Quite possibly the greatest year of the decade, 1978 is certainly not one to forget. If you weren’t reading the Garfield comic strips, playing Hungry Hungry Hippos or spending countless hours down at the arcade playing Space Invaders, you might’ve been watching Dallas, Fantasy Island or Mork & Mindy. Sadly, 1978 was also the year of the Jonestown Massacre, but rather than dwelling on how horrific of an event that was, we’re focusing only on the positive impacts of the year.
Here are 10 of the absolute best movies from 1978.
1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a remake of the 1956 movie of the same name, based on Jack Finney’s novel, The Body Snatchers. It stars Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams and Veronica Cartwright.
Michael Chapman’s cinematography is unique in the way that it contributes greatly, albeit subtly to the unfolding situation and the motivation of the characters. Notably, Philip Kaufman’s directing balances classic sci-fi storytelling with paranoia-inducing suspense that’s still effective 41 years later.
Okay yeah, Man of Steel is good, but have you ever seen the Superman of the 1970s? It’s directed by Richard Donner and features a stellar cast led by Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, and Gene Hackman.
This Superman movie entertainingly fires on all cylinders, capturing the fun, adventurous aspect that seems so intrinsic to the earlier comic stories and its characters. It may seem a little dated when compared to any recent comic adaptation, but Superman is still a fun watch.
3. Animal House
National Lampoon’s Animal House is still one of the greatest college movies of all time. It’s set in 1962 and directed by John Landis, who also directed The Kentucky Fried Movie just a year earlier.
Harold Ramis co-wrote the script, and John Belushi stars alongside Tim Matheson, John Vernon and Donald Sutherland. Noteworthy appearances include Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon. Make no mistake, Animal House is vulgar and kind of disgusting, but it’s also hilarious and incredibly entertaining.
4. Foul Play
Foul Play is a charming little comedy thriller starring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. The story focuses on a practically virtuous librarian named Gloria who, after considering what her friend says about taking chances, decides to do just that. Suddenly, she finds herself in a bit of trouble and Tony’s assigned to watch after her.
Along the way, we’re introduced to several memorable characters — Dudley Moore’s character, Stanley stealing the show. Charles Fox composed the score and Barry Manilow performed Foul Play’s stirring theme.
5. Jaws 2
Easily the best of the Jaws sequels, Jaws 2 takes us back to Amity Island about 4 years after the events of the original. Surprise, surprise, the town authority figures refuse to believe Brody’s claim of another shark feeding on the beach.
Compared to the first one, Jaws 2’s tone is fairly different and Roy Shieder’s portrayal of Martin Brody has changed. He’s angrier and more determined, whereas in Jaws he’s quieter and doesn’t seem to be that strong of a character until the last act of the movie.
Forget kryptonite — if you’re wondering what beat Superman in 1978 — it was Grease. The musical motion picture stars Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta as Sandy and Danny. Some of the musical numbers are pretty catchy and it is decently acted, for the most part.
I always felt that Grease, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, seemed more theatre-esque, whereas most other musicals feel cinematic. Being on either end of that spectrum isn’t a bad thing, either. Grease just seems to take on a life of its own.
7. The Eyes of Laura Mars
With a decent theme song, a talented cast and a twist ending, The Eyes of Laura Mars manages to hold its own in the thriller genre. Faye Dunaway’s character, Laura, is a photographer whose work has been known to upset people. She suddenly begins to have visions of murders and, strangely enough, from the killer’s point of view.
Tommy Lee Jones co-stars as Laura’s love interest John. Another familiar face is Brad Dourif, who plays Tommy. The Eyes of Laura Mars is a suspenseful thriller with great acting, a cool theme song, and it’s well worth checking out.
Obviously inspired by the huge success of Jaws, director Joe Dante and producer Roger Corman delivered Piranha: an excitingly schlocky horror film that — perhaps deliberately — has fun with the genre and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Bradford Dillman, Dick Miller, and Heather Menzies star in the film, from a script written entertainingly simple by John Sayles. If you’re into sci-fi horror movies of this kind and you’ve never seen it, certainly check it out. It’s not better than Jaws, but it is thoroughly enjoyable.
9. Midnight Express
Midnight Express is inspired by the autobiographical book of the same name, written by Billy Hayes. Brad Davis plays Billy who is arrested as he’s trying to board a plane because he’s smuggling drugs. He’s sentenced to a Turkish prison, where the rest of the movie takes place.
Midnight Express is brutal, intense and, for some, difficult to watch. The one funny thing to think about when it comes to Midnight Express is that Billy got himself in trouble and yet, at the same time, you might find yourself rooting for him.
Everything has been said about Halloween, for the most part. It’s not a flawless film, but it’s suspenseful, fun and exceptionally made from a shoestring budget. Debra Hill and John Carpenter’s script is filled with tension-building suspense and memorable moments.
One of Halloween’s many strengths is in its ability to generate scares without relying on excessive gore or over-the-top kills. The plot is straightforward and the setup is fairly simple, but Halloween’s praise and success can easily be attributed to all the effort made during its production.
The world has changed quite a bit since 1978. Did your favorite film of 1978 make the list? If so, which is it?
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