He made occasional appearances until taking the role of Police Sergeant Neil Howie in the thriller The Wicker Man in 1973. Many critics have cited the final scene in The Wicker Man as one of the greatest visual shots in cinema history. Woodward was offered a cameo role in the 2005 remake but declined. He also appeared in the 1982 film Who Dares Wins, also known as The Final Option, as Commander Powell.
Woodward played the title role in the 1980 Australian biographical film drama Breaker Morant, which was highly acclaimed and his presence brought the film worldwide attention. Woodward also had a supporting role in the 2007 action comedy Hot Fuzz. His last lead film role was that of the Reverend Frederick Densham in A Congregation of Ghosts; the story of an eccentric vicar who is said to have alienated his congregation and preached to cardboard cut-outs
Robin Hardy, who directed The Wicker Man said, "He was one of the greatest actors of his generation, without a doubt, with a broad career on American television as well as on British film." Sir Noel Coward once said of him, "He was one of the nicest and most co-operative actors I've ever met or worked with."
The late 1970s were spent on both stage and film, but it was not until he took the lead role in the American television series The Equalizer (1985-89) as a British former intelligence operative that he found recognition and popularity exceeding that of Callan. After filming a few episodes of the third season, Woodward suffered a massive coronary. For several episodes, additional actors were brought in to reduce the workload on Woodward as he recovered from the condition. The first episode filmed following Woodward's heart attack involved his character being severely injured by a KGB bullet, providing Woodward with a chance to rest over several episodes. Later in the season, Woodward resumed his full duties and carried the show through an additional, fourth season during the 1988-1989 season
In 1999 Woodward appeared alongside his son Peter in The Long Road, an episode of the Babylon 5 spin off, Crusade, on which Peter was a regular cast member. While both actors were playing the part of unrelated Technomages, the on-screen chemistry between them was clear.