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Clint Eastwood turns 91 today, and we’ve yet to see any evidence that he plans to slow down as one of Hollywood’s hardest-working talents. As actor and director, his films have grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide, and his last film, the outstanding “Richard Jewell,” proves he remains at the top of his game.
To wish the film icon a happy day, we’ll share our 10 favorite films of his. We should note we’re only picking films in which he appears on screen, so that means no “Mystic River” or “Letters from Iwo Jima.” And sorry to all you “Changeling” fans. He returns this fall with “Cry Macho” on HBO Max.
We’ll cover plenty of the hits you know and love, but also include some lesser celebrated titles that deserve the love. What are your favorite Clint Eastwood flicks? Read ours below:
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The old man still had it at 88, showing all the young punks out there how it’s done. Despite a bit of the requisite Eastwood clunkiness, this thriller about a retired lily farmer-turned-drug mule hits enough of the right notes, at its best depicting a man fueled by his regrets and failures as a parent and husband. It also cleared $100 million at the U.S. box office, proving Clint is still a bonafide movie star. And it had the best trailer of 2018.
At the risk of leaving off one of the typical Eastwood favorites, let’s pick an underrated gem that saw his stretch as an actor and filmmaker. Loosely based on the legendary John Huston’s production of “The African Queen,” the film finds Eastwood as a director whose desire to hunt down elephants and other big game creates turmoil behind the scenes. The Hollywood icon reaches into a new bag of tricks as an on-screen performer to dissect and honor the myth of one of his industry’s greatest artists.
Eastwood would reunite with his “Dirty Harry” director Don Siegel for this dramatization of the 1962 prisoner escape from the maximum security prison on Alcatraz Island. As his career went on, it became rarer for him to appear in movies he didn’t also direct. But when he did, it made for some A-plus big screen entertainment, and you knew Eastwood would deliver in the prison escape genre. Patrick McGoohan is top-notch as the warden, but you think he’s a match for Clint?
Significant because it kicked off Eastwood’s directing career, which would earn him multiple Oscar nominations and wins and status as one of the hardest-working filmmakers in movie history, plus it’s just a killer suspense flick. He plays a disc jockey whose romantic encounter with an obsessed fan turns ugly and potentially deadly. Eastwood proved he had the chops to direct early in his career, and he’d go on to make a movie nearly ever single year for the rest of it.
A revenge movie staple, this stars Eastwood as a Missouri farmer-turned-feared gunslinger who goes on the hunt for the Union soldiers who murdered his family. A solid entry in the revisionist Western genre, to which Eastwood contributed multiple masterpieces. One of your dad’s all-time favorite movies, probably.
Eastwood plays a Secret Service agent determined to stop a clever assassin from taking out the president in this perfect ’90s thriller co-starring Oscar nominee John Malkovich as the madman. Under the direction of Wolfgang Peterson (“Das Boot”), Eastwood shines in this vehicle that oozes with his star power, especially during his creepy phone calls with Malkovich during a memorable (and violent) cat-and-mouse tale.
Eastwood could have called it a career after his “Unforgiven” triumph, which felt like a swansong and comment on his own mystique, but he kept plugging away for another 12 years until he scored wins again for best picture and director with this bittersweet boxing story. Hillary Swank also scored an Academy Award for playing an underdog amateur boxer helped by a grizzled trainer to achieve her dream of becoming a professional. It saw Eastwood at his best as an actor, and showcased his talent as a composer with a gorgeous score.
With director Don Siegel, Eastwood created a timeless movie cop, keen on catching killers with unorthodox methods and big guns. We dig sequels like “Magnum Force” and “Sudden Impact,” but Harry’s hunt for the Scorpio killer remains the king that inspired imitators and contained classic lines like “You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
Pour one out for Sergio Leone and his “Man with No Name” spaghetti western trilogy that would help launch Eastwood to leading man superstardom. If we must pick only one, the easy choice remains the operatic finale that packs three hours full of epic showdowns, unexpected humor, Ennio Morricone’s sweeping score and Eastwood in all of his cigar-chomping glory, opposite Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef.
Eastwood’s dreary western (or as many call it, an “anti-western”) about a retired killer who takes on one more job years after he had turned to farming. Arguably Eastwood’s finest work as a director and actor, in which he plays the conflicted and aged outlaw William Munny, who thought he’d left behind a life of murder before it found him in his later years. Beautifully shot, it features terrific supporting performances from Gene Hackman (who also won an Oscar), Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris. This should go down as the Clint Eastwood film, both as actor and director.
Honorable mentions: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Coogan’s Bluff (1968), Kelly’s Heroes (1970), High Plains Drifter (1973), Pale Rider (1985), Heartbreak Ridge (1987), Absolute Power (1997), Gran Torino (2008)
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