The Best Cult Classics of the 1970s

The Best Cult Classics of the 1970s

The themes of movies in the 1970s were varied and included counterculture, feminism, martial arts, and comedic horror. This decade is highly regarded for the explosion of talent that captivated viewers and left a lasting mark on all future cinema. The films were thought-provoking, taking audiences on adventures into both surrealism and realism (which was new, thanks to technological advancements of that time).

Some of the films grossed under $1M while others were immediate box office hits. But there’s one thing they all have in common — they make the cut as cult classics. These popular films transfixed audiences, sometimes in odd ways like in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Eraserhead” and sometimes in ways that were thrilling and shocking, like in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Beguiled.”

Although there is plenty to love in the genres of horror and action/crime, there are also comedic performances and dramas that warm your heart with only a tinge of darkness, like “Harold and Maude.”

To put this list of the best cult classics of the 70s together, 247 Tempo reviewed IMDb, an online hub brimming with information on Hollywood’s best creations. (And these are the best cult classics of the 1960s.)

“The Abominable Dr. Phibes” (1971)

Source: Courtesy of American International Pictures
  • Directed By: Robert Fuest

This horror comedy grossed $0.55M and stars Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Virginia North, and Terry-Thomas. Dr. Anton Phibes is the main character who takes on a vengeful streak when he sets out to murder nine doctors he believes are culpable for his wife’s death. His murders are creative, involving biblical plagues. Considering Dr. Phibes is a biblical scholar as well as an organist, scientist, and doctor, he manages to orchestrate the murders expertly, stumping detectives on the case.

“Harold and Maude” (1971)

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
  • Directed By: Hal Ashby

The primary cast of this comedy/romance drama comprises Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, and Cyrus Cusack. Harold Chasen is fascinated by Maude Chardin, a woman in her late 70s who’s full of life. Chasen has an obsession with death and encounters Chardin at a funeral (occasions he frequents whether he knows the deceased or not). Interestingly, Chardin also attends strangers’ funerals but she’s Chasen’s opposite. Her obsession is living. She teaches Chasen how to enjoy life and eventually, how to die having lived well.

“Enter the Dragon” (1973)

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
  • Directed By: Robert Clouse

The stars in this action/crime thriller include Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, and Ahna Capri. The movie grossed $25M and follows a Shaolin martial artist who is recruited to pretend he’s attending a fighting tournament on an island. However, his primary task is spying on an opium lord. He meets two other fighters along the way and the movie remains action-packed throughout as the tournament turns deadly.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)

Source: Courtesy of Bryanston Distributing
  • Directed By: Tobe Hooper

This cult classic is a horror film that stars Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger, and Paul A. Partain. It grossed $30.86M. The film follows five friends who set out to visit a grave in a remote part of Texas. The sequence of events that follow is terrifying and quickly turns deadly. First, they encounter a demented hitchhiker and then the five friends stumble into a family of cannibals, led by Leatherface, a sadistic killer with a chainsaw in hand. Only one friend, Sally, is left standing in the end. But can she make it out alive?

“The Warriors” (1979)

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
  • Directed By: Walter Hill

This film grossed $22.49M and is an action/crime thriller that stars Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright, and Brian Tyler. “The Warriors” are a street gang who face false accusations. An esteemed gang leader has been murdered but they’re not the culprits. They have to make it back to their own territory but in order to get there, they have to cross through their rival’s territory. The film follows them as they carefully make their way across the dangerous territories, barely getting out of the grasp of other gangs as well as the authorities.

“The Holy Mountain” (1973)

Source: Courtesy of ABKCO Films
  • Directed By: Alejandro Jodorowsky

The stars in this adventure/fantasy drama include Alejandro Jodorowsky, Horacio Salinas, Zamira Saunders, and Juan Ferrara. A group of nine seekers comes together to reach the Holy Mountain where gods live. Their aim is enlightenment and immortality. There is the alchemist who serves as a guide, a Christ-like figure, and seven others who agree to the journey to move away from a world of corruption.

“Two-Lane Blacktop” (1971)

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures
  • Directed By: Monte Hellman

James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird, and Dennis Wilson are the stars in this drama. Two car enthusiasts, a driver and a mechanic, go out to drag race in a 1955 Chevy. They’re in the Southwest region of the U.S. when they encounter G.T.O., a fella with a penchant for telling tall tales. They all agree to race up to Washington, D.C. The winner of the race gets to keep the other’s car.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
  • Directed By:

This is a comedy/horror musical that stars Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and Richard O’Brien. It’s late November when a young couple gets stranded on a quiet, empty road. Their trip was meant to visit an ex-tutor but instead, they find themselves swept up in the odd world of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who’s just about to unveil his latest creative project.

“El Topo” (1970)

Source: Courtesy of Douglas Music Films
  • Directed By: Alejandro Jodorowsky

This Western drama grossed $0.04M and stars Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, José Legarreta, and Alfonso Arau. It follows “El Topo,” who is on a quest for confrontation and transformation. He rides a black horse and calls himself God as he sets out on a mystical desert journey that incorporates religious symbology and a surreal feel.

