The Films of Robert Rodriguez, Ranked

Marv Sin City Bar Fight

Alita: Battle Angel, an adaptation of the popular Manga, hits theaters on February 13th. Written by James Cameron, the film will be one of the biggest projects ever for director Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez has helmed films full of special effects in the past but mostly worked on films with smaller budgets for the majority of his career.

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Rodriguez has always been a director who has put a lot of personality into his films. They are often violent, kinetic, and inspired by different genres, from exploitation films to westerns to science fiction. Audiences are eager to see what kind of sensibilities Rodriguez will bring to his latest film, and how much inspiration he will draw from his body of work.

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Character poster for Ava Lord (Eva Green) in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
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Character poster for Ava Lord (Eva Green) in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

One thing that is going to become very obvious in this ranking almost immediately is that Robert Rodriguez does not have a knack for sequels. That is definitely evident in the long-awaited Sin City sequel, which came nine years after the original and left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was so critically reviled that it almost made people question the quality of the first Sin City. Was that movie just as bad and nobody remembered? Either way, A Dame to Kill For indulged in the worst tendencies of both Rodriguez and his co-director, Sin City author Frank Miller.


The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl

Robert Rodriguez might have had plenty of success with his series of Spy Kids films, but when it came to making a new film aimed at kids, lightning did not strike twice. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl currently sits at 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, and for plenty of good reasons.

The movie had none of the character or style that Rodriguez had brought to his other films. It seemed like he had entirely run out of ideas, and tried to make a new Spy Kids franchise, but couldn't quite hit those notes again. At least Taylor Lautner still got some work afterward.


Machete Kills cast

Once again, a sequel to a Robert Rodriguez movie ends up being nowhere near as good as its predecessor. Machete Kills at least took the sequel formula of "bigger, crazier, more" to its logical conclusion. The film tops the first Machete in terms of insane action and wild kills, but the big problem with that was it just felt like more of the same.

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Obviously, Danny Trejo is a treasure, and the role of Machete was tailor-made for him. However, his second outing as the character takes place in a film that is not nearly as well-constructed in its B-movie lunacy as the first film.


Spy Kids 3D with Antonio Banderas

The Spy Kids movies essentially put Robert Rodriguez on the map as a successful mainstream filmmaker. He had mad a name for himself with smaller films previously, but it was this bonkers, over-the-top series of films about child secret agents that made Rodriguez a household name.

The films may have declined in quality over the years, but there was never a shortage of creativity or innovation. Spy Kids 3D: Game Over came out years before 3D films became a moneymaking gimmick, and Rodriguez utilized it in a way that influenced later films.


Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek in Desperado

The second chapter of Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi trilogy is probably the weakest, but it is still packed with action and the filmmaker's signature stylistic traits. Antonio Banderas stars as the Mariachi in a film that amps up the action of the first film, but also, unfortunately, loses some of the story along the way.

Desperado still demonstrated that Rodriguez was an action filmmaker more than anything else, packed as it was with massive set pieces. While it was not exactly as great as its predecessor, the series would see a slight improvement in the third film of the series.


Rose McGowan in Planet Terror

Planet Terror was one half of the collaborative film project Grindhouse which played as a double feature of Rodriguez's film and Quentin Tarantino's Deathproof. Along with a selection of fake trailers (two of which were the origin of Machete and Hobo with a Shotgun), the two films were created in the style of 1970s exploitation films.

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Planet Terror follows the citizens of a small town that is suddenly overrun with infected zombies. Rodriguez truly embraces the strangest parts of his imagination in order to make the film as wild, violent, and bizarre as possible, up to and including having Rose McGowan's character have a machine gun for a leg.


Machete seemed like a crazy idea: an entire film spun off from a fake trailer in Grindhouse. However, there was something about the sight of Danny Trejo decked out in all kinds of knives that just really spoke to fans. Rodriguez seemed to know he had to go bigger, wilder, and more insane with this film than he had previously, and he pushed the limits in almost every way.

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Machete is a lot of fun and never takes itself seriously, even for a second. This film keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek, filling every frame with as much bonkers action, over-the-top performances, and bloody violence as it can. There are plenty of movies described as "live-action cartoons," but Machete really does have that look and feel.


The third and final entry in the Mariachi trilogy doesn't live up to the original, but it does improve on Desperado a considerable amount. By adding some new characters (like Johnny Depp's Sands or Eva Mendes's Ajedrez), Rodriguez managed to build on the foundation he had already created and pack the film with more action, story, and style.

Even though the longest gap between these films occurred between Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, it was clear that Rodriguez still had a strong connection to the story and the characters. The film also successfully concluded the franchise, allowing Antonio Banderas's character the opportunity to finish the trilogy with a happy ending.


Mickey Rourke in Sin City

In 2005, comic book fans were given the ultimate treat: a film based on a series of graphic novels, that looked exactly like its source material. Sin City is by no stretch a perfect film, but it demonstrated that comic books being made into films didn't have to be changed entirely in order to find the right audience.

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Along with a huge cast, the film featured amazing cinematography and strategic bursts of color. The film was co-directed by Frank Miller, and the panels from the books were used as the storyboards for the film. While its sequel displayed some of the worst things about Sin City and its creator, the original made an impression.


Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney in From Dusk Till Dawn

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino were in the same class of new filmmakers making an impression on Hollywood in the early nineties, and their first collaboration, From Dusk till Dawn, proved to be a major cult hit. The film pulls off the impressive trick of beginning one way and taking a wild left turn at the midpoint.

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Quentin Tarantino and George Clooneyplayed two brothers who hijack a family's RV and drive it south of the border wind up at a bar where the staff is actually vampires. The film was the perfect demonstration of the unconventional sensibilities that Rodriguez would bring to his future films.


Josh Hartnett and Elijah Wood in The Faculty

Robert Rodriguez has a very particular style, as well as certain stories that he likes to work with, so it's easy to forget that he also directed this 1998 film about a high school whose staff of teachers are slowly taken over by a race of invading aliens. The film, which starred Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, and Clea DuVall, is one of Rodriguez's best works.

While it seems like an obvious story from the outset, loaded with teen movie cliches, the film cleverly subverts those cliches while embracing them. The ending of the film also subtly (or not so subtly) hints at the fact that the aliens have won, with all of the main characters having abandoned what made them unique and embracing the status quo, which was what the aliens had wanted all along.


El Mariachi 2

Robert Rodriguez's first feature film remains his best work and forecasted the sensibilities that would make him a talent to watch in the future. The film began the journey of El Mariachi (played by Carlos Gallardo), an escaped convict out for revenge on the man who put him in prison.

The film, which drew inspiration from the western genre, was made on a shoestring budget. Though the film was comprised of Spanish-speaking actors, Columbia Pictures released the film in the United States, where it managed to gross $2 million. The film put Rodriguez on the map as a director who could do a lot with very little.

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