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9 Best 1970s Movies on Netflix Right Now

April 18, 2019
15 min read

The 1970s was a time when experimenting became the hallmark of most popular movies and filmmakers. It was a decade that showed us how one can experiment even with mainstream films, and that the director should have the final say on what the film should look or feel like. After the tumultuous 1960s ended with the death of four major rockstars, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, the flower power era of peace and love came to a screeching halt.

The 70s became an era of excess. Cocaine would flood the markets of USA, and rock ‘n roll upgraded to hard rock, punk, heavy metal and disco. It was during this time that the younger generation would become major cultural figures. Led Zeppelin was taking the world by storm while the Movie Brats, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian de Palma became America’s foremost filmmakers. Their movies were lapped up by the youth of America, and this became the first time in American film history when the directors became the heroes of their films.

Scorsese started the decade with his second feature film ‘Boxcar Bertha’ (1972), and then made his first film with favorite collaborator Robert De Niro — ‘Mean Streets’ (1973). After 1974’s mild success with ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’, Scorsese received worldwide attention with ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976). The movie won him the highest honor at the Cannes Film Festival — the Palme d’Or. A friend of Scorsese’s, Steven Spielberg, became the one to revolutionize the film market forever with his second theatrical release ‘Jaws’ (1975). The film became the then-highest-grossing Hollywood film of all time and introduced the concept of the summer blockbuster which is in effect to this very day.

Now Steven Spielberg’s dear friend George Lucas was not someone to be left behind, and within a couple of years, he smashed the record of ‘Jaws’ with his ‘Star Wars’ (1977). The person who probably had the best run of films in the 1970s was Francis Ford Coppola. He started the decade with ‘Godfather’ (1972), and then won the Palme d’Or with ‘The Conversation’ (1974). In the same year, his ‘Godfather II’ released and met with equal, if not more positive response from audiences and critics alike. He ended the decade with another classic, ‘Apocalypse Now’, and again won the Palme d’Or. Coppola won a total of seven Academy Awards in the 1970s.

The 1970s was also a post-Watergate period, and naturally, the sense of insecurity that gripped America after the surveillance scandal was reflected in other important films of the decade, mainly ‘All The President’s Men’, which directly deals with this issue. ‘The Parallax View’ (1974), is also a film in the same vein. Horror movies got a milestone of their own during the 1970s in the form of ‘The Exorcist’ (1973), directed by William Friedkin. Friendkin also directed two major movies during the decade. ‘The Boys In The Band’ (1970), a drama dealing with LGBTQ issues, and ‘The French Connection’ (1971).

With only these select few directors, we see how the 1970s became an important decade in the history of cinema, not only aesthetically but also market-wise. This decade needs to be studied in great detail if one wishes to grasp the workings of Hollywood in its entirety. For those of you who love the 1970s and would like to check out movies from the decade, you have come to the right place. Here’s the list of really good 70s movies on Netflix that are available to stream right now. The list includes a range of Bollywood and Hollywood titles.

9. Salaakhen (1975)

Directed by A. Salaam, ‘Salaakhen’ is the story of two long-lost childhood friends who meet and fall in love in their later years under very different circumstances. Chander (Shashi Kapoor) and Seema (Sulakshana Pandit) are the central characters of the story. While Chander is a con man and a thief, Seema is an established professional singer. They are unaware that they knew each other as children. But things change for the worse when both of them, without knowledge of the other, head to their birthplace for completely different reasons. While Seema goes there for a religious occasion, Chander is headed to the village to get arrested. He has been promised a large sum of money by a gangster if he manages to get himself arrested. Things complicate further when Seema and Chander meet at the village and realize their history together.

8. Manoranjan (1974)

‘Manoranjan’ is a 1974 romantic comedy directed by the Indian superstar Shammi Kapoor. The movie is a remake of Billy Wilder’s ‘Irma La Douce’ (1963). An honest rookie policeman, Constable Ratan ‘Sheru’ (Sanjeev Kapoor), is the central character of the movie. Ratan has been given the duty to patrol on Manoranjan Street, an area infamous for its numerous brothels. While on duty, Ratan sees a group of people who he thinks are traffickers and calls for backup to arrest them. It is revealed that Ratan’s boss is among the men he wanted to arrest, and this angers his boss so much that he gets Ratan suspended from duty. During the same night on duty, Ratan meets a prostitute called Nisha whom he takes a fancy to. Nisha lets Ratan stay with her when he loses his job, and they slowly fall in love. However, things soon go out of hand when Ratan is charged with murder. When the movie was first released, it was criticized in India for its unabashed portrayal of prostitution and sexuality.

