When Clint Eastwood first debuted on the Western television series Rawhide in 1959, that was only the beginning of his prolific career. Rawhide was where he first charmed domestic audiences. When Sergio Leone cast Eastwood as The Man with No Name, the lead character of the Dollars Trilogy (also known as The Man with No Name 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 but 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, setting new standards for depictions of masculinity. The Man With No Name was Eastwood’s first leading role in a feature film, but it certainly wasn’t his last.
Despite starring in many different genres, Eastwood has often returned to the Western and is the actor most commonly associated with the genre other than John Wayne. The Western genre defined his career, made gave him his most iconic character, and won him an Oscar. Without further ado, here are the best Clint Eastwood Westerns, ranked.
Updated February 11, 2024: For both Clint Eastwood and Western fans, this article has been updated with even more content to showcase the legendary actor’s impressive career.
17 Star in the Dust (1956)
Star in the Dust is a Western from 1956 in which Clint Eastwood played a very small role, and it’s one of his first appearances in a Hollywood film. The movie tells the story of a Sheriff in the western town of Gunlock who has to battle with farmers and ranchers over the intended hanging of a hired killer.
A Glimmer of Greatness
Clint Eastwood plays a tiny part, with very little screen time, as Tom, a ranch head. Despite playing a very short part, he showcases his typical charismatic on-screen persona and trademark grin, and it’s one of the first few roles he would play in his fledgling years before becoming a widely revered star. Currently unavailable for streaming
16 The First Traveling Saleslady (1956)
Much akin to Star In The Dust, The First Traveling Saleslady is a Western comedy in which Clint Eastwood featured again in a small on-screen role. The story follows a businesswoman named Rose Gillray (Ginger Rogers), whose corset company goes bust, and she ends up having to repay several debts. She subsequently heads west along with her companion Molly (Carol Channing) to try and capitalize on Texas’ need for barbed wire, and the story follows their journey.
Eastwood’s Humble Beginnings
Clint Eastwood plays the role of Lt. Jack Rice, a rancher (again). It’s another bit of a part role where he’s mainly tasked with smiling for the audience and the lead female characters with very minimal dialogues to deliver. However, it was a rare on-screen casting of Eastwood and Ginger Rogers starring in a film together, and it marked one of the Hollywood legend’s earliest cinematic performances. Currently unavailable for streaming
15 Paint Your Wagon (1969)
What is perhaps Eastwood’s strangest film, Paint Your Wagon, is an oddball musical Western that turns the genre’s tight-lipped stoicism on its head. If a person ever wanted to see Eastwood in a lighthearted take on the lawlessness of the American Old West, this is the movie for them. He stars opposite Lee Marvin and Jean Seberg as Sylvester “Pardner” Newel (and does his own singing, to boot).
A Surprising Musical Appearance
Paint Your Wagon was notably terrible experience for Eastwood and was part of what motivated him to become a director himself so he would not be at the mercy of other filmmakers. The film is particularly interesting for using the California “gold rush” as a historical backdrop, and Eastwood does an admirable job with musical numbers like “I Still See Elisa” and “I Talk to the Trees”, demonstrating his overall range as a performer and ability to do it all on the big screen truly. While it might have been one of the final nail in the coffins for the big Hollywood musical of the 1960’s, it is worth watching if the other Westerns on this list are a bit too violent for one’s liking. Rent/Buy on Prime Video
14 Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)
Two Mules for Sister Sara isn’t the most well-known Clint Eastwood movie, but it still managed to captivate many fans of the genre. Set directly after the American Civil War, Eastwood stars opposite Shirley MacClaine as a soldier whose unlikely sidekick, a nun, isn’t what she seems to be. Together, the mismatched duo takes on the French invading army in an effort to defend the Mexican revolutionaries.
Eastwood & MacClaine Shine
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 who serves as an antihero. He was able to let loose and show off his more light-hearted side in the entertaining flick, brilliantly bantering with MacClaine and dazzling audiences every step of the way. Rent/Buy on Apple TV+
13 Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958)
Clint Eastwood plays Keith Williams, a swashbuckling ex-Confederate in Ambush At Cimarron Pass, a film directed by Jodie Copelan. Although the film was underwhelming at the box office, it’s widely regarded as his big break in Hollywood in a somewhat major role. The plot centers around an Army patrol unit who have to team up with a band of former Confederates to safely carry their shipment of rifles through Apache territory to a fort while the Indians attack and attempt to steal the rifles from the group.
