The Top 50: Movie and T.V. Stars Who Ruled the 1970s

To put it plainly, the 1970s was a huge decade when it came to showbiz. The ’70s provided a plethora of iconic movies and T.V. shows, like The Godfather, M*A*S*H, Taxi Driver, and too many others to list here. The ’70s wasn’t just a decade for talented, seasoned actors to shine – it was also a decade in which new, fresh, young faces took the stage, like Meryl Streep and Jodi Foster.

Clint Eastwood as a cowboy in the film Rawhide / Raquel Welch posing for a portrait when she was younger / Sam Elliot at the playboy mansion in 1977 / Pam Grier posing for a portrait in 1985 / Michael DOuglas posing for a portrait sitting on the steps / Suzanne SOmers posing on haystacks for a portrait
Photo by CBS, Getty Images / Herbert Dorfman, Corbis, Getty Images / Ron Galella, Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images / Harry Langdon, Getty Images / Keystone, Getty Images / Harry Langdon, Getty Images

This list sums up Hollywood’s greatest T.V. and film stars who ruled the ’70s. We know it’s bold (risky even), but, yes, we ranked them, and, yes, we’re prepared for the backlash. But hey, we’re all entitled to our opinions, right?

50. Cheryl Ladd

Cheryl Ladd came to Hollywood right at the beginning of the decade to begin a career in music. At the time, she was known as “Cherie Moor” as she was the singing voice of Melody on the Saturday morning cartoon series Josie and the Pussycats. Ladd soon landed non-singing roles in commercials and T.V. episodes, including guest appearances on The Rookies, The Partridge Family, and Happy Days.

Cheryl Ladd posing in the backyard of a nice home 1972 / Cheryl Ladd on the red carpet today
Photo by Martin Mills, Getty Images / Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

What made her an overnight star was Charlie’s Angels; she played Chris Monroe, replacing Farrah Fawcett. She soon became a pin-up and poster favorite. Ladd used her sudden popularity to pursue further her musical interests, guest-starring in musical-comedy shows and specials.

49. Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks was a T.V. comedy writer before making big moves with his spy parody show Get Smart. Once he moved on to filmmaking, parodies weren’t his first choice. The Producers was a hit, and 1974’s Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein placed him on the comedy genius map.

Mel Brooks sitting and smiling in a scene from the movie Silent Movie 1976 / Mel Brooks today standing and smiling in front of a crowd
Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection, Getty Images / Emma McIntyre, T.C.M., Getty Images

Those two films were the first and fourth highest-grossing movies of 1974, respectively, because they were so funny that audiences would go to the cinema again and again. He wasn’t a pin-up for teenagers’ walls, but he was a master both on and off the screen in the comedy film industry and someone that always made people laugh.

48. Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford gained worldwide fame as Han Solo in the original Star Wars epic before becoming the super famous Indiana Jones. He started being offered bigger roles in films during the late ’70s, including Heroes (1977), Force 10 from Navarone (1978), and Hanover Street (1979).

Harrison Ford, with his arms, spread open, greeting someone behind the camera on the set of Star Wars / Harrison Ford on the red carpet today
Photo by Lucasfilm, Sunset Boulevard, Corbis, Getty Images / Alberto E Rodriguez, 20th Century Studios, Getty Images

Star Wars brought Ford (and his co-stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher) worldwide recognition. He starred in the sequels as well, including the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978.

Fun fact: Ford wanted George Lucas to kill off Han Solo at the end of Return of the Jedi. He reasoned that it “would have given the whole film a bottom.” Lucas refused.

47. Jon Voight

Right before the decade hit, Jon Voight starred in the Oscar-nominated role as Joe Buck in John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969). By the ’70s, Voight was famously cautious about which films he chose to take on.

A portrait of Jon Voight for the film Midnight Cowboy / Jon Voight on the red carpet today
Photo by Silver Screen Collection, Hulton Archive, Getty Images / George Pimentel, Getty Images

He wasn’t as prolific in the ’70s, but he still had unforgettable performances during the decade and was definitely one of the more talked-about stars in Hollywood. He impressed audiences and critics with his roles in 1972’s Deliverance and The Champ in 1979. Coming home also earned him the Best Actor Academy Award.

46. Susan Anton

Susan Anton started out as a spokesperson for Muriel Cigars in 1970 and later for Serta mattresses. She started entering beauty contests and won the 1970 Miss American contest. Her first appearance on T.V. was in the T.V. movie The Great American Beauty Contest.

