Total Recall

Total Recall: Best Movies Starring Clint Eastwood

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Trouble with the Curve star.

by | September 20, 2012 | Comments

Clint Eastwood

He’s done some pretty terrific work as a director — in fact, we devoted a previous Total Recall to it — but for our money, there’s nothing quite like seeing Eastwood’s complete filmography and growl in front of the camera, so when we saw that he’d be starring opposite Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake in this weekend’s Trouble with the Curve, we knew what we needed to do. If you like your guns big, your action mean, and your protagonists strong and silent, this list is for you. Do you feel like Total Recall? Well, do ya, punk?


10. Coogan’s Bluff

The most resolutely deadpan of all fish-out-of-water films, 1968’s Coogan’s Bluff stars Eastwood as a backwoods deputy who travels to New York City to extradite a wanted man and ends up falling down a psychedelic rabbit hole of tough guys and hippie chicks. The first of five collaborations between Eastwood and director Don Siegel, Coogan’s Bluff exploited its premise effectively enough to inspire the television cop drama McCloud — and earn praise from critics like Don Druker of the Chicago Reader, who wrote, “Eastwood’s performance as the flawed, headstrong superman has been terribly underrated, but he brings to the part of Coogan a sure knowledge of the man’s obvious strengths and not so obvious failings.”


9. For a Few Dollars More

Italian audiences saw Eastwood’s work in A Fistful of Dollars long before American ones — and they made that movie such a hit that director Sergio Leone was ready to make a sequel before Eastwood had even seen the final cut of the original. The result, For a Few Dollars More, set Eastwood’s Man With No Name against the Man in Black (Lee Van Cleef) in a gunslinging chase thriller that ended up drawing almost as much critical praise as its predecessor. In fact, Time Out’s Geoff Andrew preferred it to Fistful of Dollars, writing that it was “A significant step forward” and lauding “the usual terrific compositions, Morricone score, and taciturn performances.”


8. The Outlaw Josey Wales

By the time 1976’s The Outlaw Josey Wales rolled around, Eastwood was on his fifth film as a director and his ninth as the star of a Western — all of which is to say that Wales should have been pretty tired stuff, and it’s all the more impressive that it ended up being so darn entertaining. A black comedy with plenty of action and loads of heart, Wales positions Eastwood as the central figure (and highly entertaining straight man) in a bumbling chase across the frontier. Observed Movieline’s Joshua Mooney, “The truly impressive aspect of Eastwood’s Wales is just how broad a range of emotions the actor conveys without forsaking his legendary economy of gesture, or ranging beyond his ultra-macho monotone growl.”


7. Escape from Alcatraz

Most of today’s action stars don’t look rough enough to even be sent to jail, let alone escape from it — but director Don Siegel rounded up a posse of convincing crooks for 1979’s Escape from Alcatraz, and led the whole sorry bunch with a perfectly nasty Clint Eastwood. Playing real-life convict Frank Morris, Eastwood helped turn the fact-based Alcatraz into a gripping prison break thriller. “Siegel stages it all like a collection of haikus,” enthused CinePassion’s Fernando F. Croce, calling it “all grilled corners and hard camera pans, not a single wasted frame.”


6. Dirty Harry

How do you write the perfect script for Clint Eastwood in the 1970s? Just imagine a no-nonsense cop with a giant gun and zero tolerance for the criminal element. Turning Eastwood loose in San Francisco and setting him in pursuit of a vicious serial killer calling himself “Scorpio” (Andy Robinson), Dirty Harry helped set the tone for the lone-vigilante cop flicks of the ensuing couple of decades — and kicked off a series of hit films that would help keep him employed until the late 1980s. “Dirty Harry was the original rogue tough-guy cop film,” observed Netflix’s James Rocchi, “and while years of imitation, emulation and outright mockery have chipped away at the archetype, it’s still fascinating to observe in its original form.”


5. In the Line of Fire

By the 1990s, Eastwood rarely deigned to star in movies he didn’t direct himself, but he made an exception for In the Line of Fire, Wolfgang Petersen’s taut 1993 action thriller about an aging Secret Service agent (Eastwood) whose guilt over allowing the assassination of President Kennedy makes him the perfect target for a killer (the fabulously creepy John Malkovich) who’s plotting to murder the current President. A $176 million box office hit, it also resonated with critics like Jeffrey M. Anderson of Combustible Celluloid, who wrote, “It’s an uncommonly exciting, intelligent movie, and one of the best summer movies ever made.”


4. High Plains Drifter

Hot, dark, and mean, High Plains Drifter offered the perfect sophomore outing for Eastwood the director — and gave Eastwood the actor yet another chance to exact frontier justice and growl bursts of dialogue while squinting into the desert. Steeped in paranoia and topped off with a heaping dose of the supernatural, Drifter follows greed and lawlessness to their horribly logical conclusions; it is, as Vincent Canby argued for the New York Times, “Part ghost story, part revenge Western, more than a little silly, and often quite entertaining in a way that may make you wonder if you have lost your good sense.”


3. Unforgiven

Periodic half-hearted revivals notwithstanding, the Western was in pretty poor shape by the early 1990s, its blinkered view of the past discredited by generations of filmgoers raised on gritty screenplays and flawed antiheroes. Clint Eastwood, who made one of the few well-received Westerns of the 1980s with Pale Rider, was just the guy to fix that — and so he did with 1992’s Unforgiven, a bitterly bleak rumination on the addictive futility of vengeance that united an impeccable cast (including Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman) and reaped a bounty of Oscars along the way. Observed Roger Ebert, “That implacable moral balance, in which good eventually silences evil, is at the heart of the Western, and Eastwood is not shy about saying so.”


2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Eastwood and Sergio Leone rounded out the Dollars Trilogy in spectacular fashion with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the film that severed their partnership while bringing some closure to the loose narrative arc they started with A Fistful of Dollars and continued with For a Few Dollars More. Joined here by Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef, Eastwood said farewell to the Man with No Name in a hail of gunfire, inspiring Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune to applaud, “Leone’s blockbuster is balanced on the razor’s edge between popular entertainment and art film. It took classic American themes and turned them inside out.”


1. A Fistful of Dollars

Squinty-eyed, gun-toting loner strolls through the desert, winds up in the middle of a good old-fashioned Western gang war, and sees an opportunity to make a few bucks. Awesome gunfights ensue. It sounds like a foolproof setup — and, to be fair, director Sergio Leone was working from some pretty great stuff with this loose Yojimbo remake — but in the wrong hands, A Fistful of Dollars wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective. (For proof, see Walter Hill’s 1996 misfire, Last Man Standing, which uses the same DNA with far less effective results.) With Eastwood shooting ’em up and Leone exerting his signature command of the camera, the result was the gunslinger classic that Variety called “a hard-hitting item, ably directed, splendidly lensed, neatly acted, which has all the ingredients wanted by action fans and then some.”

In case you were wondering, here are Tatum’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly — 93%
2. For a Few Dollars More — 92%
3. Unforgiven — 91%
4. Gran Torino — 90%
5. A Fistful of Dollars — 88%
6. The Outlaw Josey Wales — 88%
7. Million Dollar Baby — 87%
8. Dirty Harry — 86%
9. Where Eagles Dare — 85%
10. Kelly’s Heroes — 85%

Take a look through Eastwood’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Trouble with the Curve.

Finally, here’s Eastwood getting the MST3K treatment for his first movie performance — in 1955’s Revenge of the Creature — :