Revisiting the Reels: The Top 5 Movies of 1973 Unveiled 

today30 April 2024

1974; using the andy warhol signature style of boarders on the left and right side of the picture, use a retro synth wave colour scheme, create an image featuring movie posters and image inspiration from The Exorcist and Papillon

Revisiting the Reels: The Top 5 Movies of 1973 Unveiled 

 In 1973, the silver screen sparkled with a vibrant array of films that not only entertained but resonated deeply across diverse audiences, creating a unique cinematic landscape.  

This was a year that offered something for everyone—from the spine-chilling suspense of “The Exorcist” to the nostalgic streets of “American Graffiti”. Each movie provided a window into varying aspects of human experience, whether it was through a terrifying supernatural ordeal, a complex con artist scheme, or a poignant romantic drama. 

Five films: 

  • The Exorcist 
  • The Sting 
  • American Graffiti 
  • Papillon 
  • The Way We Were 

These movies stand out not only for their box office success but for their profound impact on culture and film making. They didn’t just draw crowds; they left an indelible mark on cinema and became topics of discussion in living rooms and coffee shops, influencing public consciousness and future films. 

The Exorcist set unprecedented records for the horror genre, transforming it into a serious category at the box office and proving that a horror film could be a high-caliber, critically acclaimed piece of cinema.  

The Sting redefined the crime caper, delighting audiences with its clever plot twists and the charismatic duo of Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  

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American Graffiti presented a sweet, reflective look at teen life in the ’60s, becoming a cultural touchstone that also catapulted director George Lucas into the spotlight.  

Papillon offered a harrowing tale of resilience and survival. 

The Way We Were captured the complexities of love against the backdrop of political upheaval. 

Each of these films not only entertained but also mirrored the dynamism and complexity of the era. They appeal to viewers of all ages – even now. Why? 


The Exorcist: A Chilling Legacy 

The Exorcist is a harrowing tale that pushes the boundaries of the horror genre, delving into the realm of the supernatural. Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel, the film follows the demonic possession of a young girl, Regan, and the subsequent exorcism performed by two priests. The plot is as much a psychological exploration as it is a physical horror, probing themes of faith, the nature of evil, and the struggles of human vulnerability. 


The film is renowned for its raw, unnerving direction making it one of the most terrifying films… ever!  ever made. Director William Friedkin’s approach was relentlessly authentic, aiming to immerse the audience into the disturbing experiences of the characters. His use of unsettling imagery and practical effects brought a visceral intensity to the screen that few films had dared to attempt before. The iconic scene where Regan’s head spins completely around, along with the levitation scenes, were groundbreaking in their visual execution. 

The cultural impact of “The Exorcist” is profound. It opened discussions on topics that were previously considered taboo, such as exorcism and spiritual warfare. The film did not just scare its viewers; it also invited them to ponder the complexities of faith and the human condition. And its release saw massive lines at cinemas and widespread media attention. 

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  • Young Linda Blair’s performance as Regan is unforgettable. Her transformation from a sweet child to a horrifyingly possessed entity is both shocking and compelling.  
  • Ellen Burstyn, as her distraught mother, delivers a heart-wrenching portrayal of a parent facing unimaginable horror.  
  • Max von Sydow and Jason Miller, as the priests confronting their own fears and faith, bring depth and gravitas to the film. 

Key scenes like: 

  • the initial appearance of the demon 
  • the spine-chilling exorcism climax 
  • the subtle, unnerving buildup of tension that Friedkin masterfully orchestrates throughout the film… 

…make “The Exorcist” a profound cinematic experience. 


The Sting: The Artful Dodge 

“The Sting” quickly became celebrated not only for its stellar performances and witty script but for its innovative portrayal of the con artist’s world during the 1930s.  

The story centers on two professional grifters, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), who seek revenge with the ultimate con against a ruthless mob boss, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw.) 

The film’s storyline is a cleverly woven tapestry of tricks and deceit.  