A Pivotal Career Moment
It’s a film that showcased Clint Eastwood’s acting prowess and contrived to be a stepping stone in his career for his next major role as Rowdy Yates in the TV show Rawhide, which followed a year later. Both projects paved the way for his ultimate Hollywood takeover, and though Eastwood himself was not a fan of the Western, it did prove to be a worthwhile endeavor for the then up-and-coming actor. Currently unavailable for streaming
12 Joe Kidd (1972)
Directed by John Sturges, Joe Kidd is about a former bounty hunter named Joe Kidd(Clint Eastwood) who owns a ranch in New Mexico and then proceeds to help a notorious wealthy landowner, Frank Harlan(Robert Duvall), track down a Mexican revolutionary after he learns that the group roughed up one of the workers on his ranch.
An Understated Performance
The film itself is a Revisionist Western with slight political underpinnings that reflect on the outlaw played by Eastwood, as it keeps audiences guessing as to where his loyalties lie. It’s a film in which Eastwood puts in a memorable performance, although it’s rated only 6.4/10 on IMdB and with an audience score of 54% on Rotten Tomatoes, suggesting that it wasn’t one of the best films in his longstanding career. However, it did gross $5.8 million in 1972, making it one of the most popular Westerns at the time. Stream on Netflix
11 Cry Macho (2021)
Clint Eastwood saddles up for his first Western since 1992’s Unforgiven. Based on Richard Nash’s 1975 novel of the same name, Cry Macho may not be the typical Clint Eastwood film, but it is a modern-day Western with much in common with similar films released in the late 2010s like Hell or Highwater and Logan. When a former rodeo star and washed-up horse breeder is tasked with saving his ex-bosses son from his alcoholic mother, the pair form an unlikely bond on their journey back home.
A Double-Threat on Screen
Cry Macho is ostensibly a tale of redemption for Mike Milo (Eastwood), as he helps forge a second chance for Rafa (Eduardo Minett) by teaching him how to be a good man. Vulture commended Eastwood’s direction and performance in the engrossing film, noting, “Somehow, when we look at Mike, we don’t see Eastwood, the 91-year-old actor, but Clint the icon — not so much ageless as preserved in weathered glory, cinema’s forever haunted, cowboy.” Stream on Max
10 Hang ‘Em High (1968)
Fresh off his time in the Dollars Trilogy, Eastwood picked up this role to play an innocent man who is almost lynched at the film’s beginning. A glimpse into a period in American history where it was dangerous to be a marshal, Hang ‘Em High is a classic revenge story. This revisionist Western 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.
A Gritty Tale of Vengeance
Hang ‘Em High was also the first film produced by Eastwood’s production company, The Malpaso Company, and was both a critical and commercial hit. Eastwood dazzled moviegoers with his portrayal of the retired lawman who sets out to exact revenge against the men who wronged him, and he shined alongside fellow stars like Ed Begley and Inger Stevens in the undisputed hit. Stream on Max
9 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 into clichés at times. However, the villain of the film is absolutely wicked, a force that The Man With No Name must confront again and again as the movie coils towards its violent climax.
The Thrilling Trilogy Continues
Historically, the film also presented a shift in how bounty hunters were perceived; once abhorred, they were now depicted as heroic on the big screen. For a Few Dollars More became even more financially successful than its predecessor and went on to earn $25.5 million at the box office, and in recent years has attracted more acclaim and appreciation for Eastwood’s powerhouse performance, Sergio Lione’s stellar direction, and its overall engrossing screenplay. Stream on Max
8 Honkytonk Man (1982)
Clint Eastwood is the complete package. While best known for his traditional films, Eastwood has been in quite a few musicals, too. In Honkytonk Man, he plays a singer dying of tuberculosis, traveling to Nashville with his nephew. His dream is to become a famous singer, but with the Great Depression ravaging the nation, it seems almost impossible.
Dynamic Father & Son Duo
It’s a laid-back movie, quite sweet in tone, and Eastwood and his son Kyle play the main roles. The touching and understated picture was once again directed by the illustrious leading man, who embraced his vulnerable side and included many heartfelt moments with his son on screen, much to the delight of audiences. Currently unavailable for streaming
7 The Beguiled (1971)
Clint Eastwood made five films with the great director Don Siegel, including Dirty Harry and Escape From Alcatraz, but The Beguiled often goes overlooked (at least until it was remade recently by director Sofia Coppola). A gothic, melodramatic Western unlike any other, The Beguiled perfectly manifests a consistent fear and insecurity in both Eastwood and Siegel. Eastwood, of course, credited the commercial failure of the film to him being “emasculated” in it, but that’s precisely what makes it so interesting.
