10 great movies to watch from 1978

#10 – Dawn of the Dead

Directed by George A. Romero. Starring David Emge, Ken Foree & Scott Reiniger.

We see enough zombie films nowadays to fill an entire library. Well, here’s the one that kickstarted it all.

Dawn of the Dead is the second in the Night of the Living Dead series and follows the larger-scale effects of a zombie apocalypse and its survivors. It spawned four official sequels and countless parodies and pop culture references across the world.

This is arguably one of the best zombie films of all time. It’s not all mindless minions eating brains, but instead engages with a real conversation about material society and definitely makes you question whether we would survive a real zombie apocalypse. For the late 1970s, it’s definitely impressive.

The make-up effects for this film were done by Tom Savini, who was recruited after releasing a book on horror make-up.


#9 – Watership Down

Directed by Martin Rosen. Starring John Hurt, Richard Briers & Michael Graham Cox.

I think this is meant to be a kids movie… maybe… but it turns out to be a pretty effective film for adults.

Watership Down is quite provocative in reality. It’s based on the 1972 novel by Richard Adams and follows a rabbit who evacuates his family and friends after seeing an apocalyptic vision of his home. It’s quite confronting, even for an adult, but very intriguing.

It’s beautifully animated and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. It’s really something to look at and an incredibly provocative story, but critics agree that it might be slightly deceptive in its target market. Maybe watch it without the kids and make up your own mind.

This film was a tremendous success in the UK, becoming the sixth-most popular film of the year at the British box office.


#8 – Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Directed by Philip Kaufman. Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams & Leonard Nimoy.

Movies from the 1970s do “disturbing” really well, and this is one of the best.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a sci-fi horror film that follows a San Francisco health inspector who discovers that humans are being replaced by alien duplicates, completely identical except for a lack of human emotion. It’s hailed as one of the greatest screen adaptations ever.

It’s so creepy that it almost makes you laugh. The eeriness of this film is not to be understated, with a paranoid atmosphere and a lot of disturbing images that will definitely creep you right out. It follows the trend of conspiracy thrillers and paranoid films in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

The same novel was adapted into a film earlier in 1956 to lesser success, and many of the original cast and crew make cameo appearances.


#7 – Midnight Express

Directed by Alan Parker. Starring Brad Davis, Irene Miracle & Bo Hopkins.

The 1970s did horror well, and the same goes for thrillers. My, this one is something to see.

Midnight Express follows a young American student sent to a Turkish prison for trying to smuggling hashish out of Turkey. It’s actually based on a true story, detailed in the 1977 memoir by the student himself, Billy Hayes. It’s one of those stories that is so incredible it just has to be true.

It’s very interesting to see this style of film with a protagonist that we don’t want to sympathise with. Hayes is simultaneously relatable and detestable, making you unsure which is more terrifying: the enclosing Turkish forces or the thought of him getting away. It’s a really well-constructed thriller atmosphere.

The film was unsurprisingly a bit of a controversy in Turkey at the time. In fact, they denied the crew the right to shoot the film in Istanbul, so it was actually filmed in Malta.


#6 – Heaven Can Wait

Directed by Warren Beatty & Buck Henry. Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie & James Mason.

Time for a comedy, and one with a superb soundtrack and cast to boot.

Heaven Can Wait is a brilliant comedy about a young American footballer being mistakenly taken to heaven by his guardian angel and trying desperately to get back to Earth after his body has already been cremated. It’s such a fantastic narrative concept.

It’s a real throwback if you like a screwball comedy, except it has superb production value as well. It’s upbeat and fun, but also visually appealing and marvellously well-crafted. It’s really the best of both worlds, the kind of comedy that Hollywood used produce with the artistry growing during the 1970s.

The lead role was originally set to be played by no less than Muhammad Ali, but due to his ongoing commitment to his boxing career, it was changed from a boxer to a footballer.


#5 – National Lampoon’s Animal House

Directed by John Landis. Starring John Belushi, Tim Matheson & John Vernon.