Hooker is a small-time grifter who finds himself in danger after conning money from a runner for a powerful mob boss. Seeking the guidance and protection of the experienced con man Gondorff, the duo devises an elaborate scheme to swindle a huge sum from the mobster, using a fake betting parlor. Each character is richly developed, displaying unique quirks and a deep sense of camaraderie that adds layers to the narrative. 


Director George Roy Hill’s collaboration with Newman and Redford was nothing short of magical. Having previously directed them in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Hill leveraged their existing on-screen chemistry to great effect in “The Sting.” Their natural rapport added a genuine sense of trust and friendship making the intricate scams seem effortless and convincing. 

Stylistically, “The Sting” is a nod to classic caper films infused with a charming period setting that captures the 1930s. The film employs an innovative narrative structure, divided into distinct segments… each introducing a new con with old-fashioned title cards. This, combined with the ragtime music of Scott Joplin, orchestrated by Marvin Hamlisch, enhances the period feel adding playful suspenseful elements to the story. 

“The Sting” was a monumental success. Both audiences and critics loved it. It filled the big screen with sharp dialogue and engaging plot. The movie even won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for George Roy Hill, and Best Original Screenplay. This classic was a classic from day-one.  


American Graffiti: Cruising Through Nostalgia 

“American Graffiti” captures the essence of teenage life in the early 1960s with an evocative nostalgia that transcends its setting.  

George Lucas’ film revolves around a group of high school graduates spending one last night cruising the streets of their small Californian town before they head off to college and the uncertainties of adulthood. Through a series of intertwined stories, the film explores themes of freedom, friendship, and the future, all set against the backdrop of a vibrant car culture and a rock and roll soundtrack. 

Lucas’ direction is both sensitive and dynamic, showcasing his ability to evoke powerful emotions through seemingly simple scenes. That’s what a storyteller does! And American Graffiti highlighted Lucas’ knack for storytelling and his potential as a filmmaker who could resonate with audiences on a personal level – just like he would do with Star Wars a few years later.  

By focusing on character-driven stories and authentic emotional dilemmas, Lucas paved the way for his future successes, where character and story would continue to play central roles. 

“American Graffiti” also significantly influenced the coming-of-age film genre. It was one of the first films to look back at the recent past through a lens that combined warmth with a sense of loss. Lucas captured the bittersweet threshold between adolescence and adulthood, a theme that would become a staple in later coming-of-age films. This movie demonstrated that films about young people could have a deep emotional impact and broad appeal. 

A pivotal aspect of “American Graffiti” that contributed immensely to its charm was its soundtrack, featuring a roll-call of rock and roll classics from the 1950s. Sort of nostalgia built into nostalgia. This choice of music enriched the film’s setting and played a crucial role in reviving interest in 50s rock and roll. The songs are almost characters themselves. They set the tone echoing the youths’ emotions and journeys. The soundtrack became a cultural phenomenon all on it’s own.  


“American Graffiti” remains a poignant reflection on youth and time, a film that encapsulates the universal experience of standing on the precipice of the future, filled with dreams, doubts, and the relentless beat of rock and roll. A mystery girl in a while Thunderbird can do that for you!  


Papillon: A Tale of Unyielding Spirit 

“Papillon” is a compelling cinematic portrayal of Henri Charrière’s autobiographical account of his escape from the notorious penal colony of Devil’s Island. The film chronicles the indomitable spirit of Charrière, nicknamed “Papillon” for the butterfly tattoo on his chest, who is wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon endures numerous trials and forms an unlikely alliance with Louis Dega, a counterfeiter who provides him with the means to attempt multiple escapes. 

Steve McQueen as Papillon delivers one of his most powerful performances, capturing the essence of Charrière’s resilience and relentless quest for freedom. His portrayal is both rugged and nuanced, reflecting the physical and emotional toll of his character’s journey.  

