Two years after the Summer of Love, the hangover had arrived, and that hangover was embodied most thoroughly not by Five Easy Pieces or Woodstock but by Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. 1970′s #1 movies had something to offer youthful audiences (Five Easy Pieces, Woodstock) and less youthful audiences (Chisum, Airport, The Cheyenne Social Club). Forty-one years later, the former category, to no one’s surprise, has held up better.
After never having been addressed in Hollywood movies to any significant extent, the Vietnam War made itself felt in 1970, with four war movies among the twenty-one #1′s, a very high proportion, I’d imagine. Unlike almost everything else, war was on the minds of young (M*A*S*H, Kelly’s Heroes) and old (Patton, Tora! Tora! Tora!) alike. In addition, the #1′s featured three westerns, two comedies (a low number, surely), two sci-fi movies, and two exercises in British Victoriana. The only person to play the lead in multiple movies was Clint Eastwood, and they were back to back.
Hardly any of the movies were what you would call “thrillers,” although maybe Airport qualifies. None of the movies featured anything like a private eye/homicide detective or had any semblance of a murder plot (Joe, Trog, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls came the closest). In brief, filmgoers in 1970 were not in a pulpy mood.
New York City held uncommon appeal: Several of the movies (The Boys in the Band, Joe, The Owl and the Pussycat, Diary of a Mad Housewife, Love Story) were set at least partially in the city, which probably isn’t true of 1980 or 1990 or 2000, although you never know. (The Boys in the Band and The Owl and the Pussycat featured scenes shot in the exact same branch of Doubleday Books, an odd coincidence.) Ten of the movies were set in the past, and one was set in the future.
Academy Awards: Remarkably, all five nominees for Best Picture reached #1: M*A*S*H, Airport, Five Easy Pieces, Love Story, and the winner, Patton. Patton‘s George C. Scott won Best Actor and famously refused his award, while Airport‘s Helen Hayes received Best Supporting Actress. Franklin J. Schaffner won Best Director for Patton; Robert Altman was the only other director here who was nominated, for M*A*S*H. Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North won Best Original Screenplay for Patton, and Ring Lardner Jr. won Best Adapted Screenplay for M*A*S*H (Love Story, Joe, Five Easy Pieces, and Airport were among the eight other nominees in those two categories). Woodstock won Best Documentary — it must quite unusual indeed for the Best Documentary winner to reach #1.
Five Easy Pieces (10)
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (9)
Diary of a Mad Housewife (8)
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (8)
Two Mules for Sister Sara (7)
Kelly’s Heroes (7)
===== 6.5 =====
The Cheyenne Social Club (6)
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (6)
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (5)
The Boys in the Band (4)
Love Story (3)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (3)
The Owl and the Pussycat (2)
Pleasant surprises: Diary of a Mad Housewife, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Two Mules for Sister Sara
Disappointments: The Boys in the Band, The Owl and the Pussycat
Weighted IMDB average for weeks in which 1970 releases were #1 (63 weeks): 6.97
Weighted Boffo average for weeks in which 1970 releases were #1 (63 weeks): 5.31
Notable movies that did not reach #1: Brewster McCloud, Catch-22, Claire’s Knee, The Conformist, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Dodesukaden, The Garden of the Fitzi-Continis, Gimme Shelter, The Honeymoon Killers, Little Big Man, Myra Breckinridge, The Out-of-Towners, Women in Love, Zabriskie Point
Further reading: Pauline Kael, Deeper Into Movies; J. Hoberman, The Dream Life