“Lady Snowblood” (1973)

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures
  • Directed By: Toshiya Fujita

Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, and Miyoko Akaza star in this action/crime drama. It follows Yuki, a girl who is born specifically to become a trained assassin who will avenge the death of her family. She ruthlessly wields an umbrella equipped with a sword as she goes out to leave carnage in her wake.

“The Tenant” (1976)

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
  • Directed By: Roman Polanski

This film is a drama/thriller that stars Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, and Jo Van Fleet. It’s about the experiences of Trelkovsky, a bureaucrat who moves into an apartment where the previous tenant committed suicide. He’s plagued by paranoia and starts believing that the people in his apartment building are trying to get him to die in the same way as the previous tenant. The film grossed $1.92M.

“Phantom of the Paradise” (1974)

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
  • Directed By: Brian De Palma

Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, and Gerrit Graham star in this comedic drama/fantasy. Swan is a satanic record tycoon who gives up his soul to acquire success. He is a scheming, wicked man whose next quest focuses on forcibly taking the music of a composer named Winslow Leach so he can open a new concert hall called “The Paradise.” Leach attempts to stop Swan but fails and ends up mutilated. Leach is committed to vengeance but has to sign a deal with Swan so that the woman he loves can perform the music he composes.

“Eraserhead” (1977)

Source: Courtesy of Libra Films
  • Directed By: David Lynch

This comedy/horror musical stars Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and Richard O’Brien. The environment is barren and Henry Spencer, the main character, comes to find that he has fathered a mutant child that wails nonstop. He moves in with his girlfriend, who is just as discontent as the child, and together they try to hold on to what little sanity they have left.

“The Street Fighter” (1974)

Source: Courtesy of New Line Cinema
  • Directed By: Shigehiro Ozawa

This action/crime thriller stars Shin’ichi Chiba, Goichi Yamada, Yutaka Nakajima, and Chiyoko Kazama. After a prominent business magnate passes, his daughter inherits his billions. She’s nearly kidnapped by Terry, the ultimate mercenary, but the ones who want her can’t afford his services. They try to murder him so he doesn’t speak of their plans and that’s when he jumps ship and instead offers to protect the daughter.

“Duck, You Sucker!” (1971)

"Duck, You Sucker!" (1971) | James Coburn and Rod Steiger in Duck, You Sucker! (1971)
Source: Courtesy of United Artists


  • Directed By: Sergio Leone

The stars in this Western war drama include Rod Steiger, James Coburn, Romolo Valli, and Maria Monti. John H. Mallory, an explosives expert, is on the run in Mexico, where he comes across a Mexican bandit who’s interested in exploiting Mallory’s expertise. They’re not a likely pair, but they’re forced to work together to fight Colonel Günther Reza.

“Sorcerer” (1977)

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures
  • Directed By: William Friedkin

Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, and Amidou star in this adventure/drama thriller. Four men, including a terrorist, a banker, a hitman, and a gangster are forced to work together under potentially deadly circumstances. They’re stranded in a small village and decide to escape in two trucks — but there’s a problem. Those two trucks are loaded with unstable dynamite.

“Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41” (1972)

Source: Courtesy of Discotek Media
  • Directed By: Shun’ya Itô

This crime/drama thriller stars Meiko Kaji, Fumio Watanabe, Yukie Kagawa, and Kayoko Shiraishi. The story follows Matsu who is in prison and has made enemies with the warden. When she has the next opportunity, she attacks the warden again, which leads to punishment. Matsu manages to escape the prison with six other prisoners, but the warden and guards are in close pursuit.

“Over the Edge” (1979)

Source: Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

American actor Matt Dillon poses outside a cinema where they are showing his new film - Over the Edge, United States, circa 1979. (Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images)

  • Directed By: Jonathan Kaplan

Matt Dillon, Michael Eric Kramer, Pamela Ludwig, and Vincent Spano star in this crime drama. After a death in New Grenada, a quiet town away from city life, rebellious teens stand up against authority, resulting in a set of explosive events. As the official trailer states, “They were old enough to know better but too young to care.”

“Hard Times” (1975)

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
  • Directed By: Walter Hill

This crime/sports drama stars Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Jill Ireland, and Strother Martin. The film is set during the Great Depression. Chaney is a drifter who manages to win over an illegal street fight promoter named Speed. Speed has some serious debts to pay and Chaney needs to fight another promoter’s champion so they can recoup lost funds.

“The Beguiled” (1971)

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures
  • Directed By: Don Siegel

Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, and Jo Ann Harris all star in this war drama/thriller. A Union soldier who knows how to execute a good con manages to capture the hearts of the women in a Confederate girls’ boarding school. When the women find out about each other, they get angry with one another. Eventually, their feelings of betrayal cause them to direct their anger toward the soldier.

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