The ’70s. Rarely does something that’s such a pejorative (picture any home-design show host dismissing a kitchen, floor, or wall color as “so ’70s”) provide so much joy to watch in TV shows and movies. Perhaps it’s the sheer maximalism of the decade—the patterns, the textures, the heft of the furniture—or the fact that its screaming oranges, avocados, and mustards are so opposite of today’s popular calm and neutral tones.
Whatever the psychology, ’70s design trends in movies continue to delight audiences and inspire new generations of directors and designers, up to the present day. Films set in the time period are as plentiful and wide-ranging as ever—from the upcoming animated kids’ film Minions: The Rise of Gru (a prequel to the hit Despicable Me) to the recent A24 slasher film X, which starred Mia Goth as an adult film star. Add to this the full-force comeback of the disco ball, and we may just be living in a bona fide ’70s renaissance.
Below, AD rounds up the best examples of ’70s design to ever hit the silver screen.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
In a roundup like this, there’s no avoiding the movie that’s shorthand for the major style points of ’70s fashion and nightlife. Fever’s dirty secret is that it was pretty gauche upon release—those butterfly collars and flared pants went out almost instantly, as did disco itself. But it caught a moment in time that endures. Watching the movie today after two years of pandemic isolation, it plays almost as sci-fi: Those gauzy dance sequences really do suggest that magic could happen around the corner, and John Travolta’s peacock uniforms flash back to a time when confidence was inflation-proof currency.
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
The Faye Dunaway thriller is no narrative masterpiece, but it’s been majorly rediscovered in recent years because of its design elements, which captured ’70s Manhattan at its louche, licentious peak. Don’t worry about the fact that the killer is pretty obvious halfway through. Just revel in the interiors (Mars’s mirrored bedroom, her photo studio at the West Side piers), Dunaway’s costumes (capes, gauzy blouses, and split skirts, convenient for all that on-the-job crouching), and the photo shoots, done by Helmut Newton.
Boogie Nights (1997)
The meticulous period design in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1998 film set the standard for future nostalgia projects (Mad Men‘s diligence owes a debt here), and every inch is impressive, from upholstered vans to the shag-carpeted Valley homes where dirty deeds were done not-so-cheap. The film is notable for imbuing scandalous characters with real life, and the interiors are a powerful suggestion that these people really lived—from Dirk Diggler’s drab childhood home to the wood-paneled poolside “party house.”
American Hustle (2013)
The production designers of David O. Russell’s crime caper went all out here, creating more than 100 vintage settings that gave its self-obsessed late-’70s characters—and the movie itself—depth and breadth. From Jennifer Lawrence’s tacky Long Island tract house to Amy Adams’s sleek Upper East Side abode to the gaudy powder rooms and offices where the characters do battle, the design nails the mundane, the aspirational, and the almost obscene.
The Nice Guys (2016)
As Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe make their way through various residences and retailers of sketchy reputation in late-’70s LA, they swim through a suitably Garish ecosystem where no beveled mirror, swath of wood paneling, or swatch of printed wallpaper is out of place . The sets and costumes are as entertaining as the performances and the Gloria-meets-Boogie Nights plots.
Licorice Pizza (2021)
After setting the nostalgic standard in Boogie Nightsdirector Paul Thomas Anderson winds back the clock in his recent romantic comedy, whose production design manages to capture both very specific 1973 San Fernando Valley culture and timeless teenage suburban-strip-mall ennui.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest
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