10 outstanding films from 1976
#10 – The Outlaw Josey Wales
Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George & Sondra Locke.
Clint Eastwood is an icon, and he’s even better when he takes the director’s chair. This is a nice blend between his classic Westerns and his later directing style in Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino.
The Outlaw Josey Wales follows the titular character, played by Eastwood, who is a Missouri farmer who seeks revenge when his family is murdered by Union militants during the Civil War. It’s fascinating to see Eastwood operate as a true anti-hero rather than his usual gritty or hesitant protagonist. The performance is typically badass from the King of Westerns.
It was with this film that Eastwood began to be recognised not only as the eponymous lead of classic Western films but one of the greatest up-and-coming directors in America. The role was seen as one of his most iconic, and it proved that a decade after The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Eastwood’s career was only just kicking into top gear.
This film was actually inspired by a novel written by a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The source material is a bit shady, but I guarantee the film is worth a watch.
#9 – The Omen
Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick & David Warner.
This film is the reason I’m slightly scared of children sometimes. Don’t watch it if you’ve got young ones around the house.
The Omen follows young Damien Thorn (Harvey Spencer Stephens), a young child who was replaced at birth by an American diplomat after their own biological child dies shortly after birth. A series of mysterious events begin to unfold in the family as Damien enters childhood. It’s just about the creepiest concept for a film I’ve ever even heard of.
It’s lauded as a film that will fill you with dread without needing to resort to an excessive amount of gore or jump scares. The tension and fear are absolutely palpable. In fact, it was ranked number 81 on the scariest films of all time list by the American Film Institute and features the number 16 scariest moment. I won’t spoil exactly what moment.
This film does feature one of the first decapitation scenes in Hollywood history. The things these kids get away with in their new-fangled movies.
#8 – Marathon Man
Directed by John Schlesinger. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier & Roy Scheider.
This one is the definitive American suspense-thriller. An absolute cinema classic.
Marathon Man follows Babe Levy (Dustin Hoffman), a graduate student who becomes involved in a plot by a Nazi war criminal (Laurence Olivier) to steal diamonds after his brother (Roy Scheider) is killed. It’s based on the novel by William Goldman, and it’s the epitome of the suspense-thriller genre.
It features a star-studded cast, including Hoffman at the height of his career, and Olivier, essentially the Father of 20th Century Acting. The performances are absolutely stellar, with Olivier being nominated for an Oscar for his role and is regarded as one of cinema’s great all-time villains. You might be a bit afraid to go to the dentist for a while.
Reportedly, Hoffman tried to method act his role, staying up late at night to appear out of his mind and in physical pain, to which Olivier responded, “My dear boy, why don’t you just try acting?”
#7 – Silver Streak
Directed by Arthur Hiller. Starring Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh & Richard Pryor.
I love a film that can successfully blend two genres, especially as thriller and comedy don’t go together easily.
Silver Streak follows book editor George Caldwell (Gene Wilder), who is forced to team up with thief Grover Muldoon (Richard Pryor) to chase down a runaway train after he is framed for a murder and thrown off the locomotive. It’s a goofy, action-packed ride full of the kind of humour we expect of Wilder and the beginning of a beautiful comedic partnership with Pryor.
The film ended up grossing over $51 million at the box office and was received as a fantastic comedy, continuing the streak of Wilder as one of the most popular icons in Hollywood comedy at the time. It’s full of classic scenes that are both suspenseful and hilarious, and you’ll love it from start to finish.
Fair warning: there is a scene that hasn’t really aged too well in terms of racial humour. While it’s definitely not acceptable by today’s standards, do keep in mind that the film is 44 years old.
#6 – The Bad News Bears
Directed by Michael Ritchie. Starring Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal & Chris Barnes.
Speaking of comedies that’ll make you laugh, cringe and smile, here’s an absolute classic you might have heard of before.
The Bad News Bears follows Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau), an alcoholic former baseball pitcher who is recruited to coach a team of kids in an ultra-competitive youth baseball league. The only problem is that they are absolutely disastrous. The result is ranked as one of the greatest comedies of all time and a scathing criticism of the culture of competition in America.
When you’re not in stitches over the fantastic and hilarious young cast, Matthau will make you cringe with his character’s complete and utter unawareness and incapability of being a responsible adult. The result is a typical uplifting sports comedy with a twist: it’s crude, it’s a lot of fun and it’s brilliantly well-acted.
