10 Best Movies of 1972 You Should Watch

You heard of this little indie flick from 1972 called The Godfather? Eugh, SO underrated.

The Godfather movie

For the most part, 1972 was a pretty bad year. Natural disasters, the beginning of the Watergate Scandal and the massacre at the summer Olympics in Munich, to name a few examples. Even still, art and entertainment found a way of inspiring people and successfully offering escapism to everyone.


1. The Godfather

Long after screaming for Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando starred in this silver screen adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel. The film spans a decade, 1945-1955, and delves deep into the life of a crime family.

It’s beautifully shot, well acted and it hasn’t lost any of its appeal whatsoever. Along with Marlon Brando, the film stars Al Pacino, James Caan, Diane Keaton and Robert Duvall, to name a few. Francis Ford Coppola proved he can direct actors, just as cinematographer Gordon Willis proved he can compliment the director’s storytelling with stunning visuals.

Of course I’m not going to give away any details about this, because you need to see it and the two that follow. It was the highest grossing film of the year and, for the time, the highest grossing film, period. It’s a brilliant, brilliant movie and I’d recommend it to just about anyone, especially if they’re asking for an example of fine filmmaking.


2. The Last House on the Left

Wes Craven’s disturbing video nasty has, peculiarly, left a lasting impression. It was produced by Sean S. Cunningham and is Craven’s directorial debut, said to be inspired by a Swedish film from the 1960s. Despite being banned in several countries and Wes having to go back and forth with the MPAA to avoid an X rating, it was actually successful at the box office. It’s very, very low-budget and that’s perhaps why watching it feels like someone was there with a camera, capturing all of the violence as it was unfolding.

It’s a simple story about two teenage girls on their way to a concert, suddenly falling victim to a group of murderers, but it’s horribly effective in that, after viewing it, you immediately need to find some fun activity to do to get your mind off of it. While a few films from the 1960s took a more subtle approach to shifting danger from fantastical to more realistic, this movie deliberately throws it in your face unflinchingly.

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3. Avanti!

Sort of a romantic dramedy, Avanti! stars Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills. Jack’s character, Wendell, is the son of a millionaire who died on vacation in Italy, so he has to travel there to claim the body. While there, he meets Juliet’s character, Pam. It’s not so cut and dry as it sounds, though: there are some twists throughout the film’s incredibly lengthy running time.

Jack Lemmon’s acting made any film he appeared in feel more authentic, and this is no exception. Adding to that, there’s some wonderful scenery in this film that truly gives the film a distinct flavor.

If there’s anything to criticize about the film, it’s most definitely its running time of nearly 150 minutes. It’s worth giving a watch, if you can find a copy of the DVD. Like many trailers, it unfortunately gives a tad bit too much information away, but it’s an enjoyable film nonetheless.


4. Deliverance

Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty star in this canoeing trip from Hell. What began as a week of male camaraderie and bonding results in a horrific and violent nightmare. Surely everyone knows about this movie and the Dueling Banjos music, but there may be a few twists you might not expect.

James Dickey wrote both the screenplay and the novel that came before it and his eerie adventure story quickly evolves (or, maybe devolves) into a cautionary tale for survivalists and anyone seemingly unaware of their surroundings.

It’s about as uncomfortable as you’d imagine, but the aforementioned actors all give terrific, convincing performances and, for the most part, actually did their own stunt work. In the 40+ years the film has been around, there’s been a number of pseudo-intellectual theories and opinions on what the film is saying, whether or not it’s saying anything. The devil-may-care bravado and typical machismo that Burt Reynolds’s characters are often portrayed with proves to be of little use in unfamiliar territory, for the most part, which adds to your concern for he and his less-than-macho friends. Out of everything nice you can say about this picture, John Boorman’s directing is just the icing on the cake.

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5. What’s Up, Doc?

Hands down my absolute favorite movie of 1972, What’s Up, Doc? has terrific performances, great imagery and composition and the comedic time is unbelievable.

The movie stars Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, who play well off each other. Adding to that, Austin Pendleton and Madeline Kahn are just two others worthy of praise. This was director Peter Bogdanovich’s follow up film after the success of 1971’s The Last Picture Show. There truly are no small parts and this film certainly proves how impactful one line or a background character can have on a film.

