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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 1979 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:

  • Rosanna Arquette – More American Graffiti
  •     Lorraine Bracco – Duos sur canapé
  •     Matt Craven – Meatballs
  •     Ted Danson – The Onion Field
  •     Keith David – Disco Godfather
  •     Matt Dillon – Over the Edge
  •     Cary Elwes – Yesterday’s Hero
  •     Danny Glover – Escape from Alcatraz
  •     Dennis Haysbert – Scoring
  •     Sam J. Jones – 10
  •     Wayne Knight – The Wanderers
  •     Christine Lahti – …And Justice for All
  •     Diane Lane – A Little Romance
  •     Hayao Miyazaki (director) – The Castle of Cagliostro
  •     David Paymer – The In-Laws
  •     Chris Penn – Charlie and the Talking Buzzard
  •     Jean Reno – The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting
  •     Mickey Rourke – 1941
  •     Ricky Schroder – The Champ
  •     Wallace Shawn – Manhattan
  •     Martin Short – Lost and Found
  •     Timothy Spall – Quadrophenia
  •     Daniel Stern – Breaking Away
  •     Patrick Swayze – Skatetown, U.S.A.
  •     Christoph Waltz – Breakthrough
  •     Peter Weller – Butch and Sundance: The Early Days
  •     Ray Winstone – That Summer!
  •     JoBeth WilliamsKramer vs. Kramer



Top-grossing Films

1.Kramer vs. KramerColumbia$106,260,000
2.The Amityville HorrorAmerican International Pictures$86,432,520
3.Rocky IIUnited Artists$85,182,160
4.Apocalypse NowUnited Artists$83,471,511
5.Star Trek: The Motion PictureParamount$82,258,456
6.Alien20th Century Fox$80,931,801
7.10Warner Bros.$74,865,517
8.The JerkUniversal$73,691,419
9.MoonrakerUnited Artists$70,308,099
10.The Muppet MovieAssociated Film Distribution$65,200,000

Academy Award Winners

Best Picture: Kramer vs. Kramer – Jaffe, Columbia

Best Director: Robert BentonKramer vs. Kramer

Best Actor: Dustin HoffmanKramer vs. Kramer

Best Actress: Sally FieldNorma Rae

Best Supporting Actor: Meryl StreepKramer vs. Kramer

Best Supporting Actress: Melvyn DouglasBeing There



Among Those Who Died In 1979:

MonDateNameAgeCountryProfessionNotable films
Jan11Jack Soo61USAActor
  • Flower Drum Song
  • The Oscar
16Peter Butterworth59UKActor, Writer
  • Oliver!
  • The First Great Train Robbery
16Ted Cassidy46USAActor
18Cyril J. Mockridge82UKComposer
25Dick Crockett63USAStuntman, Actor
Feb12Jean Renoir84USADirector, Writer,     Actor
  • The Rules of the Game
  • La Grande Illusion
16Louise Allbritton58USAActress
  • Pittsburgh
  • Sitting Pretty
17William Gargan73USAActor
  • The Bells of St. Mary’s
  • Cheers for Miss Bishop
19Leigh Jason74USADirector
  • Out of the Blue
  • The Mad Miss Manton
28Jane Hylton51UKActress
  • It Started in Paradise
  • Circus of Horrors
Mar1Dolores Costello75USAActress
2Edith Craig71USAActress
6John Robinson70UKActor
9Barbara Mullen64UKActress
  • Jeannie
  • Thunder Rock
19John Tate64UKActor
  • Invasion
22Ben Lyon78USAActor, Writer
  • Hell’s Angels
  • Night Nurse
24Yvonne Mitchell63UKActress
  • Woman in a Dressing Gown
  • Johnny Nobody
Apr4Edgar Buchanan76USAActor
6Norman Tokar59USADirector
10Nino Rota67ItalyComposer
  • The Godfather
  • The Leopard
24John Carroll72USAActor
  • Go West
  • Flying Tigers
May6Rosemary La Planche55USAActress
  • Angels’ Alley
  • Jack Armstrong
8Victor Saville83UKProducer,                        Director
10Beatrice Campbell56UKActress
  • Last Holiday
  • The Master of Ballantrae
11Joan Chandler55USAActress
26George Brent80USAActor
29Mary Pickford87USAActress, Producer,              Writer
  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
  • Coquette
June2Larisa Shepitko41Soviet        UnionDirector
2Jim Hutton45USAActor
6Jack Haley80USAActor
11John Wayne72USAActor, Producer,               Director
14David Butler84USADirector
  • Road to Morocco
  • Calamity Jane
16Nicholas Ray67USADirector, Writer,     Actor
19Nick Grinde86USADirector
  • Million Dollar Legs
  • The Man They Could Not Hang
21Julian Orchard49UKActor, Writer
  • Revenge of the Pink Panther
  • The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother
July8Michael Wilding66UKActor, Producer
13Corinne Griffith84USAActress
22Kathleen Case45USAActress
  • Human Desire
  • Running Wild
25Eric Pohlmann66