This was a film labelled so stupid in its pre-production that only one university in the USA would allow them to film there. I bet the rest were disappointed when it turned into a cult classic.

National Lampoon’s Animal House is a teen sex comedy produced by American teen humour magazine National Lampoon. It follows a trouble-making fraternity who challenge the authority of the dean of their college and absolute chaos ensues.

It received mixed reviews at the time, but even 1978’s conservative critics recognised the appeal of such a rambunctious and off-the-rails comedy. Flash forward to today, and it is considered one of the greatest films of the year and a landmark film in Hollywood comedy.

The first director lined up with this project had only directed one film before, on a budget of $5,000. That’s not a lot, in case you were wondering.


#4 – Halloween

Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis & P.J. Soles.

The slasher is an interesting genre to look at, and this film marked the beginning of its golden age.

Halloween tells the story of a mental patient named Michael Myers, who was committed for murdering his teenage sister on Halloween night when he was six. Fifteen years later, he escapes and returns to his hometown, where he stalks a babysitter and her friends.

Critics were dismissive of the film at the time, but it spawned a golden generation of films that would last for decades. The likes of A Nightmare on Elm StreetFriday the 13th and Child’s Play would follow, giving birth to some of the most iconic killers and psychopaths that we love to fear.

If you’re interested in genre studies, take a look at slasher films and their common tropes. There’s a lot more meaning and depth to these classics than meets the eye.


#3 – Superman

Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman & Christopher Reeve.

Admit it, you’re already humming that iconic soundtrack. I sure am. In fact, I’m putting it on Spotify while I write this.

Superman is the first film to follow the Man of Steel, depicting his origin and youthful years in the rural town of Smallville. We see Superman grow into disguised reporter Clark Kent, his romance with Lois Lane and his battle with the villainous Lex Luthor.

There could be an argument that this was the film that sparked the superhero film industry. It set an all-time industry record for an opening weekend, taking in over $12 million in the USA alone. It went on to gross $300 million worldwide, becoming the sixth-highest grossing film of all time at the time.

The initial choices for the role of Superman that were pitched to DC Comics included Muhammad Ali, Al Pacino, James Caan, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Dustin Hoffman.


#2 – The Deer Hunter

Directed by Michael Cimino. Starring Robert de Niro, John Cazale & John Savage.

I think we’re getting the idea that Tune!FM had its infancy in a time dominated by Robert de Niro and Al Pacino.

The Deer Hunter casts De Niro as one of a trio of steelworkers whose lives were changed forever after fighting in the Vietnam War. Exploring the depths of then-current issues, such as PTSD and the fallout of the controversial war effort, this is a landmark film in cinematic history both for its artistic brilliance and its cultural significance.

It was an immediate critical success, being hailed as the greatest American epic film since The Godfather. It was praised for bringing the working class to the screen and for its shifts of tone and pacing depicting the significant change between life in Vietnam and America.

This film was nominated for no less than nine Academy Awards, winning five of them. Pretty impressive.


#1 – Grease

Directed by Randal Kleiser. Starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John & Stockard Channing.

The only thing that could topple The Deer Hunter is one of Hollywood’s best ever musicals, featuring an Aussie icon.

Olivia Newton-John stars alongside John Travolta in Grease, a love story about teenagers in a typical American high school. Featuring such iconic songs as “Summer Nights,” “You’re the One That I Want” and the ever-popular “Greased Lightning,” it’s considered an all-time classic of both Broadway and Hollywood.

There’s simply no topping the performances of Travolta as Danny, Newton-John as Sandy and Stockard Channing as Rizzo, and actors who take the musical stage feel the weight of those icons to this day. Quite simply, they have become emblems of musical theatre.

The film was a hit, but the soundtrack did even better, becoming the second-best-selling album of the year in the USA for 1978 – beat only by Saturday Night Fever‘s soundtrack, funnily enough. John Travolta had a good year.