The 10 greatest films to watch of 1973
#10 – The Wicker Man
Directed by Robin Hardy. Starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee & Britt Ekland.
Get ready for one of the most unconventional and yet unnerving horror films you’ll ever see.
The Wicker Man is inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual, and it follows a police sergeant (Edward Woodward) searching for a missing girl on an isolated island. Including a classic horror performance from the great Christopher Lee, it’s bone-chilling and incredibly dark.
Despite its creep factor, The Wicker Man doesn’t quite follow the horror movie formula. There’s not a gory scene or a jump-scare in sight, but it’s unnerving and deeply disturbing. From start to finish, this film is an experience and a different sort of beast to the horror movies we’ve come to love.
It’s nothing like the A Quiet Place or Bird Box kind of films we love today, but I still wouldn’t want to watch this one in the middle of the night.
#9 – Enter the Dragon
Directed by Robert Clouse. Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon & Ahna Capri.
This was Hollywood’s first attempt at a martial arts movie, and as much as I love it when America makes cheap rip-offs, this time they nailed it.
Before there was Jackie Chan, there was Bruce Lee, and you can see his full range of power in Enter the Dragon. This quirky blend of traditional martial arts and spy movie is aided by an instantly recognisable soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin that blends electronic and more traditional music styles.
It was this film that led to the popularity and success of martial arts films around the world at the end of the 20th century. The stunts and fight scenes are jaw-dropping, and it manages to be unique and fun without becoming cringeworthy.
It’s interesting to view this film as a precursor to the Blaxploitation genre: the exploitation of stereotypical ethnic qualities in a film, which has generated some classics but remains controversial for obvious reasons.
#8 – Westworld
Directed by Michael Crichton. Starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin & James Brolin.
The clip above is one of the most chilling and renowned moments in science-fiction history, and it looks like a Western.
Westworld is the precursor to Jurassic Park, really: a futuristic adult amusement park in which guests can spend a vacation virtually in the old West. It features realistic android populations, sexual encounters and one android programmed to instigate gunfights just like in the old days without harming the human guests.
The chilling performance of Yul Brynner as the android in question has been lauded as one of the greatest and most terrifying performances as an antagonist in any science fiction film. He is staggering, daunting and intimidating.
Westworld is basically Jurassic Park for a more grown-up audience, and it remains one of my all-time favourites.
#7 – Serpico
Directed by Sidney Lumet. Starring Al Pacino, John Randolph & Jack Kehoe.
Last week, we saw Al Pacino’s career blast off with The Godfather. By 1973, he was commanding the kind of leading roles he is famous for.
Serpico is a biographical adaptation about NYPD police officer Frank Serpico (Al Pacino), who went undercover to expose corruption within the police force. It’s one of those true stories that are just so much better than fiction could ever dream to be.
Pacino’s performance is the standout here. It was named as the #40 performance of all time by the American Film Institute, was nominated for an Oscar and won the Golden Globe. The film itself is named by the AFI as the #84 most inspiring film of all time, so if you’re looking for a rousing picture, this one’s worth a look.
I always love revisiting the performances that define and establish a career, and what better career to revisit than Al Pacino’s.
#6 – Papillon
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Starring Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman & Victor Jory.
If you thought 2018 remake was moving, try revisiting the original. It’s magical.
Papillon is based on the autobiography of French convict Henri Charriere (Steve McQueen), who escaped from the inescapable penal colony of French Guiana after being wrongly convicted of murdering a pimp. Aided by fellow convict Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman), Charriere attempts the most daring prison escape in history.
Due to the remote filming locations, this film cost over $12 million to make, which was an extraordinary amount at the time. But it speaks volumes to the quality of this film that it earned more than double at the box office in its first year.
For a story of the human spirit that will surely bring tears to any eye, you can’t get much better than Papillon.
#5 – Paper Moon
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Starring Ryan O’Neal, Madeline Kahn & John Hillerman.
Ryan O’Neal was one of the leading comedic actors in the world at this time, but he’s outshone in this particular film by someone unexpected: his own daughter.
Tatum O’Neal was the youngest winner of an Oscar in history when she received Best Supporting Actress for Paper Moon. This black-and-white comedy was adapted from the novel Addie Pray by Joe David Brown and is set in Kansas and Missouri during the Great Depression.
The chemistry between the father-and-daughter combination of Ryan and Tatum is adorable and brings so much to this heart-warming comedy-drama. It’s a film that will make you feel just about every emotion on the spectrum.
#4 – The Exorcist
Directed by William Friedkin. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow & Lee J. Cobb.
Apologies for the extremely graphic language in the above clip, but this scene is simply iconic.
The Exorcist is hailed as one of the greatest horror / R-rated films of all time, and with good reason. Its content matter, and particularly this exorcism scene, has been parodied and paid homage to in countless Hollywood films since.
The film stars Ellen Burstyn as a teenage girl whom has been possessed by a mysterious entity, and her performance is iconic and confronting. She was famously too young to watch her own performance upon its release, as the film is rated R18+ (probably a good time to mention that it’s not for the faint of heart).
No matter what you might think of its liberal use of gore and profanity, the cultural conversation around this film resulted in it being the first horror film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and its quality still holds up today.
#3 – Badlands
Directed by Terrence Malick. Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek & Ramon Bieri.
This one is a fun blend between a coming-of-age love story and a Bonnie-and-Clyde shoot-em-up.
The directorial debut of Terrence Malick, it’s loosely based on the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958. It focuses on the wild and brutal love story between 25-year-old garbage collector Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) and 15-year-old Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek).
Badlands is often quoted as one of the greatest and most influential films of all time, and it features some of the best of what would become Malick’s signatures: lyrical photography and incredible music. To make it even more impressive, he began work on the project while he was still a student at the American Film Institute.
It’s a story of psychosis and love, and it even overshadows the famous Bonnie and Clyde on the silver screen. Badlands is nearly flawless.
#2 – Mean Streets
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Harvey Keitel, Robert de Niro & David Proval.
Martin Scorsese’s story is fascinating. I highly recommend you check out an interview about his childhood.
If you want an idea of what Scorsese grew up around and his outlook on the world, Mean Streets is a great place to start. It’s Scorsese’s original Italian-American gangster film, his first take on the absurd and ultra-violent world of organised crime and gangs in New York.
While he went on to make such classics as Goodfellas and Taxi Driver in the same mould, Mean Streets is just as critically acclaimed. It features stand-out performances from Harvey Keitel and Robert de Niro, who at this stage were in the dawn of their careers. It’s some of his finest storytelling, no doubt about it.
If The Irishman and The Wolf of Wall Street are up your alley, this will entertain you for nearly two hours.
#1 – American Graffiti
Directed by George Lucas. Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ronny Howard & Paul le Mat.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, before George Lucas had ruined Star Wars (heck, before he’d even made it in the first place!), there was this masterpiece.
It’s got nowhere near the ambition of Lucas’ multi-billion-dollar franchise from later in the decade. In fact, American Graffiti is a very simple film, telling the adventures of a group of teenagers in the course of one wild night. But it doesn’t need ambition. It shows off Lucas’ directing skills far better than any Star Wars film ever did.
With marvellous performances by Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill that foreshadow their work to come, and arguably an even better performance from Richard Dreyfuss, this one has a star-studded cast, all in the early days of their careers. It’s funny, it’s relatable and it has a real depth of feeling.
I’ll finish this article with a controversial statement: American Graffiti is George Lucas’ best ever film, Star Wars included. I dare you to watch it and change my mind.