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DISCLAIMER: All film criticism is extremely subjective and there is no such thing as the definitive list of the Greatest (English-language) Films. Great Films can't be measured scientifically because greatness is extremely subjective. Just because we like a film doesn't mean that you will like it as well. Please feel free to leave us a comment with the films that you think are the greatest which we have not included on our list.

Not only was 1971 a big year for movies but it was also a big year for actors making their film debuts and the deaths of some truly great talent. Here is a snap shot of the American film industry.


Making Their Film Debuts:

  • Murray Abraham – They Might Be Giants
  • Kathy Bates – Taking Off
  • Timothy Bottoms – Johnny Got His Gun
  • Jim Broadbent – The Go-Between
  • Stockard Channing – The Hospital
  • Brian Cox – Nicholas and Alexandra
  • Rodney Dangerfield – The Projectionist
  • Daniel Day-Lewis – Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • Gérard Depardieu – Cry of the Cormoran
  • Carol KaneCarnal Knowledge
  • Eugene Levy – Foxy Lady
  • Andrea Martin – Foxy Lady
  • Craig T. Nelson – The Return of Count Yorga
  • Randy QuaidThe Last Picture Show
  • John Ritter – The Barefoot Executive
  • Cybill ShepherdThe Last Picture Show
  • Bruce Spence – Stork
  • David Ogden Stiers – THX 1138
  • Jacki Weaver – Stork
  • Cindy Williams – Gas-s-s-s


Top-grossing Films

  Title Studio Domestic gross
1. Fiddler on the Roof United Artists $75,600,000
2. The French Connection 20th Century Fox $51,700,000
3. Diamonds Are Forever United Artists $43,819,547
4. Dirty Harry Warner Bros. $35,976,000
5. Billy Jack Warner Bros. $32,500,000
6. Summer of ’42 Warner Bros. $32,063,634
7. The Last Picture Show Columbia Pictures $29,133,000
8. Carnal Knowledge Embassy Pictures $28,623,000
9. A Clockwork Orange Warner Bros. $26,589,355
10. Bedknobs and Broomsticks Walt Disney Productions $17,871,174


Academy Award Winners

Best Picture: The French Connection

Best Director: William Friedkin, The French Connection

Best Actor: Gene Hackman, The French Connection

Best Actress: Jane Fonda, Klute

Best Supporting Actor: Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show

Best Supporting Actress: Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show


Among Those Who Died In 1971:

Month Date Name Age Country Profession Notable films
Jan 5 Douglas Shearer 71 Canada Sound Engineer
5 Fanfulla 57 Italy Actor

Fellini Satyricon

The Clowns

15 John Dall 52 USA Actor
20 Broncho Billy Anderson 90 USA Actor, Director, Writer

The Great Train Robbery

The Weak-End Party

25 Isobel Lennart 55 USA Screenwriter

Two for the Seesaw

Funny Girl

Feb 3 Jay C. Flippen 71 USA Actor
22 Frédéric Mariotti 87 France Actor


Mare Nostrum

26 Fernandel 67 France Actor

Around the World in 80 Days

The Little World of Don Camillo

Mar 5 Winnie Lightner 71 USA Actress

Gold Diggers of Broadway

She Had to Say Yes

8 Harold Lloyd 87 USA Actor, Director, Writer

Safety Last!

The Freshman

8 Borden Chase 71 USA Screenwriter
12 Roy Glenn 56 USA Actor
12 Tor Johnson 67 Sweden Actor

Plan 9 from Outer Space

Bride of the Monster

15 Bebe Daniels 70 USA Actress
21 Nan Wynn 55 USA Singer, Actress

A Shot in the Dark

Pardon My Sarong

23 Basil Dearden 60 UK Director

Dead of Night


30 Werner Peters 52 Germany Actor

Dog Eat Dog

Death Knocks Twice

Apr 9 Paulette Noizeux 83 France Actress

Lady Killer

La Digue

20 Cecil Parker 73 UK Actor

Oh! What a Lovely War

The Citadel

21 Edmund Lowe 81 USA Actor

Dinner at Eight


28 John Tansey 69 USA Actor, Director

The Sky Rider

Trouping with Ellen

May 1 Glenda Farrell 66 USA Actress
26 John Longden 71 UK Actor


Dial 999

27 Chips Rafferty 62 Australia Actor

The Sundowners

Mutiny on the Bounty

28 Audie Murphy 45 USA Actor

The Red Badge of Courage

To Hell and Back

June 8 Piero Gherardi 61 Italy Production, Costume Designer

La Dolce Vita

9 Harold Lloyd Jr. 40 USA Actor

The Flaming Urge

Mutiny in Outer Space

10 Michael Rennie 61 UK Actor
18 Thomas Gomez 65 USA Actor

Key Largo


July 6 Louis Armstrong 69 USA Actor, Musician

Hello, Dolly!

