A crowd-pleasing movie wins best picture over a handful of films with more troubling themes — that’s the short version of what happened at the Academy Awards 40 years ago.
The list of best picture nominees in 1977 featured several now-classic movies with dark overtones. “Network,” Sidney Lumet’s satire about a morally bankrupt media, became the last film to earn three acting Oscars, for Faye Dunaway, Beatrice Straight and Peter Finch (who became the first actor to win posthumously, having died two months before the ceremony). “All the President’s Men,” a step-by-step account of The Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, lost best picture but earned Jason Robards a supporting actor Oscar for playing Post editor Ben Bradlee. Also in the running were “Taxi Driver,” Martin Scorsese’s character study of a psychotic loner, and “Bound for Glory,” Hal Ashby’s fictionalized biopic of Woody Guthrie (played by David Carradine).
In some of the lower-profile Oscar categories, there were several notable nods and wins. Lina Wertmuller became the first woman nominated for best director (she’s only one of four in Oscar history), while Barbara Kopple’s “Harlan County USA,” about striking coal miners in Kentucky, won for best documentary. (It’s still considered a landmark in its genre.) The Oscar for best score went to Jerry Goldsmith for — oddly enough — the horror film “The Omen,” while the winner of best song was “Evergreen,” from the Barbra Streisand-Kris Kristofferson romance “A Star Is Born.” (Streisand co-wrote the song with Paul Williams.)
And the Oscar for best picture? It went to Sylvester Stallone’s story of an underdog boxer from Philadelphia, “Rocky.” Of the film’s 10 nominations — including supporting actor for Burt Young and best song for “Gonna Fly Now” — it also won best film editing and best director (John G. Avildsen).