26Virginia Brissac96USAActress
27Ettore Manni52ItalyActor
  • City of Women
  • Le Amiche
27Shirley Mason79USAActress
  • Anne Against the World
  • So This Is Love?
28George Seaton68USADirector
28Frederick Stafford51Czech- oslovakiaActor
  • Topaz
  • Dirty Heroes
31Beatrix Lehmann76UKActress
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Aug??Betty Henderson72UKActress
6Kurt Kasznar65AustriaActor
  • Kiss Me Kate
  • Lili
10Dick Foran69USAActor
17Vivian Vance70USAActress
  • The Great Race
21Stuart Heisler82USADirector
  • Tulsa
  • I Died a Thousand Times
30Jean Seberg40USAActress
Sep1Doris Kenyon81USAActress
2Felix Aylmer90UKActor
12Jocelyne LaGarde54TahitiActress
  • Hawaii
17Willis Goldbeck80USAScreenwriter
22Frederick Piper76UKActor
23Catherine Lacey75UKActress
  • The Lady Vanishes
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
26John Cromwell91USADirector
26Arthur Hunnicutt69USAActor
  • The Tall T
  • El Dorado
27Gracie Fields81UKActress, Singer
  • Sally in Our Alley
  • Holy Matrimony
Oct1Dorothy Arzner82USADirector
3Dorothy Peterson81USAActress
  • That Hagen Girl
  • Payment Deferred
12Celia Lovsky82AustriaActress
  • Foxfire
  • I Mobster
15Geoffrey Moon????Actor
17John Stuart81UKActor
30Graham Ashley52UKActor
Nov2Saro Urzì66ItalyActor
5Amedeo Nazzari71ItalyActor
  • Il bandito
  • The Jester’s Supper
8Sydney Tafler63UKActor
11Dimitri Tiomkin85RussiaComposer
20Michael Darbyshire62UKActor, Writer
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • The Slipper and the Rose
22George Froeschel88USAScreenwriter
23Merle Oberon68USAActress, Producer
30Joyce Grenfell69UKActress
30Zeppo Marx64USAActor, Director
Dec5Jesse Pearson49USAActor
5Lesley Selander70USADirector
  • Blackmail
  • Flight to Mars
9James Neilson70USADirector
  • The Moon-Spinners
  • Bon Voyage!
10Ann Dvorak68USAActress
11Claire Carleton66USAActress
  • Girl from Havana
  • Gildersleeve on Broadway
12Jon Hall64USAActor, Director
  • The Hurricane
  • Kit Carson
22George Pollock72UKDirector
  • Murder, She Said
  • Ten Little Indians
23Ernest B. Schoedsack86USADirector,           Cinematographer,         Producer
  • King Kong
  • The Most Dangerous Game
25Michael Collins57CanadaActor
25Lee Bowman79USAActor
25Joan Blondell73USAActress

The Greatest Films of 1979




10 (1979), 121 minutes, D: Blake Edwards Blake Edwards' sexy comedy hit about a middle-aged man's pursuit of a stunning beauty catapulted Dudley Moore and Bo Derek to stardom. Julie Andrews and Ravel's Bolero also figure prominently.

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D: Blake Edwards

Blake Edwards’ sexy comedy hit about a middle-aged man’s pursuit of a stunning beauty catapulted Dudley Moore and Bo Derek to stardom. Julie Andrews and Ravel’s Bolero also figure prominently.


