The Best of Clint Eastwood

It’s Clint Eastwood’s birthday on the 31st of May so Top 10 Films is celebrating the iconic Hollywood actor-director’s greatest work. The team picks their faves…

Top 10 Films Clint Eastwood

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Clint Eastwood is Hollywood royalty. It seems like he’s been around forever and when you consider he’s been making movies consistently since the 1960s, it’s easy to see why he’s such a recognisable piece of American film history. Eastwood rose to fame thanks largely to Sergio Leone’s famed spaghetti westerns. The “Dollars Trilogy” as they became known included A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and audience favourite The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. It was here that he introduced audiences to not only the Man with No Name but a new kind of western that shirked romanticism in favour of a more bleak, violent outlook on the period, populated by rogue gunfighters and unscrupulous lawmakers as well as, notably, the anti-hero.

Find out why we rated Dirty Harry as Clint Eastwood’s best film

Eastwood’s films with director Sergio Leone made him a star in his native America but failed to win over the critics. For instance, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, a commercial success on its US release and now considered one of the genre’s greatest films, was dismissed by many of America’s most celebrated critics. This, however, did not prevent Eastwood from pursuing more high profile roles in his homeland with Hang ‘Em High appearing in 1968. With a high percentage of box office receipts going directly into the actor’s pocket, Eastwood was able to set up his own production company and effectively pick and choose his projects alongside a great deal of creative control.

Top 10 Films Clint Eastwood

By 1971, there were few stars shining as brightly in Hollywood. Clint Eastwood was the man of the moment. With Coogan’s Bluff, Where Eagle’s Dare, Kelly’s Heroes and The Beguiled thrilling audiences, Eastwood would soon secure his status as American cinema’s most sought-after leading man. First, he directed and starred in Play Misty For Me. The film featured a disc-jockey (played by Eastwood) who has a one-night stand with a fan only to find she’s a possessive, mentally unstable head case who would rather see him dead than back on the air. This won him widespread critical acclaim, both for his performance and his direction. It was the first time in his career that American critics had joined together in praising his work.

Is 2008’s Gran Torino Eastwood’s greatest film as actor & director? Read why I think it is…

This was followed by perhaps the most famous film on his CV. Dirty Harry arrived the same year as Play Misty For Me, and saw Eastwood move the masculine mystery and machismo of his spaghetti westerns to the contemporary detective drama. The film has been credited with beginning the “loose-cannon cop” trend within detective stories, a genre that would find widespread popularity (and franchise viability) in buddy cop movies such as Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon. Dirty Harry was also praised by author Eric Lichtenfeld for developing, through Eastwood’s role as Dirty Harry, the “first true archetype” of the action film genre. Here was a character who was as tough as nails, sharp on the eye, and had a good line or two of dialogue to back-up his street smarts. “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Amid turning down some notable roles during the 1970s such as an offer to play James Bond following Sean Connery’s withdrawal from the role, and the opportunity to play the part that would go to Martin Sheen in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Eastwood mixed successful Dirty Harry sequels with a number of other projects. Buddy road movie Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which pleased critics but only made a modest box office return, arrived in 1974, thriller The Eiger Sanction in 1975, comedy Every Which Way but Loose in 1978, and prison movie Escape From Alcatraz in 1979. Eastwood also starred in and directed westerns High Plains Drifter (1973) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) as well as action caper The Gauntlet (1979) alongside his long-time off-screen lover Sondra Locke.

Find out why we called The Gauntlet Eastwood’s dumbest movie to date

The 1980s saw Clint Eastwood direct and star in his own vehicles such as Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, Heartbreak Ridge and jazz biopic Bird about musician Charlie “Bird” Parker. He also made another sequel in the Dirty Harry franchise, 1983’s Sudden Impact. Other films in which he appeared under the direction of another filmmaker included Any Which Way You Can and “Dirty Harry 5” The Dead Pool. Eastwood also starred in critically acclaimed Tightrope in 1984 which, while not being credited for the direction of the film (that “honour” went to Richard Tuggle), is considered the actor’s film given that he directed most of it because he felt Tuggle was working too slowly.

