15 Essential Clint Eastwood Films You Need To Watch

Clint Eastwood needs no introduction if you know the first thing about American cinema. The macho icon of movie stars, the symbol of masculinity, who has won the heart of million by his charismatic personality and great body of work, is unarguably one of the most successful Hollywood personalities. Writing the review of Gran Torino for Chicago Sun Tines, Roger Ebert wrote, “I would like to grow up to be like Clint Eastwood. Eastwood the director, Eastwood the actor, Eastwood the invincible, Eastwood the old man.” You don’t have to be a genius to understand the sentiments behind that statement. Actor/ producer/ director/ composer Clint Eastwood, in his career spanning over 59 years, has done it all yet he keeps going, on and on. 82 year old young gun has a release on hand and has announced a future project.

He started his career as B grade movie star when he got the role of a laboratory assistant but the career of the handsome 6’4’’ handsome actor took off when he excelled the character of man with no name in Sergio Leone’s master work. From there he went on to star in many great movies of our time.

After establishing himself as an A grade star in Hollywood, in 1971, the same year Dirty Harry got released; he took a step back from the limelight and went behind the camera and directed his first movie, Play Misty for Me. Since then he has directed 33 titles for which he has received ten academy award nominations and has won 4 out of them, two for his direction and two for best picture (Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby), hence establishing himself as an auteur and one of the finest directors working in the industry.

Though he is mostly known for his thriller, crime and western movies, genre filmmaking he has perfected; time to time he showed the world that he has a knack for drama and can easily play characters that are not tough guys. He stole his way into the hearts of lonely women in The Beguiled whereas in The Bridges of Madison County, as Robert Kincaid, he romanced a distressed Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson played by Meryl Streep with passion.

Although there are many films we love, in the filmography of Eastwood, these fifteen films I believe are the ones that tell us everything that we ought to know about the master filmmaker.


15. Play Misty for Me (1971)


After working in front of the camera for seventeen years, Eastwood decided to make his own film. A calculated psychological thriller, Play Misty for Me, which he directed and starred in, tells the story of Dave Graver (Clint Eastwood) who works as a radio jockey. One night he goes out to his favorite bar to have a drink where he meets a pretty girl, Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walters). They have a short lived fling after that night. Dave moves on with his life after that but trouble starts brewing when she starts to stalk him.

Despite being a very typical textbook thriller on paper, Play Misty works because of its superb direction. Eastwood chooses a simple, thriller story and successfully involves us in the plot, to makes the viewer nervous and tensed. He forces you to sit on the edge of the seat. He doesn’t use big twists and surprises to thrill the viewer, instead he creates a very tense atmosphere using the fact that an unknown woman is capable of doing anything. It has been said that terror of unknown is the worst terror of all and Eastwood seems to believe in the theory because it’s exactly what he exploits in Play Misty for Me.

Though “Play Misty for Me” is no “Psycho”, it’s a very entertaining flick. You might not remember it after watching it but you will surely enjoy it while you are at it.


14. The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the romance drama, “The Bridges of Madison County”, based on the best selling novel of the same name. It tells the story of a handsome city photographer Robert Kincaid played by Eastwood, who comes to the quiet town of Iowa to capture the alluring beauty of the old bridges in his camera. Looking for directions, he meets Francesca Johnson, a beautiful housewife who has not left town in years and hasn’t seen anything remotely interesting in a long time. Kincaid comes as a fresh breeze of air, a glitter of hope that enlightens a passionate affair between the two.

There have been numerous instances when screen adaptations weren’t able to do justice to their source material. Some directors are able to touch the soul of the original work but occasions are rare when people ended up making a film far superior than the novel itself and that’s what sets them apart from the rest and fixates their position as an auteur in world of filmmaking. Eastwood achieves an admirable feat by creating a film superior to the source material with this movie, in a genre which is not his forte. He creates this little lovely film which is low on angles and high on affection. This is no twist or trick in the story that you will not be able to guess yet it evokes so many emotions on so many levels.

The greatest movies of all time, in my opinion, are the ones that touch your soul. I won’t go so far ahead to say that it will touch your soul but it is certainly going to touch your heart. Where else you are going to see Eastwood romancing Meryl Streep anyway?


13. In the Line of Fire (1993)

In the Line of Fire (1993)

Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) is a secret service agent who feels guilty because he couldn’t save the life of President Kennedy thirty years ago. Now when a tenant who calls himself “Booth” (played by the great John Malkovich) calls Frank and tells him that he is going to kill the president who is running for re-election, Frank is determined to not let it happen this time and for that, he is ready to cross any line, break all the rules and put everything he has got on stake.