Susan Anton posing while holding her hair / Susan Anton on the red carpet today
Photo by Harry Langdon, Getty Images / Greg Doherty, Getty Images

In the early ’70s, she found work as the spokesperson for Muriel cigars and Serta mattresses. Her work in commercials allowed her to gain a following and, in 1978, A.B.C. gave her a summer variety series, Mel and Susan Together co-starring Mel Tillis. She was a poster queen who landed a starring role in the 1979 series Cliffhangers and a part in the film Goldengirl, co-starring James Coburn.

45. James Caan

The Godfather actor James Caan, best known for his role as Sonny Corleone (which earned him a nomination for an Oscar and a Golden Globe in 1973), was such a fan of the ’70s that he urged the film industry to ditch the whole concept of movie franchises and return to the classic dramas of that decade.

A portrait of James Caan in the Godfather / James Caan on the red carpet today
Photo by Paramount, Getty Images / David Livingston, Getty Images

The actor who’s now in his 80s is left feeling “negative” about the film industry’s state. “I’ve become very negative about the films of today, and that’s why I leapt at the chance to do a film of the ’70s with talent like this,” he said, speaking of the movie Blood Ties. “I was very fortunate in the ’70s to work with the best actors, the best directors, the best cinematographers.”

44. Walter Matthau

Walter Matthau has looked like an animated version of Ronald Reagan for much of his adult life, so it’s not like he was any poster boy. But there was a three-movie run in the early ’70s of crime thrillers, where he convincingly made a case for himself as one of the best movie tough guys.

Walter Matthau on the phone in a movie 1968 / Walter Matthau outdoors walking in the late 1980s
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It started with 1973’s The Laughing Detective and ended with 1974’s The Taking of Pelham 123. Charley Varrick was the movie in between. It’s his action movie stint that brought Matthau into the conversations at the water coolers.

43. James Brolin

Once the ’70s rolled around, James Brolin was landing lead roles in big movies like The Car, Capricorn One, and West World. T.V. was also calling his name, and between 1969 and ’76, he was Dr. Steven Kiley on the show Marcus Welby, M.D.

James Brolin standing in an open mountain view circa 1977 / James Brolin on the red carpet today
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images / Michael Tullberg, Getty Images

Brolin made a name for himself in the ’70s, and being tall (6’4) meant he was able to take all kinds of leading roles that some actors were too short of portraying. The now 80-year-old has been married to Barbra Streisand for over 23 years. On an unrelated note, his net worth is $50 million.

42. Loni Anderson

The buxom blonde Loni Anderson began her T.V. career with roles on S.W.A.T., Police Woman, and Barnaby Jones. But her breakout role was Jennifer Marlowe, the sexy and intelligent receptionist at W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati, which she played from 1978 to 1982, earning her two Emmy nominations.

Loni Anderson posing on the red carpet in 1979 / Loni Anderson on the red carpet in 2014
Photo by Ron Galella, Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images / Joe Scarnici, WireImage, Getty Images

After W.K.R.P., Anderson became one of the most popular T.V. actresses and poster girls of the late ’70s (and early ’80s). The funny thing is she only debuted as an actress in 1966, with a small part in the Steve McQueen film Nevada Smith. After that, she went ten years before landing another acting gig.

41. Donald Sutherland

Donald Sutherland came from Canada to make over 50 American films and T.V. shows, and we’ve seen him evolve on screen. But the ’70s were a smash decade for Sutherland. Older generations remember him for hits like M*A*S*H, Don’t Look Now, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Donald Sutherland in a velvet suit outside of a theater / Donald Sutherland on the red carpet today
Photo by Art Zelin, Getty Images / Pascal Le Segretain, Getty Images

Sutherland was a bit of a poster boy in his heyday, amassing style points for his wardrobe that just screamed the ’70s. For one, he pulled off the velvet suit perfectly, and the velvet suit is one of the best ways to give the nod to this decade.

40. Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson, the model turned actress, was in films and T.V. shows like Sounder, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, Roots and King. Tyson was memorable with her vivid portrayals of strong Black women, which dramatically changed racial stereotypes in the cinema of the 1970s.

Cicely Tyson holding two Emmy Awards in 1974 / Cicely Tyson on the red carpet shortly before her passing
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images / Dimitrios Kambouris, WireImage, Getty Images

It propelled her towards stardom and fame as a model for civil rights. Tyson, who passed away recently at the age of 96, broke ground for Black actors by refusing to take on roles that were demeaning to Black people. Not only was she a great actress, but she was making moves and meant a lot to many people.

39. Lucille Ball

It was in the ’50s that Lucille Ball became a household name, thanks to I Love Lucy. But she went from one hit T.V. series to the next. By the time the ’70s hit, she was guest-starring on different series, including 1975’s Lucy Gets Lucky and A Lucille Ball Special from the same year.

