100 thrillers to see before you die: 1970s

From The Day of the Jackal to Deliverance: the best in suspense from the 1970s.

Le Boucher (1970)

Director Claude Chabrol

Le Boucher (1970)

The most famous of a string of ice-cool thrillers that ‘French Hitchcock’ Claude Chabrol made with his wife Stéphane Audran. Here she stars as a provincial schoolteacher who befriends the local butcher (Jean Yanne) but begins to wonder if he’s behind a spate of brutal murders in the village. Among the subtlest of great thrillers, Le Boucher is meticulous, psychologically probing and deeply suspenseful. SW

See also: This Man Must Die (1969), La Rupture (1970)

The Conversation (1974)

Director Francis Ford Coppola

The Conversation (1974)

Multi-layered and enthralling, Francis Ford Coppola’s follow up to The Godfather (1972) eschews that film’s explicit violence to concentrate on the secrets and lies that can be equally as devastating. Gene Hackman is exceptional as a paranoid surveillance expert, while Walter Murch and Art Rochester were Oscar-nominated for the evocative sound design. NB

See also: Three Days of the Condor (1975); All the President’s Men (1976)

The Day of the Jackal (1973)

Director Fred Zinnemann

The Day of the Jackal (1973)

Fred Zinnemann was likely more famous for his westerns and romantic dramas than his thrillers, but he tackled big material in this 1973 political drama: the attempted assassination of French president Charles De Gaulle. With a lean, shifty-eyed Edward Fox as the anonymous hired gun (‘the jackal’), Zinnemann’s thriller marks itself with both psychological realism and exacting temporal construction. CN

See also: Suddenly (1954); The Parallax View (1974)

Deliverance (1972)

Director John Boorman

Deliverance (1972)

The daddy of all weekend-gone-wrong survival thrillers stars Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds as Atlanta businessmen who get more than they bargained for on a canoe trip through the wilderness. John Boorman’s brutal, banjo-scored nightmare weaponises the great American outdoors, pitting man against nature and (infamously) city boys against backwoods yokels. Harrowing stuff, and a haunting film about our desecration of the land. SW

See also: Long Weekend (1978); Southern Comfort (1981)

Duel (1971)

Director Steven Spielberg

Duel (1971)

Not, in fact, Steven Spielberg’s debut feature — that being 1964’s homemade sci-fi Firelight — this road-to-hell movie is still a striking calling card for the prolific filmmaker. As commuter David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is randomly targeted by an unseen trucker, Spielberg utilises the isolated location and universal fear of the unknown to deliver a tense David and Goliath-esque thriller. NB

See also: Jaws (1975); Road Games (1981)

The French Connection (1971)

Director William Friedkin

The French Connection (1971)

William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning cat-and-mouse tale of cop and criminal is as economical and taut as thrillers come. Not a second is wasted in the director’s construction of action sequences, and the legendary car-chase scene feels as contemporary and hard-bitten as ever. Gene Hackman became an A-lister after his turn as the morally questionable NYPD officer Popeye Doyle – and deservedly so. CN

See also: Dirty Harry (1971); Serpico (1973)

Illustrious Corpses (1976)

Director Francesco Rosi

Illustrious Corpses (1976)

Keeping its secrets closely guarded between the eerie catacomb opening and shocking museum finale, Francesco Rosi’s adaptation of Sicilian Leonardo Sciascia’s novel slows the pace of the conventional ‘poliziotteschi’ to examine the corrupt establishment connections hampering world-weary cop Lino Ventura’s investigation into a spate of judge murders. A textbook example of the all-star conspiracy thriller. DP

See also: Army of Shadows (1969); The Mattei Affair (1972)

Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion (1970)

Director Elio Petri

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

A veteran Italian star of spaghetti westerns, Gian Maria Volonte plays a nasty, calculating police chief in this vicious satire of police corruption. When the chief kills his mistress, he leaves a trail of clues in his wake to see if he can actually get arrested for his crime. Petri and Volonte shared a leftist sensibility, and here they work to ferociously indict the endemic hypocrisy of the Italian powers-that-be. CN

See also: L’assassino (1961); The Conformist (1970)

Klute (1971)

Director Alan J. Pakula

Klute (1971)

Ambiguity is the name of the game in the first of Alan J. Pakula’s so-called ‘paranoia trilogy’, completed by Watergate-era thrillers The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976). In Klute, he combines old-timey noir tropes and a thoroughly liberated attitude towards sex in the story of a high-class call girl (Jane Fonda) who helps a careworn detective (Donald Sutherland) to solve a mysterious homicide. CN

See also: The Long Goodbye (1973); Night Moves (1975)

The Passenger (1975)

Director Michelangelo Antonioni

The Passenger (1975)

While his arthouse milestone L’avventura (1960) presents a missing-person scenario in which the mystery simply gets forgotten, this later Antonioni classic offers an antihero (Jack Nicholson) who – by switching identities with a dead man in the Sahara – similarly slips between the cracks of his own story. After stops in Bloomsbury and Barcelona, the globe-trotting intrigue culminates in a devastating endgame in Andalusia. SW

See also: Blowup (1966); Catch Me if You Can (2002)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Director Joseph Sargent

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Grimy, profane, sour on authority, Joseph Sargent’s crime thriller could only come out of 1970s New York. A gang of four men – Mr Blue, Mr Green, Mr Grey and Mr Brown – have taken the passengers of the 1:23 from Pelham station hostage and are holding the city to ransom. With the mayor’s office broke and ineffectual (“We’re trying to run a city here, not a democracy”), it falls on Transit Authority police lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) to handle the crisis. A thrill ride, a period piece and a showcase for the spirit of a city. HB

See also: Juggernaut (1974); Black Sunday (1977)

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