Jaws was the model for the modern blockbuster by appealing to teenagers, having a relentless advertising campaign, and premiering June 20, 1975, just in time for repeat viewings over summer vacation. It wasn’t just the number one box office hit of 1975, it was the new all time champ, replacing Gone With the Wind, which was once again a box office blockbuster in 1962 and 1969 re-releases. Jaws’ (1975 #1 and 1976 #9) victory was short lived when the new all time champ Star Wars (1977-1 and 1978-7) premiered May 25, 1977 being even better prepared for summer vacation.
Box office champ of the 60’s James Bond continued to be big box office in the 70s, even without Sean Connery (Diamonds Are Forever 1972-3, Live and Let Die 1974-4, The Spy Who Loved Me 1977-9, Moonraker 1979-7). One of the biggest stars of the decade was Clint Eastwood whose Dirty Harry (1972-5) kicked off a blockbuster series that included Magnum Force (1974-4) and The Enforcer (1977-8). Clint ended the decade with the first of his ape comedies, Every Which Way But Loose (1979-2).
Antiheroes and The Pink Panther
Besides Clint, Al Pacino also had four blockbuster hits in the 70’s – the two Godfather movies, (1972-1 and 1975-5), Serpico (1974-9), and Dog Day Afternoon (1976-7). Burt Reynolds’ first blockbuster was the tense action drama Deliverance (1973-2), but all his other big successes were comedies, beginning with Smokey and the Bandit (1977-3) and Hooper (1978-8). The Pink Panther, the successful 60’s comedy series starring Peter Sellers, continued its popularity with Return of the Pink Panther (1975-9) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978-10).
Box Office Powerhouse
The decade’s biggest female star, Barbra Streisand, first experienced blockbuster status with her screen debut in Funny Girl (1969-2), continuing in the 70’s with Hello Dolly (1970-4), The Owl and the Pussycat (1971-5), What’s Up Doc (1972-4), Funny Lady (1975-7), and A Star Is Born (1977-4). Another of her biggest successes of the 70’s, The Way We Were (1974), was a near blockbuster at number 11.
Other musicals were still popular throughout the decade: Woodstock (1970-7), Tommy (1975-10), a re-release of The Sound of Music (1976-7), Jesus Christ Superstar (1976-8), Saturday Night Fever (1977-5) and Grease (1978-1).
Advent of the Kiddie Movie Age
The decade ended with two other new movie franchises. The runner up to Star Wars in the 1977 box office race was Rocky, while Rocky II was number 3 in 1979. The number one movie of that year was Superman, flying on tremendous advance publicity for Marlon Brando’s brief multi-million dollar performance, as audiences loved Christopher Reeve and kept coming back through the 80s. Returning again, The Man of Steel was the number 5 biggest box office hit of 2013.
After the massive successes of Jaws and Star Wars, the box office has forever since been dominated by kiddie fare. The early and mid 70s represent the last gasp of the Hollywood blockbuster targeted at grown-ups, with limited youth appeal. One sees an immediate drop-off of blockbusters for adults in 1977.
Big hit movies targeted at the mature film goer include Patton (1970-1), MASH 1970-3), Z (a rare foreign film!, 1970-5), Catch 22 (1970-8), Little Big Man (1971-2), Ryan’s Daughter (1971-4), Carnal Knowledge (1971-7), Big Jake (1971-10), The Godfather (1972-1), The Last Picture Show (1972-6), A Clockwork Orange (1972-7), Last Tango in Paris (1973-6), Papillon (1974-3), Serpico (1974-9), The Godfather Part II (1975-5), Shampoo (1975-6), One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1976-1), All the President’s Men (1976-2), Midway (1976-6), Dog Day Afternoon (1976-7), and The Deer Hunter (1979-10).
Four number one box office champs (1970, 1972, 1973 and 1975) not for the kiddies.
Love Story (1970)
The Godfather (1972)
The Exorcist (1973)
Blockbusters are strictly defined as the top 10 box office hits of each year. Data is from the book Box Office Champs (1990, M & M Books, New York) based on year end issues of Variety.