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The 13 Best ’70s Movies on Netflix

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The 13 Best ’70s Movies on Netflix

Netflix lists a whopping 30 movies from the 1970s—the decade of the emergence of the great American blockbuster, of a revolution in independent cinema, of more than 30 films being made. So you can’t really go to Netflix for a comprehensive primer in the decade’s best, but you can check out the streaming service for some surprising entries, like Jacques Rivette’s 13-hour Out 1 or a few iconic kung fu flicks.

Not to be pessimistic or anything, but: These probably won’t be around for long, given Netflix’s penchant for drastic turnover—especially when it comes to anything made before 1980—so check these out while you can. Also check out all of the best movies on Netflix (and elsewhere) lists we’ve got stacking our archives.

Here are the 13 best ’70s movies on Netflix.

good guys wear black poster (Custom).jpg 13. Good Guys Wear Black
Year: 1978
Director: Ted Post
The ’70s were a weird, weird time for Chuck Norris, who somehow managed to look older in his films here than he did 20 years later in Walker, Texas Ranger. It may have to do with his apparent lack of understanding of facial hair during this period, as he seemingly has no idea how to wear anything other than a crop-duster mustache. Regardless, in this one he plays a CIA assassin/black ops soldier named John T. Booker, which is coincidentally the same role he would reprise decades later in The Expendables 2. It’s standard fare: A governmental employee with a grudge sets up Booker’s team to take a fall/get eliminated, and Booker’s slowly drawn into the plot with a will for revenge. It sounds like the setup for an action spectacular, but Good Guys Wear Black is honestly more like a spy movie at times, and there aren’t as many overt “karate scenes” as you would expect from a film starring a guy who initially rose to fame as a karate champion. It does, however, have a couple of spectacular moments that make it stand out, and worth a watch. I won’t spoil them, but “Chuck Norris vs. guy in car” is a fair description of the highlight you’ll be remembering later. —Jim Vorel


the fury poster (Custom).jpg 12. The Fury
Year: 1978
Director: Brian De Palma
Two years after Carrie, Hollywood came calling to Brian De Palma, asking “Hey, want to make more or less the same film again?” Brian’s presumptive response: “Sure, let’s do exactly that.” To be fair it’s not exactly the same as Carrie, but it’s still a horror movie about psychic teens with telekinesis. In reality, the premise reminds one almost of the Maximoff twins’ depiction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: two gifted young people who are taken advantage of and imprisoned by governmental forces seeking to weaponize their abilities. Kirk Douglas stars as a father trying to find one of those teenagers, who happens to be his psychic son (it’s not every day that you can see a horror movie with Spartacus in it). All in all, it’s sort of a bland film, in a staid, ‘70s way…EXCEPT for the very last scene, which is absolutely magnificent. Finally unleashing her full powers, Gillian (Amy Irving) uses her mind to cause the antagonist to erupt into a red mist of gore. I mean, honestly, I’ve seen a lot of people get blown up in movies over the years, but even I’ve never seen anything like the exploding guy in The Fury. It’s easy to understand why they simultaneously filmed it from like a half dozen angles—they knew just how good that explosion was going to be. —Jim Vorel


pumping-iron-cover.jpg 11. Pumping Iron
Year: 1977
Directors: Robert Fiore, George Butler
Behold arrogance anthropomorphized: A 28-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, competing for his sixth Mr. Olympia title, effortlessly waxes poetic about his overall excellence, his litanies regarding the similarities between orgasming and lifting weights merely fodder between bouts of pumping the titular iron and/or flirting with women he can roll up into his biceps like little flesh burritos. He is both the epitome of the human form and almost tragically inhuman, so corporeally perfect that his physique seems unattainable, his status as a weightlifting wunderkind one of a kind. And yet, in the other corner, a young, nervous Lou Ferrigno primes his equally large body to usurp Arnold’s title, but without the magnanimous bluster and dick-wagging swagger the soon-to-be Hollywood icon makes no attempt to hide. Schwarzenegger understands that weightlifting is a mind game (like in any sport), buttressed best by a healthy sense of vanity and privilege, and directors Fiore and Butler mine Arnold’s past enough to divine where he inherited such self-absorption. Contrast this attitude against Ferrigno’s almost morbid shyness, and Pumping Iron becomes a fascinating glimpse at the kind of sociopathy it takes to be a god on earth. —Dom Sinacola


way-of-the-dragon.jpg 10. The Way of the Dragon (Return of the Dragon)
Year: 1972
Director: Bruce Lee
Bruce Goddamn Lee. That’s probably as much incentive as anybody needs to check out Way of the Dragon, because, let’s face it: Lee is a screen god, a dynamo of physicality and magnetism whose legend is still obviously revered today. Here he does battle with the mob to protect his family’s restaurant in Rome, eventually locking horns with Chuck Norris in the Colosseum. (The mob flies Norris in as a last ditch effort. It makes as much sense in the film as it does on paper.) You probably didn’t know that you needed to watch that bout to lead a full, meaningful existence, but you do, so no matter how willfully goofy Way of the Dragon may sound, it’s a martial arts essential. —Andy Crump