Rodney Twelftree says Million Dollar Baby is Eastwood’s best directorial effort

Certainly, Eastwood’s capabilities as a director have improved with age despite some of his early efforts remaining classics of their respective genres. In 1992 he made Unforgiven which many critics have cited as one of the finest westerns ever made and arguably Eastwood’s best film as both director and star. 1990s efforts such as True Crime and Absolute Power may not have been as successful but few disagree that by the 2000s Eastwood was at the height of his directorial powers. Commercial and critical successes appeared one after the other beginning with Space Cowboys in 2000, Mystic River in 2003, multi-Academy Award winning Million Dollar Baby in 2004, back-to-back World War II epics Battle of Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers in 2006, and the brilliant Gran Torino in 2008.

Top 10 Films’ Best of Clint Eastwood

Mike Sutton’s Top 10 Clint Eastwood Films | Rodney Twelftree’s Top 10 Clint Eastwood Directorial Efforts

Top 10 Films Clint Eastwood
Mike Sutton says Eastwood’s best film has to be Dirty Harry. He says, “The original and best. Accept no substitutes, sequels or copycats. Extraordinary use of light and space, brutal and necessarily violent set-pieces and Clint in one of his signature roles. Note particularly how the committed liberal Don Siegel uses the camera to make Harry nearly as scary and unbalanced as the killer.”

Rob Keeling agrees, ranking “dirty” Harry Callahan in his top 10 movie cops. He says, “Harry Callahan was never one for the rules. Across five movies he made Popeye Doyle look like a bit of a boy scout. He has his own vision of what justice really means and won’t let any pencil pushers get in the way. Clint Eastwood’s iconic performance was as steely-eyed and unflinching as one might expect and it was yet another legendary anti-hero from Clint.”

Top 10 Films Clint Eastwood

Mark Fraser, on the other hand, highlights 1992’s Unforgiven as worthy of extra praise in his 10 Fruitful Collaborations Between Hollywood Directors And Their Cinematographers. Mark believes that the years Eastwood worked with cinematographer Jack N. Green – producing such films as Bird, White Heart, A Perfect World, The Bridges of Madison County and Space Cowboys – brought about some of the actor-director’s greatest work.

“The clincher for the Green era is 1992’s Unforgiven, the movie that turned the Western on its head, won a bunch of Oscars (including Best Film but, unfortunately, not Best Cinematography) and saw Eastwood the actor give the performance of a lifetime as a murderer (and meanest bastard on Earth, as Green lights him in the climatic shootout) who is brought out of retirement for one last score, only to bring a sense of old world justice to the new frontier,” says Mark.

But what about his best film as director? Mike’s favourite is 1995’s The Bridges of Madison County. He calls it “a desperately moving love story which is some kind of cinematic miracle; Clint and screenwriter Richard LaGrevanese take an offensively sentimental, badly written bestselling book and turn it into a Brief Encounter for the nineties. Clint’s performance is exemplary and he and Meryl Streep turn out to be an unlikely but deeply satisfying love match. If you don’t feel a tear coming to your eye during the scene in the rain, you’re not human.”

Top 10 Films Clint Eastwood

Rodney Twelftree, however, says Million Dollar Baby is Eastwood’s best film as director. He highlights the performances of Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank and Eastwood himself as particularly strong aspects of the film. Eastwood won the Oscar for Best Director, and the film picked up the Best Picture gong as well. Rodney says, “Part sports film, part human drama, Million Dollar Baby is captivating, shocking, emotionally gut-punching, and most of all, superb entertainment.”

Top 10 Films Clint Eastwood

The highlight for me is one of his more recent efforts as star and director – Gran Torino. Here the grizzled hero-of-old plays an aging Korean veteran who overcomes his own prejudices to help an immigrant family who have moved in next door. Gran Torino is smart, relevant and expertly executed, making it one of the finest films of Eastwood’s career.

