1974 Movies: Your Guide to 20 of the Year's Best

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The 1970s were an interesting time for movies — and that goes especially for 1974 movies — the early part of the decade continuing what had begun in the 1960s with "The New Hollywood." At that time, recent film school graduates were taking the place of the old guard as writers and directors, and movies started to become more experimental in nature, giving us projects like Peter Fonda's Easy Rider, William Friedkin's The French Connection and The Exorcist, Peter Bogdonavich's The Last Picture Show, Francis Ford Coppola's pair of Godfather films and many more.

But by the mid-to-late part of the decade, another change was taking place as the studios began to develop a "blockbuster mentality," thanks to the juggernaut box office success of Steven Spielberg's Jaws in 1975 and George Lucas' Star Wars two years later. Those two films are generally given the credit/blame for the shift to the kind of extravaganzas that remain to this day.

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However, even before that you could see evidence of it happening, thanks to disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and the top grossing of the 1974 movies, The Towering Inferno. In fact, what's so fascinating about 1974 movies is the sheer mix of many quality films, which includes a double dose of Mel Brooks with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, two times the Coppola with The Conversation and The Godfather Part II, Burt Reynolds in The Longest Yard, Charles Bronson bringing vigilante justice to New York in Death Wish, the only teaming there's ever been of Rocky and the Fonz (or at least Stallone and Henry Winkler) in The Lords of Flatbush, Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur in Mame ... and that's just the beginning.

Keep scrolling for your guide to 20 of the best 1974 movies, including a look at which ones are available for streaming.

1. Airport 1975

Following the formula of disaster movies of the 1970s, an all-star cast is brought together to face a larger-than-life crisis and the question becomes who will survive? In this sequel to 1970's Airport, it's another plane and another disaster in the making as an airborne Boeing 747 (more bad news for the airplane manufacturer) is struck in the cockpit by a smaller plane, killing the senior crew and blinding the pilot. Somebody among the passengers is going to have to take over the controls and land this bird, but who?

One of three disaster flicks in this guide to 1974 movies, the cast includes Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy, Gloria Swanson, Sid Caesar, Linda Blair (poor kid, first she's possessed by the devil and now this), Sid Caesar, Erik Estrada and many more.

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2. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Ellen Burstyn is widow Alice Hyatt, who decides to travel across the midwest with her son in search of a better life and to pursue her dreams of becoming a singer. In Phoenix, Arizona she takes a job at a diner, gets a gig singing at a local lounge and finds romance with Kris Kristofferson's David.

Directed by Martin Scorsese and also starring Harvey Keitel and Diane Ladd, perhaps the most shocking thing is that this film — a drama — was adapted into the sitcom Alice, starring Linda Lavin and Vic Tayback, who reprises the role of diner owner Mel, which enjoyed a long run between 1976 and 1985.

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3. Blazing Saddles

Mel Brooks — who had previously spoofed spymania of the 1960s with the Get Smart television series — takes on the film Western and just about anything else he can throw into the mix. A film you could never make today (check it out for yourself and you'll see why), it's set in the Old West and stars Cleavon Little as the first black sheriff in the town of Rock Ridge. The appointment was to make it look like the governor is doing something to help the people, but the intent is for him to get killed while a group of bad guys hired by Hedly Lamarr (Harvey Korman) plunder the town. Helping Bart is Gene Wilder's Waco Kid, the fastest gun in the West.

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4. Chinatown

A murder investigation plunges private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) into a web of lies, deceit, family secrets and government corruption. The plot was inspired by the early 20th century's "water wars" over southern California's water supply. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

WHERE TO STREAM/WATCH: Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+

5. The Conversation: 1974 Movies

As if director Francis Ford Coppola didn't have enough to do getting The Godfather Part II out in 1974, he also directed this effort. Gene Hackman's Harry Caul, a surveillance expert, finds himself confronting a moral dilemma when one of his recordings reveals a possible murder is going to take place while he is supposed to be a non-participant in the things he records.

WHERE TO STREAM/WATCH: Pluto TV

6. Death Wish

No doubt Charles Bronson's most popular role. He portrays New York architect Paul Kersey, whose wife and daughter are attacked in their apartment by a group of punks (one of them played by Jeff Goldblum), resulting in the former's death and the latter's catatonic state. Given a gun as a gift from one of his clients, at night he stalks the streets, looking for muggers. In the '70s, this was the perfect antidote to skyrocketing crime rates. Forget the sequels, but definitely check this one out.

7. Earthquake: 1974 Movies

The disaster movie formula continues, though admittedly Earthquake has the biggest scope of all as most of Los Angeles is destroyed in a devastating quake and it's all about attempting to rescue people before the aftershocks hit. Charlton Heston leads the rescue effort.

8. Freebie and the Bean

Freebie and the Bean could be seen as the start of the "buddy-cop" films that would later give us such fare as 48hrs., Running Scared and Lethal Weapon. James Caan and Alan Arkin are San Francisco detectives Tim "Freebie" Walker and Dan "Bean" Delgado, who have set their sites on gangster Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen).

The plot doesn't matter nearly as much as the banter between the title characters, the action sequences and the humor in general. It doesn't hurt that the cast includes Loretta Swit, Alex Rocco and Valerie Harper.