Lucille Ball on the red carpet when she was younger / Lucille Ball on the red carpet more recently
Photo by Herbert Dorfman, Corbis, Getty Images / Vinnie Zuffante, Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

Then came C.B.S. Salutes Lucy: The First 25 Years (1976), Lucy Calls the President (1977), and Lucy Comes to Nashville (1978). Ball surely loved T.V., but the T.V. seemed to love her more. However, T.V. wasn’t the only screen she was on. Ball also starred in a film called Mame in 1974.

38. Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep has become one of the best actresses of all time, but in the ’70s, she made her debut in the film industry. Her professional stage debut came in 1971 in The Playboy of Seville. She then received a Tony Award nomination in 1976 for Best Featured Actress in a play called A Memory of Two Mondays / 27 Wagons Full of Cotton.

Meryl Streep holding an Academy Award in 1980 / Meryl Streep on the red carpet today
Photo by Michael Montfort, Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images / Samir Hussein, WireImage, Getty Images

1977 was the year that Streep made her screen debut, in the 1977 T.V. film The Deadliest Season. Later that same year, she made her film debut in Julia. From there, her career skyrocketed. Her breakout role, of course, was 1978’s unforgettable film, Deer Hunter.

37. Jimmie Walker

With the Maude spin-off of Good Times, comedian Jimmie Walker, who played the eldest brother JJ, became a breakout star. His co-stars had to take a back seat as producers capitalized on Walker, giving him more screen time each week. Once the catchphrase “Dyn-o-mite!” hit, they hit the jackpot.

Jimmie Walker holding a magazine for a pose circa 1975 / Jimmie Walker on the red carpet in 2013
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images / Larry Marano, FilmMagic, Getty Images

He used the phrase in his mid–’70s T.V. commercial for Panasonic’s line of cassette and 8-track tape players. Walker was a T.V. staple throughout both the ’70s and ’80s, making his rounds on the game and talk show circuits, including Battle of the Network Stars and The Love Boat.

36. Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster was just three years old when she entered the business as a child model in 1965. Two years later, she moved to acting with an appearance in the sitcom Mayberry R.F.D. By the early ’70s, she worked in a number of prime-time series and starred in children’s movies.

Jodie Foster poses for a portrait / Jodie Foster on the red carpet today
Photo by Eric Robert, Sygma, Getty Images / Gregg DeGuire, WireImage, Getty Images

Her breakthrough came with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver from 1976, where she played a teenage prostitute. She pulled it off and earned her first Academy Award nomination. Her other critically acclaimed roles were in the musical Bugsy Malone (1976) and the thriller The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976). She became a teen idol with Disney’s Freaky Friday (1976), Candleshoe (1977), and Foxes (1980).

35. Lynda Carter

It was in 1972 that Lynda Carter won a local Arizona beauty contest and then Miss World U.S.A. After taking some acting classes at New York acting schools, she landed her first acting appearance in 1974 in an episode of the police drama Nakia. She then made appearances on Starsky and Hutch and in several “B” movies.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman circa 1977 / Lynda Carter on the red carpet today
Photo by Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / Lev Radin, Pacific Press, LightRocket, Getty Images

Her career took off when she got the starring role on Wonder Woman as Diana Prince. She almost went broke, though, and nearly returned to Arizona when her manager informed her that Joanna Cassidy lost the part to her. But she’ll always be known as Wonder Woman.

34. Telly Savalas

Telly Savalas doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for a pin-up, but, in 1974, his shirtless cover of People was a real game-changer for the magazine. Thanks to him, it became their first issue to sell a million copies on the newsstand finally. Women were writing to the magazine, asking to see the bottom half of the photo!

Telly Savalas sucking on a lollypop circa 1974 / Telly Savalas at an event in 1992
Photo by Tony Evans, Getty Images / Ron Galella Ltd, Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images

The thing is, Savalas didn’t start his acting career until he was in his late 30s. He starred in the original Cape Fear and did four movies with Burt Lancaster. But it was his role as wisecracking Lieutenant Theo Kojak that turned him into a household name. He also won an Emmy in 1974 for the role.

33. Sissy Spacek

Sissy Spacek showed up in the 1970s and turned heads. The 1973 film Badlands was well-received, and after that, she played the role that people to this day associate her with. 1976’s Carrie became a cult horror film for which she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress.