7. Benji (1974)

The first film of the famous ‘Benji’ series, this is the story of a dog and his immense love for those who care for him. Benji is a stray dog who is loved by most of the people in the town where he lives. At night, Benji usually takes shelter in an abandoned and dilapidated house. His best friends are Paul and Cindy Chapman, who are the children of a local doctor. They love and care for Benji despite their father’s vehement opposition to anything related to dogs. The Chapmans’ maid Mary loves Benji and feeds him regularly when the doctor is not at home. Benji even manages to find a friend in a pretty white dog whom the Chapmans name Tiffany.

Benji, one day, discovers that the abandoned house where he lived is being used by a bunch of criminals as a hideout. These criminals intend to scare the Chapmans for money, but later end up kidnapping Cindy and Paul. Nobody but Benji knows their hideout and now it is upon Benji to save them. The film was a huge critical and commercial success and went on to spawn five sequels. The role of Benji was played by the dog Higgins who became one of the most popular animals to ever grace the silver screen.

6. Jaws (1975)

One of the most important films of the 1970s, ‘Jaws’ was a film that revolutionized the film industry like no other movie that came before it. The film is an adaptation of a book of the same name written by Peter Benchley, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Carl Gottlieb. The movie is centered around Amity Island, a popular tourist destination in the summers. Richard Dreyfuss plays the lead character of police chief Martin Brody. When a woman is violently attacked and killed by a shark, Brody decides to close off the beach. However, the mayor of the town, Larry Vaughn disagrees with Brody and opens the beach only for the shark to attack again and claim more lives. The mayor disputes the fact that the attack was caused by a shark so as to not affect the thriving business of the island during summer.

However, an oceanologist, Matt Hopper, examines the body of a deceased victim in the attack and concludes that an unusually large shark was behind the attack. Unable to find any other way to stop the shark, Brody, Hopper, and a professional shark hunter called Quint to go out on his boat to try and kill the shark. ‘Jaws’ was a tremendous critical and commercial success and became the then-highest-grossing Hollywood film. It introduced the culture of the summer blockbuster. Spielberg used a technique in this film which originally Hitchcock had perfected. This is the art of invoking tension through suggestion. The shark is hardly seen in the film, but its mere presence is suggested using such precise sound and camera movements that it invokes a sense of fear in the audience. The movie had spawned three sequels, but none has been able to reach the level of brilliance which Spielberg managed to in this film.

5. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

The third feature film by the British comedy group Monty Python is considered by many to be their best movie and also among the best comedy movies ever made. The film follows the life of a character called Brian Cohen who is born on the same day in Nazareth as Jesus Christ. The two families are basically neighbors. This creates confusion among the Three Kings from the East who do not understand who their actual Messiah is. Brian grows up to be a politically aware individual who joins an independence movement to protest the Roman occupation of Judea.

One day, Brian joins a group of mystics in a plaza, and to identify himself as one of them, he shares certain words of wisdom which he had heard Jesus speak during one of his sermons. This suddenly garners Brian unwanted attention and followers who are now convinced that he is the true Messiah. Whatever Brian now does becomes a miracle for them, and every word of his is noted down as a sermon. Naturally, this attention that Brian receives brings him to the notice of the king’s guards. While trying to escape his followers, Brian is caught by the guards and sentenced to crucifixion.

‘Life of Brian’ was a huge hit during its release, with many critics calling it a brilliant parody of Biblical movies and a fabulously funny take on Jesus’ life. However, making fun of religious topics naturally garners controversy, and the fate of this film was no different. The movie was banned in a few European countries like Ireland and Norway. Monty Python used this ban to promote the movie further, advertising the film in Sweden saying, “So funny, it was banned in Norway!”

4. Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975)

Another absolute masterpiece by Monty Python, this film satirizes King Arthur’s journey for the Holy Grail. The story follows King Arthur as he prepares a group of men who are called the ‘Knights of The Round Table” to go on a journey with him. The knights have funny names like Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot, Sir Not-Appearing-in-this-Film, and others. On their way, they encounter some comedic situations which become the main focus of the film. They come across a knight so persistent that he keeps fighting even when he has lost all four of his limbs. Then the magical elements of Castle Anthrax trouble them further. The group of knights come across a cave where the Holy Grail is rumored to be placed, but the cave is guarded by the ferocious Rabbit of Caerbannog which makes it impossible for them to enter. Though reactions on initial release were moderate to positive, ‘Monty Python’s Holy Grail’ became a classic over time. It is now regarded as one of the best comedy films ever.