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9. The Godfather Part II: 1974 Movies

Director Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather continues in this sequel, the time-jumping narrative looking at the origins of Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro, playing the younger version of the character portrayed by Marlon Brando in the original) and his rise to power. The more modern storyline focuses on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), who has assumed the role of Don. The only sequel in history to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

WHERE TO STREAM/WATCH: Pluto TV, Apple TV+, Paramount+

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10. The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald's often adapted novel is brought to the screen with stars Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, along with Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern and Karen Black. Jay Gatsby (Redford) is determined to be reunited with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan (Farrow), despite her resistance, all of which is played out against the background of wild Jazz Age parties on New York's Long Island. Previous versions were produced in 1926 and 1949, with a fourth take arriving in 2013.

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11. The Longest Yard: 1974 Movies

Burt Reynolds is former football star Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, who finds himself in jail for 18 months after stealing his rich girlfriend's car and leading the police on a wild speed chase. While incarcerated, he's pressured into leading other inmates in a football game against another prison's team. The ruthless warden, Rudolph Hazen (Eddie Albert), will not take no for an answer. Insofar as he's concerned, winning is all that matters.

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12. The Lords of Flatbush

Tapping into 1950s nostalgia along with Happy Days and the band Sha Na Na, The Lords of Flatbush focuses on a leather-jacketed gang from Brooklyn, New York's Flatbush ,who go from street "rumbles" to getting ready to embrace their futures. Perry King is Chico Tyrell, Sylvester Stallone is Stanley Rosiello, Paul mace is Wimpy Murgalo and Henry Winkler is Butchey Weinstein, who visually — if not in attitude — proves exactly why he was chosen to play the Fonz. Ayyyyyyy.

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WHERE TO STREAM/WATCH: Amazon Prime

13. Mame: 1974 Movies

The movie may not have done much in the way of box office, but it does bring together Lucille Ball as "Auntie Mame" and Bea Arthur as her friend, Vera Charles. The plot deals with Mame's freewheeling life being disrupted when she becomes the guardian of her nephew after his father dies. Quickly recovering, she takes him on along on the adventures of her life.

The film was a box office failure, which may have something to do with the fact that it was a musical and neither Lucille Ball or Bea Arthur were the greatest of singers.

14. The Man with the Golden Gun

Roger Moore's second turn as 007 sees James Bond going up against an assassin named Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), who only needs one golden bullet to take out his target. Generally considered one of the weakest Bond films in that franchise's 62-year history — and the list of 1974 movies. Not much works in it, but Lee does make a great villain.

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15. The Sugarland Express: 1974 Movies

Transitioning from television to movies, director Steven Spielberg made his feature debut with this Goldie Hawn and William Atherton adventure about a couple leading the Texas police on a wild chase, with a police officer being held hostage by the duo as they desperately attempt to get their child prior to his being put in foster care. Hmmm, one may consider that this is the sort of thing that explains exactly why the kid was going into foster care in the first place.

Spielberg would be represented on the big screen again the following year by a little fish tale known as Jaws.

16. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

In this entry of the 1974 movies, a unique hostage situation unfolds as a group of armed men take control of a New York City subway and is threatening to kill the hostages if their demand for $1 million isn't met. Walter Matthau is great as New York City Police lieutenant Zachary Garber, who is the guy that has to deal with the criminals. And those criminals are played by Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo and Earl Hindman, each of whom brings a genuine sense of danger (Balsam not so much). Directed by Joseph Sargent who, a few years earlier, had shot the low-tech sci-fi film Colossus: The Forbin Project.

WHERE TO STREAM/WATCH: Amazon Prime, Tubi

17. That's Entertainment: 1974 Movies

During Hollywood's Golden Age, nobody made musicals like MGM, and this film was a celebration of them all at the time of the studio's 50th anniversary. Filled with clips from all the classics, individual segments are hosted by people like Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Debbie Reynolds.

WHERE TO STREAM/WATCH: MAX

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18. The Towering Inferno: 1974 Movies

No matter how many disaster movies Hollywood makes — intentional or not — you'd be hard-pressed to find one that captures the formula better than The Towering Inferno — one of tghe great 1974 movies — does. That, formula, of course, gathers well-known stars (Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Jennifer Jones and Robert Wagner, among them) and throws them into a skyscraper that bursts into flame. From there, the audience sits back, munching on their popcorn as they wonder who will survive.

19. The Trial of Billy Jack

You would be amazed at how successful Tom Laughlin's Billy Jack films were back in the 1970s as they dealt with race relations in the form of the half-Native American character who defends an Indian reservation from aggressive local and federal authorities. There were four films in the series, which brought with it a mixed message of using violence to obtain peace.

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20. Young Frankenstein: 1974 Movies

Having skewered the Hollywood Western with Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks turned his attention (in another of the 1974 movies) to the classic Universal horror films with this spot-on spoof that features Gene Wilder as the descendent of the original Dr. Frankenstein, who decides to continue his grandfather's efforts to bring life to the dead. Great jokes, hilarious sight gags and a brilliant comic cast in the form of Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn and Peter Boyle as the Monster.

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