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  • Writer's pictureSteve Haywood

Top Films of 1971

There were a few good films in 1970, so what will 1971 have in store? To start off with, here’s the top 10 films at the box office in 1971. This is figures for the US Box Office, and are taken from IMDB (different sources have slightly different lists).

Note: RT = Rotten Tomatoes

  1. Billy Jack (RT: 64%)- A drama about a half Indian, half white ex green beret hapkido expert who saves wild horses from being slaughtered and made into dog food. No seriously, I mean it. It’s an anti-establishment film with themes like make love not war, killing of innocent creatures, racial prejudice and more.

  2. Fiddler on the Roof (RT: 81%)- A three hour long musical drama about a Jewish peasant in pre-revolutionary Russia trying to marry his three daughters off while contending with anti-Jewish sentiments.

  3. Diamonds Are Forever (RT: 67%)- James Bond film starring Sean Connery. Bond investigates and tries to break up a diamond smuggling ring.

  4. The Last Picture Show (RT: 100%) – The story of two teenage boys coming of age in a bleak and dying Texas town.

  5. Carnal Knowledge  (RT: 89%)- A film about the sexual development of two people who meet and befriend one another in college. Stars Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson

  6. The Hospital (RT: 100%)- In this comedy drama a young doctor struggles to find meaning in his life, while a murderer stalks the halls of the hospital.

  7. Willard (RT: 59%) – In this film a social misfit uses his only friends – his pet rats – to inflect revenge on his tormentors.

  8. Bedknobs and Broomsticks (RT: 63%) – In this classic animation, an apprentice witch and three children, along with a cynical conman, search for the missing ingredient for a magic spell that will help defend Britain.

  9. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (RT: 71%) – After saving a Black Panther from some racist cops, a black male prostitute goes on the run with the help of the ghetto community and some disillusioned Hell’s Angels.

  10. Escape From The Planet of the Apes (RT: 79%) – This is the second sequel to Planet of the Apes, and features three apes who flee their world before it is destroyed and travel back in time to present day (i.e. 1970s) America. They become the toast of society, but not everyone is convinced their arrival is a good thing…

So there’s a bit of a mixed bag in there, some great films and some dodgy sounding ones (I used to have a board game called Absolute Balderdash that had some crazy sounding films in, now I know where they got them from – the 1970s!). There’s a few notable films that weren’t in the top 10 however. A Clockwork Orange (RT: 90%), Stanley Kubrick’s most controversial film, was never likely to top the box office charts. It was a very violent film and not everyone’s cup of tea – based on Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel, it was withdrawn in the UK for nearly 30 years and only re-released after Kubrick’s death. A much more gentle family film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (RT: 90%), was also released in 1971. Based on the Roald Dahl children’s classic, it starred Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, the world’s greatest candy maker. It is a wonderful film that enchanted children ever since. Even though a new film starring Johnny Depp came out in 2005, the 1971 original is still as popular as ever.

There’s also several acclaimed crime-thrillers that came out in 1971 including:

Get Carter (RT: 90%) – starring Michael Caine as a strong-arm gangster who works for the London mob, but returns to his hometown of Newcastle to avenge the death of his brother.

The French Connection (RT: 98%)- stars Gene Hackman as a NYPD cop who works all out to try and intercept a heroine shipment being arranged by a French entrepreneur.

Shaft (RT: 89%)- “He’s cool and tough. He’s a black private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks. He doesn’t take orders from anybody, black or white, but he’d risk his neck for his brother man. I’m talkin’ about Shaft. Can you dig it?” Most people now only know the 2000 remake with Samuel L Jackson, but this was the cool original.

Dirty Harry

Rotten tomatoes score – 95%

I wanted to watch a couple of films from 1971 but with plenty to choose from I wasn’t sure what to pick. I ended up going from another crime movie, Dirty Harry starring Clint Eastwood. This was a film that revived the cop movie and set the tone for many films that followed after it. It was a good film, and I particularly enjoyed the character of Dirty Harry, really interesting and a bit bonkers. I can see his like in many more modern films, but not those later characters are mostly like cardboard cutouts when set against this. The story itself wasn’t an innovative one by modern standards, but was enjoyable nonetheless. The other main character in the film though is the city of San Francisco, which is really shown off to good effect in this film as Clint Eastwood runs all over the city trying to track down Scorpio, the serial killer. Well worth a watch.

The Last Picture Show

Rotten tomatoes score – 100%

The other film I watched was The Last Picture Show which came out in 1971, but was set in the early 1950s in a small, dying Texas town. It chronicles the residents of the town, and in particular is a coming of age story of two teenage boys, Sonny and Duane.

The Last Picture Show

I really enjoyed this film. It built up gradually as you were introduced to the different characters (and I’ll be honest evenat the end I didn’t quite know who everyone was and how they fitted together – perhaps I need to watch again for that). The black and white filming helped make the film quite atmospheric and the feeling of decay and the passing of an era really came across well. It was a sad film too in various ways, though perhaps poignant is the better word.

One of the fun things about watching old films is seeing famous actors in early roles when they were largely unknown, and this film is no exception. It’s got a 21 year old Jeff Bridges in one of his earliest big screen roles, playing Duane. It’s also got Cybill Shepherd in as local teenage beauty Jacy Farrow – according to IMDB it is her first credited screen role so was quite a big break for her. It also has an excellent performance from Ben Johnson as Sam the Lion. Ben was born in 1918 and was a ranch hand and rodeo performer before he became an actor. After more than a decade in Hollywood he left in 1953 to return to rodeo and he won the Rodeo World Championship, but after finding that he could barely pay the bills he returned to the movies. In a long career he appeared in more than 300 films.

I really enjoyed this film, and would like to watch it again soon. A shame I only rented it from Amazon, should have paid the extra couple of quid.


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