The 1970s changed movies forever. After the combined punch of industry deregulation that barred studios from owning theaters, the influence of foreign filmmakers including François Truffaut and Ingmar Bergman, and changing audience tastes that resulted in a series of high-budget, high-profile flops, the old Hollywood studio system collapsed at the end of the ’60s. Coupled with the loosening of film censorship, this made way for a new generation of auteurs to come to the fore, bringing to the screen visionary classics including The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and the first Star Wars movie.
Yet, despite their historical import, due to either rights issues or simple neglect by the studios that made them, some of the decade’s best films are almost impossible to check out today. Here are seven great 1970s films you can’t watch anywhere.
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Director George A. Romero more or less invented the zombie film with his legendary 1968 independent horror film Night of the Living Dead and then redefined it a decade later via a healthy injection of social commentary in Dawn of the Dead. Strangely enough, while a quirk of copyright law put the original film into the public domain shortly after its release, the sequel is impossible to find on any streaming service and has been out of print on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. for years. It’s not entirely clear why one of the greatest horror films ever made is so hard to see, but it may have something to do with complex distribution agreements dating back to the time of its original release, according to Cinema Blend.
Bette Midler won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for portraying troubled rock musician May Rose Foster in this fictional musical drama, loosely based on the life, career, and tragic death of singer Janis Joplin. It was Midler’s debut role, and the film was a critical and box office hit. It also gave the Divine Miss M one of her biggest hit singles in the title track, “The Rose.” And yet these days, you can’t stream the movie anywhere, for reasons that are unclear. Luckily, it was added to the vaunted Criterion Collection in 2015 and is finally available for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray.
Originally conceived as a television special that would have aired alongside a live concert by the Beatles, Let It Be was turned into a feature documentary film—and along the way became an invaluable chronicle of the waning days of the most famous band of all time. Ostensibly a behind-the-scenes peek into the recording of the group’s album of the same name and including footage of their performance on the rooftop of Abbey Road Studios, Let It Be is packed with fly-on-the-wall footage that provides glimpses of the fraying (and near to breaking) bonds between John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.
Despite its importance as a pop-history artifact, it hasn’t been officially available on home video (or anything else) since the ’80s and has never been available to stream—though you can catch some footage from the film in Peter Jackson’s 2021 Disney+ documentary miniseries, The Beatles: Get Back.
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Two years after the release of Young Frankenstein, his parodic tribute to the monster movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, filmmaker Mel Brooks created another uproarious homage to the films of yesteryear with Silent Movie, which harkened back to an even earlier era of cinema history. A cast of some of the biggest stars of the ’70s—including Dom DeLuise, Sid Caesar, Liza Minnelli, James Caan, and Paul Newman—appear alongside Brooks himself, who plays a washed-up film producer who comes up with the audacious idea to make an old-fashioned silent movie in the present day. Featuring inter-titles and sound effects but no dialogue, Silent Movie proved to be a critical success and an unlikely box office hit. These days, it’s far lesser known than Young Frankenstein, however—perhaps because if you want to watch it you need to hunt down a DVD copy, as the film isn’t available on streaming.
An unlikely road movie following wandering widower Harry (Art Carney in an Oscar-winning role, playing a decade and a half older than his actual age and aided by prosthetic makeup) and his pet cat Tonto as they set off across the country following the former’s eviction from his New York City apartment, this comedy from director/co-writer Paul Mazursky offers a scenic tour through ’70s America. Harry and Tonto visit old flames, distant family members, and former haunts as they make their way from the east coast to Los Angeles, and though they ultimately have some luck finding a new home, you’ll have more trouble finding a way to actually watch their adventures play out—the film isn’t available on streaming as is currently out of print on DVD.
Before her reputation was dinged by the critical and box-office failure of the mega-budgeted Robert Redford/Dustin Hoffman vanity project Ishtar, Elaine May was considered one of the sharpest comedic talents in Hollywood—and one of the few women to find success as a filmmaker during the auteur era of the ’70s. Her second film as director, The Heartbreak Kid, was written by Neil Simon and chronicles the romantic ups and downs in the life of Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin), who meets the love of his life (Cybill Shepherd) just a few days after getting married to another woman. The darkly comedic film won praise for its sharp screenplay and May’s deft direction, but for decades, contractual issue have made it a difficult film to actually watch—the distribution rights are held by a pharmaceutical company that doesn’t seem much concerned with restoring a 50-year-old film that isn’t available on streaming or DVD. (But don’t settle for the inferior Ben Stiller remake from 2007—you can view an unofficial, fan-restored copy online if you search hard enough.)
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6 ’70s Movies You Can’t Watch Anywhere — Best Life
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