Retrospective Cinematic Feat
The Beguiled was a critical success overseas and has been recently reevaluated as a strange, baroque deconstruction of masculinity in the Wild West. The film follows the wounded Corporal John ‘McBee’ McBurney during the Civil War when he is brought into the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies to recover. He’s a Union soldier stuck in Mississippi, surrounded by repressed women and girls, and the film becomes a psychosexual nightmare as suspicions, jealousies, and lust boil over into violence. Rent/Buy on Prime Video
6 High Plains Drifter (1973)
High Plains Drifter, directed by Eastwood himself, recounts the tale of a mysterious, nameless drifter who coasts into a small mining town. The drifter is contracted by the town to protect them from a gang of ruffians soon to be released from prison. Though he accepts the mission, he has an ulterior motive: he has come to settle an old score.
Eastwood’s Villainous Outing
High Plains Drifter has been praised for stepping outside the box of Eastwood’s typical westerns, as he is not playing an antihero protagonist so much as a downright villain. It’s a surprisingly dark film that also features a memorable performance from Verna Bloom, and was yet another entry in the revered star’s exceptional acting and directing catalog. Stream on Netflix
5 The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
In The Outlaw Josey Wales, Eastwood directs and plays the title role. Wales is, as the name of the movie tells audiences, an outlaw, one who embarks on a fiery revenge quest after his wife and son are murdered by a brutal, pro-Union militia. Wales’s trail of vengeance eventually catches up with him when a $5,000 bounty gets placed on his head.
Showing Off His Many Talents
This film is one of Eastwood’s best American productions and an excellent example of his skill as a burgeoning director. A smash hit at the box office, The Outlaw Josey Wales raked in over $31 million during its theatrical run and proved to be a major career high for Eastwood, who in 1999 declared that the lauded picture was “certainly one of the high points of my career… in the Western genre of filmmaking.” Rent/Buy on Apple TV+
4 Pale Rider (1985)
Released in 1985, Pale Rider is a revisionist Western film that nods to the traditions of the genre. At the time, it seemed like the Western movies that were once dearly loved were on the decline and had instead been eclipsed by the popularity of crime and thriller movies. However, this great ’80s Western proved that there was still gold to mine from the genre, and it was a big hit at the box office and became the highest-grossing Western of the decade.
Another Slam Dunk for Eastwood
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. Pale Rider received a glowing review from Roger Ebert, who raved that it was “a considerable achievement, a classic Western of style and excitement.” Rent/Buy on Prime Video
3 A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
A Fistful of Dollars
- Release Date
- January 18, 1964
- Sergio Leone , Monte Hellman
- Clint Eastwood , Marianne Koch , Gian Maria Volonte , Wolfgang Lukschy , Sieghardt Rupp , Joseph Egger
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 character’s facial expressions and slight movements indicate emotional states without recourse to language.
A Stellar Western Hit
A Fistful of Dollars took direct inspiration from the movie Yojimbo by Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa, which led to the film being tied up in litigation for three years before it could be released to the public. 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 director. It forged the way for a new heroic type in the Western genre, one that blurs the lines between morality and selfishness. Stream on Max
2 Unforgiven (1992)
By 1992, Clint Eastwood had found his voice as both a director and an actor. Unforgiven is an homage to his mentors: Leone and Siegel, directors who had previously mentored him. With Unforgiven, he directed what is widely regarded as the best Western movie of all time. The film is notable for the way it shows its characters living in a moral grey area: a world in which people aren’t bound by strict ethical and social codes.
Academy Award Gold
Unforgiven became the third Western film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards and was later added to the National Film Registry. Eastwood’s fantastic on-screen camaraderie with Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman’s wicked, villanious performance only further added to the overall impact and legacy of the celebrated flick. Unforgiven also inspired a Japanese Samurai remake in 2012 starring Ken Watanabe. Rent/Buy on Prime Video
1 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’s a pretty good reason for that. The cinematography builds up the suspense in Leone’s classic style, while the soundtrack adds the perfect ambiance. The film is best known for its tense, stand-off finale, but it has plenty of shootouts and trick shots throughout to keep the viewer entertained. The main characters are all antiheroes, leading viewers to decide for themselves who is right and who is wrong.
A Revered Hollywood Classic
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, but somehow everything came together perfectly, from the brilliant cinematography, Ennio Morricone score, stark performances, and epic scope. It’s a masterful film and the best Western Eastwood ever starred in. Stream on Max