High Society

11 Carleton G. Young 64 USA Actor

Hard, Fast and Beautiful

Queen of Burlesque

17 Cliff Edwards 76 USA Actor, Singer
19 Norman Reilly Raine 77 USA Screenwriter
23 Van Heflin 60 USA Actor
Aug 3 Ernst Eklund 81 Sweden Actor



15 Paul Lukas 80 Hungary Actor
16 Spyros Skouras 78 Greece Producer, Studio Executive
17 Horace McMahon 65 USA Actor

Detective Story

Susan Slept Here

Sep 7 Spring Byington 84 USA Actress
10 Pier Angeli 39 Italy Actress

Somebody Up There Likes Me

Battle of the Bulge

11 Bella Darvi 42 Poland Actress

The Egyptian

Hell and High Water

Oct 11 Chester Conklin 85 USA Actor
12 Fritz Achterberg 90 Germany Actor


The False Dimitri

13 Phoebe Ephron 57 USA Screenwriter

Desk Set

Captain Newman, M.D.

19 Betty Bronson 64 USA Actress

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Yodelin’ Kid from Pine Ridge

24 Cheryl Walker 53 USA Actress

Shadows on the Sage

Stage Door Canteen

26 Vincent Coleman 71 USA Actor

Has the World Gone Mad?

The Magic Cup

Nov 2 Martha Vickers 46 USA Actress

The Big Sleep


4 Ann Pennington 77 USA Actress

The Rainbow Princess

Tanned Legs

17 Gladys Cooper 82 UK Actress
19 Stuart Gilmore 70 USA Editor, Director

Sullivan’s Travels

The Virginian

26 Bengt Ekerot 51 Sweden Actor

The Seventh Seal

The Magician

Dec 12 Frank Wolff 43 USA Actor

Salvatore Giuliano

Once Upon a Time in the West

13 Dita Parlo 63 Poland Actress

La Grande Illusion


18 Diana Lynn 45 USA Actress
26 Robert Lowery 58 USA Actor

The Mark of Zorro

Batman and Robin

28 Max Steiner 83 Austria Composer
30 Dorothy Comingore 58 USA Actress

Citizen Kane

The Hairy Ape

31 Marin Sais 81 USA Actress

Oath of Vengeance

Reefer Madness

The Greatest Films of 1971





10 Rillington Place

© − All right reserved.

10 Rillington Place (UK)

D: Richard Fleischer

This is the horrifying true account of John Reginald Christie, whose crimes and subsequent trial summarily ended capital punishment in Britain. After savagely murdering a woman and her newborn baby, Christie was able to convince a jury that the woman’s husband was the actual perpetrator. Years later, Christie admitted his guilt and a shocked nation learned an innocent man had been put to death.


Poster for the movie "Carnal Knowledge"

© 1971 AVCO Embassy Pictures − All right reserved.

Carnal Knowledge

D: Mike Nichols

Stars:  Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, Art Garfunkel, Ann-Margret, Rita Moreno, Carol Kane

Nice guy Sandy (Art Garfunkel) and charming schemer Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) meet as college roommates in the late 1940s. Sandy woos and eventually marries the sweetly virginal Susan (Candice Bergen) without knowing that she had cheated on him with Jonathan. Years later, his marriage faltering, Sandy attempts to mimic Jonathan’s promiscuous womanizing, while the misogynistic Jonathan finally tries his hand at monogamy with the gorgeous but emotionally needy Bobbie (Ann-Margret).

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "A Clockwork Orange"

© 1971 Hawk Films − All right reserved.