This was another huge step in the career of young Tatum O’Neal, who was reportedly paid $350,000 for her role.
#5 – Carrie
Directed by Brian de Palma. Starring Sissy Spacek, John Travolta & Piper Laurie.
Before The Shining, It and Pet Sematary, there was Carrie. The latter was the very first Stephen King novel and subsequently the first King film.
Carrie follows Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), a 16-year-old with telekinetic powers whom is relentlessly bullied by her peers at high school and suffers from abuse at the hands of her devout fundamentalist mother. It’s a brutal and scathing film that chills to the core and definitely leaves a lasting impression.
Spacek’s performance is absolutely astonishing, and the film as a whole is spellbinding. Director Brian de Palma holds nothing back from the novel, showing a gruesome and horrifying tale that comes to an iconic and horrifying climax. Even in 2020, it ranks among the strongest adaptations ever made of King’s novels.
If you’re a John Travolta fan, this was actually his acting debut, so check it out!
#4 – Network
Directed by Sidney Lumet. Starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden & Peter Finch.
Get ready for an acting masterclass. Rarely will you see a film so full of such golden performances as in Network.
Network follows a fictional TV station, UBS, struggling with poor ratings. It features Peter Finch in an iconic performance as washed-up lead anchor Howard Beale, Faye Dunaway as head of programming Diana Christensen, and William Holden as News Division President Max Schumacher. Boy, does the film have a story to tell.
Network was an immediate hit, becoming a cultural phenomenon and eventually being preserved in the United States National Film Registry. It summarises all the anger of Americans, from Vietnam to Watergate, into a beautifully-crafted film that stands today as one of my personal favourites.
The concept was inspired by the tragic events of July 15, 1974, when a news reporter in Floriday shot herself live on the air.
#3 – All the President’s Men
Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman & Jack Warden.
Here we have one of the most culturally and historically significant films in history. Wouldn’t you know that Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman were all over it?
All the President’s Men is the true story of reporters Carl Bernstein (Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Redford), the journalists responsible for the investigation of the Watergate scandal with the Washington Post. At a time when America was reeling from the revelation of its own government’s corruption, this film is a crucial piece of history.
A warning of the dangers of unchecked power and a testimony to the importance of the free press, this film could not be more important than it is today. The marvellous performances of Hoffman and Redford champion a story that is so unbelievable that it’s completely true, and director Alan J. Pakula deserves a great deal of credit for bringing such an incredibly tumultuous time in history to the screen.
Couple this film with 2017’s The Post and you’ve got yourself a fascinating and riveting movie night.
#2 – Rocky
Directed by John G. Avildsen. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire & Burt Young.
My God, this film is campy, but it’s impossible not to love it. It’s Sylvester Stallone’s defining masterpiece.
Rocky is the story of Rocky Balboa (Stallone), an uneducated but kind-hearted Italian-American boxer who gets an unlikely shot at the world heavyweight championship. It’s a story we all know, whether we’re fans of the series or just know that brilliant and iconic theme song.
Adjusted for inflation, this film earned over $500 million. It’s considered one of the greatest films of all time, a cult classic and a must-watch for any film fan. While it’s a little cheesy and predictable at times, Stallone’s performance is absolutely iconic, and it set the trend for a narrative that would be copied and parodied a million times over. Not to mention the montage.
With a budget of $1 million at the time, Rocky is notable for turning a profit margin of over 11,000%. That’s not a bad return.
#1 – Taxi Driver
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Robert de Niro, Jodie Foster & Albert Brooks.
Here it is. The moment two icons of Hollywood cinema turned from successes to legends: Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro.
Taxi Driver follows Travis Bickle (De Niro), a lonely taxi driver who descends into insanity as he plots to assassinate both a presidential candidate (Leonard Harris) and a pimp (Harvey Keitel) for a woman he is infatuated with (Cybill Shepherd) and a young prostitute he befriends (Jodie Foster). You can fight me right here and right now, this is Scorsese’s best. Change my mind.
Building on his already well-known style of Italian-American gangster and crime films, Scorsese turns himself into an auteur with this film, telling a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions through the marvellous performances of De Niro and Foster. Both were rightfully awarded Oscars, for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively.
If you needed to be sold on the film any more, check out the scene above, which De Niro completely improvised himself.