Robert Rodriguez is one of the most creative filmmakers today. He’s best known for his mariachi-style movies (Westerns and other genre pieces on a tiny budget with a grindhouse feel) and for being his own one-man, hands-on film crew.
He frequently serves as editor, cinematographer, camera operator, music composer, sound editor, effects supervisor, and more on his films. With that level of creative control, he’s capable of directing movies in any genre. His signature flair is hard to ignore.
From gritty Westerns to sci-fi thrillers, here are our picks for the best Robert Rodriguez movies of all time.
10. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the final part of Rodriguez’s Mexico trilogy, concluding the journey of El Mariachi (played by Antonio Banderas).
After his wife Carolina (played by Salma Hayek) and their daughter are killed, CIA agent Sheldon Sands (played by Johnny Depp) pulls him back into action to help him stop a corrupt general.
All of the ingredients and flair of the Mariachi movies are still here, though not as fresh the third time around. Depp definitely adds his unique charm to his ambiguous character, standing out the most. Overall, the film is a great finale to the series.
9. Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Based on the Yukito Kishiro manga series and its anime adaptation, Alita: Battle Angel marks a return to form for Rodriguez after a series of flops.
The film follows a cyborg named Alita (played by Rosa Salazar) who is revived by Dr. Dyson Ido (played by Christoph Waltz) and sets out to mark her own destiny.
While not the most groundbreaking manga, Battle Angel Alita (originally titled Gunnm) has a compelling story in Alita. It was stuck in development hell for years, but Rodriguez eventually brought the story to life with his own visual flair (even down to Alita’s eyes).
8. Machete (2010)
Isador “Machete” Cortez was a standout character in the Spy Kids movies, and he remains Danny Trejo’s most memorable character.
Giving him a fake trailer in Grindhouse only proved that Machete was ready for his own solo movie—and lo and behold, we got this glorious exploitation movie that shows Trejo’s gritty awesomeness.
Following the same gritty B-movie style as Grindhouse, Machete puts the former assassin in a revenge streak after his boss frames him for a crime he didn’t commit.
Rodriguez loves the hallmarks of the genre and he paid homage to all of them here, with everyone in the cast joyfully going along.
7. Planet Terror (2007)
After Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino teamed up for a double feature: Tarantino directed the dark thriller Death Proof while Rodriguez created the sci-fi thriller Planet Terror.
Planet Terror is set during a biochemical outbreak, centering on a group of survivors who battle zombie-like creatures and rogue soldiers.
Rodriguez blends two genres—zombie thriller and feminist action—into one fun grindhouse throwback, with most of the fun coming from Rose McGowan, who elevates her part as she goes through a significant transformation.
6. Desperado (1995)
Desperado sees Antonio Banderas taking the mantle of El Mariachi and making it his own.
Following the events of the first movie, the guitarist-turned-killer arrives in a town where the drug lord Bucho resides—the same drug lord who killed his lover. While there, El Mariachi becomes embroiled and must outwit them to survive.
With Desperado, Rodriguez applied everything he learned from El Mariachi and doubled the action and doubled the Western homages. Thanks to Banderas’s charm and his chemistry with Salma Hayek, Desperado is one cool Western that is escapist cinema.
5. Spy Kids (2001)
Did you know Robert Rodriguez stepped away from his usual genre flicks and made family-friendly films from time to time? Some were good (like We Can Be Heroes), some were bad (like Shorts), but one of them led to his most successful franchise: Spy Kids.
Spy Kids centers on Carmen and Juni, who discover that their parents are actually spies. When their parents are captured, the two must step up and do what they can to rescue them.
Through Spy Kids, Rodriguez made a kids’ version of the James Bond franchise, complete with gadgets, villains, lairs, and everything. The result is an unapologetic film with tongue-in-cheek spy elements and lots of fun action. (Just forget the fourth movie.)
4. The Faculty (1998)
Robert Rodriguez’s first sci-fi horror film was The Faculty, which was his own take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers mixed with the usual trope of horror movies centering on teen protagonists.
From the title, you might be able to guess the premise of The Faculty: a group of misfit teenagers uncover a dangerous secret about their school teachers, which happens to involve an invasion plot.
While the movie’s elements are nothing new, the thrill comes from its tremendous young cast and their rapport (effectively crafted by Scream writer Kevin Williamson). The result is a tense high school thriller that makes for great B-movie fun.
3. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Looking at his filmography, it would appear that Robert Rodriguez is a natural when it comes to cult movie sensibilities. That’s most apparent in the vampire film From Dusk Till Dawn.
From Dusk Till Dawn successfully combines the best ingredients of a cult movie and blends two genres—Western and vampire horror—to result in lots of campy fun between gory shootouts.
George Clooney’s Seth Gecko and Tarantino’s Richie Gecko are fun characters to follow through their pulpy and violent adventure, and Salma Hayek as Santanico Pandemonium is a scene stealer.
2. El Mariachi (1992)
After the success of his short film Bedhead, Robert Rodriguez wanted to venture into feature-length projects. With funding from a friend, he made El Mariachi on a $7,000 budget to cater to the Spanish home video market, but Columbia Pictures saw potential.
El Mariachi follows the titular hero, a Mexican guitarist who’s mistaken by a local gang for a dangerous criminal. Thus, the traveling mariachi must wield a gun to overcome them.
Despite its simple premise and self-contained setting, El Mariachi brings the best elements of Westerns and twists them in a new way. With his “one-man film crew” skills, Rodriguez largely excelled.
1. Sin City (2005)
The world of Frank Miller’s Sin City is dense, seedy, and violent. It needed a filmmaker like Rodriguez to bring its stories to life.
This neo-noir crime anthology features three stories: “The Hard Goodbye,” “The Big Fat Kill,” and “That Yellow Bastard.”
“The Hard Goodbye” brings the best of Mickey Rourke as Marv. “Big Fat Kill” shows the bloody conclusion of a street war. And “That Yellow Bastard” has a violent scene with Bruce Willis’s detective. Each story is packed with a sense of grit.
Rodriguez stayed faithful to Miller’s source material, even going as far as sticking to its black-and-white color palette and mirroring scenes to Miller’s detailed comic illustrations. It’s one of the greatest and most faithful adaptations of a graphic novel into film.