Francis Ford Coppola—The King of 70s Hollywood
Whether it’s lists or essays, everything I write will feature its share of subjectivity. That goes for everyone. However, I’ve tried to implement as many objective criteria as possible when determining the “best” of something in the realm of cinema: financial results; accolades at the Oscars; and critical consensuses from Rotten Tomatoes. That said, I’ve recently been applying to my articles a fourth point of reference: the National Film Registry.
With each film chosen by the United States’ National Film Preservation Board, the NFR is a collection of movies that have been selected for preservation due to their “historical, cultural, or aesthetic contributions,” and since the Board’s 1988 genesis, only 825 selections have been made.
These four criteria—again: critical reception, accolades at the Oscars, financial reports, and preservation in the NFR—all impart decent insight into the general history of American cinema while in tandem providing a guideline for the essay itself. If your favorite film doesn’t impress at least one, it’s likely not very good… unless I say otherwise!
While guys like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas showed up in spades at the worldwide box office and helped popularize the prospect of “summer blockbusters” throughout the 1970s, they didn’t have the consistency or the quality of one man in particular.
Jaws and Star Wars made heavy impacts on the market, but all four of Francis Ford Coppola’s films from the 1970s have consistently influenced artists around the world, even fifty years later. Of course, the same could be said for both of the aforementioned films, but that’s just one from each guy. Again: Coppola had four.
Out of all the “Kings of Hollywood” essays I’ve heralded, this decision was the most clear-cut. Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood—those guys had great accomplishments with two of the most-mentioned movies of the decade in Annie Hall and The Outlaw Josey Wales respectively, and they were definitely active outside of that, but when I actually delineate the accomplishments of Coppola through these ten years, we’ll all forget that he penned the script for 1974’s The Great Gatsby.
One of two films that Coppola wrote in the seventies but didn’t actually direct, it holds a 39% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating near-terrible review scores despite a decent showing at the box office. It’s hard to hold that against Coppola as, for starters, he didn’t direct the final product, but it also released in a year where Francis Ford did direct two of the most acclaimed films of the seventies. We’ll get to those later.
His first screenwriting effort kicked off with Patton in 1970, a film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. As the script’s co-writer, Coppola’s penchant for dialogue is on full display from the start—you can seriously look no further than the film’s opening speech for confirmation.
Though he didn’t direct it, his name was directly attached, and Patton has since been selected for preservation. It also made great money, garnered critical praise, and won Academy Awards in glorious abundance, so that basically nullifies his work on the less-than-charming Great Gatsby.
The first film of the decade that he actually directed was another one that he co-wrote, and the combined efforts resulted in nothing short of a cinematic milestone. Often cited as the greatest film ever put to screen, The Godfather in 1972 made magnificent money in theaters, won three Academy Awards out of ten nominations, has near-perfect critical scores across the board, and of course, it’s been selected for preservation.
I’d say its impact can’t be overstated, but that probably isn’t true at this point. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022, The Godfather has gone down as the consensus greatest of all time, if not second to Citizen Kane, and no man played a more crucial role in curating its cultural and cinematic legacy than Coppola.
One of his closest competitors came by way of Woody Allen, who both wrote and directed some of the decade’s biggest hits. Though his films didn’t exactly bring in the big bucks at the box office, critics absolutely adored them—Annie Hall has a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and Manhattan a 94, while Sleeper and Love and Death have perfect scores of 100%.
Allen’s movies also managed to acquire twelve nominations with four wins at the Academy Awards, and while a lot of those are for separate acting roles, it was Woody who directed their performance, so he deserves credit either way. Also, he did star in six out of seven directed films, but you probably don’t want my thoughts on that.
However popular his pictures, they didn’t rake in millions upon millions of dollars, or anything—they had decent showings at the box office, no doubt, but compared to many of his contemporaries, Allen hardly held a candle with regard to financials.
Spielberg on the other hand had to build warehouses to hold the ticket receipts of Jaws in ‘75 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in ’77—both of which won multiple Oscars. He was definitely active outside of those two films, as well. However, he missed the quality target one time too many—looking at you, 1941—in order to compete with Coppola, despite impressive results in theaters.
Even though it fell short of its predecessor in monetary value, The Godfather Part II is often cited as the greatest sequel ever made. It also had just as impressive a cast as the original, and box office results don’t mean everything.
While most agree The Godfather is a film of higher quality, it goes without saying Part II was a tremendous success—it was actually nominated for and won more awards than the first, becoming the first sequel to ever win best picture.
Coppola’s second entry of 1974 materialized as The Conversation, a mystery-thriller starring Gene Hackman. His lowest-grossing work of the seventies, it only made $4.4 million worldwide despite unanimously positive ratings from critics. It’s a true thrill, and likely would have won more awards at the Oscars had it not been for Godfather Part II releasing that same year.
That said, The Conversation also checks the “National Film Registry” box, as it was selected for preservation in 1995. The only mark it truly missed was at the box office, a realm in which Coppola customarily shined.
Another guy who made big bucks in theaters was the creator of Star Wars himself, George Lucas. The first entry in the blockbuster franchise surpassed Spielberg’s Jaws as the highest grossing motion picture of all time, and when adjusted for inflation, the numbers brought in by Luke, Han and Leia become even more impressive. American Graffiti—Lucas’s second film of the seventies—also made great money, but not nearly to the same degree.
While his first film—titled THX 1138, released in ’71—didn’t exactly make waves in theaters, it does hold an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was also the only one of his three films that has not been selected for preservation, so ultimately, it doesn’t add much to his resume.
A project I’m sure he regrets missing out on, Lucas was actually set to make Coppola’s final film of the decade before the latter signed on to both co-write and direct. Had he said yes, it is likely I’d be writing about George Lucas as the King of 70s Hollywood, not Francis Ford.
Commonly called the best war movie of all time—usually either this, Saving Private Ryan, or Platoon—Apocalypse Now garnered eight nominations with two wins at the Oscars, made over a hundred-million dollars, has a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and of course, it’s been preserved in the National Film Registry.
Twenty-six guys have more registered films than Coppola—he’s tied in eighth place with twelve other men for having four pictures in the NFR, which means that all of his preserved movies came from a single decade.
Only three other guys have four registered films from one decade: King Vidor with four films in the twenties; Leo McCarey with four films in the thirties; and Alfred Hitchcock with four films in the fifties. Howard Hawkes on the other han, put out five films in the forties that were all selected for preservation. Those are impressive numbers, but I’d argue that Coppola had more skilled contemporaries fighting for the top stop.
Either way, all four films he directed in the 1970s met all four of my metrics to a certified tee, and beyond the numbers, I think we can throw bias aside and agree that Francis Ford Coppola—through six scripts, four of which he directed—borderline steamrolled his competition, and in another fifty years, I’m sure we’ll all still be watching his films.
Thanks for Reading!
Obviously, I’ve skipped over the sixties as, frankly, there’s not much competition for Stanley Kubrick. Guys like Alfred Hitchcock, Arthur Penn and John Sturges put up decent fights, but I’d bet good money that the majority of you only know one of those three names, so, sorry Kubrick. I’m going to have to pass. But, hey, you won by default!
Anyway. What was your favorite Francis Ford Coppola film of the 1970s? Let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned later this week as “The King of 80s Hollywood” finalizes the series.
Hint: It’s about time.