Sissy Spacek holding a bouquet of flowers wearing a crown at senior prom in the movie Carrie / Sissy Spacek on the red carpet today
Photo by Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / Vera Anderson, WireImage, Getty Images

Three years before her game-changer role, Spacek appeared in two episodes of The Waltons. Many feel as though Spacek defined the era – the leftover flower child, the wounded soul, the bullied girl that had something special. She was quoted once as saying that the ’70s was a “magical time” for artists.

32. Richard Dreyfuss

Richard Dreyfuss’s first role in 1967’s The Graduate was small and uncredited. He said one line: “Shall I get the cops? I’ll get the cops.” In 1973, Dreyfuss starred in the C.B.S. pilot Catch-22, then landed a role in 1973’s American Graffiti.

Richard Dreyfuss in a dirty sweater in a film from the '70s / Richard Dreyfuss on the red carpet in 2016
Photo by Bettmann, Getty Images / Jason LaVeris, FilmMagic, Getty Images

Dreyfuss became a star in Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), both by Steven Spielberg. He finished off the decade by earning the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1978 for his portrayal of a struggling actor in The Goodbye Girl (1977). He was the youngest actor to do so (at 30).

31. Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch was the bombshell who knew how to flaunt it with her fur bikini seen in One Million Years B.C. The role sent her career to a new height, landing her a part in 1973’s The Three Musketeers. Her performance won her a Golden Globe.

Raquel Welch posing for a portrait when she was younger / Raquel Welch on the red carpet today
Photo by Herbert Dorfman, Corbis, Getty Images / Donato Sardella, Porter Magazine, Getty Images

Playboy (which she posed for but not nude) dubbed Welch the “Most Desired Woman” of the 1970s. She was often on the screen as she presented at the Academy Awards several times during the decade. Welch was just one of those stars that the world didn’t get tired of seeing.

30. Ellen Burstyn

Ellen Burstyn’s star was shining in the ’70s. She hit off the decade with a bang, receiving her first Oscar nomination in 1971 for her supporting role in The Last Picture Show. A few years later, she got nominated again for her part in The Exorcist (1973).

Ellen Burstyn sitting on a couch in the film Providence / Ellen Burstyn on the red carpet today
Photo by Sunset Boulevard, Corbis, Getty Images / Mike Coppola, Getty Images

She finally took the trophy home in 1975 for her portrayal of Alice Hyatt in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. In other words, the ’70s was her decade. But if you’re like me, you remember her most from a later time – her eerie role as the mother in Requiem for a Dream (earning her yet another Oscar nomination in 2000).

29. Sam Elliott

The looks, the voice, the mustache – Sam Elliott was one of those actors you were happy to see on the screen. From the cowboy to the philosopher, Elliott played many, many roles. He dropped out of college and moved to L.A. to pursue an acting career.

Sam Elliot at the playboy mansion in 1977 / Sam Elliot on the red carpet today
Photo by Ron Galella, Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images / Gregg DeGuire, FilmMagic, Getty Images

He scored a role in The F.B.I. (1965 to ’74) and a bit part in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), putting himself on the map. Recurring roles on the hit Mission: Impossible (1966 to ’73) and Hawaii Five-O (1968 to ’80), and The Streets of San Francisco (1972 to ’77) made him a staple of T.V.

28. Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall started in theater during the late ’50s, moving his way into T.V. and film during the early ’60s. However, he landed his most famous parts in the early ’70s, with roles like Major Frank Burns in M.A.S.H. (1970), the lead role in THX 1138 (1971), and Tomorrow (1972), which was his personal favorite.

Robert Duvall leaning over a railing in THX 1138 / Robert Duvall on the red carpet in 2019
Source:, Copyright: Warner Bros / Photo by Ira L Black, Corbis, Getty Images

Duvall starred in some of the most popular and acclaimed films and T.V. shows of all time, including To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), The Twilight Zone (1963), The Outer Limits (1964), True Grit (1969), Joe Kidd (1972), The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), The Conversation (1974), Network (1976), and Apocalypse Now (1979).

27. Linda Gray

Linda Gray actually landed her big break in an unusual way. She played Mrs. Robinson’s body double in 1967’s The Graduate, and it was that “performance” that proved to be good enough for her to land her own roles. Her breakthrough role was when she played Sue Ellen on Dallas from 1978 to 1991.

Linda Gray sitting in a theater in the '70s / Linda Gray on the red carpet in 2018
Photo by Art Zelin, Getty Images / Sebastian Reuter, Designer Outlet Soltau, Getty Images

Throughout the ’70s, she landed guest roles on series such as Marcus Welby, M.D., McCloud, and Switch. She also appeared in movies like The Big Rip-Off (1975) and Dogs (1976). In 1977, she played fashion model Linda Murkland, the first transgender T.V. series regular in American.