Movie Poster for Alien

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Alien (UK)

D: Ridley Scott

A grisly, futuristic, suspenseful, atmospheric, memorable and popular science fiction/horror film about the intergalactic journey of a claustrophobic, commercial space cargo freighter, the Nostromo. With terrific sets designed by surreal artist H. R. Giger. The crew includes warrant officer heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in her starring debut role), Kane (John Hurt), Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Ash (Ian Holm), and others, who are awakened from hyper-sleep to investigate a distress signal on a mysteriously bleak, dead planet with a crashed alien spacecraft. In its interior, a lifeform with tentacles clings to Kane’s helmet/face, incubates inside his host body, and ultimately bursts from his gut. The hideous, indestructible, carnivorous creature grows in size and hides within the hyper-tech spacecraft, menacing and picking off one crew member after another until self-reliant, resourceful Ripley outsmarts the primal, lethal monster in the explosive conclusion. Followed by three sequels, including James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997).


Poster for the movie "All That Jazz"

© 1979 Columbia Pictures − All right reserved.

All That Jazz

D: Bob Fosse

When he is not planning for his upcoming stage musical or working on his Hollywood film, choreographer/director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) is popping pills and sleeping with a seemingly endless line of women. The physical and mental stress begins to take a toll on the ragged perfectionist. Soon, he must decide whether or not his non-stop work schedule and hedonistic lifestyle are worth risking his life. The film is a semi-autobiographical tale written and directed by the legendary Bob Fosse.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "And Justice For All"

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…And Justice For All

D: Norman Jewison

This blockbuster hit was a satirical, outrageous, lampooning take on the criminal justice system. When a corrupt judge is charged with rape, Arthur Kirkland must defend him. Kirkland has had problems with the judge in the past, including one incident when the judge wrongly sentenced his client, Jeff McCullaugh, because of a technicality. Kirkland faces a moral and legal dilemma, especially difficult because the judge admits he is guilty.

Incensed by his client’s callous attitude (the Judge had casually said he would like to see the “attractive” rape victim again, and he had paid a witness to testify in his favor), it appeared that Kirkland was properly defending his client with his opening statement, but then turned on him with tremendous rage, condemning him for abusing law and order and calling the loathsome judge guilty: “My client, the Honorable Henry T. Fleming, should go right to f–kin’ jail! The son of a bitch is guilty! That man is guilty! That man there, that man is a slime! He is a slime! If he’s allowed to go free, then something really wrong is goin’ on here!…” When Judge Rayford ruled that Kirkland was out of order, he retorted: “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They’re out of order! That man, that sick, crazy depraved man raped and beat that woman there, and he’d like to do it again! He told me so!”

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Apocalypse Now"

© 1979 United Artists − All right reserved.

Apocalypse Now

D: Francis Ford Coppola

A masterful, thought-provoking, pretentious film, with beautifully-chaotic visuals, about the nightmarish, moral madness of the Vietnam War, inspired by the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Considered by many to be the best war movie of all time, with incredible performances, especially that of hawkish Lt. Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) who “loves the smell of napalm in the morning.” Sweeping, surreal, still-controversial Vietnam war epic. An Army captain (Martin Sheen) is sent into the Cambodian jungle aboard a patrol boat carrying a young, spaced-out crew. Their mission: to assassinate (“terminate”) a Buddha-like Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has become an insane demi-god and now runs his own fiefdom. The grueling production in the Philippines led to vast budget overruns and physical and emotional breakdowns. A revised version, Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) followed.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Being There"

© 1979 United Artists − All right reserved.

Being There

D: Hal Ashby

Subtitled “A story of chance,” this provocative black comedy is a wonderful tale that satirizes politics, celebrity, media-obsession and television, and extols the wisdom of innocence. The subtle film’s slogan proclaimed: “Getting there is half the fun. Being there is all of it.” It is a placid fable about Chance (Peter Sellers), a reclusive, illiterate, passive, and simple-minded gardener who is well-groomed, fed on schedule, and dressed in custom-tailored suits. He has lived his whole sheltered life within the walled, Washington, DC estate of an eccentric millionaire named Jennings. His only knowledge of the “real” outside world, an encroaching inner-city ghetto area, is through watching television. When his employer dies, he wanders out into the street with his TV’s remote-control to aid him. When his leg is injured, and his name is thought to be “Chauncey Gardiner,” he is befriended by Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), the wife of dying billionaire industrialist Benjamin Rand (Melvin Douglas). His simple statements about gardening, such as “Spring is a time for planting,” are mis-interpreted as profound and wise political-economic advice to none other than President ‘Bobby’ (Jack Warden). His new-found popularity leads to talk-show appearances, insider parties, book publisher advances, and the potential to become a presidential candidate. The film was directed by director Hal Ashby (already known for Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Shampoo (1975), Bound for Glory (1976), and the acclaimed Vietnam war film Coming Home (1978)). The politically-satirical, overly-long film about mistaken identity and the television age was adapted from a 1971 novel by Jerzy Kosinski, with Sellers in a chameleon-like role in his second-to-last film.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "The Black Stallion"

© 1979 United Artists − All right reserved.

