“I’m never going to be a Laurence Olivier,” Clint Eastwood said, back in 1971. “With my physical type and legato personality, I’ll never play certain parts. But I still can do things that have some quality.”
That he could. There have been numerous new Oliviers over the years, but there has only been one Eastwood. Born during the Great Depression, this California native would work his way though odd jobs and a stint in the army (as a lifeguard) before becoming a contract player at Universal. After a series of tiny parts and walk-ons, Eastwood nabbed a plum role as Rowdy Yates in the TV show Rawhide. And then, after a fateful trip to Europe to shoot a few Italian Westerns he assumed no one would ever see, Clint would soon turn into the person that Pauline Kael described as “six feet four of lean, tough saint, blue-eyed and shaggy-haired, with a rugged, creased, careworn face that occasionally breaks into a mischief-filled grin.” The rest is film history. He is, in so many ways, the last movie star standing.
In honor of Eastwood’s 90th birthday, we’ve picked 25 of his essential movies, both as an actor and a director. (In a few cases, solely as a director.) The gunfighters, the cops, the brawlers, the soldiers, the lovers, the lion-in-winter roles, the strong, silent types and the comic turns — these are the highlights of a singular, prolific career in front of and behind the camera.