Unseen Clint: the best Clint Eastwood movies in which he doesn’t star

Five-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood is one of Hollywood’s most enduring icons, with an acting career that dates back to the 1950s and Western TV series Rawhide. However, while some actors only direct films they themselves star in, the 89-year-old has made a host of films in which he doesn’t appear at all.

Eastwood’s forthcoming biographical drama Richard Jewell is just such a movie, recounting the shocking story of an American hero who was wrongly hounded by both the press and the FBI. Impressive newcomer Paul Walter Hauser plays the persecuted Jewell, and the starry supporting cast includes Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm and Kathy Bates.

And although Clint himself is nowhere to be seen, the impassive and stoic direction bears all of his hallmarks. Here, we take a look at some of the best movies where Clint is not seen on camera, but his creative presence is very much felt...

1. Bird (1988)

The first film Eastwood directed without appearing on screen (while he didn’t play a role in 1977’s Breezy, he did have a small uncredited cameo), it is nonetheless a very personal film for the jazz fan. The biopic of tragic jazz icon Charlie Parker played around with narrative form, creating a montage of the musician’s life that went back and forth in his timeline.

It made a star of lead Forest Whitaker, and while it was not financially successful it remains one of the go-to choices for fans of Eastwood’s directing work.

2. Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

Clint Eastwood may be best known for tough guy roles and westerns, but as director he’s experimented with a number of genres. This Savannah-set mystery thriller is not what you would expect from the former Dirty Harry, being the story of a New York magazine reporter (John Cusack) who travels to the American Deep South to cover a society event, only to end up investigating a murder.

The film features LGBTQ+ characters in prominent roles (a rarity for the time), voodoo subplots and Eastwood directing his daughter Alison. It’s a lesser known work from the director, but one worth exploring if all you know him for is cop movies and Westerns.

3. Mystic River (2003)

If you can’t be in front of the camera yourself, it helps to have a stellar cast to do the hard work. Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden all star in a critically acclaimed mystery about a shocking Boston murder that has emotional implications for a trio of former friends, all of whom are sheltering memories of grief and trauma.

A labyrinth of twists and revelations, Eastwood’s Oscar-winning drama (Penn and Robbins walked away with awards) confronts hard-hitting issues such as child abuse, revenge and the danger of suspicion. It remains some of his most impactful work behind the camera.

4. Changeling (2008)

Eastwood doesn't often make women the focus of his movies, but when he does it produces hits like The Bridges of Madison County, starring Meryl Streep, and Million Dollar Baby, which won an Oscar for Hillary Swank. For Changeling, he teams with A-lister Angelina Jolie, crafting a period drama that looks at the suppression of women in America, as well as corruption at the highest levels of power.

Jolie is terrific as a mother whose son goes missing, only to become convinced that the boy eventually returned to her is not her offspring. It’s a powerful true story spearheaded by Jolie, but aided by a strong performance from John Malkovich, with whom Eastwood worked on 1993 thriller In The Line of Fire.

5. Invictus (2009)

Invictus finds Eastwood working outside of America, telling a true story from the perspective of one of the most famous men in history, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman). By his own admission, the director was not an expert on the game of rugby, yet he effortlessly weaves the action on the pitch into the true story of how the 1995 Rugby World Cup united South Africa at a time when harmony was far from certain.

Earning Oscar nominations for Freeman and co-star Matt Damon (playing Springboks captain Francois Pienaar), it is a change of pace for the director, but a film that still explores his regular themes of national identity and the bravery it takes to make one’s mark on history.

6. J. Edgar (2011)

Leonardo DiCaprio has made a career of working with the very best directors in the business – Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg, to name a few.

Given this trend, it’s perhaps inevitable that he and Clint Eastwood would collaborate, eventually meeting on this biopic of notorious FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. The director drew a nuanced performance out of his star, with DiCaprio giving powerful inner-life to this controversial American figure.

7. Jersey Boys (2014)

A Clint Eastwood musical? The actor is not the first person you think of when Broadway is mentioned, but the director stepped behind the camera for this adaptation of the hit stage show about the rise of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

Lavish and filled with crooning pop hits, Jersey Boys remains something of an anomaly in Eastwood’s sturdy filmography. Even well into his eighties, Eastwood continued to push himself and surprise audiences.

8. American Sniper (2015)

Before he gazed into the eyes of Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper took the lead in Eastwood's ode to an American war hero. American Sniper explores the mental fragility of Chris Kyle, a man who would become the deadliest sniper in US military history.

It's a patriotic film, but also one that delves into the toll taken on Kyle’s life and that of his family. Eastwood and Cooper paint Kyle as an ordinary man, brought into a global conflict due to his unique skills, and who perhaps struggles to separate the realities of the battlefield from those of his home life. The film became Eastwood’s biggest-ever box office hit, with more than $540 million in the bank, and received six Oscar nominations.

9. Sully (2016)

Here’s another riveting tale of a regular person upon whom heroism is thrust. Eastwood collaborates with Oscar winner Tom Hanks (incredibly, for the first time) to tell the story of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who remarkably managed to land a stricken passenger plane on New York’s Hudson River without sustaining any loss of life.

Like Richard Jewell, it’s a study of a fundamentally decent individual whose motives are questioned by the establishment.

Richard Jewell is released in Cineworld cinemas on the 31st of January, preceded by the Richard Jewell Unlimited screening on the 14th of January. What's your favourite Clint Eastwood-directed, non-Clint Eastwood starring movie? Let us know @Cineworld.

James Luxford is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team. Follow him on Twitter.