The renowned Clint Eastwood has appeared in over 60 films, many of which he has directed himself. With a successful movie and music career, Eastwood is one of the most enduring directors in Hollywood, with iconic films such as Unforgiven earning him many different awards from across the globe.
Honorable mentions for Eastwood’s best films include The Bridges of Madison County, which earned 90% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and the classic Dirty Harry, which earned 89%. Eastwood earned Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards for Million Dollar Baby, which earned 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. But do his movies score higher when he’s in front of the camera or in the director’s chair?
10 DIRECTOR: Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) – 91%
Letters from Iwo Jima follows an intense battle during World War 2 from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers that fought in it. The tragic main character is played by Ken Watanabe, known for his roles in Godzilla and The Last Samurai. The action scenes in Letters from Iwo Jima are intense and the drama has a lot of heart, as expected for an Eastwood-directed film.
Letters from Iwo Jima was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards and was a companion film to Flags of Our Fathers (2006), which showed the same events from the American side of the conflict.
9 DIRECTOR: High Plains Drifter (1973) – 93%
Eastwood plays the Stranger, a mysterious man who seeks out justice in a corrupt Old West town. High Plains Drifter is brilliantly directed, featuring a ton of violence as well as strange and evocative imagery. At its core, this is a revenge story, with a sprinkle of mystery and ghostly spookiness sprinkled in.
The Stranger is charged with defending a small town from a trio of criminals that have been released from prison, but the Stranger isn’t some conquering hero. He has his own motives, he can be every bit as cruel as the criminals; he wants the townspeople to pay just as much as the bad guys.
8 DIRECTOR: Honkytonk Man (1982) – 93%
This musical drama is loosely based on the life of 1920s country singer Jimmie Rodgers. Eastwood plays Red Stovall, a singer who travels to Nashville to perform at an important audition despite his worsening tuberculosis. Eastwood stars alongside his actual son, Kyle Eastwood, who plays Red’s nephew Whit.
Although Honkytonk Man was not a complete financial success, it has many endearing qualities, including a feel-good tone and sweet, heart-wrenching ending. Kyle Eastwood is an accomplished jazz bassist, and he also composed music for Gran Torino (2008) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).
7 DIRECTOR: Pale Rider (1985, 93%)
Eastwood plays Preacher, a lone rider who represents Death in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Preacher protects a small town from a corrupt mining gang and their armed thugs, a theme that recurs throughout Eastwood’s films. Much like High Plains Drifter, this film contains ghostly elements, but Preacher is much more benevolent towards the people he wants to protect.
Pale Rider contains many religious themes, with Preacher quoting a few bible verses, as well as saying “God works in mysterious ways.” Greed is also present, as the large mining company wants to wring the small town for every penny they’ve got.
6 ACTOR: Coogan’s Bluff (1968, 95%)
Clint Eastwood played the titular role in this crime thriller from the ’60s. Coogan’s Bluff was directed by Don Siegel, who also directed Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and worked closely with Eastwood on several other films.
Coogan is a deputy sheriff who must transport a killer to prison, but the killer escapes, and Coogan must obtain him to achieve his goal. This character sets up the later roles that Eastwood would play — the macho archetype of the tough, take-charge cop.
5 ACTOR: In The Line Of Fire (1993, 96%)
Eastwood stars alongside John Malkovich and Rene Russo as Frank Horrigan, a Secret Service agent who is wracked with guilt over his failure to prevent the JFK assassination. A shooter threatens to kill the current President, and to make up for his past mistakes, Horrigan requests to protect him.
The juxtaposition of Malkovich’s careful dialogue and Eastwood’s blunt actions make for a compelling drama that was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing at the Academy Awards. Malkovich was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
4 ACTOR: Escape From Alcatraz (1979, 96%)
Based on an escape attempt from the real Alcatraz prison, Eastwood’s main character, Frank Morris, teams up with other prisoners and attempts to escape the island. Escape from Alcatraz is similar in plot to The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and was Danny Glover’s film debut.
Like Shawshank, the main character clashes with a cruel and dehumanizing warden, a trope often present in prison films. Escape from Alcatraz is tense and full of emotion, ensuring that the audience empathizes with its characters.
3 DIRECTOR: Unforgiven (1992, 96%)
Eastwood plays William “Bill” Munny, a retired bounty hunter who reluctantly returns to killing after many years. Unforgiven examines and criticizes aspects of previous Westerns, exploring the burden of murder and exposing “heroic” figures as cowards who kill for their own gain. The film was remade in 2013 and starred Ken Watanabe, who worked alongside Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima.
Unforgiven was one of the best Westerns of the ’90s and earned four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director for Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor for Gene Hackman, and Best Film Editing. Although Eastwood claimed that this would be his last Western, his newest movie in 2021 will also be a Western, titled Cry Macho.
2 ACTOR: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (1966, 97%)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly follows three gunslingers trying to find buried treasure. Eastwood plays benevolent bounty hunter Blondie (also known as Joe or The Man With No Name), representing the Good in the title. Blondie opposes the mercenary Angel Eyes (the Bad) and teams up with the bandit Tuco (the Ugly) to get to the treasure first.
This is one of Eastwood’s best movies and an enduring classic. There are so many elements of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly that still hold up today, such as the iconic score, brilliant cinematography, and intense performances.
1 ACTOR: A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) – 98%
Like many Westerns, A Fistful of Dollars begins with a stranger riding into town and seeking out what he can gain, which in this case is money. Eastwood plays an anti-hero who pits two rich families against one another for his own gain, differing from his previous role as the conventional protagonist of the TV show Rawhide.
Sergio Leone is by far the most well-known Spaghetti Western director, and his A Fistful of Dollars popularized the genre.