1. Maggie Smith
Young McGonagall! Young Dowager Countess of Grantham! Young nun from Sister Act! Maggie Smith has landed some incredible roles in the last two decades, but she won both her Oscars in the ’70s for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and California Suite.
2. Michael Caine
Michael Caine was a badass in the ’70s, staring in thrillers like Get Carter and The Eagle Has Landed. He was nominated for an Oscar in ‘73, but didn’t win his two academy awards until ‘87 and ‘00. And this year at seventy-nine he was in one of the summer’s biggest blockbuster reprising his role as Alfred in The Dark Knight Rises.
3. Gena Rowlands
She might be best known now as older Ally in The Notebook, but Gena Rowlands acted in an impressive collection movies for TV and the big screen in the ’70s, winning a Golden Globe for 1974’s A Woman Under the Influence.
4. Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson has had a string of critically lauded roles after he turned sixty-five, getting an Oscar nod for 2002’s About Schmidt and two Golden Globe nominations for The Departed (2006) and Something’s Gotta Give (2003) . He’s known success for the last four decades, but in the 70s alone he was nominated for five Oscars, winning one in 1976 for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
5. Ellen Burstyn
Ellen Burstyn won her Oscar in 1975 for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. In the last ten years Burstyn has settled into the role of grandma playing the mother of Sigourney Weaver on Political Animals, Christopher Meloni on Law and Order: SVU and Sandra Bullock in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
6. Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro was nominated for three Oscars in the 70s, winning for the role of Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. In more recent years he’s tried out comedy with varying degrees of success, ranging from Meet the Parents to the embarrassing Little Fockers.
7. Sally Field
The youngest actor on this list at not quite sixty-six, Sally Field seems to be setting the ground work for her senior career, playing Aunt May in this summer’s Spider-Man reboot after a five year run as Nora Walker, mother of five and grandmother of seven on Brothers and Sisters. Field won an Emmy for Sybil in 1977 and won an Oscar for 1979’s Norma Rae.
8. Al Pacino
Al Pacino played his most iconic roles in the 70s: Michael Corleone in The Godfather Parts I and II, the title character in Serpico, Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon. He’s had some missteps in his more recent career (like appearing in Jack and Jill) but he’s also had victories, like winning an Emmy for 2010’s You Don’t Know Jack.
9. Cloris Leachman
Cloris Leachman had been working in TV and movies since the ’40s but it wasn’t until 1972 that she won an Oscar, bringing home a statue for her role in The Last Picture Show. Now Leachman can be found playing the senile grandmother on the upcoming third season of Raising Hope.
10. Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken built up his career through acting in TV movies then hitting the big screen in the ’70s, landing an Oscar for his performance in 1978’s The Deer Hunter. Walken’s career is still strong; in the last ten years he’s been nominated for another Oscar for Catch Me If You Can (2003) and a SAG award for Hairspray (2008).
11. Louise Fletcher
Louise Fletcher’s claim to fame in the ’70s was her Oscar winning performance as the mean spirited Nurse Ratched in 1976’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Now in her seventies Fletcher is still playing unlovable characters. Last year she played a dying convict absentee mother in multi-episode arcs on both Private Practice and Shameless.