The top retro-future movies from the 1970s
Our vision of the future in the '70s included some great hair. Let's revisit these sci-fi classics.
The 1970s were all like:
You get the point: It was pretty much hell on Earth.
But it was also a time when science fiction movies often invoked a vision of the future where apparently everything was different except for the hairstyles and clothing.
"Hey, we're in deep in space, but my 'stach is still groovy!"
Obviously, I wasn't alive in the '70s based on my slang usage, but I sure as hell watched my fair share of 1970s sci-movies, from bad to worse to worst and occasionally not too bad. When it's the middle of summer, you're 12, you have nowhere to be and can't leave the house, and you don't want to sleep but have cable and it's 4 a.m. — that's what you do with your life.
And this is the ultimate, definitive list of movies from the '70s that all held a very '70s-esque vision of the future. These are the best of the best when it comes to that very specific criteria.
Editor's note: A New Hope is not included because it transcended time and before you start to chime in with your thoughts on the matter, just go ahead and shut up.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes — 1970
This movie hath but two stars on Rotten Tomatoes. Shame on you, all of you.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a bizarre, genre-bending sequel that relies more on philosophical musings and borderline experimentalist filmmaking to tell its story.
Which is, indeed, an odd choice for a sequel to the Charlton Heston original, Planet of the Apes. As a studio looking to cash in, it was weird, but for lovers of great film, it was amazing.
I was always super confused by this movie's place in the POTA timeline, largely because at the end we find out that the world has ended. Or, as the narrator says:
"In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead."
That's the kind of stuff they somehow managed to get into this sequel. Not to mention the race of post-humans that worship a nuclear bomb. Of course, they also dress in flowing linen sashes that are so '70s you'll feather your hair just from looking at them.
Revisit this one, but do it at 4 a.m. in your underwear and with a snack in hand. That's when Beneath is truly at its best.
Logan's Run — 1976
One thing I always appreciate in a sci-fi movie: A clear and cohesive vision.
Whatever you think of the original Dune movie (it's awesome and if you disagree you're dead to me) it had a very clear vision. David Lynch's vision of that reality was fully realized.
And Logan's Run does the same, albeit with some serious vibes from the year it came out, 1976.
Logan's Run envisioned a world where we finally achieved the dream: Ridding the world of anyone who annoys us before they get too old. And this movie has since been parodied, referenced, and wished to be real ever since.
The film ended up costing about $9 million, which was not cheap in 1976. But it was worth it, standing the test of time many, many years later, in all its '70s glory.
THX 1138 — 1971
We're not putting A New Hope on this list (see above), but we're sure as crap putting this on it.
It's hard to go wrong with the 1984/Brave New World formula of a dystopian future where things like emotions and art are totally not chill, but uniformity and adherence to the government are, indeed, chill.
This is the setting for George Lucas' landmark directorial debut, a visually stunning film that falls into the same type of thoughtful sci-fi that people like Stanley Kubrik were doing at the time.
It's eerie, moody, and yet another '70s vision of the future where the Earth has been deemed uninhabitable — plus, society is run by super smooth android police.
Commercially, it was a complete disaster, but cinematically it's a fantastic movie that, unlike some of the other movies on this list, definitely stands the test of time.
The Black Hole — 1979
Oh, the days when "special effects" clearly just meant painting them directly onto the film.
But in a movie like 1979's The Black Hole, it somehow totally works, even today, giving it a fantastical aura that, despite its eerie and dark story/mood, somehow made it great for kids at the time.
And to be sure, it's kind of a messed-up plot, involving a lost spacecraft reappearing and robots giving people repeated lobotomies. It's like Disney wanted to go full-on Event Horizon, but then remembered they're Disney.
And apparently in the future, when we have achieved artificial gravity and deep space travel, bad guys just wear motorcycle helmets from the late '70s. Hey, fine by me.
A Clockwork Orange — 1971
Stanley Kubrik really had a way of taking great sci-fi books and turning them into excellent films (btw, if you want to understand 2001: A Space Odyssey, read the book, which is also excellent, and it will all make sense — or at least a lot more sense).
A Clockwork Orange was no exception, but it definitely was very of the 1970s, with Malcolm McDowell's sweet bowler hat, dorky — er, trendy — haircut, and a bad A jumpsuit to boot.
Basically, apparently in the future Britain just becomes an endless string of violence and milk-drinking. That really sums up all of A Clockwork Orange, including the book, yet somehow it's one of the most seminal films not just from the '70s, but of cinema in the 20th Century.
Silent Running — 1972
Sometime in the 1970s, it became really clear that we had been treating the planet like crap for the last 100 years or so. Maybe due to things like rivers catching on fire.
The fear of humanity going too far is by no means a Hollywood trend that started recently—films like Silent Running, among others, envisioned a future where plants could no longer survive on Earth and were instead meticulously curated in space stations, until such time that Earth was suitable for botanicals again (**cough** Wall-E **cough**).
Luckily, people still have sweet perms in this future.
Mullets and sideburns are still also totally boss 100 years from now.
But despite its total '70s-ness, it's actually a pretty epic movie with amazing set design and miniature effects that predated Star Wars by years.
And to make it even more '70s, there are even two original songs from Joan Baez.
Can you dig it?