A Clockwork Orange (UK)

D: Stanley Kubrick

Stars:  Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Michael Bates

Provocatively adapted from the famous novel by Anthony Burgess, Kubrick’s glossy, stylish, graphically-violent, controversial, futuristic, science-fiction satire was about the effects of crime and punishment (aversion therapy and brainwashing against violence) on a British teenaged punk. After a night of hooliganism with his vicious gang of droogs, including gang rapes and beatings, a sadistic Alex (Malcolm McDowell) was captured. In a grim, unorthodox governmental experiment, he was re-programmed, through his love for Beethoven’s music, to reject violence, but he was dehumanized in the process of being cured. Vengeance was revisited upon him by his former victims after he was released into the society.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Dirty Harry"

© 1971 Malpaso Company − All right reserved.

Dirty Harry

D: Don Siegel

Stars:  Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni, John Vernon, Andrew Robinson, John Larch

When a madman dubbed ‘Scorpio’ terrorizes San Francisco, hard-nosed cop, Harry Callahan – famous for his take-no-prisoners approach to law enforcement – is tasked with hunting down the psychopath. Harry eventually collars Scorpio in the process of rescuing a kidnap victim, only to see him walk on technicalities. Now, the maverick detective is determined to nail the maniac himself.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Duel"

© 1972 Universal Television − All right reserved.


D: Steven Spielberg

Stars:  Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone, Lou Frizzell, Gene Dynarski

Steven Spielberg directs Duel, a high-velocity thriller about a motorist terrorized by an evil truck. As Spielberg’s first full-length movie, Duel helped jumpstart the director’s big-screen career, with a gripping, action-packed story hailed by critics as a film that “belongs on the classics shelf reserved for top suspensers” (Daily Variety). Dennis Weaver stars as the traveling salesman waging a desperate battle for survival after he is mysteriously singled out. Praised for its deft use of relentlessly mounting psychological tension, Duel features one of the most uniquely terrifying “characters” in movie history: a massive, roaring, 40-ton truck with sheer menace.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Fiddler on the Roof"

© − All right reserved.

Fiddler on the Roof

D: Norman Jewison

Stars:  Chaim Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Paul Mann,

This lavishly produced, and critically acclaimed screen adaptation of the international stage sensation tells the life-affirming story of Tevye (Topol), a poor milkman whose love, pride and faith help him face the oppression of turn-of-the-century Czarist Russia. Nominated for eight Academy Awards.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "The French Connection"

© 1971 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation − All right reserved.

The French Connection

D: William Friedkin

Stars:  Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider

An action-packed, intense, gritty, Best Picture-winning crime thriller filmed on location and based on a true story, starring two hard-nosed, vulgar New York City police cops who exposed an international, heroin-smuggling operation based in Marseilles – headed by suave, elusive, mastermind crime boss Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). Passionate, tough, pushy, and unorthodox narcotics detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) recklessly and obsessively fought crime with partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider). With the breath-taking, famous elevated-railway scene of Doyle fearlessly chasing a runaway train – with Charnier’s henchman Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzufi) in a borrowed car while narrowly dodging traffic and bystanders. A sequel four years later chased Charnier to Marseilles.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Get Carter"

© 1971 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer − All right reserved.

Get Carter (UK)

D: Mike Hodges

Stars:  Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, Britt Ekland, John Osborne, Tony Beckley

Michael Caine is Jack Carter, a small-time hood working in London. When word reaches him of his brother’s death, he travels to Newcastle to attend the funeral. Refusing to accept the police report of suicide, Carter seeks out his brother’s friends and acquaintances to learn who murdered his sibling and why. Tough gangster film with grim humor.

Learn more and watch the preview here


Poster for the movie "Harold and Maude"

© − All right reserved.

Harold and Maude

D: Hal Ashby

Stars:  Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Charles Tyner

The young Harold lives in his own world of suicide-attempts and funeral visits to avoid the misery of his current family and home environment. Harold meets an 80-year-old woman named Maude who also lives in her own world yet one in which she is having the time of her life. When the two opposites meet they realize that their differences don’t matter and they become best friends and love each other.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Klute"

© − All right reserved.