26. Ricardo Montalban

He’s now known for his role as Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island as well as Khan from Star Trek and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but Ricardo Montalban was ever-present on the ’70s T.V. sets as Chrysler Cordoba’s commercial spokesman. Describing “soft, Corinthian leather,” his part was so memorable and went on to be endlessly parodied.

Ricardo Montalban posing in a back yard in the '70s / Ricardo Montalban in a wheelchair at an event in 2002
Photo by Harry Langdon, Getty Images / Albert L Ortega, WireImage, Getty Images

During his Fantasy Island peak of fame, he drove a custom-built Cordoba that was upholstered in the leather he was famous for praising. Before his time on T.V., he was in dozens of movies and was the first Hispanic actor to be on the cover of Life magazine.

25. Pam Grier

Pam Grier rose to fame as a screen icon in the ’70s by playing bold and assertive women. She played in “blaxploitation” films like Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), and Sheba, Baby (1975). In Coffy, she played a nurse who sought revenge on drug dealers, and her character was advertised as the “baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town!”

Pam Grier posing for a portrait in 1985 / Pam Grier on the red carpet today
Photo by Harry Langdon, Getty Images / Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Grier is believed to be the first Black woman to headline an action film. After publishing a memoir, exposing her affairs with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Richard Pryor, and Freddie Prinze, Grier started focusing on Pam, a biopic of her life story.

24. Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour became the new Hollywood hottie in the ’70s with roles in films like Battlestar Galactica (1978) and The Four Feathers (1978). 1970 was the year Seymour appeared in her first major movie role: The Only Way. In 1973, she made her T.V. debut as Emma Callon in The Onedin Line.

Jane Seymour with a large straw hat on in 1972 / Jane Seymour on the red carpet today
Photo by Hulton-Deutsch Collection, Corbis, Getty Images / Samir Hussein, Avakian, Getty Images

She went from Bond Girl to Medicine Woman, making her a familiar (and welcomed) face on T.V. and in movies. The movie that made her famous was James Bond’s Live and Let Die. From there, she swerved into every kind of genre – fantasy, comedy, and literature.

23. Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Hoffman first drew critical attention and praise for starring in the play called Eh? The role won him a Theatre World Award and a Drama Desk Award. His breakthrough 1967 film role was in The Graduate, and ever since, Hoffman’s career has largely been in cinema. He’s made some random visits to both television and the stage.

Dustin Hoffman looking upwards on the set of The Graduate / Dustin Hoffman on the red carpet today
Photo by Sunset Boulevard, Corbis, Getty Images / Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

He found success in the ’70s playing roles that essentially shaped his acting, with the Western Little Big Man (1971) and the prison drama Papillon (1973). Hoffman concluded the decade with 1979’s family drama Kramer vs. Kramer alongside Meryl Streep. Both actors received Academy Awards for their performances.

22. Carrie Fisher

In 1973, Fisher attended London’s Central School of Speech and Drama for 18 months. Shortly after, she made her film debut in 1975 with the comedy Shampoo, starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, and Goldie Hawn. In 1977, she landed her most famous role as Princess Leia in Star Wars (re-titled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope).

Carrie Fisher with her hair flying backward posing in front of a silver background / Carrie Fisher on the red carpet in 2016
Photo by Lynn Goldsmith, Corbis, Getty Images / Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images

Fisher believed the script was fantastic at the time, but she didn’t expect people would agree. While filming, she and her fellow actors weren’t close, but they bonded after the film’s commercial success.

21. Michael Douglas

The ’70s hit right after Michael Douglas’ first T.V. breakthrough role in a 1969 CBS-TV Playhouse special, “The Experiment.” It was the only time he was credited as “M.K. Douglas.” Douglas started making a name for himself in the early 1970s, appearing in unknown films like Hail, Hero!, and Summertree.

Michael Douglas posing for a portrait sitting on the steps / Michael Douglas on the red carpet today
Photo by Keystone, Getty Images / Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images

He earned a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer. A significant role of his came in the T.V. series The Streets of San Francisco (1972 to’ 76). In 1975, he received the rights to the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest from his father, Kirk Douglas. He produced the film and continued acting in Coma (1978) and in Running (1979).

20. Mary Tyler Moore

When The Dick Van Dyke Show creator Carl Reiner saw Mary Tyler Moore read the first line at her audition, he knew he had found the right actress. The actress he called the “Grace Kelly of comedians” became a star. The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted in 1970, and with her character Mary Richards, Moore had the star power and appeal to pull it off.

