Top 10 Decade Defining Actors: 1970s

Written by Sean Harris There was disco on the dance floors, but these guys cut their shapes in the cinema! Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1970s! For our series on the Top 10 Decade Defining Male Actors Per Period, we’ve made our choices based on a combination of their commercial success, their box-office scores, their productivity, their awards and how they helped set the tone and raise the standard in Hollywood for the era. Special thanks to our users Ceione Pafford, movielover459 and moneysorigin for submitting the idea through our Suggestions Tool at WatchMojo.comSuggest
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Written by Sean Harris

Top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1970s


There was disco on the dance floors, but these guys cut their shapes in the cinema! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 Decade Defining Actors of the 1970s!

For our series on the Top 10 Decade Defining Male Actors Per Period, we’ve made our choices based on a combination of their commercial success, their box-office scores, their productivity, their awards and how they helped set the tone and raise the standard in Hollywood for the era.

#10: Woody Allen
1935 -

After signing a deal with United Artists at the beginning of the decade, Woody Allen went on to write, direct, and star in a number of projects. One such early movie was, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask).” A risqué tone within which Allen would revel, this was followed by, “Sleeper;” a parody of science-fiction movies. However, “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall” were his most popular films. Both were set in New York; both set rom-com standards, and both made Woody a household name.

#9: Richard Dreyfuss
1947 -

This guy’s first role on film was actually a one-line cameo in “The Graduate” in 1967. Between then and the mid-’70s, he worked the stage, and some television parts. But it was alongside Steven Spielberg that he became a big-name star in 1975 with “Jaws,” and then two-years later with “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Ironically, though, his portrayal of a struggling actor is what earned him most praise. He won an Oscar for his role in “The Goodbye Girl”!

#8: Jon Voight
1938 -

Cast in “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969, Jon Voight found fame at the end of one decade, and enjoyed it throughout the next. He got in with the wrong crowd in “Deliverance,” and became for macho roles by playing a boxer twice, most notably in “The Champ.” But those roles fell either side of his most critically acclaimed work. A portrayal of an embittered paraplegic Vietnam veteran, his part in “Coming Home” had us all going to the cinema!

#7: Robert Redford
1936 -

A future recipient of the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Redford found fame in ‘69 with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Next he appeared opposite Barbra Streisand in “The Way We Were,” and scored his biggest box-office hit with “The Sting.” Reliving the glory of “Butch Cassidy” by again pairing with actor, Paul Newman, and director, George Roy Hill; Redford plays a con-man, but his acting abilities were the real deal. They carried over to 1976, when he indulged his political side by trying to solve the Watergate scandal in “All the President’s Men.”

#6: Bruce Lee
1940 - 1973

A career cut tragically short, Bruce Lee achieved a lot in a short life! During the ‘60s, the martial-arts expert worked mainly in fight choreography, and struggled to find success as an actor (the suggestion being that his ethnicity was preventing a U.S. breakthrough). In Hong Kong he was a hit, though, making movies such as “The Big Boss” and “Fist of Fury.” Making a complete 180, Warner Bros. signed him up for “Enter the Dragon” – the biggest commercial success of his life, and one he wouldn’t live to see released.

#5: Gene Hackman
1930 -

Hackman proved to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile performers in the ‘70s, gaining praise for a variety of roles. His highest acclaim came for a performance as NYC detective, Popeye Doyle, in “The French Connection,” which proved his credentials as a leading-man. He also starred in the disaster flick, “The Poseidon Adventure,” the following year. Later, as Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luther, he became a household name, and part of a series that spawned three sequels in the ‘80s!

#4: Al Pacino
1940 -

This guy’s career is particularly hard to nail down to one decade, but largely for his part in “The Godfather” series, he was a huge star of the ‘70s. He played mobster Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic gangster film, and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He boycotted the ceremony though, believing his role to be ‘lead actor’ material! Ironically, he went on to be nominated for the desired award four times during the decade – including one nomination for “The Godfather: Part II.”

#3: John Travolta
1954 -

Away from the movie theatre, ‘70s music was also rapidly evolving. Disco was rife, and it’s representative on the big screen was a young John Travolta. Most notably, he played Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever,” and his white suit and slick black hair are an iconic image and an Oscar-nominated role. The following year, he swapped the suit for a tight black t-shirt, and as Danny Zuko in “Grease” he assumed the role of one of the most memorable characters in film history. He was the one that we wanted!

#2: Jack Nicholson
1937 -

Like other actors on our list, it’s hard to confine Nicholson’s excellence to one time period; after all, he’s had such an illustrious career. But Oscar nominations for his roles in “The Last Detail” and “Chinatown,” as well as the first of three wins for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” make this decade a particular success! As Randle McMurphy he plays a forcibly repressed man who tries to break out; and as an actor, Jack Nicholson sure breaks the mold!


Before we unveil our pick for Decade Defining Actor of the 1970s, here are a few honorable mentions:
- James Caan
1940 -
- Robert Duvall
1931 -
- Peter Finch
1916 - 1977
- Burt Reynolds
1936 -
- Ryan O’Neal
1941 -

#1: Robert De Niro
1943 -

He’s as A-List as they come, and he tops our talented tree! De Niro found fame within a partnership he formed in the early ‘70s with director Martin Scorsese, beginning with “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver.” By ‘77, everyone was ‘talking to him’ (or at least about him!), and a role as Michael Vronsky in the Vietnam War movie “The Deer Hunter” further established his reputation. Of course, he also managed the small feat of playing the Oscar-winning part of Vito Corleone in “The Godfather: Part 2” – what a man!

Do you agree with our list? Which 1970s actor did we forget? For more silver-screened Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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