This week, our exploration of great cinema from the past three-quarters of a century stops by the 1970s, as we pick out some of our favourites from that era which have screened at EIFF.

With New Hollywood in full swing, and many talented filmmakers emerging to prominence across the globe during the decade, a number of future classics premiered in Edinburgh, while others which were well on their way to that status featured in our pioneering retrospective strands.

Here's ten of our favourites from the 1970s...

1970 // Five Easy Pieces

A man plays a piano on the back of a truck.

Director: Bob Rafelson

Screened at EIFF: 40th Anniversary at EIFF 2010

After making headlines at EIFF 1969, road movie Easy Rider kickstarted the career of a young Jack Nicholson, who a year later would go on to star in one of the gems of the New Hollywood movement Five Easy Pieces. Nicholson's character Bobby was once a prodigious pianist, but grew up to shun his upper-class youth and drift from job to job on various oil rigs, and this portrait of alienation is amongst the best performances of the great actor's career. 

Rent: Amazon Prime


1971 // Punishment Park

A man bows down in front of a police officer, who is pointing a gun at him.

Director: Peter Watkins

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1971

Filmed to appear as a documentary, but actually a fictional piece of work, Punishment Park is a fascinating example of a filmmaker stretching the rules of cinema to provoke a reaction from their audience. Controversial at the time of release, the film is set in a dystopian America where prisons are overcrowded, and convicted criminals have the choice of full jail terms or three days in the barren deserts of "Punishment Park", where they will be hunted for sport by law enforcement officials.


1972 // Fat City

Two men face each other closely in a bar.

Director: John Huston

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1972

John Huston is a filmmaker who held a very special relationship with EIFF, acting as honorary president in 1953, and upon returning in 1972 for the premiere of Fat City, described the festival as "the only film festival as such that’s worth a damn”! The sports drama, starring an up-and-coming Jeff Bridges as a young boxer full of potential, brought Huston out of the critical doldrums and received glowing reviews upon release.

Rent: Apple TV


1973 // Aguirre, The Wrath of God

A soldier stands in front of a river.

Director: Werner Herzog

Screened at EIFF: UK Premier EIFF 1973

Eccentric director Werner Herzog was the subject of a retrospective at EIFF 1973 that would also include the UK premiere of his latest film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Shot on location in the rainforests of South America, the film tells the story (in a very minimalist fashion) of Spanish soldier Lope de Aguirre, who leads a group of conquistadores down the Amazon River. Not content with having just explored the rainforests, two days into the festival, Herzog temporarily went missing and was reported to have disappeared to the Scottish Highlands. Thankfully, he did return, and went on to have an incredibly illustrious filmmaking career, as well as enjoying some strange snacks in the process.

Stream: BFI Player


1974 // Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

A waitress smiles at a customer while holding up a tray of food.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1975 Martin Scorsese Retrospective

In the early 1970's, EIFF became knowing for championing the concept of the retrospective. One such director featured in retrospective format was Martin Scorsese (who showed up for the event in person!) Of course, we all know and love Marty now, and recognise him as an all-time great for films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, but in 1975, he was still on the fringes of stardom, with a few minor hits like Mean Streets under his belt. Part of that retrospective was Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, a comedy drama boasting a cast of exciting young stars, including Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd, Jodie Foster, and Harvey Keitel. The film went on to become a success at the Oscars, with Burstyn taking home the award for Best Actress!

Rent: Apple TV


1975 // Jaws

A police officer waves people away on a busy beach.

Director: Steven Spielberg

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 2018 with RSNO

Duuun dun.... Duuuun dun.... We all know that iconic two-note theme that signifies no-one on screen was safe to get back in the water, so it was extra-special when we teamed up with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to relive the thrilling suspense of Jaws with a live performed score in 2018! Steven Spielberg's 1975 film became the highest-grossing film of all-time upon release, and although that record has been well surpassed, it is still widely considered as the film that kickstarted the concept of the summer blockbuster.

Rent: Amazon Prime


1976 // Taxi Driver

A man dressed in a military jacket, shades, and sporting a mohawk-style haircut, watches on.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1976

That choice to spotlight Martin Scorsese with an EIFF retrospective in 1975 looked more and more inspired when the director's follow-up film screened at the festival a year later. Taxi Driver, a film that many will argue is still Scorsese's finest work, arrived in Edinburgh off the back of taking the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Despite its controversial portrayal of mental health and its graphically violent ending, the film was a huge critical success and gave us one of cinema's most memorable lines, with Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle asking himself in the mirror "you talkin' to me?"

Stream: Netflix


1977 // The American Friend

Two men walk across a narrow wall towards a city, in the middle of a busy highway.

Director: Wim Wenders

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1977 UK Premiere

Currently the subject of a UK-wide career retrospective (which both Filmhouse and Belmont are partaking in), the German director also had his work featured at EIFF 1977. That particular retrospective concluded with the UK premiere of his latest release, The American Friend, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, Ripley's Game. Starring cult movie icon Dennis Hopper, and regular Wenders collaborator Bruno Ganz, the film follows its leads into an underworld murder plot.


1978  // The Driver

A group sit in a yellow, vintage-looking car, in a parking lot.

Director: Walter Hill

Screened at EIFF: 2006 and 2015 Retrospectives

Walter Hill's film may not have had a huge impact at the time of its release, but its reputation has risen over time, so much so that it has featured in not one but two EIFF retrospectives since the turn of the century. Firstly in 2006, as part of They Might Be Giants: Other Voices From The New American, and then again for a retrospective dedicated entirely to Hill himself in 2015. The Driver, a film praised for being "effortlessly cool", has since inspired many modern filmmakers, perhaps most notably Nicolas Winding Refn, and his 2011 hit, Drive.

Rent: Amazon Prime


1979  // Alien

A side-on view of a scary looking alien creature.

Director: Ridley Scott

Screened at EIFF: EIFF 1979 UK Premiere

Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi horror film had its UK premiere here in Edinburgh, before going on to spawn a series of sequels and turn its lead actress, Sigourney Weaver, into an all-star action hero! When the crew of the spaceship, Nostromo, encounter a deadly species in the outer reaches of space, all hell breaks loose. Featuring John Hurt in one of the grizzliest scenes ever made (click here if you dare), Alien has gone on to be considered an all-time classic in multiple genres of cinema.

Stream: Disney+


Want some more EIFF classic film recommendations? Check out last week's article on the 1960s!