When figuring out what qualifies as the “best decade ever,” especially when it comes to film, one needs to take a certain number of factors into account. It can’t just be about what decade produced your favorite films; it has to be about what decade actually led
to the making of your favorite films. And without a doubt, as we watch this decade come to a close, that decade remains the 1970s. No decade so changed not only the way we looked at film, but the way they were made, like the '70s did. Not only were there socially important films, but the decade also ushered in the era of exploitation, gave us the creation of summer blockbusters and for the first time offered us black heroes that were more than just sidekicks or social statements.
Most of what people think of as mainstream films today – the Oscar films, the summer tentpoles, the modern horror-movie template – finds their origins in the cinematic reflection of a depressed, morally bankrupt, ethically questionable 1970s America. Moody and broken by a recession, a failed war and the ultimate betrayal by a U.S. president, America turned to its cinemas to define its passions or simply chase the blues away. Much of what we see today in the cinema was inspired by this decade and its works. Important Films.
In a post-social-conscience America, filmmakers struggled to share their voices through movies like never before with audacious and sometimes offensive opinions that often forced us to confront our own demons. Before Apocalypse Now
, you simply didn’t make films critical of our wars or troops. Films like Network
and All the President's Men
laid bare the corruption in the media and government. And cutting-edge works like A Clockwork Orange
and Taxi Driver
exposed us to new ways of thinking about both what a film was and what it could do and say. Sometimes rewarded by Oscars, sometimes not, this era provided a dark view of our world from voices still relevant today. The Summer Blockbuster.
there was no such thing as a summer blockbuster. The old model of film distribution involved slowly taking a film around the country to single-screen theaters that people would attend often regardless of what specifically was playing. But once Jaws
and Star Wars
began packing lines around theaters for days on end, the Summer Blockbuster was born. Everyone wanted to have special-effects-heavy, family-accessible films (remember, Jaws
was PG at the time, despite being what we would consider an R-Rated movie now) that would pack audiences nationwide in ever wider releases. In 1977, Star Wars
opened on only 32 screens. Today, similar films open on 3,000-4,000. The Black Hero
. Before John Shaft, a black man wasn’t the hero of the movie, especially if it was an action movie. Shaft
changed all of that, ushering in an era we know as “Blaxploitation” and ultimately paving the way for actors like Denzel Washington
, Will Smith
and Danny Glover
to headline films in roles that weren’t specifically written for black characters. This simple, sometimes very silly era proved to break more barriers than people often remember. The Slasher Movie.
The '70s didn’t exactly create the “slasher” movie, but it sure as hell popularized it. While credit for this genre really belongs to the Italians, it was a little film called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
that popularized them. Followed up almost immediately by such gritty horror films as Last House on the Left
, Black Christmas
and most notably Halloween
, America found a definite love affair with a notion as simple as a masked killer cutting people up in ever more grisly manners. While this did lead to a brutal offshoot of truly distasteful revenge/slasher films (like I Spit on Your Grave
), it also led to the fun, gruesome '80s splatter films that many so fondly remember and still enjoy today.
No, the 1970s weren’t just about disco balls and platform shoes. While often written off as a silly decade recovering from the previous decade of important social upheaval, its art reflected more the change of the prior decade than it did the true malaise and popular drug-fueled revelry for which it is often remembered. Scorsese, Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, Donner, Craven, Carpenter, Hooper, Schrader ... No other decade gave us names like the '70s .