Clint Eastwood

10 Best Clint Eastwood Performances In Movies He Directed

From his classic westerns like Unforgiven to his Best Picture-winning Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood gives great performances in his own movies.

Though Clint Eastwood’s most recent movie, 2021’s Cry Macho, was a commercial failure, the actor-director is one of Hollywood’s most impressive figures, having worked in the industry for almost 70 years. He started as an actor in 1955 and then made his directorial debut in 1971, earning tons of acclaim and multiple Oscars. At the age of 92, there won’t be too many more movies in the great filmmaker’s career, both in front of and behind the camera.

Over six decades, Eastwood has directed 40 movies, appearing in 26 of them either in a lead role or as a supporting player. Though he’s never won an Oscar for acting, Eastwood gives his best performances in movies he directs.

Harry Callahan, Sudden Impact (1983)

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Dirty Harry berates a fellow detective for putting ketchup on a hot dog in Sudden Impact

Clint Eastwood starred in the very successful Dirty Harry franchise, and in 1983, he got a chance to direct a movie in the series. This was Sudden Impact, the fourth installment. With Eastwood behind the camera, Sudden Impact was the darkest in the franchise, and this allowed him to flex his already considerable acting talent.

A group of men who sexually assaulted a woman turn up dead, and it is up to Dirty Harry to figure out who the killer is. However, when Harry ends up romantically involved with the woman, and she turns out to be the killer, he has a very tough decision to make. A stone-cold killer of bad guys, Dirty Harry has tons of iconic quotes, many delivered in this movie, in which the character is the most complex he’s ever been.

Luther Whitney, Absolute Power (1997)

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Clint Eastwood smiles in Absolute Power

In 1997, Eastwood directed the adaptation of the David Baldacci novel Absolute Power. The movie had a great cast, including heavyweight actors Ed Harris and Gene Hackman. Eastwood stars as a master thief who witnessed Secret Service agents murdering the U.S. President’s mistress.

While the movie received mixed reviews from critics, most praised Eastwood’s performance as the thief and star of the movie. As the smart man on the run, the actor, then 67, accomplished things people half his age couldn’t do. It is Eastwood’s fine acting that makes the movie so watchable despite the predictable plot.

Preacher, Pale Rider (1985)

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Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider, riding a white dappled horse in a snowy setting

Pale Rider was one of Clint Eastwood’s most subversive westerns, a genre that he mastered early in his career. As a man named Preacher, Eastwood’s story came straight from the Bible. Based on the Book of Revelation, the story centered on the pale rider of death from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

This isn’t the only movie where Eastwood played a man with no name, but it is one of the only ones where he played a possible supernatural entity. Seemingly immortal, Eastwood plays Preacher as an apologetic killer who wipes out evil at all costs.

The Stranger, High Plains Drifter (1973)

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Close-up of Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter

In High Plains Drifter, Eastwood also played a character that had an unknown origin. However, his Stranger was a little more grounded than Preacher, and there was nothing to imply he was supernatural.

However, the movie left it up to the viewers about whether Stranger was a man seeking revenge, or whether it was the murdered sheriff’s spirit returned for revenge. Eastwood did a great job of playing the ambiguity while directing the mystery behind the camera as well.

Red Garnett, A Perfect World (1993)

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Clint Eastwood as a Texas Ranger in A Perfect World.

One of Clint Eastwood’s most overlooked and underappreciated movies was 1993’s A Perfect World. Eastwood directed and starred in the movie as Texas Ranger, Red Garnett. Garnett sets out to find an escaped prisoner named Butch (Kevin Costner) who kidnapped a young boy.

The movie shares a similarity to The Fugitive, which came out the same year, where a law enforcement agent is hunting an escaped convict. However, in this case, Butch actually was guilty. While it’s been largely forgotten, A Perfect World is one of Eastwood’s best-directed movies. While Costner received most of the praise for his performance, Eastwood held his own as the compassionate Texas Ranger.

Frankie Dunn, Million Dollar Baby (2004)

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Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby

Eastwood took on a supporting role in Million Dollar Baby in 2004, winning his second Best Director Academy Award. In front of the camera, he played Frankie Dunn, a veteran boxing trainer. Hilary Swank was the lead as a boxer named Maggie Fitzgerald whom Frankie took under his wing, leading her to great success.

Eastwood perfectly portrayed Frankie’s gruff persona as he trained Maggie and showed her tough love, and his scenes with Morgan Freeman were also highlights. However, Eastwood took the story to another level during the twist tragedy that concluded the movie, and his heartbreak and pain showed there’s more to him than just a cowboy or action hero.

Earl Stone, The Mule (2018)

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Clint Eastwood in The Mule

The Mule was one of Clint Eastwood’s later movies, and the last one that received positive critical reviews. Released in 2018, with Eastwood closing in on 90, he directed and starred in the movie, which is based on a true story, about a broke and lonely man who agreed to become a drug courier for a Mexican cartel.

Even at his later age, Eastwood showed the ability to carry the movie on his shoulders, displaying both vulnerability and regret while still maintaining his trademark grit.

Josey Wales, The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

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Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales

Eastwood made his name in the western genre, and the pinnacle of his success was The Outlaw Josey Wales. It took 16 years before he eclipsed this movie, but it still stands the test of time as one of the best western movies he not only directed but starred in. In the movie, Eastwood played the title character.

A Union militia murdered Wales’ family during the American Civil War, so he joined up with the Confederates, who all ended up murdered by Union forces. After this, Wales became a legendary outlaw, hunted by bounty hunters and Union soldiers. This was the movie that proved Eastwood’s talent as a director, and proof that he was the face of the western genre.

Robert Kincaid, The Bridges Of Madison County (1995)

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Clint Eastwood photgraphing Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County

In what might come as a surprise, the man best known for playing cops and cowboys turned in one of his best roles in a romantic drama. The movie was The Bridges of Madison County and arrived in 1995 with Eastwood starring as a photojournalist named Robert who meets a war bride played by Meryl Streep.

The two end up having an intense love affair while her husband and kids are out of town. Streep picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for the performance and Eastwood held his own in his rare turn as a romantic lead. Eastwood, in front of and behind the camera, turned the movie into something that surpassed the source material.

Will Munny, Unforgiven (1992)

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Clint Eastwood points a gun in Unforgiven

The first Oscar win for Eastwood as a director came with his western movie Unforgiven in 1992. With this movie, Eastwood singlehandedly revitalized the dying western genre. But as great a directing job he did, he was even better in front of the camera as Will Munny, subverting genre conventions at every turn.

Munny was a former outlaw who wanted to live in peace after the death of his wife. However, when a woman put a bounty on the men who hurt and scarred her, and two warring groups of outlaws go to war, Munny ends up pulled back in and at odds with the local sheriff who is tired of vigilantism. Then in his sixties, Eastwood delivered the best western performance of his career.

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