Let’s get the show on the road, Robert Rodriguez style. No wasted energy, effort, or efficiency. It’s time to address the 10 best movies directed by Robert Rodriguez, and toss out a few references to movies that might be in the top 10 if they weren’t in development, pre- or post-production. At that, we’re also indebted to offering a nod to a book that any aspiring filmmaker should read, Rebel Without a Crew, by Robert Rodriguez, presenting his methodology of “by any means necessary,” for making his first feature film. And…action!
10. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D (2005)
Sharkboy and Lavagirl. The two Taylors. This film gave a memorable birth to the career of Taylor Lautner, who would go on to steal all our hearts with his portrayal of Jacob Black in the Twilight series. In all seriousness, this film is a must on the list, because it carried significant weight in helping to create a trend in the industry: the renaissance of 3-D. There has always been a market for 3-D films, and most purists will opt for a film that is released as “standard,” because film is inherently three dimensional. However, films that are made with the 3-D features as part of its DNA will always attract the curious eye. Yep, this flick came four years before the $237 million, James Cameron 3-D foray Avatar. The success of Sharkboy and Lavagirl served as a litmus test.
9. The Faculty (1998)
The Faculty served as Robert Rodriguez’s follow-up to From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (be patient, it’s right around the corner), and it was a gross departure from the films he did to begin his career. For the first time, Rodriguez was offered a script from a studio, as opposed to penning the story himself. The Faculty was an alien invasion, high school, psychological thriller starring Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnet. It was geared toward that 17-to-35-year old demographic who most enjoy the adrenaline rush of the fight or flight response. It was perfectly timed for a 1998 release, as audiences were still buzzing from the birth of the slick horror genre introduced by Scream. Stylistically, The Faculty was well done. The actors were on the same page tonally, and the story offered a lot of pitted drama, twists and scares. Overall, it still serves as a guilty pleasure.
8. Spy Kids (2001)
For those asking themselves, “Why does Robert Rodriguez fluctuate between violent, horror-style flicks, and kids action movies?” The answer is simple: Rob is a father, and when his kids were actual children, he wanted to do a little something that would entertain their demographic. Additionally, movies geared toward kids are incredibly successful at the box office, and when combined with a fresh imagination, like that of Rodriguez, there is a lot of money to be made. Spy Kids wasn’t a moderate hit, it was huge. It spawned an entire franchise of films that spanned 10 years. We’d be jumping the gun to suggest there would never be another Spy Kids, because kids of kids, or even grandchildren, would inevitably have that spying gene. Regarding the original, it was a film that seemed like it would flop, but it was so well executed, it was a perfect family film.
7. Machete (2010)
How the years have flown. It doesn’t seem like Machete was released years ago, but the franchise now boasts a sequel with another in development (Machete Kills In Space). All that is to say, yeah, it has been a few years since we met Federale Machete, and his band of betrayers, and merry, violent men and women. Robert Rodriguez went right back to the well to cast this gem, and finally gave Danny Trejo something he’d long deserved: the chance to play the titular role in a theatrically released feature film. He paired Trejo with screen legend Cheech Marin and offered audiences an incredibly violent comedy of errors — the errors being sweet moments of revenge. It’s straight Shakespeareian with the betrayal, strong female characters, and retribution for the antihero. At its essence, Machete is as absurd as you’d imagine, and is best enjoyed after a bad week at the office.
6. Grindhouse: Planet Terror (2007)
How refreshing was Robert Rodriguez’s foray into grindhouse pics? 192 minutes of awesome exploitation, violence, choreographed absurdity, action and gore. Of course, this was another project spotlighted by the collaboration of Rodriguez, and filmmaker colleague, Quentin Tarantino. Grindhouse featured two films, Planet Terror, directed by Rodriguez, and Death Proof, directed by Tarantino. The film also boasted fake trailers for other grindhouse genre flicks, directed by well known names like Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and Jason Eisener. In Planet Terror, a zombiesque outbreak leaves a group of rag-tag survivors to do the deed of cleaning up the mess. For those who enjoy old exploitation films of the 60s and 70s, it honors those predecessors to a tee, and incorporates 21st century VFX. The Planet Terror cast was proof that Rodriguez is another guy who can pretty much do what he wants when he wants in Hollywood.
5. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
As mentioned, this list could be no list without From Dusk Till Dawn. It was far from Robert Rodriguez’s first feature, but it was certainly an attention-grabbing oddity starring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliet Lewis and the Rodriguez regulars: Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin and Salma Hayek. Sweet Salma Hayek. For many movie goers, this film served as their introduction to the Mexican beauty. She didn’t have many lines in her iconic scene, but wow…what a cinematic impact. Moving along. Who saw this one coming? For those who have yet to enjoy the majesty, there are no spoilers here. However, we can address the effect this had on Rodriguez’s career. He went from indie-action darling to Hollywood player with this success, and has done pretty much everything he has pitched since then. The sequels? Yeah, they’re bad. They’re also not Rodriguez movies. Just enjoy the original.
4. Once Upon a Time In Mexico (2003)
We’ll have to go out of order to address the Mexico Trilogy. Robert Rodriguez apologists are well aware that the story line featuring “the guitar player.” It is what launched his career, and that journey is chronicled in the aforementioned book, Rebel Without a Crew. Once Upon a Time In Mexico was the final chapter (as it stands) in the Mexico trilogy, and it served as one of Rodriguez’s most stylistic films to date. He scored Johnny Depp as wonderfully witty villain, and brought back Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek to put the final nail in the coffin. It was one of those films that was just a good time at the movies. Nothing so spectacular to change your life, but very entertaining. For the film purists, this was a tough pill to swallow, as Rodriguez opted to shoot digital over film.
3. Desperado (1995)
Desperado was the second film of the Mexico trilogy (hold tight if you don’t know why it’s the Mexico trilogy), and it was the continuation of the little indie that could, El Mariachi. This was also Robert’s second feature film, and the first made with the thought of theatrical release resting firmly in his brain space. The same characters got a casting overhaul when Antonio Banderas was introduced as El Mariachi, and Salma Hayek was truly introduced to widespread American audiences. It was amazing to see what Rodriguez could do with a full crew, and an impressive budget. Columbia Pictures was beyond thrilled that the film garnered box office numbers of $25 million after building the action flick on a relatively small, $7 million budget. This served as the second time Rodriguez stepped to the plate, and delivered a winning run.
2. Sin City (2005)
Ten years after Desperado, Robert Rodriguez was calling his own shots, investing in his own projects, and pretty much breaking all the rules of convention when it came to making movies. Sin City was no exception. It comes in so high on this list, because it is likely Rodriguez’s most courageous effort in the industry — with so much at stake — as well as an impressively stylistic take on the graphic novel as a feature film. So…this breaking of the rules: Robert left/resigned from the Directors Guild (DGA) in order to bring Frank Miller onto the project, because he didn’t feel it was possible to honor Sin City without the creator as part of the process. Because of all the union red tape, this was the move he felt he needed to make. By Hollywood standards, this was sheer insanity…but that’s Robert Rodriguez.
1. El Mariachi (1992)
What else could be at number one? Is it “the best” of Robert Rodriguez’s films? That is a question of personal preference, but let’s look at it like this, shall we? If there was one film to define who Robert Rodriguez is as a filmmaker, it’s El Mariachi. Rodriguez shot this feature for a measly $6,500-7,000 budget, and traveled to Mexico to drop all above the line costs. In order to secure distribution, he knew he’d have to shoot industry standard, which was film. So, he did. He cast friends, he ran sound, he operated the camera, he directed, edited, gaffed, served as art department, costume designer, special effects supervisor…the list goes on. And he made a feature film that attracted the selection committee of Sundance Film Festival, was selected and premiered in Park City, Utah. One has to admire the can-do nature of Robert Rodriguez.