En español | It’s hard to believe that these 11 films — from Little Big Man to Love Story — all arrived in movie theaters in 1970, a full 50 years ago. Take a trip down memory lane with our critics’ picks from that year, and think about giving them another watch to see if they’ve stood the test of time.
Why is this shameless tearjerker about a dying girl (top 1970 heartthrob Ali MacGraw) who loved Bach, the Beatles and her beau (Ryan O'Neal), still popular? “I am probably more shocked than anyone,” MacGraw told AARP in 2017. Love Story ranked number 9 in the American Film Institute's list of the greatest romance films, and its catchphrase “Love means never having to say you're sorry” ranked number 13 on the top movie quotes list.
Little Big Man
Studios didn't want hot director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) to make this revisionist western because the Indians were the good guys, not the bad guys. But he prevailed, grossing $200 million in modern dollars and winning honors for Dustin Hoffman as a 121-year-old man who claims he was captured by the Cheyenne at age 10, and grew up to be a gunslinger with Wild Bill Hickok — and the sole white survivor of Custer's Battle of the Little Bighorn. And his costar Chief Dan George tallied more honors than Hoffman, including earning an Oscar nomination.
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The granddaddy of all disaster films totally deserved the merciless ridicule of its smash-hit parody, Airplane! What could be cornier than airport manager Burt Lancaster and pilot Dean Martin struggling with snowstorms and mad bomber Van Heflin? Or more wildly entertaining? Even many who considered it history's most unqualified nominee for 10 Oscars (including best picture) admitted it was mysteriously irresistible. Critic Matt Brunson said: “It may be junk, but it's irresistible junk, like cotton candy, chicken nuggets or Gilligan's Island reruns.”
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Cotton Comes to Harlem
The biggest hit of its time with a black cast, director Ossie Davis’ comic crime drama spawned the blaxploitation genre that led to Shaft, Super Fly and Quentin Tarantino. Foulmouthed, purehearted cops Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques investigate a corrupt preacher, because they're “Too quick with their fists. Too flip with their talk. Too fast with their guns. And too damn black maniacs on a powder keg.” Redd Foxx and Cleavon Little give the star-making performances that catapulted them to success in Sanford and Son and Blazing Saddles.
Before there was Alan Alda's M*A*S*H on TV, there was Robert Altman's anarchic antiwar movie starring Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould as swaggering, brass-defying surgeons during the Korean War. It's far less warmhearted than the TV version and shockingly anti-woman, and there's a weird subplot about a gay dentist whose homosexuality is cured by a roll in the hay with Nurse Dish (Jo Ann Pflug). Altman's son made more money for writing its famous theme song than the father Altman did for directing it, but it paid off by making Robert Altman a bankable movie immortal.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
OK, critics were right to razz the stiffness of this blockbuster about the attack on Pearl Harbor. But it's quite satisfyingly old-fashioned, with realistic explosions that look as cool as Michael Bay's 2001 CGI-infested version of the battle. It's historically correct and fair-minded, telling both the American and Japanese sides of the drama. The characters are thinly drawn, but the cast is studded with towering talents: Jason Robards, Joseph Cotten, E.G. Marshall, and James Whitmore.
Torn between watching a war movie and a heist movie tonight? Here’s both, in a war film that is in its own more conventional way an antiwar film like M*A*S*H (with whom it shares star Donald Sutherland). Clint Eastwood is great as an alienated warrior who leads a gang of misfits (Telly Savalas, Don Rickles and Sutherland) behind enemy lines to steal millions’ worth of gold bars. And they look like heroes!
RELATED: Need more Clint? Do you? Our critics ranked the Top 10 Coolest Clint Eastwood Movies.
If you liked Mick Jagger's fine performance in 2019's The Burnt Orange Heresy, try his first starring role in a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll epic whose plot remains baffling half a century later. A gangster on the lam (James Fox of Thoroughly Modern Millie) hides out with reclusive rock star Turner (Jagger with slicked-back hair) and his groupie (Anita Pallenberg). Fantastic score by Randy Newman, Ry Cooder and Jagger ("Memo from Turner” is one of his best). As gangster and rocker merge personalities, Jagger's Turner tells him: “The only performance that makes it … is the one that achieves madness.” This movie does!
Five Easy Pieces
Jack Nicholson made it to the A-list as a genius pianist who drops out to be an oil rig worker, beds and abuses an innocent girlfriend (Karen Black) and others, and goes to the San Juan Islands near Seattle to confront his disapproving father, who's just had a stroke. Nicholson faced his greatest test as a young actor in the scene where he confronts his mute, paralyzed father and weeps while apologizing for his coldness and misspent life. Jack passed the test with flying colors in a masterpiece of youth alienation on a par with The Graduate.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Barbra Streisand learns that she's the reincarnation of an 18th-century coquette — and 14 other people — then falls in love with the shrink (Yves Montand) who hypnotized her to discover this. Having been directed by Liza Minnelli's famous dad, Vincente, and written by Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady), and graced with great tunes like the title track, it should have been a masterpiece. It wasn't, but the dazzling young Streisand leaves fans verklempt forever and evermore.
The Out of Towners
Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, two of the fussiest actors in history, are ideal as innocent, hypersensitive Ohioans on a nightmare trip to Manhattan where everything that can go wrong hilariously does. Neil Simon's comedy crackles in their quarreling.