With his trademark grin and deep voice, the late James Coburn is one of the most recognizable icons in Hollywood to this day. While he is predominantly known for playing tough guys in action, wartime, and western movies, Coburn was also no stranger to more lightweight roles in movies and television and could bring them to life just as well as any gunslinger.
His best movies as ranked by IMDb encompass a number of genres in movies, with one movie even covering three genres. These movies include some of the most iconic titles in cinema history, as well as some relatively obscure yet delightful movies.
10 The Last Of Sheila (1973) – 7.3
Neo-noir The Last of Sheila is a cat-and-mouse mystery in which a wealthy widower, whose wife was killed a year ago in a hit-and-run, invites guests to his yacht to play a scavenger hunt with deadly intentions. Film critic Roger Ebert describes the movie as “a devilishly complicated thriller of superior class.”
Coburn played the wealthy widower in question, Clinton Greene, who is driven to find and expose his wife’s killer in an unusual game of secrets and gossip. So it’s an unexpected plot twist when Greene suddenly ends up dead later in the movie. The Last of Shelia‘s labyrinth plot was constructed by Psycho actor Anthony Perkins and acclaimed composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who both created an engaging mystery that allowed Coburn to act in a rare sophisticated role that didn’t involve spurs.
9 Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973) – 7.3
In American Western history, Pat Garrett was a bartender, sheriff, and customs agent who was most famous for killing the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid. So it seems only fitting that with his tough-guy persona that Coburn should play the heroic sheriff in this 1973 Western drama.
Directed by Sam Peckinpah, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is not only famous for starring Coburn. Legendary musician Bob Dylan was in charge of the movie’s score and the songs, the most notable one being “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” It’s Dylan’s best song to feature in any movie.
8 Cross Of Iron (1977) – 7.5
Cross Of Iron is a war movie set on the Eastern Front during World War II. The movie wasn’t well-received at the time of release due to mixed reviews and coming out at the same time as the first Star Wars movie. However, it performed well in Europe and has been more internationally recognized since. It was praised by Orson Welles and Quentin Tarantino used it as inspiration for Inglourious Basterds.
Once again directed by Peckinpah, Coburn played the leading role of platoon leader Rolf Steiner. According to the Los Angeles Times, Cross of Iron was one of Coburn’s favorite movies to work on, along with Pat Garrett. In watching the film, audiences can understand why as Cross of Iron expertly conveys the horrors of war without any false sentiment.
7 The Player (1992) – 7.5
Interestingly, two of Coburn’s top ten movies on IMDb only feature him briefly. Coburn was one of the 65 celebrities to cameo in The Player, a satirical black comedy about a Hollywood studio executive trying to find which scriptwriter has been sending him death threats. The movie did well on release, winning two Golden Globes and receiving three Oscar nominations.
Alongside Coburn, among the high-profile stars to appear in the movie include Cher, Jeff Goldblum, Angelica Houston, Burt Reynolds, and Bruce Willis. The result was a modern-day classic as The Player examined the perils of celebrity culture and the moral bankruptcy of Hollywood.
6 The Muppet Movie (1979) – 7.6
To find The Muppet Movie on Coburn’s best IMDb movies is both unexpected and delightful. The Muppet Movie was first silver-screen outing for Jim Henson’s beloved characters, in which Kermit the Frog venture across America to Hollywood, meeting new friends and avoiding the mean Doc Hopper along the way.
Coburn remains true to his tough-guy act by playing the mean owner of the rundown El Sleezo Cafe, where Kermit first meets Fozzie Bear. Because Coburn plays it straight, the comedy is amplified as he acts so serious while talking to a green felt puppet. Coburn later guest-starred in an episode of The Muppet Show, where he tries to teach wild drummer Animal about meditation.
5 Duck, You Sucker! (1971) – 7.6
Directed by the creator of the spaghetti Western genre, Sergio Leone, Duck, You Sucker! (also known as A Fistful of Dynamite) was the second installment of the Once Upon A Time trilogy. The movie did not perform well at the time of release but has since become a recognized classic as a spaghetti Western and holds a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Coburn plays John, an IRA explosives expert haunted by his past who teams up with bandit Juan (played by Rod Steiger). The scene where John rescues Juan from a firing squad is regarded as one of the best scenes from Leone’s spaghetti Westerns.
4 The Magnificent Seven (1960) – 7.7
A household title in the Western genre, The Magnificent Seven is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s movie Seven Samurai. The titular seven, which includes Steve McQueen in one of his best Westerns, are hired one by one to protect a Mexican village against ruthless outlaws.
The knife expert Britt is true to Coburn’s cool tough-guy persona and he may be one of Coburn’s most iconic characters. The moment where Coburn effortlessly deflects a bullet with a knife is one of the movie’s many highlights.
3 Charade (1963) – 7.9
Often called “the best Hitchcock film not directed by Hitchcock,” the romantic thriller Charade stars two Hollywood icons along with Coburn, Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. When Hepburn’s husband is found murdered, she is pursued by three men who her late husband double-crossed and made off with a vast fortune.
One of these three men is James Coburn as Tex Panthollow. According to Variety, Coburn, along with Ned Glass and George Kennedy, “make an effective trio of villainous cutthroats.” The scene where Coburn threatens Hepburn by throwing burning matches on her in an enclosed phone booth is terrifying in its simple brutality.
2 Monsters Inc. (2001) – 8.1
According to IMDb, the second-best of Coburn’s movies is the beloved Pixar classic Monsters Inc. Because of its great story, animation, and a cast of memorable characters, Monsters Inc. has remained a popular animated film for years, spawning the prequel Monsters University, and the sequel Disney+ series, Monsters at Work.
One character that fans would like to see return in Monsters at Work is Coburn’s character – the crablike former CEO of Monsters Inc, Mr. Waternoose. Coburn is one of the many fantastic stars in the movie and his voice work on the surprise villain is subtle but extremely effective.
1 The Great Escape (1963) – 8.2
Wartime epic The Great Escape is widely regarded as a Hollywood classic and for good reason. Not only is it due to its memorable title and distinct hummable theme tune, but also one of the greatest stunts in movie history.
Alongside a star-studded cast including Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough, Coburn is the Australian flying Officer Louis Sedgewick, who is also known as the Manufacturer. While not his most notable role (perhaps due to his questionable accent), there’s no denying his part in what is considered one of the most iconic war movies of all time.