There’s no doubt that 1973 was a very good year for film. Although the same argument can be made for many other years when stacking up the best movies released in a given 12-month period, the films of 1973 have stood the test of time. Even five decades after they were released in theaters, many of 1973’s movie releases are still readily available to stream. Some of these films even proved to have an incredible influence on everything that came after them.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of 1973’s cinema lineup, we’re taking a look back at the 10 best movies of 1973, ranked from worst to first. And you won’t have to turn your head around 360 degrees to figure out which movie landed at No. 1.
10. Live and Let Die
Roger Moore made his first appearance as James Bond in Live and Let Die, although the film might be more famous for its title song by Paul McCartney and Wings. This was Bond’s brush with blaxploitation, as 007 goes up against Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), a Caribbean dictator who is making a major play in the drug world.
This is a Bond film with two Bond Girls: Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry) and Solitaire (Jane Seymour). When Bond manages to get Solitaire to betray Kananga, both of them are put in danger as 007 attempts to finish his mission.
Watch Live and Let Die on Prime Video.
9. Soylent Green
Unfortunately, the final line of Soylent Green is so iconic that it probably spoiled the big reveal of the movie long before many people ever saw it. Fortunately, the film itself holds up extremely well as a thriller. Charlton Heston stars as Robert Thorn, a NYPD detective who is attempting to solve the murder of William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten), the CEO of Soylent Corporation.
In this future, real food is extremely scarce, and Soylent Corp’s Soylent Green is far more popular than its other processed food products. But in a world with limited natural resources, Soylent Green can only really come from one source. And when Thorn learns the truth, it’s a truly horrifying revelation.
Watch Soylent Green in Max.
Jurassic Park novelist Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, the sci-fi film that inspired a HBO series several decades later. But the original movie is a lot less complex than the television show. Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and his friend, John Blane (James Brolin), visit Westworld, one of three theme parks filled with lifelike human androids who can cater to their every whim.
However, something goes terribly wrong as a computer virus passes to the androids in every park. Suddenly, the previously toothless Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) is firing real bullets and the machines are rising up. And the human guests trapped in the parks may not be able to find their way out.
Watch Westworld on The Criterion Channel.
7. Enter the Dragon
Warner Bros. Pictures
Enter the Dragon was Bruce Lee’s last film, but he went out on top with one of the all-time great martial arts movies. In the story, Lee (Lee) is recruited by British intelligence to act on their behalf as a spy during an upcoming martial arts tournament held by an infamous crime lord, Han (Shih Kien). As further incentive to find evidence of Han’s crimes, Lee also learns that his sister’s murderer, O’Hara (Bob Wall), is Han’s bodyguard.
Once he arrives on the island with the other martial artists, Lee discovers that security is much tighter than he expected. Han also has his own ambitions for fighters like Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly), who will either join his criminal organization or die.
Rent or buy Enter the Dragon on Google Play, Prime Video, YouTube, and Apple TV+.
6. The Wicker Man
British Lion Films
You may have seen clips of Nicolas Cage wildly overacting in the 2006 remake of The Wicker Man, but the original film is a lot better than the remake, and a very effective horror story as well. Edward Woodward stars as Neil Howie, a detective who is assigned to locate a missing young girl, Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper). What he finds is a disturbing island community led by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) that has abandoned Christianity for paganism.
As Neil continues his search for Rowan, he slowly uncovers the island’s dark secrets. Neil also discovers that he can’t leave, and he can’t call for help. Whatever fate is awaiting him, Neil will have to face it alone.
Watch The Wicker Man on Amazon Freevee.
5. American Graffiti
George Lucas’ second film, American Graffiti, was a lot more down to Earth than his later movies. But there would have been no Star Wars if this movie hadn’t established Lucas as a rising young filmmaker. The story is set on one night in the summer of 1962, as Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve Bolander (Ron Howard) spend time with their friends, John Milner (Paul Le Mat) and Terry Fields (Charles Martin Smith), before they go off to college on the east coast.
The movie follows the group as they have separate misadventures on the same night, which ultimately shapes their perspective about what they want and who they want to be. American Graffiti is a great coming of age film, even if it has been overshadowed by Lucas’ sci-fi opus.
Watch American Graffiti on Fubo.
4. High Plains Drifter
Clint Eastwood’s second film as a director, High Plains Drifter, seems like a callback to his time in Spaghetti Westerns during the 1960s. But this story goes to much darker places, as Eastwood portrays an unnamed stranger who comes to a mining town called Lago and quickly leaves bodies in his wake.
The stranger is hired by the townspeople for their own protection, and also to hide the town’s complicity in the murder of Marshal Jim Duncan (Buddy Van Horn). Of course, the stranger takes full advantage of the town’s hospitality, and he isn’t shy about killing anyone who comes gunning for him.
Watch High Plains Drifter on Fubo.
3. The Day of the Jackal
When film lovers talk about the great thrillers that came out of the 1970s, The Day of the Jackal is almost always mentioned as one of the best of its era. The story is set just over a decade earlier, as French President Charles de Gaulle (Adrien Cayla-Legrand) is targeted for death by the terrorist organization OSA. When its first attempt on de Gaulle’s life fails, OSA turns to an assassin known to them only by his code name: The Jackal (Edward Fox).
The film spends a great deal of time with the Jackal as he makes plans for the hit, almost as if he was the protagonist of the story. It isn’t until later that the movie introduces Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel (Michael Lonsdale), the man who is assigned to investigate the Jackal and his mission. This leads to an intense race against time to prevent the Jackal from assassinating the president.
Watch The Day of the Jackal on Prime Video.
2. The Sting
Following their success in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid four years earlier, Paul Newman and Robert Redford reteamed with director George Roy Hill for The Sting. For the record, this was the 1973 film that took home the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and five other Academy Awards.
During the Great Depression, a young con man named Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) tricks a courier out of thousands of dollars that belong to mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). In retaliation, Lonnegan has Johnny’s mentor, Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones), killed. To avenge Luther’s death, Johnny approaches their mutual friend, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), and together, they come up with an elaborate con to take Doyle for everything that he’s worth.
Rent or buy The Sting on Google Play, Prime Video, YouTube, and Apple TV+.
1. The Exorcist
Warner Bros. Pictures
Even if The Exorcist: Believer hadn’t come out this month, The Exorcist would still be the most influential movie of 1973. It was the first horror movie to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and people are still talking about it five decades later. Linda Blair had the role of a lifetime as Regan MacNeil, a young girl who is possessed by a demon. The film’s depiction of Regan’s ordeal is truly terrifying, and moviegoers in 1973 reportedly fainted, vomited, and even walked out of screenings.
With Regan’s mother, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), desperate for help, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) agree to perform an exorcism to try and save Regan’s life and her soul. That confrontation between good and evil cemented The Exorcist‘s place in cinema history.
Watch The Exorcist on Max.