Over the Hill: 40th Anniversary Films Still Mandatory to Movie History
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Cinema in the late 1970s entertained audiences with action-adventures, sci-fi fantasies, thrillers, and profound dramas that would inspire franchises and other movie projects in the decades to follow. Those films set the stage for a few favorite series and cult classics still beloved today. This year, 1979 is celebrating its big 40th anniversary.
In honor of those memorable movies (for better or worse) that have stood the test of time, we look back on a few of Mandatory’s Best 40th Anniversary Films from the tumultuous decade.
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Ridley Scott's Alien taught audiences that in space, no one can hear you scream. With its blend of monster horror, body horror, and the paralyzing isolation of space, the movie terrified and exhilarated fans, launching a new franchise still alive today.
Sigourney Weaver reprised her iconic role as Ripley in three sequels, battling the badass deadly extraterrestrials. Alien was not only the best film in the series, but one of the best movies of all time. It even won the 1980 Best Visual Effects Oscar.
'The Amityville Horror'
In 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six of his family members in a New York house and was later convicted of second-degree murder. A year after the killings, the Lutz family moved in with their three children, only to leave 28 days later claiming that paranormal phenomena had terrorized them while living there.
Author Jay Anson wrote a book two years later based on the events, eventually spawning the first of many Amityville Horror movies. The 1979 film walked away with an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Original Score, and also turned the still-standing house into a tourist spot, much to the residents' nightmare.
Francis Ford Coppola's Oscar-winning war movie follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) who is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia during the Vietnam War to assassinate a renegade Colonel (Marlon Brando) who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe. The making of the film is infamous for numerous set and production-related problems, but the feature itself has been graced by many as one of the greatest masterpieces of all time.
'Escape from Alcatraz'
In 1962, three men escaped from Alcatraz (the only ones to ever do so) and were never found. There have been many theories about the mystery ever since, including the most popular that Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin, and John Anglin drowned after escaping Alcatraz Island and crossing San Francisco Bay. An anonymous letter uncovered in 2018 that was sent to the San Francisco police in 2013 suggests that the three possibly did survive, but there was no evidence to corroborate.
The event was the inspiration behind Escape from Alcatraz, with Clint Eastwood starring as Morris. Based on the book by J. Campbell Bruce, the film dramatizes the great escape and is easily one of the slickest films of 1979.
The original Mad Max starred Mel Gibson in the title role of George Miller's wild action-adventure. Set in a dystopian future where the world is plunged into war, famine, and financial chaos, Max rages (not a difficult role for Gibson to connect with) and seeks revenge against a ruthless biker gang that murdered his wife and son.
Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic classic, revered for Miller's success in building a visceral world of violence, stunts, and self-destruction. Miller returned back in even better form with 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road, walking away with six Academy Awards and career-high performances by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.
Rocky Balboa gets his rematch against world champion Apollo Creed, this time walking away with the title. Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone himself, Rocky gave fans the rematch and underdog success story they were itching for. Rocky II made over $200 million at the box office from a $7 million budget, easily earning future sequels.
'Star Trek: The Motion Picture'
After the original television series ended in 1969, fans were eager to see the cast return in a feature. Launching the Star Trek film franchise, Star Trek: The Motion Picture divided audiences and critics while still earning a solid showcase at the box office.
It may not have been the strongest debut for a film series, but it was a good enough starting point for every installment that came afterwards. It could only get better from there, right?
Based on Sol Yurick's novel, this crime thriller centers on a turf battle between street gangs in New York City. Following the death of a gang leader, The Warriors are mistakenly accused of the murder, drawing vengeful gangs from all over the city to take revenge. The Warriors, faced with brutal adversaries including a bottle-fingered gang member chanting "Warriors, come out to play," must make their way across the city to their own territory, in a night full of violence and anarchy.
Walter Hill's take on gang culture is told in a unique formula with stylistic settings, costumes, cinematography, and Barry De Vorzon's atmospheric score. The Warriors ultimately explores a counterculture that touches on male violence, youthful spirit, and, wildly enough, takes a subtle stand on gun violence by making sure the movie was mostly a gun-less gang feature.
'Kramer vs. Kramer'
The end of the decade also brought one of the best and most touching dramas in movie history. Adapted from Avery Corman's novel, Kramer vs. Kramer starred Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in a deeply relatable family movie centering on a heated custody battle over the divorced couple's son.
Taking home the big five awards on Oscar night in 1980 (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay), the drama gives an unbiased, perceptive look at the breaking-up of a family with performances that make it impossible not to feel for every character.
In one of the best cult classics from the '70s and one of the most underrated horror movies, a teen and his friends face off against a mysterious grave robber known only as the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who keeps a lethal arsenal of terrifying weapons with him.
The independent film included surrealistic imagery and storytelling, diving deep into themes of death, mourning, and loss. Getting chased by killer enslaved zombies and the Tall Man's wicked toys are really only the surface of the story.