1971 Movies

Discover a diverse range of movies in Plex's 1971 database, capturing a unique moment in Hollywood history. As the 1970s began, filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese were reshaping cinema, and the offerings of 1971 reflect this mix of tradition and innovation.
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The Best Movies of 1971

There are more than a few movies worth watching in 1971, but these are a few that stand out:

The Last Picture Show

Director Peter Bogdanovich struck a chord with his groundbreaking film, "The Last Picture Show." The focus is on high school graduates in a desolate Texas town, presenting a stark contrast to films that explore the lives of more privileged young adults. It's a tale of coming of age but without the rose-tinted spectacles, showcasing the difficult transitions into adult responsibilities. The film served as a launchpad for then-emerging talents, including Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, and Cybill Shepherd. By painting the lives of its characters with shades of gray, it captivates its audience, making them ponder the complexities of growing up.


George Lucas, known for his later, more mainstream works, initiated his career with "THX-1138," a film far removed from the kind of storytelling he later became famous for. Stemming from a college short film that brought Lucas critical acclaim, "THX-1138" takes the audience on a bleak journey into a dystopian future, filled with oppressive societal structures. It's a departure from Lucas's later works, offering a much darker, nihilistic viewpoint that gave viewers a glimpse into the director's range and versatility.

Carnal Knowledge

Mike Nichols's "Carnal Knowledge" takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. It begins with light-hearted college banter between two friends, Sandy and Jonathan, portrayed by Arthur Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson. However, the film gradually transitions into a disturbing exploration of relationships and emotional complexities as the characters age. The shift from the naivety of youth to the harsh realities of adulthood is portrayed seamlessly. Nichols's film influenced subsequent cinematic works that examine young people grappling with reality, marking its lasting impact on the industry.


Alan J. Pakula's "Klute" takes a unique twist on the neo-noir genre, starring Donald Sutherland as detective John Klute and Jane Fonda as call-girl Bree Daniels. Despite Pakula not being a household name like Scorsese or Coppola, his contributions to cinema, including this film, have been significant. "Klute" offers an engrossing narrative that revolves around a detective's uneasy alliance with a call-girl, leading the audience through an intricate web of suspense and mystery. Jane Fonda's performance is exceptional and serves as a testament to her acting prowess, adding depth and complexity to her character.

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

The year also brought some lighter cinematic moments, notably through "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory." Gene Wilder's portrayal of Willy Wonka is iconic, offering an interpretation that remains peerless despite later attempts to recreate the role. The film's soundtrack has also stood the test of time, contrasting with other musicals from that period which have lost their luster. This family-friendly adventure continues to capture hearts, making it a cornerstone in the history of film.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Robert Altman's "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" stands as an excellent example of the genre's adaptability. Steering clear of the typical shootouts and outlaw tropes, the film delves into the deteriorating dynamics of a small town following the arrival of John McCabe, portrayed by Warren Beatty. Altman opted for a more realistic narrative, concentrating on the everyday struggles and challenges that come with the frontier lifestyle. The film is a unique entry in the canon of Westerns, establishing a distinct tone and pacing that set it apart from its peers.

Get Carter

In 1971, while American action cinema was defining itself through films like "Dirty Harry," Britain was crafting its own style of action in the neo-noir category. "Get Carter," directed by Mike Hodges, starred Michael Caine as a vengeful London gangster. This movie exhibited a distinct British approach to crime films, standing apart from its American counterparts. Michael Caine's performance was a highlight, adding yet another layer to the growing trend of anti-heroes in film.

Dirty Harry

Clint Eastwood, despite having directed his first film "Play Misty For Me" the same year, left an indelible impact with his role in "Dirty Harry." Directed by Don Siegel, this film became an instant action classic. Though the character of Harry Callahan became more exaggerated in later films, the original iteration presented a tense thriller, complete with a haunting performance by Andrew Robinson as the serial killer 'Scorpio.'

A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" remains an enduring piece of cinema that continues to invoke strong reactions from its audience. The film drew attention and criticism for its explicit content but succeeded in making a strong point about societal ills. While it courted controversy for its violent and sexually explicit scenes, these were necessary for the film to articulate its overarching themes about cyclical violence and media influence.

The French Connection

Among the list of Best Picture winners from the 1970s, "The French Connection" holds its own as one of the finest. Gene Hackman stars as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle, giving a riveting performance. While advancements in action cinema have been made since its release, the car chase sequence in this film remains unparalleled. Directed by William Friedkin, this movie serves as a blueprint for action films, demonstrating how storytelling and adrenaline can coexist effectively.

1971 Movies & Industry Highlights

Some may say that 1971 was a transformative year. The highest-earning films of this year ranged from musicals to action flicks, covering a wide variety of genres and tastes. "Fiddler on the Roof" by United Artists topped the list with domestic rentals amounting to $40,500,000. Following close behind was "Billy Jack" by Warner Bros. at $32,500,000, and "The French Connection" from 20th Century Fox at $26,300,000. Warner Bros. also had another major entry with "Summer of '42," generating $20,500,000. "Diamonds Are Forever," another from United Artists, raked in $19,727,000.

Groundbreaking Films

From "A Clockwork Orange," which collected $17,000,000, to "Willard" by Cinerama rounding out the top ten at $9,300,000, the year was remarkable for its diversity. Different genres and storylines resonated with the audiences, earning substantial box-office figures. While some films dealt with gritty realities, others offered escapism, making 1971 a standout year in terms of variety.

Notable Events

Beyond box office numbers, several significant events shaped the movie industry. On February 8, Bob Dylan's hour-long documentary, "Eat the Document," premiered at New York's Academy of Music. This film contained footage from Dylan's 1966 UK tour and attracted significant attention. Another highlight was on April 23 when Melvin Van Peebles' "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" became the highest-earning independent film for the year.

Further innovations were introduced in May, when the first permanent IMAX projection system began showing at Ontario Place's "Cinesphere" in Toronto. Also in May, Frank Yablans took the reins as President of Paramount Pictures. Across the pond, Britain's National Film School began its operations at Beaconsfield Film Studios, marking a significant moment for film education.

Genres & Styles

The films of 1971 demonstrated a broad array of styles and genres. "Fiddler on the Roof" provided audiences with musical charm, while "Billy Jack" offered intense drama. The range didn't end there. "The French Connection" impressed with its thrilling action sequences, and "Diamonds Are Forever" gave fans the spy drama they were yearning for.

Cultural & Societal Impact

It's essential to recognize that the movies of 1971 were not just entertainment; they were also a reflection of societal concerns and shifts. Films such as "Dirty Harry," "The French Connection," and "A Clockwork Orange" dealt with themes of justice, morality, and social order, mirroring ongoing dialogues in society.

International Success

It wasn't just Hollywood setting standards. British films also made an impact, evidenced by "Get Carter," which presented a different kind of action drama that resonated with audiences. International co-productions and foreign films also continued to find success.

Film Festivals & Awards

This year's films received various awards and nominations, solidifying their place in cinema history. "The French Connection" was lauded not only for its box office numbers but also for its critical acclaim, eventually winning multiple Oscars.

Technological Advancements

The introduction of the IMAX projection system was a game-changer. Starting in Toronto, this innovative tech provided viewers with an entirely new way to experience movies. As one of the first films to be shown on this platform, "North of Superior" marked the beginning of a new era in cinematic presentation.