Box Office Trends: The 1970s

Just over a month ago I published a post looking at whether Movie Audiences Are Getting Dumber. I did this by looking at the highest grossing films worldwide in each year from 1970-2012, and seeing what the Rotten Tomatoes score was for each. In doing so, I concluded there was no clear evidence to suggest the gap between movies audiences and critics has widened over the past forty years.

Having received a lot of interest and positive feedback on the post, it has always been my intention to delve further into this area. The obvious flaw in my research was that in choosing only one film from each year (albeit the highest grossing one), it may have given an unfair impression of any particular year. For example, in 1970 Love Story (57%) was the highest grossing film. However, the 2nd – 5th highest grossing movies that year all got 80-100% on the same site.

With this in mind I have decided to research the Top Five highest grossing movies from each year, and find out the Rotten Tomatoes score for each. This will give me an average which should be much more representative of the link between critics and audiences in any particular year.

Finally, because of the large amount of data I have to research and sift through, I thought it would be interesting to analyse each decade in turn, and then finish up with a final post giving a more accurate answer to the question: “Are Movie Audiences Getting Dumber?”

Anyway, bring on the statistics!

The 1970s in graphs:



Most film historians will tell you the 1970s was a golden age for Hollywood cinema. It was a time when studios in LA were not only making the most financially successful movies, but also films that were genuinely pushing the medium into places it had not been before.

It was a time of gritty, grown-up films like The Godfather, The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, and All the President’s Men. In fact, what is most striking about the decade, in comparison to the films which dominate the box office today, is the fact family-friendly films are almost entirely absent, especially in the first half of the decade. Nowhere is this more evident than with Behind the Green Door which claimed to be an “arty” porno movie. Roger Ebert was not impressed.

(As a side note three films, Behind the Green Door, To Fly!, and In Search of Noah’s Ark have no Rotten Tomatoes score available. As a result I have used their score on imdb instead.)

The film that went a long to changing that was Jaws in 1975. It is generally considered a turning point for the industry. One can see its influence on the box office with the success of Star Wars and Superman and, as we will see, a large number of films in the subsequent decades.

Looking at the statistics more closely, the most critically acclaimed high-grossing movies of the decade were Woodstock, Godfather and Jaws. All of which have 100% positive reviews. On the other side of the coin, the most lambasted film was the Clint Eastwood comedy vehicle Every Which Way But Loose. Although Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Man with the Golden Gun didn’t get off too lightly either.

Looking at genres, one can see Drama is the most popular one (a category which basically takes on board films which don’t ‘fit’ anywhere else). Action, Crime and Comedy are the other genres that dominated the decade. It will be interesting to see how this changes as we look at trends in the 1980s and beyond. One thing we could say is that the heroes of the West in the 1960s seem to have been replaced with the villains and anti-heroes of the Crime genre in the 1970s. This is probably a reflection the political mood of the time, with events such as Watergate having a clear impact on the American psyche.

Finally the decade’s average yearly scores range from 69 to 87. The graph shows the first eight years maintained quite a high average around the 80 mark. Will subsequent decades will be able to match this high standard? Or does the slight drop in the last two years represent a sign of things to come?

Appendix – Full Table of Results:

BoxOfficeStats - 1970s Table


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