When Clint Eastwood first debuted in the Western television series Rawhide in 1959, that was only the beginning of his prolific career in the genre of Western movies and television. Rawhide was where he first charmed domestic audiences, but when Sergio Leone cast Eastwood as Man with No Name, the lead character of the Dollars Trilogy, he became an international icon and a symbol of the cinematic American frontier.
The Dollars Trilogy also marked the global emergence of Spaghetti Westerns, which was a European-based movement. These were films often dubbed in Italian and were set in the American West. When Sergio Leone released the Dollars Trilogy, Eastwood’s performance helped create new mythologies around what it meant to be an American during this period and set new standards for depictions of masculinity. While many Western films spawned after this time, the genre was completely changed, leading us to movies like Django Unchained and The Magnificent Seven.
Man With No Name was Eastwood’s very first leading role in a feature film, but it certainly wasn’t his last. Outside of Western genre films, Eastwood also starred in the movie Dirty Harry in 1971, which completely changed the genre of police films and would churn out four sequels over twenty years. But he couldn’t stay away from the genre of films that launched his career and would continue to work in Westerns, whether it involved acting, singing, or producing.
Here are the best Clint Eastwood Westerns ranked.
8 Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)
Two Mules for Sister Sara isn’t the most well-known Clint Eastwood movie, but it’s still managed to captivate many fans of the genre. Set directly after the American Civil War, Eastwood stars as a soldier whose unlikely sidekick is a nun who isn’t what she seems to be. Reminiscent of the storylines seen in old Hollywood movies, Eastwood breaks free of the constraints imposed in his previous roles and is no longer a lone cowboy that serves as an antihero.
7 Hang ‘Em High (1968)
Fresh off his time in the Dollars Trilogy, Eastwood picked up this role to play an innocent man almost lynched at the film’s beginning. A glimpse into a period of American history where it was dangerous to be a marshal, Hang ‘Em High is a classic revenge story. This film is in the vein of the Italian Westerns Eastwood previously starred in, one that would be familiar to those who have seen his previous work. Hang ‘Em High was the first film produced by Eastwood’s production company: The Malpaso Company.
6 Pale Rider (1985)
Released in 1985, Pale Rider is a Revisionist Western film that nods to the traditions of the genre. At this time, it seemed like the Western movies that were once dearly loved were on the decline and instead replaced with the popularity of crime and thriller movies. Clint Eastwood starred in a role where he seemed to be almost something divine, like Death, which is a nod to the title’s reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Eastwood was involved in the film as an actor, producer, and director.
5 Honkytonk Man (1982)
Clint Eastwood is the full package. While best known for his traditional films, Eastwood has been in quite a few musicals too. In Honkytonk Man, he plays a western singer dying of tuberculosis traveling to Nashville with his nephew. His dream is to become a singer, but with the Great Depression, it seems almost impossible. It’s a laidback movie quite sweet in tone, and Eastwood and his son played the main roles.
4 For a Few Dollars More (1965)
For a Few Dollars More is the second part of the Dollars Trilogy, the popular trilogy that launched Eastwood’s career globally. Reliant on the tropes that have appeared in Western movies since the genre was created, it does run a bit wild and cliché at times. However, because this film was in such a well-beloved trilogy, it wouldn’t be compared to its counterparts as much as it is. The villain of the film is absolutely wicked, a force A Man With No Name must confront again and again as the movie tenses and coils towards the final climax. Historically, the film also presented a shift in how bounty hunters were perceived; once abhorred, they now were depicted as heroic on the big screen.
3 A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
The first movie in the Dollars Trilogy sets the tone for what’s to come, brilliantly establishing the main character, and is a classic demonstration of Leone’s visual style. With close-up shots sprinkled throughout the narrative, the characters’ facial expressions and slight movements indicate something else going on. A Fistful of Dollars takes direct inspiration from the movie Yojimbo by Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa, which led to a lawsuit. Kurosawa’s lawsuit was settled out of court. A Fistful of Dollars is now considered an unofficial remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo but with an American setting and an Italian directing.
2 The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the best-known film in the Dollars Trilogy. There is a pretty good reason for that. The cinematography builds up the suspense in Leon’s classic style, but the soundtrack adds the perfect ambiance. The film is best known for its Mexican standoff, but it has plenty of shootouts and trick shots to keep the viewer entertained. The main characters are all antiheroes, leading viewers to decide what is and is not morally okay. It’s an immersive experience, one hard to look away from. Throughout the process of making the movie, Eastwood would have minimal contact with Leone, the director.
1 Unforgiven (1992)
By 1992, Clint Eastwood grew and found his voice as a director and an actor. Unforgiven is an homage to his mentors: Leone and Siegel, directors who had previously mentored him. Eastwood explicitly would state again and again that this would be his last Western. Unforgiven shows its characters living in a grey area; a world in which people aren’t bound by strict moral and social codes. Unforgiven became the third Western film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards and was added to the National Film Registry.