The 9 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 1970s
The 70s were a bitter lesson in pop culture. Some might say a grim wasteland, some, a nirvana with mixed up hair. But no one can say it wasn’t without its charms.
To fans of science fiction, the decade was a veritable golden age. We were drunk on the space-race and in cinema, sci-fi was a genre coming of age with movie-makers scratching their heads how to deconstruct the nuclear panic and paint pictures of what the future would hold for the human race. Not surprisingly it was pretty bleak. Many of their visions had to do with the end of civilized society as we knew it.
Fortunately we sci-fi lovers in the post-aught era can look back and see these films such as they were, quaint, Lomo-esque, endearingly “post-apocalyptic”.
Maybe the best thing about “disco sci-fi” is the unreliability of convincing special effects. Some s-fx teams were undeniably competent and innovative, while others had matte spray paint, vinyl siding, and miles of aluminum dryer vent tubing. I think it was the wide range of quality of the special effects that made the decade so definitive. The 60s, with a few notable exceptions, saw fishing line and sparklers across the board. The 80s saw the establishment of matte-boarding, go-motion, and CGI. The sci-fi movies of the 1970s were all skin suits, camera tricks and underlying coke habits.
To honor this fateful decade, and because as a kid I would’ve stood in line to see these through weather, hunger, and dictatorial commands from Mom from the station wagon, today I’m giving my list of the 70s best sci-fi flicks. Of course, this is IMHO. Feel free to protest, but remember, I hold the power to shut your trap with my delete button.
In no particular order.
One of the movie’s best sci-fi flicks. Period. Simply stated, a near perfect film. The project that solidified Ridley Scott’s place in the pantheon of great directors and set the stage for his making what I believe to be the greatest sci-fi movie of all time, Blade Runner. Brought the public face-to-face with H.R. Geiger’s nightmares and showed us how it just might take a woman to save the human race.
Still terrifying all these years later.
Close Encounters (1977)
The film that brought sci-fi to mainstream America. Started Spielberg down the road to what would become a rich and lucrative (and recently deceased) career. Close Encounters starts out brilliantly, layers on plot like so many scoops of mashed potatoes until the grand alien payoff at the end.
That François Truffant co-starred in the movie is the cherry on top. He was so good.
Logan’s Run (1976)
In a sexy utopian society where everyone is under 30, girls hit up “the circuit” for sex, and bras are abhorred, people still want to run away. Seems far-fetched. Still, this relatively low budget 24th century thriller keeps you watching till the end. Some great scenes of a post-apocalyptic Washington DC where Peter Ustinov is the last remaining inhabitant and an amusingly unrealistic miniature “futuristic” metropolis under a dome keeps it all fun. The effects are marvelously pedestrian but the film does have an interesting twist of fortune at the end. And I’m not talking about skinny-dipping scene.
Juxtaposition of note: that Logan’s Run came out only 11 months before the vastly effects-superior Star Wars is a testament to the latter’s genre pioneering.
Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)
Maybe not as epic as the Mothra matchup (of 1964) or as classic as the ’54 original, but here we get a flying Godzilla, psychedelic freak-outs, and a quasi-environmental message about how your city’s pollution if you’re not careful just might get bad enough to eat you alive. Plus the director commented that “Hedorah’s eyes were modeled on female genitalia”. He said, “what’s not scary about that?” Touche.
Fun fact: Godzilla is the English interpretation of the Japanese word Gojira, the combination of gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale). Yes, Godzilla is a gorilla-whale. And his roar is copyrighted!
A Boy and His Dog (1975)
This makes the list simply because it’s every guy’s fantasy. Evidently nerds have been the same since the beginning – a young man finds himself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with an ability to talk telepathically with his dog and has the duty of repopulating the human race with an underground society of beautiful women. How bad could it be? How bad indeed.
A Boy and his Dog is a great movie. See it.
Star Wars (1977)
The perennial classic, the movie that launched a thousand memes, the epic tale of Good v Evil, as relevant today as it was thirty-five years ago. A question to ponder: where would sci-fi be without Star Wars? Where would Wonder-Con be?
Nominated for Best Picture of the year, but lost out to that godless comedy Annie Hall. Devils!
Written and directed by Michael Crichton (for what it’s worth), a classic tale of robots-run-amok, hell bent to remorselessly break all of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Set in a futuristic fantasy playground, this movie made me believe for quite some time that Yul Brenner was actually not human, and creepily so. Sure the acting stinks, and the effects are downright laughable (at least nowadays), but the idea of a Fantasy Island-style paradise getaway gives this film a nod. Props for James Brolin for being involved in the project.
The question remains however, why would someone chose the gunslinging, dusty boots WestWorld as their retreat destination instead of toga-clad, off-the-vine grape-eating, orgy-having RomanWorld. Insanity prevails.
THX 1138 (1971)
Entirely underrated, George Lucas’ bleak and disturbing tale of the human race’s inevitable future rounds out his top three best movies. THX 1138 should be watched not just because it was the launch pad for what would come soon after but because it but it’s also a cautionary tale of what we’d become if sex wasn’t a part of our day-to-day lives. Adapted from a short film the director made in college, THX 1138 tells a story of a subterranean society where mind-altering drugs are mandatory and sex is outlawed. Yipes.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
I don’t care what you say, Star Trek: TMP is a fucking masterpiece. Who needs a sensible plot when you have Kubrickian pacing, dynamic cinematic tension, and a hot, bald Deltan as the Enterprise’s chief navigator. People’s complaints about ST:TMP are typically lightweight, whining about uniforms, inconsistent characters and something about an anti-climax. I’ve got two words for you bastards: whiplash bolt.
Yes, the 70s were a great time to be alive as a dorky kid who couldn’t help but build model TIE fighters and dream about laser blasters and the future. If you want more proof of the brilliance of of 70s sci-fi, just look at its trickle-over into television: Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and Quark, the sci-fi sitcom with the cleavage showing cadet clones, Betty and Betty. Sublime.