the old theaters in Port Arthur — we had had a couple of great screens in Little Rock: a big dome theater (Cinema 150) (Empire Strikes Back with great rear channel sound — TIE fighters!) and a classic single screen house in the Heights where I saw Silverado and The Elephant Man just before the house closed for good.

    As a child of the 70s myself I want to add The Andromeda Strain, The Poseidon Adventure, and Earthquake (Sensurround!!) to your more rarified selections. 🙂

    1. Hey! Thanks for reading and very cool about your movie theatres as well. And let me say that upcoming is a post about my obsession with 70’s disaster movies, already planned, so I am not quite as rarified as you think!

  10. Lots of great movies, there. On the other hand, there’s a strong case to be made for the ’40s as the Greatest Decade. Not that such a contest isn’t pretty absurd, but off the top of my head, here’s some great ’40s movies:

    It’s a Wonderful Life
    The Best Years of Our Lives
    Citizen Kane
    Bicycle Thieves
    White Heat
    The Maltese Falcon
    The Red Shoes
    Sullivan’s Travels
    The Third Man
    The Big Sleep
    His Girl Friday
    The Lady Eve
    The Philadelphia Story
    Shadow of a Doubt

    …It goes on. Take that, Seventies! Ha! Anyway, it’s a fun challenge/discussion, love the site, Tom!

  11. Even though I was born in the 90s, I would have to agree, of all the great movies I’ve seen, most of them have been from the 70s and 50s.
    Good blog.

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