And while we’re talking about Clint Eastwood career highlights I must mention the absurd craziness of action-caper The Gauntlet. The film, directed by Eastwood and starring himself alongside Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, William Prince and Bill McKinney, throws logic out the window in favour of improbable action and gaping plot holes to create a mishmash of action, comedy and romance. And the winner of Dumbest Clint Eastwood Movie goes to: The Gauntlet!

Written by Daniel Stephens with contributions from Rodney Twelftree, Mike Sutton, Mark Fraser and Rob Keeling.

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About the Author
An Aussie lad with a love of cinema, Rodney Twelftree parlayed his interest in films into a website dedicated to reviewing them. Currently Editor In Chief at fernbyfilms.com, Rodney spends much of his time watching films, television, reading science fiction novels and trawling the internet for news and reviews on all things film.

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  1. Avatar
    le0pard13 Reply

    Great Eastwood list, Dan!

  2. Avatar
    Mark Reply

    A fitting birthday gift … I hope he sees it.

    Didn’t know Eastwwod turned down Apocalypse Now (was this after Pacino, Caan, McQueen, Hackman and Keitel?). Personally I’m glad he did – I don’t think it would have worked; plus Sheen was absolutely perfect (a friend of mine who served in the US military said the role needed a ‘pretty boy’ because the elite special forces guys all have massive egos and are continually checking themselves out in the mirror … he mused that was the reason why Keitel got the boot – he was simply too ugly; he also believed that De Niro’s character in The Deer Hunter would never have regrown his beard after coming back from the war – he would have become way too vain to sport facial hair).

    As for The Gauntlet being Clint’s worst, I’d put The Rookie, Sudden Impact and Firefox higher on the list. At least I can watch The Gauntlet when it is rerun on TV … never been able to rewatch The Rookie, while Sudden Impact is total crap and Firefox is really, really, really boring for a special effects cold war flick.

  3. Avatar
    Chris Reply

    I agree he has got better as a director…Million Dollar Baby, Iwo Jima, Gran Torino, Unforgiven, Changling…all great. Didn’t like Hereafter but he’s allowed the odd misstep.

  4. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    The Sergio Leone Westerns may have placed Eastwood on the map, but you guys are right that Dirty Harry is his most iconic and entertaining role. It seems like the one he was born to play.

  5. Avatar
    Jack Deth Reply

    Excellent work, all!

    Can’t disagree that ‘The Gauntlet’ is one of Clint’s less smart efforts.
    Though I do enjoy it to see his old time Hollywood system of ‘stables’ of recurring actors and actresses (Sondra Locke, Mara Corday, Bill McKinney, Jeff Morris, etc) doing what they do best!

    ‘Firefox’ is a decent adaptation of a novel that suffers from ‘Alastair MacLean Syndrome’ of having caches of gear and money and people pre-positioned to achieve the goal and accomplish the mission. As seen in ‘Where Eagles Dare’.

  6. Avatar
    Chris Reply

    Just watched Dirty Harry again this weekend. Evan’s right…it has to be Clint’s best character.

  7. Avatar
    Chris Reply

    Interesting discussion! I watched Dollars trilogy, and those westerns for me are Clint Eastwood’s best early films. I liked Dirty Harry, Where Eagles Dare, and Escape from Alcatraz, but I found most of Eastwood’s 80s work as actor/director was pretty average. For me, his best films as a director started with Unforgiven and ended with Gran Torino.

  8. Avatar
    andre simon Reply

    Excellent work, all!

    Can’t disagree that ‘The Gauntlet’ is one of Clint’s less smart efforts.
    Though I do enjoy it to see his old time Hollywood system of ‘stables’ of recurring actors and actresses (Sondra Locke, Mara Corday, Bill McKinney, Jeff Morris, etc) doing what they do best!

    ‘Firefox’ is a decent adaptation of a novel that suffers from ‘Alastair MacLean Syndrome’ of having caches of gear and money and people pre-positioned to achieve the goal and accomplish the mission. As seen in ‘Where Eagles Dare’.

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