Predictably, much of the 1970s were spent processing the cultural hangover from the decade that preceded them. The social idealism of the ’60s, from the Civil Rights Movement to free love, were countered with cinematic explorations of dystopia wherein humans were disposable cogs and love was often the costliest proposition of all. Below are ten of my personal favorites from this peculiar subset of science fiction filmmaking. In no particular order, my Top 10 Dystopian 70s Movies.
10. Logon’s Run (1976)
Remember the 60s adage “Don’t trust anyone over 30?” Well, Logan’s Run did it one better – no one lives over 30. This puts star Michael York on lam when he turns the Big 3-0 andthe “Lifeclock” crystal in the palm begins to glow. Producer Joel Silver is eying a remake with Ryan Gosling as the twenty-something future-boy on the eve of his thirtieth birthday (Gosling, however, is already 31, which in the quantum physics of “Hollywood years” means he’s anywhere between 15 and 50).
9. Z.P.G (1972)
An acronym for Zero Population Growth, it might as well have stood for Zero Box Office. To prevent overcrowding of the earth (too late) the state puts a moratorium on pregnancies and issues surrogate baby-bots to ease the occasional maternal urge. Geraldine Chaplin, however, gets knocked up instead, which sends her and babydaddy Oliver Reed on the run. The latter half of The Children of Men owes a debt to this picture.
8. THX1138 (1971)
This is George Lucas’ pre-Star Wars love letter to science fiction with a nod and a wink to the other “George” of sci-fi fame – Orwell. When Robert Duvall tries to pull a Houdini on the system, the system pulls out the cattle prods.
7. Roller Ball (1975)
It’s 2018, do you know where your corporation-provided concubine is? If you’re James Caan’s Jonathan E, you don’t give a damn about anything but winning the rugby-on-skates-and-motorcycles game of the title to, you know, liberate the teeming masses who watch it. Speaking of which, you can watch the entire film, right here, right now:
6. Soylent Green (1973)
Charlton Heston plays an NYPD cop getting too close to the secret of how the government feeds its teeming masses – the mysterious foodstuff of the title. Spoiler alert: Yeah, it’s people. Foodie activist Michael Pollan should star in the remake.
5. Zardoz (1974)
Post-Bond Sean Connery plays a brutish, half-naked “noble savage” who learns that effete elites are living high on the work (and fear!) of the other 99%. Mark my words, #OccupyZardoz is a meme waiting to happen.
4. Mad Max (1979)
This 1979 road-test of future superstar Mel Gibson features not only a glimpse of his notorious road rage (and its bonus racism and sexism and, um, catholicism), it showcases his original Aussie accent. G’Day, Mate!
3. Sleeper (1973)
Woody Allen’s “older, funnier” onscreen persona dies during a dental procedure and is revived 200 years in a future where it’s realized that tobacco is one of the “best things for your body” and Howard Cosell sports commentary is thought to be a form of torture (true). Allen springs socialite Diane Keaton from her tony life as an elite (replete with pleasure “orb” and an “orgasmatron!”) and proceeds to the pull a “viva la revolution” type of Pygmalion transformation on her (which he did again in the comparatively low-tech Annie Hall) while naysaying pretty much every philosophical precept ever uttered except the incontrovertible notions of “sex and death.”
2. Death Race 2000 (1975)
Think Cannonball Run with a body count. Keith Carradine plays a driver “Frankenstein” so named for the fact that, like his car, he’s made from spare parts. A Roger Corman classic with a pre-”Rocky” Stallone as a villain to boot.
1. A Boy and His Dog (1975)
A dude who communicates with his telepathic dog, searches the wasteland for food and thrills until he stumbles onto an underground society, which has plans to use him as a sperm donor for its horde of nubile schoolgirls. Then they’re going to kill him. Yes! Don Johnson stars in his Coolest. Role. Ever.