D: Alan J. Pakula

Stars:  Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Charles Cioffi, Roy Scheider, Dorothy Tristan

This acclaimed thriller stars Jane Fonda as Bree Daniel, a New York City call girl who becomes enmeshed in an investigation into the disappearance of a business executive. Detective John Klute is hired to follow Daniel, and eventually begins a romance with her, but it appears that he hasn’t been the only person on her trail. When it becomes clear that Daniel is being targeted, it’s up to her and Klute to figure out who is after her before it’s too late.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "The Last Picture Show"

© 1971 Columbia Pictures Corporation − All right reserved.

The Last Picture Show

D: Peter Bogdanovich

Stars:  Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn

Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry. A bleak, black and white cinematic modern-day classic, set in the small, northwestern (fictional) Texas town of Anarene in the period between the end of World War II and the Korean War in the early 50s. A poignant, coming-of-age tale of the loss of innocence for teenagers in the slowly-dying town, symbolized by the closing of the local picture palace, owned by Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson). The story was about a pair of HS football players, seniors Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) – who had an affair with the lonely football-basketball coach’s wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) – who dated the sexy, self-centered, spoiled student beauty Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd in her film debut) and enlisted after being dumped. Other desperate townsfolk were also having affairs – Jacy’s loose mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn) with oilfield worker Abilene (Clu Gulager).

Learn more and watch the preview here.


McCabe & Mrs. Miller

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McCabe & Mrs. Miller

D: Robert Altman

A classic, dark-toned, moody anti-Western from iconoclastic and offbeat director Altman, based on the novel McCabe by Edmund Naughton. The dimly-lit, lyrical and cynically-bleak tale presented the American dream gone sour, in a revisionist western that concluded with a prolonged shootout. Gloomy folk music from Leonard Cohen organically complemented the pace of the film. With great cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond – beautifully photographed, with Altman’s cinematographer creating an antique-like, painterly portrait of the unsightly town at the turn of the century. A mysterious, roguish, bearded small-time, frontier drifter and two-bit gambler John McCabe (Warren Beatty) opened up a brothel/casino in the great northern, wintry wilderness settlement of Presbyterian Church – a grimy, lamp-lit and shoddy mining town. He had used his winnings to build a classy saloon-casino-brothel in the remote, makeshift Washington community. But then the film portrayed his ultimately unsuccessful efforts to build a capitalistic business. Amiable, not-very-bright braggart McCabe, with entrepreneurial ambitions forged what he believed would be a profitable business alliance-partnership with shrewd Cockney drifter-prostitute Mrs. Constance Miller (Julie Christie) – she would be the madam of the whorehouse and manage the prostitutes, with a promise to transform the initial tents into a classy and professional bordello within the soon-to-be booming town.


Nicholas and Alexandra

© − All right reserved.

Nicholas and Alexandra

D: Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring: Michael Jayston Janet Suzman Roderic Noble Laurence Olivier

A fascinating look at the last, tragic Russian monarchs; the kindly, indecisive Czar Nicholas and his reclusive, fear-haunted Czarina. The story follows their problems from the onset through the introduction of Rasputin to the Russian Court, to the Czar’s abdication and the family’s execution at Ekaterinburg on July 16, 1918.


Poster for the movie "Play Misty For Me"

© − All right reserved.

Play Misty For Me

D: Clint Eastwood

Stars:  Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, John Larch, Donna Mills

Clint Eastwood made his directorial debut with this contemporary thriller about psychotic obsession. Eastwood also takes the lead in the starring role as Dave Garver, a popular radio disc jockey who repeatedly receives on-air phone requests from a sexy female fan to “play Misty for me”. When the woman, Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter), orchestrates a rendezvous with Dave at his favorite nightspot, the two begin a torrid affair. But when Dave decides to end the relationship, Evelyn’s obsession turns to violence. Soon everything and everyone in Dave’s life becomes a target for Evelyn’s increasingly deadly campaign of terror. Beautifully photographed on location in Eastwood’s hometown of Carmel, California, Play Misty for Me continues to be considered one of the great modern-day thrillers.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Shaft"

© 1971 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) − All right reserved.