The Black Stallion

D: Carol Ballard

Alec (Kelly Reno) encounters a magnificent black Arabian horse while traveling aboard a steamship around the coast of North Africa with his father (Hoyt Axton). When a disaster destroys the ship, Alec frees the horse and escapes with it to a nearby island, where they form a close bond. When Alec is rescued, he insists the horse be rescued too, and both return to America. There, Alec and former jockey Henry (Mickey Rooney) work to train the horse, which Alec names “The Black,” for a race.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "Breaking Away"

© 1979 20th Century Fox − All right reserved.

Breaking Away

D: Peter Yates

This charming, Academy Award winner (1979, Screenplay) cycles high on comedy as four friends come to terms with life after high school. When top-notch cyclist Dave (Dennis Christopher) learns that the world’s bicycling champions are always Italian, he attempts to turn himself into an Italian, driving his parents (Barbara Barrie, Paul Dooley) crazy. But everything changes after he meets the Italian racing team-an encounter that ultimately leads him and his friends (Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley) to challenge the local college boys in the town’s annual bike race.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie "The China Syndrome"

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The China Syndrome

D: James Bridges

A modern nightmare nearly becomes reality in this tension-filled story about an “incident” at a nuclear power plant. Jane Fonda stars as Kimberly Wells, an ambitious TV reporter covering a story on energy sources, who is present at the nuclear plant when a startling accident occurs that nearly causes the meltdown of the reactor. A newsreel cameraman accompanying Wells (Michael Douglas) captures the incident on film but the television station won’t air the footage. Though the plant’s corporate heads are quick to deny the possibility of any real danger, Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon), the plant’s veteran engineer, discovers faulty equipment at the plant. Attempting to tell others about his findings, an attempt is made on his life. In desperation, he forcibly takes control of the power plant and invites the media to hear his ceremony. But the corporation is determined to stop him in a taut and shocking climax!

Learn more and watch the preview here.


The Jerk (1979), 94 minutes, D: Carl Reiner That wild and crazy guy, Steve Martin, makes his film-starring debut in the wacky comedy hit The Jerk.

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The Jerk

D: Carl Reiner

That wild and crazy guy, Steve Martin, makes his film-starring debut in the wacky comedy hit The Jerk. Steve plays Navin Johnson, the adopted son of a poor black sharecropper family, whose crazy inventions lead him from rags to riches… right back to rags. Steve propels Navin through a string of misadventures – becoming smitten with a lady motorcycle racer, surviving a series of screwball attacks by a deranged killer, and becoming a millionaire by inventing the “Opti-grab” handle for eyeglasses -and shows why he’s one of the hottest comic performers in the world.


Poster for the movie "Kramer vs. Kramer"

© 1979 Columbia Pictures − All right reserved.

Kramer vs. Kramer

D: Robert Benton

Robert Benton’s sensitive, tear-jerking Best Picture-winning marital drama was about a dysfunctional yuppie family. Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman), a workaholic NYC ad executive, suffered an abrupt break-up with unfulfilled, bored and depressed wife Joanna (Meryl Streep). The emotionally-unstable Joanna walked out on him, stating that she was unhappy and needed to find herself. Suddenly, he was propelled into the uncomfortable paternal role of single dad with young 6 year-old son Billy (Justin Henry), needing to take on a nurturing gender role, and balancing demanding career obligations with parenthood (which ultimately meant that Ted was fired from his demanding ad job, but found other less profitable work). However, he was able to establish a very close bond with Billy. But then, about 15 months later, estranged ex-wife Joanna unexpectedly returned to take their son away with her, setting up a nasty child-custody battle in the court.

Learn more and watch the preview here


Mad Max (1979, Australia), 93 minutes, D: George Miller Mad Max, the film which brought Mel Gibson into world-wide prominence, depicts a futuristic world of chaos on the roads, dominated by motorcycle gangs, one of which is pursued by the vengeful cop known as Mad Max.

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Mad Max (Australia)

D: George Miller

Mad Max, the film which brought Mel Gibson into world-wide prominence, depicts a futuristic world of chaos on the roads, dominated by motorcycle gangs, one of which is pursued by the vengeful cop known as Mad Max.