Mary Tyler Moore posing in front of a wooden door / Mary Tyler Moore on the red carpet today
Photo by Photoshot, Getty Images / Kevork Djansezxian, Getty Images

The series won 39 Emmy Awards in its seven seasons, creating three spin-offs and two reunion specials. Moore’s company, M.T.M. Enterprises, produced T.V. hits for years, including The Bob Newhart Show, W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati, St. Elsewhere, and Hill Street Blues. Moore became a powerhouse in the industry and a beloved performer for all of us at home.

19. Gene Hackman

Gene Hackman rose to fame in 1967 with his role as Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde. After that, he made heads turn with The French Connection (1971), French Connection II (1975), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Conversation (1974), and Superman (1978).

Gene Hackman as a detective in the film The French Connection / Gene Hackman on the red carpet in the early 2000s
Photo by Bettmann, Getty Images / Evan Agostini, Getty Images

Hackman’s performance in The French Connection was one to remember. He played the brutal cop Popeye Doyle. The fact that viewers rooted for him during the bruise-black police drama/thriller is a credit to the actor who won an Oscar for the role. He was reluctant to do the film’s sequel since too much time passed since the original came out, but he did it anyway.

18. Suzanne Somers

Somers’s career started out in the late ’60s. She then showed her acting chops in 1973’s American Graffiti as the mysterious, beautiful blonde in T-Bird. But T.V. was her true calling; she played roles in numerous shows, like The Rockford Files, Lotsa Luck, and One Day at a Time.

Suzanne Somers posing on haystacks for a portrait / Suzanne Somers arriving at an event today
Photo by Harry Langdon, Getty Images / Paul Archuleta, Getty Images

Once she landed the role that shot her to stardom, as Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company, she was a favorite face on people’s living room screens. It didn’t hurt that she was also a popular poster queen. Her posters were on teenage boys’ walls throughout the country.

17. Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder started his career on stage, making his screen debut in the TV-series Armstrong Circle Theatre in 1962. Wilder’s first major role was in 1968 as Leopold Bloom in The Producers. Then, of course, he starred in the unforgettable Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in 1971.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka / Gene Wilder on the red carpet in 2013
Photo by Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / John Lamparski, WireImage, Getty Images

Wilder was the one who made the ’70s funny, and everyone has a favorite Gene Wilder performance. Regardless of which film was your favorite, the actor was one of those impossible-to-dislike actors who gave every film some comic relief.

16. John Travolta

John Travolta’s first significant film role was as the bully Billy Nolan, who played a prank on Sissy Spacek’s character in Carrie in 1976. Around the same time, he landed his star-making role as Vinnie Barbarino in the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter (1975 to ’79).

A portrait of John Travolta circa 1970 / John Travolta on the red carpet today
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images / Amanda Edwards, A.B.A., Getty Images

Don’t forget that Travolta had a hit single, Let Her In, which peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in July of 1976. He then went on to star in two of his most noted screen roles: Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Danny Zuko in Grease (1978). Saturday Night Fever earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, becoming, at age 24, one of the youngest performers ever nominated for the award.

15. Alan Alda

Alan Alda was shooting a movie at the Utah State Prison when he was offered the chance the star in M*A*S*H, the show that changed television. Alda quickly became the star of the show and even wrote and directed some of the most memorable episodes.

Alan Alda with a deck of cards in the series MASH / Alan Alda on the red carpet today
Photo by Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / Robin Marchant, Getty Images

Alda was the first person in T.V. history to win an Emmy for acting, writing, and directing the same series. Off-screen, Alda embraced the ’70s and actually became a prominent male voice for feminism. He was an active campaigner for the E.R.A. (which never passed) and even made the cover of Ms. Magazine. He wrote an essay, coining the phrase “testosterone poisoning,” as he referred to the prevailing male attitude towards violence, women, and competition.

14. Robert De Niro

De Niro’s first film role, which took place when he was 20 in 1963’s The Wedding Party, didn’t come out until 1969. He then entered the ’70s and only went up from there. He appeared in Bloody Mama in 1970 and gained attention as a dying Major League Baseball player in Bang the Drum Slowly in 1973.

Robert De Niro on the set of Mean Streets / Robert De Niro on the red carpet today
Photo by Sunset Boulevard, Corbis, Getty Images / Kevin Winter, Getty Images

He started collaborating with Martin Scorsese in 1973 as he starred in Mean Streets. De Niro had a pivotal role in The Godfather Part II (1974) as the young Vito Corleone. In 1976, he appeared in 1900, The Last Tycoon, and of course, Taxi Driver. There was no looking back for one of the best actors on the planet.

