The 12 Best Action Thrillers From The ’70s

“An oldie but a goodie” is a popular saying for a reason.

Even with the constant slew of new movies releasing on a regular basis, today’s action films can’t always hold a handle to the classics from the past. 

Here are twelve good action thrillers from the 1970s that still hold up today.

1. Dirty Harry (1971)

Dirty Harry (1971)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Even if you have not seen it, you have likely heard of Dirty Harry. It is so well known for a reason — it is really, really good. In the film, police officer Harry Callahan attempts to track down a psychopathic rooftop killer before a kidnapped girl dies. A race against the clock, this movie gets more and more intense the longer it goes on.

2. Death Wish (1974)

Death Wish (1974)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Once a mild-mannered liberal, New York City architect Paul Kersey snaps when intruders break into his home, murdering his wife and violently assaulting his daughter. Frustrated that the police cannot find the intruders, he becomes a vigilante, gunning down any criminal that crosses his path. 

3. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Image Credit: Turtle Releasing

In Los Angeles, a local gang steals a cache of assault rifles and pistols. Early one Saturday morning, a team of heavily armed police officers ambushes and kills six gang members, causing the gang’s four warlords to swear a blood oath of revenge against the police and the citizens of Los Angeles. 

4. The Mechanic (1972)

The Mechanic (1972)
Image Credit: United Artists

Arthur Bishop is a veteran hitman who thinks he is an artist owing to his penchant for making his targets’ deaths seem like accidents. It’s made him very rich, but as he hits middle age, he’s so depressed and lonely that he takes on one of his victim’s sons, Steve McKenna, as his apprentice. 

5. Serpico (1973)

Serpico (1973)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Frank Serpico is an idealistic New York City cop who refuses to take bribes, unlike the rest of the force. His actions get Frank shunned by the other officers, and his partners often place him in intense and dangerous situations. Based on a true story, Serpico has heavy themes that revolve around police corruption, making it all the more chilling.

6. The Warriors (1979)

The Warriors (1979)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Warriors, come out and play – these words will echo in your mind after seeing this film and send chills down your back. The Warriors depicts a turf battle between New York City street gangs. After the Warriors are falsely accused of killing a gang leader, they must make their way across the city back to their own turf in this heart-pounding action thriller.

7. Lady Snowblood (1973)

Lady Snowblood (1973)
Image Credit: Toho Co., Ltd.

A woman is raised from birth for one terrible and vengeful purpose — to murder those who assaulted her mother and left her to rot in a women’s prison, where she died in childbirth. Lady Snowblood heavily inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.

8. Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max (1979)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

You have likely heard of Mad Max and its many sequels, but there is nothing like the original. If you have yet to experience this on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller, now is the time to do so. It occurs in a dystopian future where the world has plunged into war, famine, and financial chaos.

9. Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver (1976)
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures

Suffering from insomnia, disturbed loner Travis Bickle takes a job as a New York City cabbie, haunting the streets nightly, growing increasingly detached from reality as he dreams of cleaning up the filthy city. When Travis meets a pretty campaign worker, Betsy, he becomes obsessed with the idea of saving the world, plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate.

10. Rolling Thunder (1977)

Rolling Thunder (1977)
Image Credit: American International Pictures

Rolling Thunder tells the story of Major Charles Rane, who returns from the war and is given a hero’s welcome. When thugs invade his home, injuring him and his family, he becomes dead set on revenge. Rolling Thunder is underrated but more than worth checking out.

11. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Image Credit: United Artists

In New York City, a criminal gang led by the ruthless “Mr. Blue” hijacks a subway car and threatens to start shooting one passenger per minute unless they receive a million dollars in cash from the city within an hour. While there is a 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, the 1974 version is superior.

12. Sorcerer (1977)

Sorcerer (1977)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Sorcerer follows four men from different parts of the world who find themselves in exile and risk their lives transporting gallons of highly sensitive explosives across a dangerous Latin American jungle, all while overcoming increasingly difficult challenges. Several movie fans claim that the bridge scene alone is worth a watch.

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


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