These are the best 1970s period dramas, which include LGBTQ+ biopics, teen comedies, and gangster epics.
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Typically, when people hear the term “period drama,” they envision films set in the early part of the twentieth century or earlier. As the ’70s ended more than 40 years ago and had such a unique style, movies set in those years are primarily period dramas.
Besides the style, what makes a movie a period drama are the events that take place within it. Movies about the ’70s are often based on political and social events of the era, or depictions of the adult film business. Aside from disco biopics and coming-of-age stories, few other films have done a better job of capturing the spirit of the ’70s than these.
1. American Hustle (2013) – 7.2
It’s clear that David O’Russell, the director, is a tremendous fan of Martin Scorsese. This director has also directed Raging Bull-inspired films like The Fighter and American Hustle as well as other classic gangster films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas.
A big contrast between the two films is that the 2013 film is a sponge for the 1970s style and dress that is so prevalent in the films it is based on. The film depicts two con artists who have little option but to become pawns in a much greater FBI game. Despite the fact that the movie’s premise is a secret operation, the soap opera drama between the protagonists and the quiffs and updos take equal attention.
2. Milk (2008) – 7.5
Milk takes place entirely in the late 1970s, with the exception of historical video showing police raids on homosexual pubs in the 1950s and 1960s. Harvey Milk, a politician and homosexual rights campaigner, is the subject of this film, despite its ambiguous title.
In the course of this film, we see the politician’s rise to power, his assassination, and everything in between. Many 1970s films were filmed in San Francisco, which may be due to the city’s role as a cultural and political hotbed during the 1960s and 1970s, including the civil rights movement, literature, and rock and roll.
3. Dazed & Confused (1993) – 7.6
Richard Linklater’s entire career has been influenced by Dazed and Confused, as most of his films involve coming-of-age stories and ordinary people. It was a box financial flop in the 1990s, but many considerDazed and Confusedthe director’s best work because of its focus on ’70s youths’ lifestyles.
It would have been amazing to see a sequel set in the 1980s because the characters were so fascinating and amusing. That didn’t happen, but Linklater did helm Everybody Wants Some, a “spiritual successor” to the 1993 picture, which he says is based on the ’80s-based coming-of-age storyline.
4. Argo (2012) – 7.7
Because the events shown in Argo are so fantastical, it’s possible that younger moviegoers weren’t aware of the true narrative behind the movie before seeing it. During the Iran Hostage Crisis, a crew of CIA agents pretends to be filming a science fiction movie in order to free a group of American diplomats being held hostage in Tehran.
When you think political drama, you think burgundy suits and 1970s-inspired interior office design. It’s surprising that the Best Picture winner of 2013 didn’t even get nominated for Best Costume Design at the Academy Awards.
5. Donnie Brasco (1997) – 7.7
Many supporters believe thatDonnie Brasco is not getting the credit he deserves.
Undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco brought down the Bonanno criminal family in the 1970s in this gangster drama based on his real-life experience.
The movie does a great job of portraying the ongoing anxiety and tension that undercover officers face. For a long period, the 1997 film was the only one of its kind in cinematic history.
6. Zodiac (2007) – 7.7
Much of Zodiac depicts San Francisco as an uninspiring, rainy, and depressing place to live, rather than the sparkle and glamour of the ’70s.
In 1969, the first victims of the Zodiac Killer are seen in the film.
For nearly the whole decade of 1970s, a serial killer is pursued by investigators as well as news reporters and even cartoonists. A dramatic fly-on-the-wall view of the inquiry and a 1970s aesthetic that isn’t all sunshine and rainbows are the reasons why Zodiac is now considered a classic of the 2007 film industry.
7. Boogie Nights (1997) – 7.9
Boogie Nights cemented filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s approach, despite the fact that he had directed the thrilling crime drama Hard Eight the year before. Two of the director’s other films take place in 1970s America, and this one is set in the ’70s as well.
Flares and large haircuts abound, and one of the main characters is referred to as “Rollergirl” because she never takes her roller skates off in the film, which plays extensively on disco tropes and stereotypes. Even if the ensemble ofBoogie Nights were recast today, it would still be one of the best dramas of the 1990s because of the outstanding performances by Burt Reynolds and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
8. Almost Famous (2000) – 7.9
At just 15 years old, journalist and want tobe rock journalist Stillwater is on tour with their imaginary band in the 1970s, making it one of the best 1970s musical dramas. Several of director Cameron Crowe’s favorite 1970s bands, such Led Zeppelin and the Eagles, are represented in Stillwater. As a result, the film’s depiction of the decade is both overtly theatrical and true.
It’s one of the best road trip movies, has one of the best fictional bands, and is also a great period drama set in the 1970s, all in one package.
9. Casino (1995) – 8.2
The Scorsese-directed epic, a follow-up to Goodfellas, is another criminal drama set in the 1970s that spans several years. Goodfellas, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care about the 1970s setting at all, while Casino is awash in decadence.
One theory is that this movie’s in-your-face ’70s mood comes from Las Vegas, where the bright lights and eye-catching wallpaper all contribute to the ambiance. Even though it’s the only occasion Scorsese has totally embraced the cheesiness in a period piece, the film nevertheless manages to come off as smooth and well done.
10. Goodfellas (1990) – 8.7
Aside from the fact that it’s chock-full of gangster-movie humor and epic in scope, Goodfellas excels in a slew of ways. Like many of Martin Scorsese’s films, the core of this one takes place in the 1970s, although the story spans several decades.
While other ’70s period pieces have gone over the top in their portrayals of the era, Goodfellas takes a more understated approach. Maybe it has to do with the fact that it was released not that long after the decade in question. When the film was released in 1990, flares and disco weren’t as well-known as they are today.