Everyone in the hotel has their own story; some you know more about than others. There are 4 identical briefcases that work as plot devices, getting one character to interact with another. The primary story follows Howard, who is there to win a prestigious grant for research. Along the way, he’s followed by Judy who, immediately after first laying eyes on Howard, decides to try and get his attention. I can’t really describe the movie without saying too much. Just watch it and thank me later.


6. The Poseidon Adventure

I suppose one way of thinking about this is by drawing parallels to Titanic. The Poseidon Adventure is a star-studded ensemble disaster flick that’s equal parts amusing and compelling. It stars Shelley Winters, Leslie Nielsen and Gene Hackman, just to name a few. They’re on a passage ship that’s marking its last trip voyage. As luck would have it, on New Year’s Eve, the passengers fear for their lives as a tsunami takes control of the ship. It’s a very melodramatic movie, especially by today’s standards, but suspenseful, star-filled disaster movies were shortly a big deal.

The budget for this movie was a then-huge $4.7 million. A low budget movie today is $10 million, which is something to think about. Now the only real big star-studded movie events we have feature Marvel and DC characters. Comparisons aside, it’s worth a watch for its action and brief comedic relief.

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7. The Getaway


Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw star in this heist adventure about a convict who’s denied parole and relies on his wife to make a deal. Carol manages to persuade Jack, played by Ben Johnson, and he gets Carter released. The deal, of course, is that he and Carol plan a heist for him. It’s action-packed and filled with great performances. The film is directed by Sam Peckinpah who was actually McQueen’s second choice, after he fired Peter Bogdanovich.

It’s sort of There Was a Crooked Man… meets Bonnie and Clyde, but based on a book from the 1950s with several big changes made during production. Of course, Steve McQueen never fails to impress. His determination to deliver convincing performances never wane in the nearly 3 decades of his career — and this movie is a shining example of that.


8. Frenzy

Alfred Hitchcock spent some time away from suspense thrillers and worked on spy movies. As always, Hitchcock relied on a dark yet intelligent sense of humor to go hand-in-hand with his ability to tell fascinatingly macabre stories. Initially Frenzy was announced in the late 1960s, but principal photography didn’t begin until mid-late 1971. The cast was made up of relatively fresh faces, as over the course of pre-production, several stars turned it down as well as a writer.

Most people agree it’s Hitchcock’s last great film, but it’s more celebrated for his return to his suspense and horror films. The idea of a serial killer on the loose attacking women and strangling them with neckties is still pretty chilling, given the vulnerability aspect of wandering dark city streets. That being brought to mind, it’s certainly worth watching and seeing for yourself whether or not it can compare to other Hitchcock films.

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9. Fat City

This is a truly unique sports drama, obviously precursing Rocky by 4 years. Leonard Gardner wrote the novel and the screenplay, John Huston’s directing career was revitalized by this film as it opened to primarily positive reviews and box office success.

Jeff Bridges and Stacy Keach are both boxers with several similarities. Billy’s an old dog, while Ernie’s an up and coming fighter. Just as Billy’s ostensibly striving to recapture his youth by stepping back into the ring, his inspiration, Ernie, is suddenly beginning to realize what growing up is.

It’s certainly not your average sports movie. It’s not necessarily inspirational in a conventional sense, but it’s compelling and so well acted. The ending scene is simple and rather anticlimactic, but it’s powerful because of the overall message of the film and what the title means.


10. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

Set in the 1990s, this installment takes the events of its predecessors and comes full circle. It mostly focuses on Roddy McDowall’s Caesar and the apes rebelling against humans that have practically kept them enslaved. This one feels darker compared to any other entry in the franchise and leads to what could’ve been a pretty decent ending, if a fifth installment hadn’t been made just one year later.

Director J. Lee Thompson does a tremendous job and pays fine attention to detail throughout the film, primarily during its third act. As I’ve said about Escape from the Planet of the Apes, if you’ve only been around long enough to know about the newer films, this may seem like a step down in value, however, the original franchise is filled with twists and memorable moments and you just might enjoy it.

There you have it, the year 1972. I can’t imagine anyone not knowing at least one of the movies on this list. Which stand out to you and what haven’t you heard of but would consider watching?

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