36th chamber of shaolin poster (Custom).jpg 9. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
Year: 1978
Director: Lau Kar-leung
And this is why any kung fu fan will always love Gordon Liu. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is as classic as it gets—it’s the definitive Shaolin movie, without a doubt, and the source of Liu’s nickname, “Master Killer.” In this he plays a young student who is wounded when his school is culled by the Manchu government, so he flees to the refuge of the Shaolin temple. After toiling as a laborer, he is finally granted the right to learn kung fu, which begins the film’s famous training sequences. It’s the rare film where those training sequences actually outshine the traditional fights, because they’re just so beautiful, fluid and inventive. In each of the 36 chambers, San Te must toil to discipline his body, mind, reflexes and will. These sequences envelop the whole center of the film, and are unforgettable. The film just has a gravitas—it imbues kung fu with a great dignity: True kung fu can only be attained through the greatest of sacrifice. —Jim Vorel


silver streak poster.jpg 8. Silver Streak
Year: 1976
Director: Arthur Hiller
Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are rightfully remembered as a great comedy duo, even though only two of the four films they made together are actually any good. Silver Streak was the first and the best, a Hitchcockian comedy-mystery that lets both of its stars do what they need to do while surrounding them with a world class supporting cast. Biggest complaint: Pryor simply isn’t in the movie enough, which could be said of most of his early film work. Silver Streak might be a little too dated for first-time viewers who weren’t around when it premiered, but if you want to understand the appeal of the Pryor-Wilder team, here’s as solid a place a any to start. —Garrett Martin


grease.jpg 7. Grease
Year: 1978
Director: Randal Kleiser
OK, so the message Grease leaves us with as Sandy (Oilivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) head skyward in an unexplained flying convertible—that all you need to do to get boys to like you is dress sluttier and completely change your personality—is…not great. But Grease never tries to masquerade as any kind of profound, high-artistic statement beyond “being a teenager and hanging out with your friends is awesome.” As such, it’s incredibly easy to get sucked into its fun. Come for iconic song-and-dance numbers like “You’re the One That I Want” and “Summer Nights,” stay for goofy one-liners like “if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter,” and lament the fact that your high school never had an end-of-the-year carnival. —Bonnie Stiernberg


five-venoms-movie-poster.jpg 6. The Five Venoms
Year: 1978
Director: Chang Cheh
This is what vintage kung fu—and martial arts cinema—is all about. The mythology alone is exquisite: The Five Venoms is the first Venom Mob film, and gave each of them a name for the rest of their careers. There’s the blinding speed of the Centipede (Lu Feng), the trickery and guile of the Snake (Wei Pei), the stinging kicks of the Scorpion (Sun Chien), the wall-climbing and gravity-defying acrobatics of the Lizard Kuo Chui), and the nigh-invincibility of the Toad (Lo Mang), along with the so-called “hybrid venom” protagonist, Yang Tieh (Chiang Sheng), who is a novice in all of the styles. It’s a film typical of both Chang Cheh and the Shaw Brothers: high budget, great costumes, beautiful sets and stylish action. Is it on the cheesy side? Sure, but how many great martial arts films are completely dour? Otherwise known as Five Deadly Venoms, it’s emblematic of an entire era of Hong Kong cinema and the joy taken in delivering beautiful choreography and timeless stories of good vs. evil. —Jim Vorel


