Though it began in the late-1960s, New Hollywood came to the forefront of Hollywood and introduced a younger generation of directors that helped reshape how films were made. The 1970s was a great time to be a director – studios were more willing to experiment and allowed filmmakers greater autonomy. The results were some extraordinary pictures, mainly in the beginning of the '70s, that have since become classics in their own right. But thanks to films like Jaws, Rocky and Star Wars, Hollywood realized their was far more money to make off good old-fashioned entertainment and by the end of the decade the so-called auteur era was at end. Here are the 10 Best Directors from what many consider to be the greatest decade for movies.
One of the greatest historical biopics ever made, Franklin J. Schaffner’s Patton is best remembered for its towering performance by Oscar winner George C. Scott. But Schaffner’s war epic was far more than that – it was a three-hour indictment on authority as seen through the eyes of an iconoclast who believed he was destined to lead no matter what anybody else said. The winner of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Patton earned Schaffner Best Director honors over Federico Fellini for Fellini Satyricon, Arthur Hiller for Love Story, Robert Altman for M*A*S*H and Ken Russell for Women in Love.
Another great film dominated by an overpowering lead performance – this time by Gene Hackman as the violent racist New York cop Popeye Doyle – The French Connection was a gritty, no-holds-barred crime drama that broke ground for focusing on an entirely unsympathetic antihero. With his first major studio film, William Friedkin crafted a tense thriller that featured one of the greatest car chases ever filmed. Friedkin won his first Academy Award for Best Director over Stanley Kubrick for A Clockwork Orange, Norman Jewison for Fiddler on the Roof, Peter Bogdanovich for The Last Picture Show and John Schlesinger for Sunday Bloody Sunday.
More than just a lavish musical, Bob Fosse’s Cabaret was a provocative period drama that showcased the decadent life of Weimar Germany before, during and after the rise of Adolf Hitler. Featuring a brash, overtly sexual performance from Oscar-winning actress Liza Minnelli, Cabaret won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Fosse had deserving competition that year, including John Boorman for Deliverance, Jan Troell for The Emigrants, Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather and Joseph L. Mankiewicz for Sleuth.
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards and winner of seven, George Roy Hill’s classic caper movie, The Sting, featured two star performances from leads Paul Newman and Robert Redford as well as one of the most complex long cons ever put on film. Hailed by critics and the second-highest grossing movie of the year, The Sting earned Hill the Oscar for Best Director over George Lucas for American Graffiti, Ingmar Bergman for Cries and Whispers, William Friedkin for The Exorcist and Bernardo Bertolucci for Last Tango in Paris.
In his second of three parts to his epic crime saga, Francis Ford Coppola pulled off that rare feat of directing a sequel that surpassed the original and with it cemented his place in history as the top auteur of 1970s New Hollywood. Starring Al Pacino as the cold and calculating mafia boss, Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part II deftly weaved Michael’s struggles with expanding the family business with flashbacks to Vito Corleone’s (Robert De Niro) rise to power. The film won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and earned Coppola Best Director over competition that featured Roman Polanski for Chinatown, Francois Truffaut for Day for Night, Bob Fosse for Lenny and John Cassavetes for A Woman Under the Influence.
Only the second film to sweep all five major Academy Awards – the first was Frank Capra’s classic screwball comedy It Happened One Night – Milos Foreman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel featured a bravura performance by Jack Nicholson as the manic R. P. McMurphy, a free-spirited prisoner who’s transferred to a mental institution and butts heads with the authoritarian Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Along the way, he earns the loyalty of his fellow inmates, all of whom seem to change for the better only to lose their hero when he goes too far. Foreman won the Oscar over Federico Fellini for Amarcord, Stanley Kubrick for Barry Lyndon, Sidney Lumet for Dog Day Afternoon and Robert Altman for Nashville.
An enormous success and the feel-good movie of the entire decade, John G. Avildsen’s Rocky was a labor of love for the then-unknown Sylvester Stallone, who fought for his right to play the lead after penning the script. Shot on a shoestring budget of only $1 million, Rocky became a surprise international hit, turned Stallone into an overnight star and spawned five sequels of diminishing worth. Avildsen won the Oscar for Best Director over Alan J. Pakula for All the President’s Men, Ingmar Bergman for Face to Face, Sidney Lumet for Network and Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties.
One of Woody Allen’s best films and perhaps everybody’s favorite, Annie Hall was a major turning point for the director, who had been up till then directing broad slapstick comedies. With the desire to tell a deeper, more personal story, Allen crafted one of the finest romantic comedies ever made. Starring Allen as the neurotic Alvy Singer and Diane Keaton as the titular Hall, the film received widespread critical acclaim and became a rare box office hit for the director. Despite his refusal to attend the ceremony, Allen won the Oscar over Steven Spielberg for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Fred Zinnemann for Julia, George Lucas for Star Wars and Herbert Ross for The Turning Point.
A dark look at the effects of the Vietnam War on a group of friends from rural Pennsylvania, Michael Cimino’s second feature was a risky three-hour epic that was hailed by critics and became a surprise box office hit. Starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep and John Cazale in his final film before succumbing to bone cancer, The Deer Hunter used at its centerpiece the game of Russian Roulette, which the Vietcong force the friends to play for their amusement and with it underscore the inhumanity of war. Cimino beat out Hal Ashby for Coming Home, Warren Beatty and Buck Henry for Heaven Can Wait, Woody Allen for Interiors and Alan Parker for Midnight Express.
With the New Hollywood era coming to a close following the artistic excesses taken by its directors – which in some cases lead to financial disaster amidst changing public attitudes – the Academy bestowed five Oscars on this marriage drama that broke ground for showing the effects of a divorce on all involved: the husband (Dustin Hoffman), the wife (Meryl Streep) and their seven year old son (Justin Henry). Reflecting shifting ideals of women going out into the workforce instead of being stay-at-home moms, Kramer vs. Kramer was the right movie at the right time. Robert Benton won the Academy Award for Best Director over Bob Fosse for All That Jazz, Francis Ford Coppola for Apocalypse Now, Peter Yates for Breaking Away and Edouard Molinaro for La Cage aux Folles.