The Top 20 Films of the 1970s

20. The Way We Were (1973)

Mistakenly confused in the memory with the sentimental theme song, the film is actually a barbed character study that explores how politics can become a kind of obsession that in this case drives a wedge between a happy-go-lucky, apolitical screenwriter (Robert Redford) and his stridently leftist wife (Barbara Streisand) during the McCarthy period.

19. The Deer Hunter (1978)

Though essentially missing the point -- we can agree that the Vietnam War wasn’t about Russian Roulette -- this intensely atmospheric war drama nevertheless works on the level of its bruising, draining drama.

18. Heaven Can Wait (1978)

In the 1970s, even romcoms were bittersweet and played in minor keys. When a football player (Warren Beatty) is mistakenly spirited off to heaven before his time by an overeager angel (Buck Henry), he struggles to get back on the field in the body of a tycoon -- who makes a romantic connection with a political enemy (Julie Christie). When he learns he must say goodbye to her, it’s a moment of exquisite sorrow worthy of the finest tearjerkers -- even though the movie is delightfully funny overall.

17. Papillon (1973)

The gutty, grueling prison movie typified the 1970s love of all things dank and depressing and this Steve McQueen drama was typically stark in its depiction of a 1930s French prisoner determined to escape from Devil’s Island at all costs. The indomitably cool McQueen never delved so deep, and as his brainy sidekick, Dustin Hoffman was the epitome of a great character actor who disappears into the role.