out-1-movie-poster.jpg 5. Out 1
Year: 1971
Director: Jacques Rivette
In this sprawling narrative, two different Parisian theater groups are rehearsing plays by Aeschylus (Seven Against Thebes and Prometheus Bound), while one young deaf-mute man panhandles and a bewitching young women swindles. There’s also there’s some kind of conspiratorial group modeled on the “Thirteen” of Balzac’s novels. Most of the first installment consists of the Prometheus group engaging in a big, loud, moaning-and-mud-slinging acting exercise that begins with pairs mirroring one another’s actions and ends (a lot later) in a pantomime of a pagan ritual. There’s other stuff going on, but this sets the tone: We’re not here to engage with an epic plot so much as settle down into the slow rhythm of real time, to live with characters over a long period. Most of the characters are actors, conscious always of being watched (and trying not to be), and those characters are played by real actors who know they’re in a film. So we’re several layers deep, as audience members. The film wants us to remember that real life is just as much of an improvisation—in fact, more so—as anything that happens in the theatre. People repeat lines and interact with one another in ways we realize are drawn from previous interactions. In real life, Rivette seems to be saying, we are all engaged in creating some kind of spectacle, each of us at the center of our own story. The theater exercises in which characters engage are designed to break down barriers between their fellows (barriers that keep getting thrown up through arguments or conflicts of artistic vision) and to bust any wall between emotion and reality. But all falls apart. Connection fails. The troupes split up. Language begins to run backwards or loop, underlining the difficulty of any of this happening at all. —Alissa Wilkinson


1-Patton-best-war-movies-netflix.jpg 4. Patton
Year: 1970
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Watching Patton, Franklin J. Schaffner’s colossal biographical ode to one of World War II’s most renowned and most controversial military figures, you get the sense that George S. Patton would likely dig Schaffner’s work. The film doesn’t apologize for itself or for its subject’s actions and attitudes, much as Patton didn’t make a habit of apologizing for either unless directly ordered to by his superiors to do so. There may be no more appropriate way to honor the man’s memory than that, such as Patton can be narrowly described as an “honor.” The film doesn’t exactly flatter the general, per se, but straddles a line between hero worship and sober representation, letting Patton, and by extension George C. Scott’s commanding and iconic portrait of him, speak for himself without fear of condemnation or reprisal. As Patton is about Patton, so, too, is it about Scott, which makes sense: If you make a movie and name it after its central character, you’re also making it about its central performance, and so it’s good that Scott was up to the task of reincarnating the late general in all his egotistical, violent, callous and shockingly vulnerable glory. Patton is a war movie, make no mistake, but it uses the war movie blueprint for housing a character study of its protagonist. The results, almost half a century later, remain completely singular in the genre. —Andy Crump


panic-needle-park.jpg
3. The Panic in Needle Park
Year: 1971
Director: Jerry Schatzberg
Want to know what it was like for Lou Reed to score drugs in New York? Then this is your film. Al Pacino stars as a junkie who drags his girlfriend (Kitty Winn) into the life. It sounds like a downer, and it definitely can be, but Pacino’s energy keeps the film buoyant and interesting. New York in the late ‘60s and ‘70s represents a paradox in American history—a hotbed of revolutionary art, but also a stunning symbol of American desperation and decline. Few films capture what it was like to be young and rudderless in the Big Apple like Panic in Needle Park. —Shane Ryan


4. the omen (Custom).jpg 2. The Omen
Year: 1976
Director: Richard Donner
In the canon of “creepy kid” movies, the original 1976 incarnation of The Omen stands alone, untainted by the horrendous 2006 remake. The film has a palpable sense of malice to it, largely because of its juxtaposition of restraint and moments of extremity. Damien isn’t this little devil boy running around stabbing people—he’s full of guile and deceit. He knows that he’s playing the long game: It will be years and years before he achieves his purpose on the Earth, which gives him the uncomfortable attitude of an adult (and a pure evil one) in a child’s body. The Omen is brooding, morose, sullen, broken up by staccato moments of shocking violence—in particular, there’s the infamous scene where a sheet of glass leads to a decapitation, or there’s the fate of Damien’s nurse in the opening. For the parents out there: This will genuinely get under your skin. —Jim Vorel


blazing saddles poster.jpg 1. Blazing Saddles
Year: 1974
Director: Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks’ greatest and most racially charged comedy has recently been mentioned in debates of political correctness, in the tone of “Nobody would be able to make Blazing Saddles today,” and for better or worse, it’s hard to refute. The film is a product of its time, a decency-stretching Wild West farce about a black sheriff trying to win over the white settlers of his frontier town and foil the plot of comically nebbish villain Harvey Korman in an all-time great comedy performance. Brooks regulars such as Madeline Kahn contribute great bits, and there’s the wonderfully understated Gene Wilder, but the reason the film remains such a classic today is that the surface-level gags are largely harmless and timeless. From its little diversions in Loony Tunes parodies, to the genre satire of every person in town seemingly being named “Johnson,” it’s a surprisingly sweet film for one that’s also throwing around heavy themes of racism and discrimination. One thing that genuinely wouldn’t be done in a film today is its madcap, zany ending, as the cowboys spill out of their own movie and into the other Warner Bros. soundstages. Outside of Anchorman 2, nothing else in recent years has tapped into that level of reality-bending, plot-snapping absurdism. —Jim Vorel

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