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot), “In the Line of Fire”, is a simple, straightforward yet a very engaging thriller which benefits from his craft. His direction is taut yet it leaves some space for the characters to breath and in the end leads everything to a marvelous payoff. John Malkovich, in the suit of Booth, is creepy, relentless and clever. He is the perfect ingredient for such a pulse pounding, edge-of-the-seat thriller.

Eastwood received a very well deserved Oscar nomination for his performance but still this movie relies so heavily on Eastwood that without him, you can’t even imagine the quality of this movie. If it wasn’t for the sheer brilliance of Clint, it would have been another formula thriller that you literally can’t stand. In all the sizzling action and thrills, he is the deep thinking man who connects all the pieces together. He is the soul of the movie and it should be watched for his class act, if nothing else.


12. A Perfect World (1993)

A Perfect World (1993)

Kevin Costner plays a convict in the movie that flees out of a prison and takes a boy hostage as leverage. The story basically focuses on the two of them bonding together as the boy Phillip (T. J. Lowther) witnesses a whole new world. Clint Eastwood plays the role of a Texas Ranger who is in pursuit of the convict.

Another entry in the long list of films which Eastwood directed and starred in, “A Perfect World”, holds a place of its own. Like most of the films in his early career, this film has so much more to offer than what it promises on paper. There is no denial to the fact that it has some constraints, some flaws and even some clichés incorporated but in spite of all its flaws and all its problems it works and works wonderfully. In this tale amongst all the stark and gritty tone, it serves a story of unusual bonding with some beautiful and surprisingly moving moments. To say the least, it is a treat to watch.


11. Escape from Alcatraz (1979)


One of the products of one of the most successful director/actor pair in Hollywood, Escape from Alcatraz is a classic by all means. Dramatization of a real event that happened in 1962, Escape from Alcatraz is one the best prison movies of all time. Frank Morris plans and in all probabilities executes his escape from the notorious prison.

Fifth and final collaboration between director Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood ends a very successful collaboration on a very high note. The drama is very well wrought. It sends us into the prison for its running time. You are spared nothing. You see everything, the atrocities, suffocation, isolation, barbarity all in its raw form and we are led to believe so. The realism is not just about capturing events in its raw form. It’s making you believe that if it actually happened it would have happened this way. And in “Escape from Alcatraz”, the pair of Siegel and Eastwood achieves the overwhelming feat of making us believe that it must have happened this very way. It is low on dialogues but they speak so much through the silence and that is very effective. This movie doesn’t have a mind blowing ending but it offers two hours of mind bending drama, you definitely don’t want to miss it.


10. High Plains Drifter (1973)

High Plains Drifter (1973)

Eastwood directed and starred in an outstanding western High Plains Drifter. Story takes place in a mining town called Lago. A mysterious stranger (Eastwood) comes to town and goes about his business in his own manner during which he impresses a dwarf who befriends him. Town folks then hire him to kill three infamous outlaws who are on their way to town to take their revenge.

After making a successful directional debut with “Play Misty for Me”, Clint Eastwood made a very understandable and logical choice for his second project. He went back to the genre that made him the superstar and made High Plains Drifter, his first western as a director. Eastwood’s second venture into direction is epic in its scale and grand in its design. It is revenge western with ambiguous morality. It is savory, mechanically stylish and has the spirit of a rebel. It is stark like all other Eastwood movies in its nature but it is nastier than most of them. High Plains Drifter is inherently strange and uncompromising in its nature.

Eastwood once again mesmerizes us with his terrific acting abilities and his incredible understanding of the westerns. It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of old classic westerns or not, you don’t want to miss out on this one.


9. Mystic River (2003)

Mystic River (2003)

An exceptionally evocative and beautiful movie, Mystic River is about three childhood friends whose life changes dramatically after an unfortunate event. They grow up to be three different people, drifting away from each other, but they cross each other’s paths twenty five years later when a daughter of one of the three friends is found dead.

Eastwood directed this magnificent movie which starred Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn as three friends. Kevin Bacon plays the role of a cop, while Sean in the lead playing the character of an ex con who loses her daughter. Robbins, a blue collar worker in the movie, portrays a man who is haunted by his past where he was abducted and molested for a long time.

In the later part of his career, as his filmography suggests, he developed a taste for intense drama. Most of the movies directed by Eastwood, in which he didn’t act, are very emotionally charged dramas, be it Invictus, Hereafter or Changeling. Even his Iwo duos in spite of being war films, are high on drama, especially the second entry. However, Mystic River is the most intense drama of all.

The general mood of the film is haunting and hypnotic. Stills from the movie stay with you long after the film is over. They will give you chills and then will grill your mind in the long run and doesn’t matter how hard you try not think about them, you will not be able to shake them off, if you have seen and felt this movie in its original spirit. It is so much more than a movie. It’s an event that you witness, an experience that stays.