D: Gordon Parks

Stars:  Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi, Christopher St. John

A former photojournalist with Life Magazine, Gordon Parks became noticed as the first African-American filmmaker to direct a motion picture that was released by a major US studio – The Learning Tree (1969). The esteemed, pioneering director’s next film was this landmark crime-actioner – the first major, commercial crime film with a black hero. It won an Oscar for Isaac Hayes’ memorable theme song. The colorful, action-packed, slightly tongue-in-cheek film portrayed the ultra-hip, handsome, defiantly-proud police detective John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) as the black version of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” Callahan. He worked in Harlem against the Italian Mafia, and was also a “sex machine.” Parks’ subversive film became a major cross-over hit in the early 70s, and from then on through the end of the decade, hundreds of films would be released by major and independent studios featuring major black characters (and some black athletes such as Jim Brown and Rosie Grier), to profit from the black movie-going audiences.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Straw Dogs"

© 1971 ABC Pictures − All right reserved.

Straw Dogs (UK)

D: Sam Peckinpah

Stars:  Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan

Sam Peckinpah’s unflinching vigilante thriller starred Dustin Hoffman as David Sumner, a bookish, mild-mannered, pre-occupied, effete American mathematician on sabbatical in a rural England town with his attractive and provocative newly-wed bride Amy (Susan George). Sumner was transformed from a meek, spineless, bullied and pacifist academic into a rampaging homicidal husband and protective home-owner. He erupted cathartically with bloody violence after locals raped Amy and later laid siege to their house. He retaliated in a climactic bloodbath sequence with vicious scalding, shotgun blasts, clubbing, and use of a mantrap – understandably redemptive yet mostly unsatisfying.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Sunday, Bloody Sunday

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Sunday, Bloody Sunday (UK)

D: John Schlesinger

Starring: Glenda Jackson Peter Finch Murray Head Peggy Ashcroft Tony Britton

Recently divorced career woman Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) begins a romantic relationship with glamorous mod artist Bob Elkin (Murray Head), fully aware that he’s also intimately involved with middle-aged doctor Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch). For both Alex and Daniel, the younger man represents a break with their repressive pasts, and though both know that Bob is seeing both of them, neither is willing to let go of the youth and vitality he brings to their otherwise stable lives.

Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song

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Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song

D: Melvin Van Pebbles

Melvin Van Peebles served as financier, producer, writer, musical scorer, and star of his own low-budget first effort. Actor/director/writer Melvin Van Peebles’ X-rated, confrontational cult film was the first true blaxploitation film – it was specifically designed to upset white audiences (advertised with “Rated X by an All-White Jury”), with Peebles himself playing the part of the sex-hungry, violent anti-hero. The successful independent film (budgeted at $150,000) was aimed at urban black audiences. It was an anti-White, anti-authority diatribe – explained in the film’s opening: “This film is dedicated to all the Brothers and Sisters who had enough of the Man…Starring: The Black Community.” It caused tremendous controversy for its militancy, under-age sex, anti-white sentiment, revenge-themes, and violence, although it was one of the most important black American films of the decade. It was the first commercially-successful black-themed film, forcing Hollywood to acknowledge the monetary potential of the untapped, urban African-American market. It was supplemented with jump-cuts, experimental lighting, freeze-frames, tinted and overlapping images and montages as it chronicled the successful (uncharacteristically) flight of a black fugitive nicknamed “Sweet Sweetback” (due to his large-sized manhood and insatiable sexual prowess) through Los Angeles – and toward and across the Mexican border. It was exceptional that a vengeful black man (after witnessing corrupt police violence and almost beating two officers to death) could survive as a fugitive, as happened in the film.


Two-Lane Blacktop

© − All right reserved.

Two-Lane Blacktop

D: Monte Hellman

Starring: James Taylor Warren Oates Laurie Bird Dennis Wilson

In this cult favorite road film, a mechanic (Dennis Wilson) and a driver (James Taylor) live only to race and maintain their 1955 Chevy. Heading east from California with no particular agenda, they give a girl (Laurie Bird) a ride, and en route she incites jealousy between the men by sleeping with them both. Meanwhile, the trio encounters an overbearing GTO driver (Warren Oates) who agrees to race them to New York, each side putting at stake their most prized possession: their car.


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

© − All right reserved.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

D: Mel Stuart

Stars: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum

Eccentric candy man Willy Wonka prompts a worldwide frenzy when he announces that golden tickets hidden inside five of his delicious candy bars will admit their lucky holders into his top-secret confectionary. But does Wonka have an agenda hidden amid a world of Oompa Loompas and chocolate rivers?


Did your favorite make our list of the greatest films of 1971?

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