! Best 1970s teen films

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Best 1970s teen films

by Released : 2024-06-06

1. Bad News Bears (1976)

Not only arguably the best baseball movie of all time, but one of the best coming of age films of all time. Teen idols of the era like Jackie Earle Haley and Tatum O’neal helped bring out the best of the young cast. Screen legend Walter Matthau brought some depth to the film and his signature dry sense of humor. The film was one of the ten biggest box office hits of 1976 and  went on to spawn a short lived tv show,  two sequels and a reboot in 2005. 

2. American Graffiti (1973)

Before George Lucas directed Star Wars he made another timeless classic. The film is credited with starting the popularity of the “teen/ highschool film” that would later take over the 1980s. The music and production design takes the audience back to 1962, but it’s the film’s stellar performances that make it more than the average teen film. The film was a cultural phenomenon, adjusted with DVD sales made well over 200 million dollars. A much mangled sequel More American Graffiti would be released in 1979. That film was a box office failure, but recently some critics have given it a second chance. The film is best known for its somber ending. 

3. Badlands (1973)

Set in 1959 the film was a career starter for Sissy Spaseck and Martin Sheen directed by Terrance Malik. Unlike his future films this film follows a straight narrative path and does not have too many lingering nature shots. Sheen channels his inner James Dean simultaneously, able to capture shocking violence with simplicity. His character is so likable while committing horrendous acts that the audience does not know to love or hate him. Not a huge box office success at the time of it’s release the film is now regarded as one of the most influential movies of all time. Popular character actor Warren Oates is also great as the strict father to Spaseck’s impressionable young teenage girl. 

4. Breaking Away (1979)

Although American Graffiti is credited with starting the genre, it was actually Summer of 42 that kicked it off in 1971. However, even with multiple great teen films from the 1970s the genre did not really take off until the 1980s. However, in 1979 Breaking Away predicted what was to come; the film is ahead of its time in that it feels like a 1980s teen film. Most teen films of this era were period pieces, but this film took place in modern times. It also focused on the struggles of a small town and class struggles between the poor locals and rich college students. Which would later become a popular subplot in 1980s teen films. The film was a box office success at the time, but is seldom talked about today and unfairly does not have the reputation of other films on this list. The film also starred Jackie Early Hay who was in multiple teen films from this era and is notable for being Dennis Quaid’s first big film. The film captured the biking fad of the 1970s. 

5. The Last Picture Show (1971) 

Set in 1951 taking place in a dying coal town the film was a breakout role for Jeff Bridges. The film also launched the careers of Peter Bogdanovitch, Randy Quaid, and Cybill shepherd. It was nominated for 8 Oscars, but Cybill Shepherd was not nominated. This was perhaps due to the controversy surrounding the film at the time. Cybill Shepherd, who later admitted to also sleeping with Jeff Bridges, had an affair with the director  Peter Bogdanovitch. At the time Bogdanovitch's wife was working on the film. Shepherd would famously date Bogdanovitch for the next few years. However, when they broke up her career nosedived by the 1980s due to negative media coverage of their afair. In 1990 a sequel Texasville was released set in the early 1980s with the original cast returning. This and Summer of 42 both released in 1971 helped kick off teen films as viable box office films. 

6. the Wanderers (1979) 

Set in the Bronx in 1963 the film follows a young Italian American street gang in a changing, more radical 1960s. The film does a great job of showing the culture changes of the 1960s that started to happen right before 1964. None of the male actors went on to have  large film careers, but all the performances come off as genuine. The film does have a young Karen Allen and famous 1970s child actor Linda Manz, who only did 3 films before retiring. The Wanders had a modest budget allowing for great costumes, sets, and a period accurate soundtrack. The film only made 5 million domestic, but was a big hit overseas making nearly 18 million for a total box office of 23 million. Today, the film has earned a small but passionate cult following. 

7. Halloween (1978) 

The quintessential slasher film before Hallowean went on to spawn a huge franchise it was just a small slasher movie about a killer terrifying a high school girl. An excellent breakout performance from Jamie Lee Curtis which showed that female characters in horror did not need to be a damsel in distress. Check out the extended TV edition from 1979 for the best version of this film. 

8. Saturday Night Fever (1977) 

At only 24 years old, John Travolta was nominated for best actor in this film for his role as 17 year old Tony Manero. Before this film Travolta had done the popular teen show Welcome Back Kotter. Popularizing the disco fad at the time the film was a box office smash and one of the highest grossing R rated films of all time. Today adjusted for inflation the film would have made 673 million at the box office. The film skyrocketed Travolta to A list status and he would do Grease shortly after this. 

9. Big Wednesday (1978) 

Once described by Steven Spielberg as “American Graffiti meets Jaws” the film was a huge box office flop. With a large 11 million Dollar budget directed by John Milius. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were so confident in this film that they famously exchanged percentage points of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind for this film. Set throughout the 1960s the film starred film legends Jan- Michael Vincent and Garey Busey. Both stars would have huge success in the 1970s but drug related outbursts plus the bomb of this film would kill their career by 1980. William Katt, the third star of this film, would go on to star in the classic tv show The Greatest American Hero. The film captures 1960s LA surfer culture while also commenting on Vietnam. Despite being a box office flop the film today has a huge cult following. It is regarded as the best surfer movie and its original poster is more iconic than the film itself. 

10. Over The Edge (1979) 

The first teen punk film kicked off a great run for Matt Dillion who would make a number of iconic 1980s teen films. This is definitely the darkest teen film he ever made and would inspire other teen films like Rivers Edge. Film director Richard Linkater was also a huge fan of this movie calling it one of the best teen films of all time. The film was not a box office success but has since gained a cult following. Most of the film takes place in a recreation center and has teens as young as 12 doing serious hard drugs. The film is actually based on real events and is considered today by many to be an accurate showing of teen drug subculture in 1970s L.A.