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Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Louis Dega provides a stark contrast: a physically weaker man who survives through his wits and financial acumen. The dynamic between McQueen and Hoffman is pivotal, highlighting themes of friendship and loyalty against a backdrop of despair and brutality. 

The film dives deep into the themes of freedom and the human spirit. It explores the idea that the desire for freedom is intrinsic and can drive individuals to extraordinary lengths. Papillon’s repeated escape attempts underscore his refusal to accept his fate, illustrating a profound commentary on the resilience and strength of the human spirit when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. 

“Papillon’s” raw depiction of the harsh realities of life in a penal colony, combined with its deep philosophical questions about freedom and human endurance, resonated with audiences and critics alike. The film’s harsh landscapes and intense sequences create a gripping narrative that has stood the test of time. 

It remains a seminal work in the genre, not just for its thrilling plot, but for its exploration of deeper existential themes. It challenges viewers to consider the price of freedom and the power of hope. 


The Way We Were: Romance and Rebellion 

“The Way We Were” is a poignant film that masterfully intertwines romance with the political upheavals of its time, creating a tapestry of personal and ideological conflicts. Directed by Sydney Pollack, it tells the story of Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) and Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford), whose relationship is as passionate as it is tumultuous.  

Katie, a fervent political activist with strong communist leanings, and Hubbell, a charismatic and laid-back writer, find themselves repeatedly drawn to each other despite their starkly different worldviews. 

The chemistry between Streisand and Redford is undeniable. Their performances convey a deep and complex connection that makes their characters’ love believable and heart-wrenching.  

Streisand’s portrayal of Katie’s intensity and idealism perfectly complements Redford’s effortless charm and skepticism, creating a dynamic that is both captivating and relatable. 

“The Way We Were” explores significant themes of love, politics, and social change. The film showcases how personal relationships can be deeply affected by political ideology and social convictions. Katie and Hubbell’s struggles reflect the broader social shifts occurring in America during the 1930s to the 1950s, highlighting how external pressures challenge their union and personal values. The film raises questions about the compromises one must face in love and life, and whether it is possible to reconcile such differences. 

An integral component of the film’s emotional landscape is its musical score, composed by Marvin Hamlisch. The title song, “The Way We Were,” sung by Streisand, became an instant classic, resonating with melodic beauty and lyrical poignancy. This song, reflecting on memories and lost love, not only enhances the film’s emotional depth but also elevates its narrative, making it a timeless reminder of the film’s themes and the enduring impact of its story. 


As we journey back through the cinematic landscape of 1973, it’s clear why these films are not just memorable but monumental. “The Exorcist” challenged our comfort zones with its spine-chilling narrative and groundbreaking effects, reshaping horror into a genre of high art. “The Sting” charmed us with its clever twists and the unbeatable Newman-Redford duo, reviving the art of the caper film. “American Graffiti” took us on a nostalgic ride through the rock and roll era, reminding us of the bittersweet edges of youth and the universal pangs of growing up. “Papillon” offered a stark look at resilience and the human spirit’s unyielding quest for freedom, while “The Way We Were” elegantly portrayed the struggles of love against a backdrop of political upheaval. 


Collectively, these films not only reflect the rich diversity of cinema in 1973 but also their ability to tap into the pulse of popular culture. They captured and influenced societal moods and trends, from the unsettling shifts in political landscapes to the personal battles within the confines of societal norms. Each film, with its distinct voice and vision, contributed layers to the broader narrative of their time, offering insights into the complexities of human nature and societal structures. 


Reels and Real Feelings 

Looking at these films today, they serve as cultural artifacts, preserving the essence of an era while continuing to resonate with contemporary audiences. They remind us that while times may change, the fundamental human experiences—fear, ambition, love, conflict, and aspiration—remain constant. 

Each movie not only entertains but educates audiences… encouraging people to reflect on the past and present. Their enduring appeal underscores cinema’s power to influence and mirror society, demonstrating why these classics will continue to be relevant for generations to come. 


Written by: Brandon Lawson