3. Annie Hall (1977)

Woody Allen’s masterful screenwriting and his brilliant sense of humor are in its full bloom in this 1974 classic. The film focuses on a relationship between Alvy Singer (Allen himself), and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Alvy is a neurotic comedian whose relationship with Annie is riddled with problems. The relationship finally fails and we see Alvy trying to understand the reasons behind this failure. The film is what one would call a ‘slice-of-life’ film, with no definitive plot, but certain moments which capture the relationship between the two lead characters and them trying to come to terms with their own problems and insecurities. Allen’s character Alvy is a neurotic nerd, who has good knowledge about arts, but he somehow fails to grasp the art of being a proper boyfriend. Though Annie falls in love with him, Alvy sees her walking intimately with a colleague which makes him angry. This results in a confrontation between the two which eventually leads to the breakup.

There are certain postmodern aspects in the film. In one scene, we see Annie and Alvy standing in line to watch a movie when they overhear a man complaining about Federico’s Fellini’s work, saying that it did not “hit him in the guts”. Miffed, Alvy comments that he would be happy to hit the man “in the guts”. Further, when the same person voices his displeasure about the work of Marshall McLuhan, Alvy suddenly brings McLuhan himself into the frame to criticize the person in question. Famous author Truman Capote made a guest appearance in this film. Capote just walks by in a scene, where, pointing at him, Alvy remarks, “There’s the winner of the Truman Capote look-alike contest”.

Read More: Best 60s Movies on Netflix

2. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

This film is a testament to its maker’s saying, “If it can be written or thought, it can be filmed”. When ‘A Clockwork Orange‘ was released as a book, it was already hailed as a unique work of literature with very innovative aesthetics. But when the book fell in the hands of Stanley Kubrick and he turned it into a feature film, the material surpassed its parent text and took on a life of its own. Kubrick’s brilliant direction, which manages to create a universe unto itself, brings us a story set in a futuristic London. The art in this period is mainly unique, and that is how Kubrick creates a sense of the future. The architecture, fashion, paintings, sculptures of this period are terse, and so is the morality of Alex DeLarge and his three friends. They are high school children, but extremely ruthless. They can sing songs while invading a home and raping a woman in front of her husband. They take pleasure in brutalizing a woman to death.

However, Alex’s life is not that smooth. He soon gets caught by the police for murder and is sent to jail. There, the authorities say they are doing an experiment, and asks for a volunteer among the prisoners. Alex readily agrees, and then goes through a process where he will be conditioned in such a way that he develop an aversion to violence. In fact, it would not allow him to enjoy any pleasure at all. Even his favorite music causes the same reaction in him. Alex’s complete absolution of free will now begets questions from many sectors. The film puts up several important questions to the audience. Firstly, whether morals and ethics will erode away with the passage of time. Secondly, how far can we agree to let go of free will to live in peace? Extremely controversial during its time, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is now regarded a masterpiece. On its initial release, the film was criticized by some critics for its graphic portrayal of violence and sexuality.

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1. Apocalypse Now (1979)

The 1970s came to a close with a movie that summed up the progress of humankind into a more depraved race perfectly — ‘Apocalypse Now’. Francis Ford Coppola took upon the stupendous challenge of making this movie, which itself is a subject of another documentary, ‘Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse’. This film is one of the most poignant war movies ever made and it depicts the horrors of war in its entirety. The story follows a ranking officer in the army called Benjamin Willard who has been assigned by his seniors to find and murder a rogue senior officer of the army who has built a cult around himself deep inside the Vietnamese jungles. Willard takes a small group of men and travels towards the destination, deep into the heartland of a country plundered and ravaged by war.

Willard’s journey is the central focus of the film. While Willard and his men cross numerous hurdles to reach their destination, their journey turns symbolic. It shows the waste of life in a battle from which America has nothing to gain but pride. Most of the soldiers who are in Vietnam have been drafted into the army and they want an escape. This mental trauma pushes many of them to excessive drug use. On their way, the group come across a fleet of American helicopters and their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore.

Kilgore is the sort of person who thrives on war. He is a complete sadist, and is probably among the very few Americans enjoying their lives in Vietnam. The group does meet Kurtz finally. But by the time the meeting happens, the movie has already made clear what it set out to achieve — that wasting human lives in certain fruitless battles is a criminal offense. The film was a huge success for Coppola and sealed his name as one of the best filmmakers ever. ‘Apocalypse Now’ won various honors across the world, including the Palme d’Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

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