The best Clint Eastwood movies of all time

Listing the best Clint Eastwood movies is no easy task, but we've done it, from Dirty Harry and Where Eagles Dare to Unforgiven and Gran Torino

Best Clint Eastwood movies

What are the best Clint Eastwood movies? A true legend of Hollywood, Clint Eastwood has been a household name and known for quality filmmaking since the ’70s. He’s one of those actors that, when you tell relatives you want to do anything involving films, they’ll respond, “Like that Eastwood guy? He makes the best movies!”

Rightly so, too, because Eastwood has indeed made a good picture or three. Through the decades he’s been working, he’s helped craft some of the greatest action movies, thriller movies, war movies, and drama movies ever made. So much so, narrowing down the cream of the crop is no easy task – Eastwood’s got over 50 credits to his name.

Alas, we’re not ones to shy away from a challenging hot take. We’ve been through his acting and directing manifesto to find the films that are purely unmissable. The ones you should see if you’re new to classic Hollywood, or just wondering what to rewatch. These are the best Clint Eastwood movies – accept no substitutes.

What are the best Clint Eastwood movies?

  • The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
  • Dirty Harry
  • The Beguiled
  • Gran Torino
  • Flags of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Where Eagles Dare
  • Unforgiven

Best Clint Eastwood movies: Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)

It’s timeless: Ennio Morricone’s score, Tonino Delli Colli’s cinematography, Sergio Leone’s close-ups juxtaposed against the sun beating down on the desert. Three men stand facing each other for the bounty. Only one will get it, in one of the greatest climaxes of all time.

In the culmination of the Dollars Trilogy, Eastwood’s Man With No Name becomes embroiled in the search for enough gold to disappear forever. The crafty Angel Eyes and the vengeful Tuco Benedicto are his competition, and their race is masterfully crafted by Leone. Riveting gunfights, gorgeous establishing shots, tension you could serve for dessert, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is truly just the best of the best.

Best Clint Eastwood movies: Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry

Dirty Harry (1971)

Nothing against Liam Neeson, but his speech in Taken pales in comparison to the hard-boiled monologue Eastwood delivers within the first half-hour of Dirty Harry. Unorthodox, to say the least, inspector Harry Callahan is the archetype for members of the police force that don’t play by the rules, but get results nonetheless.

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Harry finds himself facing someone just as uncouth, unpredictable, and ruthless with the sniping serial killer Scorpio. Every time they get close to each other it’s nail-biting, director Don Siegel placing the two in an empty stadium as if goading us for enjoying the spectacle. The contempt and frustration that emanates from Eastwood’s terse performance makes it nigh impossible to look away.

Best Clint Eastwood movies: Clint Eastwood in The Beguiled

The Beguiled (1971)

Feeling boxed in by all the Westerns and war movies, in 1971 Eastwood decided to take the male lead in an adaptation of The Beguiled, wherein Union soldier John McBurney finds himself in the care of a Mississippi seminary. Proving he’s considerably more than cigars, sweat, and shoot-outs, he spends much of the picture doing odd jobs while being ogled by Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, and Jo Ann Harris.

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The film itself, another Siegel collaboration, is pure southern gothic romance, dark and sultry in its temptations with deep, longing stares. Eastwood brings an acid Western quality, as someone who’s done with war and would prefer to live at a different speed. There’s a slight comfort in his eyes at the end, a hint of relief at not having to deliver another blaze of glory.

Gran Torino (2008)

On its face, Gran Torino seems an exercise in pure narcissism: Eastwood directing himself as a curmudgeonly old man who becomes the hero regardless of his bigotry. And it is! But there’s a remarkably sentimental edge to the story too, with Eastwood reflecting on how he’s perceived, and what he wants to leave behind.

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Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, an elderly army veteran watching his neighbourhood descend into gang violence. He bonds with Thao Vang Lor, a young Chinese man who first tried to steal his car. Through the friendship, Walt starts to see hope in the next generation, ultimately choosing to leave them with more positive memories than negative. Your mileage on the redemption may vary, but there’s no denying Eastwood’s candour.

Best Clint Eastwood movies: Ken Watanabe in Letters From Iwo Jima

Flags of our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

Depicting The Battle of Iwo Jima from both the United States and Japan’s perspectives, Eastwood’s sister films have their cake and eat it too by revelling in patriotic salute, and the damage incurred by all sides. The duality isn’t finely balanced – Flags of our Fathers is worse for its jingoism – but the overall tapestry is something to behold.

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First, you have the Americans, and the squad that fought in Iwo Jima and managed to raise the stars and stripes. Their half has its moments amid all the profane national pride, but it’s the second part that really shines. A more nuanced screenplay, courtesy of Iris Yamashita, and the hiring of predominantly Japanese actors – Ken Watanabe among them – give Letters From Iwo Jima an authenticity rarely seen from Hollywood on the subject.

Best Clint Eastwood movies: Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Eastwood opposite Richard Burton in a WWII romp about a pair of American soldiers who’ll stop at nothing to complete their mission behind enemy lines. It’s quintessential filmmaking, workmanlike in structure, pacing, and tone. From the moment Ron Goodwin’s score comes striding in, you know what you’re going to get.

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Part of what sets Where Eagles Dare apart from many of its peers is the pairing of Eastwood and Burton. The reserved Britishness of Burton makes clear just how magnetic Eastwood was and is. They’re a formidable force on camera – enough to inspire songs from The Misfits and Iron Maiden, anyway.

Best Clint Eastwood movies: Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman in Unforgiven

Unforgiven (1992)

Not only one of Clint Eastwood’s best movies but one of Gene Hackman’s and Morgan Freeman’s too. Directed by Eastwood, Unforgiven is another treatise on his own career, wherein he examines the Western through a tale of murder and desperation. Money is at the centre, as it so often tends to be, but nobody makes it off with this bounty in one piece.

Eastwood himself is William Munny, a retired gunslinger who needs one last job to set up his kids. He rides with Ned Logan, and they face sheriff ‘Little’ Bill Daggett, a heavy-handed lawmaker. To William and Ned, Bill is the enemy, but to Bill, they are hired guns that always leave bloodshed behind.

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Violence is as violence does, and in showing the American west in such morally grey tones, Eastwood makes clear he should be nobody’s hero – even with such an incredible career behind him.

And that’s your lot, punk! If you want more action hero lists, check out our guide to the best Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, or for something a bit more modern, try the best Dwayne Johnson movies.