13. Al Pacino

1971’s The Panic in Needle Park, in which he played a heroin addict, brought Al Pacino to Francis Ford Coppola’s attention, who then cast him as Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972). Funnily enough, Pacino was actually teased on the set of the film because he was short.

Al Pacino in a wedding scene from the Godfather / Al Pacino on the red carpet today
Photo by Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / Axelle, Bauer-Griffin, FilmMagic, Getty Images

He knocked it out of the park, though, and earned an Academy Award nomination. In 1973, he starred in Scarecrow and was nominated for another Oscar for Best Actor for Serpico. In 1974, Pacino returned to his role as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II, which became the first sequel to win the Best Picture Oscar. Pacino, meanwhile, was nominated for his third Academy Award.

12. Clint Eastwood

Without Clint Eastwood, the ’70s wouldn’t be as cool. It was during that decade that Eastwood solidified his role as the ultimate tough guy. In the ’70s, Eastwood was in 15 films, most notably the Dirty Harry franchise, as well as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter, and Escape from Alcatraz.

Clint Eastwood as a cowboy in the film Rawhide / Clint Eastwood on the red carpet today
Photo by C.B.S., Getty Images / Amanda Edwards, Getty Images

Almost all of his films were majorly successful, but what separated Eastwood from his fellow actors was his on-screen persona. It didn’t matter which character he played (whether it was an outsider and outlaw or police inspector). He commanded the room and was always cool, calm, and collected.

11. Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds was the high-school football star turned movie star who stole the show in the ’70s. He was best known for putting his charisma and playfulness into macho roles in action films, sports movies, and even comedies.

Burt Reynolds in the car from Smoky and the Bandit / Burt Reynolds on the red carpet today
Photo by Art Zelin, Getty Images / Noam Galai, Tribeca Film Festival, Getty Images

Everyone loved Smokey and the Bandit, The Cannonball Run, The Longest Yard, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. By the ’70s, he became a sex symbol, famously posing nude on a bearskin rug as Cosmopolitan’s centerfold (in the April 1972 issue). But he could be serious, as he was in his breakout film, 1972’s Deliverance, as well as in 1997’s Boogie Nights.

10. Goldie Hawn

Goldie Hawn made her feature film debut in a small role as a giggling dancer in 1968 in The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band. She was credited for it as “Goldie Jeanne.” Her first major film role in Cactus Flower (1969) earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as Walter Matthau’s suicidal fiancée.

A portrait of Goldie Hawn circa 1965 / Goldie Hawn on the red carpet today
Photo by Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / Gilbert Carrasquillo, FilmMagic, Getty Images

After that win, her career took off, and she starred in a string of successful comedies like There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970), $ (1971), and Butterflies Are Free (1972). She also proved herself a worthy dramatic actress with films like The Girl from Petrovka and The Sugarland Express, as well as Shampoo in 1975. She hosted two T.V. specials: Pure Goldie in 1971 and The Goldie Hawn Special in 1978.

9. Steve McQueen

The “King of Cool” made his mark before the ’70s, but his anti-hero persona made him a box-office draw during the ’60s and ’70s. Steve McQueen earned an Academy Award nomination for The Sand Pebbles, but he had many memorable roles in The Cincinnati Kid, The Thomas Crown Affair, Le Mans, Bullitt, The Getaway, and Papillon.

Steve McQueen walking past a car in a scene from The Thomas Crown Affair
Photo by Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

In 1974, he became the highest-paid movie star in the world, yet he didn’t even act in a film for another four years. He was known for being combative with directors and producers, but his popularity constantly got him placed in films, which enabled him to command the biggest payouts.

8. Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton-John’s career skyrocketed after starring in 1978’s Grease. She was offered the role of Sandy when she met producer Allan Carr at Helen Reddy’s dinner party. At the time, she was upset with her Tomorrow experience and was worried that she was too old to play a high school student (she was, after all, 29 during the filming of Grease.

Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in Grease / Olivia Newton-John on the red carpet today
Source:, Copyright: Paramount Pictures / Alberto E Rodriguez, Getty Images

Still, she insisted on a screen test with John Travolta. The film worked with her Australian accent by recasting the play’s original American Sandy Dumbrowski to Sandy Olson – and the Australian moved with her family to the U.S.

7. Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett rose to international fame after posing for that iconic, red swimsuit poster – the one that became the bestselling pin-up poster in history. During the ’70s, she appeared in T.V. series like Harry O (1974 to ’76) and The Six Million Dollar Man (1974 to ’78) with then-husband Lee Majors.