Movie poster for Manhattan

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D: Woody Allen

A mature, B/W, tragi-romantic comedy enhanced by a George Gershwin score about infidelity, romances and relationships set in Allen’s beloved urban NYC and within a group of intellectual Manhattanites. Neurotic TV comedy writer Isaac “Ike” Davis (Woody Allen) turned from comedy to write his first serious novel, and was dating a sweet, innocent, high-school-aged drama student Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), 25 years younger than he was. His lesbian, divorced ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep), who was writing an expose about their marriage/divorce (entitled Marriage, Divorce, and Selfhood), lived with Connie (Karen Ludwig) and raising his young son Willie. Davis met Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton), the pseudo-intellectual mistress of his guilt-torn best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) – who was married to Emily (Anne Byrne). Initially, Isaac disapproved of the extra-marital affair and Mary’s personality but then became attracted and fascinated by her and began his own affair with her. In a heartbreaking soda fountain scene, he confessed his affair to a tearful Tracy and urged a break-up, but later regretted his foolhardly decision after his dalliance with Mary soon fell apart when she returned to Yale.


Movie Poster for (Monty Python's) Life of Brian

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(Monty Python’s) Life of Brian (UK)

D: Terry Jones

Monty Python’s satirical and insightful version of the New Testament, beginning with the three wise men at the wrong manger with a second “Messiah.”


Poster for the movie "The Muppet Movie"

© 1979 Henson Associates (HA) − All right reserved.

The Muppet Movie

D: James Frawley

After a chance meeting with a great talent scout, Kermit goes to Hollywood dreaming about the world of show business. Along the way, Fozzie, Gonzo and Piggy to join him in hopes of also becoming big stars. But everything goes awry when Kermit falls into the clutches of Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), a villain who wants to promote, at all costs, its network of fast food that sells fried frog-legs!

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Poster for the movie ""

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Norma Rae

D: Martin Ritt

Like a lot of her family before her, Norma Rae (Sally Field) works at the local textile mill, where the pay is hardly commensurate with the long hours and lousy working conditions. But after hearing a rousing speech by labor activist Reuben (Ron Leibman), Norma is inspired to rally her fellow workers behind the cause of unionism. Her decision rankles her family, especially her fiancé, Sonny (Beau Bridges), and provokes no shortage of contempt from her employers.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Movie Poster for North Dallas Forty

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North Dallas Forty

D: Ted Kotcheff

A brutal satire of American professional football in which a veteran pass-catcher’s individuality and refusal to become part of the team “family” is bitterly resented by his disciplinarian coaches. The National Football League refused to help in the production of this movie, suggesting it may have been too near the truth for comfort. From the novel by former NFL player Peter Gent.


Movie Poster for The Onion Field

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The Onion Field

D: Harold Becker

This crime drama was about the prolonged miscarriage of justice. It was based on a true series of incidents, recounted in LAPD Sergeant Joseph Wambaugh’s 1973 book. An LA police officer is murdered in the onion fields outside of Bakersfield. However, legal loopholes could keep his kidnappers from receiving justice, and his partner is haunted by overwhelming survivor’s guilt.


Movie Poster for Real Life

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Real Life

D: Albert Brooks

Filmmaker Albert Brooks wants to create a documentary that will get to the very heart of what it means to be an American family. To that end, he persuades the Yeagers of Phoenix, Ariz., to let him and his camera crew document virtually every moment of their waking lives. What’s supposed to be a cinematic presentation of reality, however, soon becomes something quite different, as Brooks can’t stop himself from comically interfering in their lives.


Poster for the movie "Star Trek - The Motion Picture"

© − All right reserved.

Star Trek – The Motion Picture

D: Robert Wise

The Federation calls on Adm. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the Starship Enterprise to contain an immense nimbused object that’s on a crash course with Earth. After investigating, the crew discovers that the alien cloud harbors artificial intelligence with an ominous primary directive. Crisis strikes when a probe dispatched by the energy cloud attacks the crew, abducting navigator Lt. Ilia (Persis Khambatta). An android look-alike containing her memories shows up soon after.

Learn more and watch the preview here.


Movie Poster for The Warriors

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The Warriors

D: Walter Hill

A street gang is blamed unfairly for a rival gang leader’s death and must fight its way home to Coney Island from the Bronx.


Did your favorite make our list of the greatest films of 1979?


This is the last in our series of Greatest Films. We will cover the 1980s when they get a little older.


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