Farrah Fawcett posing in a grassy field / Farrah Fawcett on the red carpet today
Photo by Hulton Archive, Getty Images / Michael Tran, FilmMagic, Getty Images

Her breakthrough role was as private investigator Jill Munroe during the first season of Charlie’s Angels (between 1976 and ’77). The show propelled Fawcett to superstardom, but she decided to leave the show after the first season, which led to legal disputes. She eventually signed a contract requiring her to make six appearances in the third and fourth seasons (1978 to ’80). She received her first Golden Globe nomination for the show.

6. Barbra Streisand

The It girl of the ’70s might just have been the one and only Babs. After a successful singing career and two musical films (Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly!) in the late ’60s, Streisand’s career flourished in the ’70s. She was also prominent on the pop charts during the decade.

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl / Barbra Streisand on the red carpet today
Photo by Silver Screen Collection, Getty Images / Todd Williamson, The Hollywood Reporter, Getty Images

She had Top 10 hits like The Way We Were (No. 1), Evergreen (the Love Theme from A Star Is Born) (No. 1), and No More Tears (Enough Is Enough). As the decade ended, Streisand was dubbed the most successful female singer in America – only Elvis Presley and The Beatles sold more albums than she did.

5. Marlon Brando

By the time the ’70s rolled around, Marlon Brando was in his 50s and an established actor, but The Godfather and its sequels were the talk of the town (and still are). Brando was much-talked about in the ’70s because he famously declined his Oscar for The Godfather.

Marlon Brando posing for a portrait in a leather jacket circa 1953 / Marlon Brando outside of a courthouse in 1990
Photo by Columbia Pictures, Getty Images / Vinnie Zuffante, Getty Images

On March 27, 1973, Brando declined the Academy Award. In place of him, Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather attended the ceremony, stating that Brando “very regretfully” could not accept the award in protest of Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans in film.

4. Faye Dunaway

Faye Dunaway’s career started out in the early ’60s on Broadway. She made her film debut in 1967’s The Happening. That was the year she rose to fame with the gangster film Bonnie and Clyde – the movie that earned her her first Academy Award nomination.

Faye Dunaway posing for a portrait with one hand on her hip and the other on the back of her head / Faye Dunaway on the red carpet in 2017
Photo by Bettmann, Getty Images / Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

The most notable of her ’70s films include the neo-noir mystery Chinatown in 1974 (for which she received her second Oscar nomination), the action-drama The Towering Inferno in 1974, the political thriller Three Days of the Condor in 1975, and the satirical Network from 1976 (for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress).

3. Robert Redford

The ’70s were Robert Redford’s heyday, but that’s not saying much since he’s been a staple of Hollywood forever. The now 84-year-old has been on screens since 1960, but in the ’70s, he became a box office sensation.

Robert Redford posing for a portrait smiling in front of windows with green blinds / Robert Redford on the red carpet in 2018
Photo by Herbert Dorfman, Corbis, Getty Images / Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

The decade was good to him, and he took his profits from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Downhill Racer to buy an entire ski area on Mount Timpanogos in Utah, called Timp Haven. He then renamed it Sundance and founded the Sundance Film Festival. The man just hasn’t stopped since.

2. Diane Keaton

The quirky tomboy actress has always been a favorite. Her career began on stage, but she made her screen debut in 1970. Her breakthrough role was Kay Adams-Corleone in The Godfather (1972). But if a film shaped her early career, it was with director and co-star Woody Allen, starting with Play It Again, Sam in 1972.

Diane Keaton at the Academy Awards in 1976 / Diane Keaton on the red carpet in 2019
Photo by Michael Montfort, Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images / Rodin Eckenroth, WireImage, Getty Images

Then came Sleeper (1973) and Love and Death (1975), which established her as a comedic actor, and then Annie Hall (1977), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Afterward, Keaton became an accomplished dramatic actress, starring in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) and all her other roles after the ’70s.

1. Jack Nicholson

What would the ’70s be like without Jack Nicholson? Boring. He starred in Five Easy Pieces in 1970, which became his persona-defining role (and earned him an Oscar nod). Once the movie became a blockbuster, Nicholson turned into a leading man and was dubbed the “new American anti-hero.”

Jack Nicholson holding an Academy Award in 1976 / Jack Nicholson on the red carpet in 2016
Photo by Michael Montfort, Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images / Patrick McMullan, Getty Images

Critics wondered whether he would become another Marlon Brando or James Dean. He was quoted as saying, “I have much sought after. Your name becomes a brand image like a product. You become Campbell’s soup, with thirty-one different varieties of roles you can play.” Jack takes the cake in this one.