From The Big Red One to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, some Lee Marvin movies rank among the greatest films ever made. Marvin first rose to prominence in the 1950s and early 1960s with his villainous roles as “the heavy” in Westerns and film noirs, but he eventually transitioned into lead roles and revolutionized Hollywood filmmaking with the introduction of the antihero. Marvin’s most iconic characters, like Walker in Point Blank and Major John Reisman in The Dirty Dozen, helped to bring morally gray protagonists into mainstream productions, paving the way for characters like John Wick and Snake Plissken.
Throughout his storied career, Marvin won an Academy Award, a BAFTA Film Award, and a Golden Globe. Decades after he passed away, Marvin remains a timeless icon of the silver screen whose performances continue to thrill audiences to this day. Marvin is one of the few “tough guy” movie stars to have real-life grit, having earned a Purple Heart for his service as a U.S. Marine during World War II. From classic neo-noirs like The Killers to famed Westerns like The Professionals, there are a ton of great Lee Marvin movies for fans of his to enjoy.
12 Paint Your Wagon (1969)
A mixture of the two Hollywood genres that dominated the 1960s – Western and musical – Paint Your Wagon follows a pair of prospectors who share a wife in a California gold rush mining town. Paint Your Wagon was panned by critics at the time of its release, with its logged reviews scoring just 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s now remembered as a cult classic. Spoofed in everything from The Simpsons to The Muppet Show, Paint Your Wagon is famous for casting Lee Marvin and fellow Western movie tough guy Clint Eastwood against type in a lighthearted musical.
11 Monte Walsh (1970)
Lee Marvin gave one of the most nuanced performances of his career in the title role of Monte Walsh. Helmed by cinematographer William A. Fraker in his directorial debut, it’s a touching neo-Western about an aging cowboy in an evolving American West. It deals with the same themes as Unforgiven in a lighter, more nostalgic way. At a time when dark, gritty, subversive anti-Westerns were becoming more popular, Monte Walsh offered a refreshingly optimistic look at the final days of the Old West. It’s an earnest movie with real emotional depth.
10 The Killers (1964)
Based on the short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway, The Killers revolves around two professional hitmen who try to figure out the mysterious nature of their assignment when their latest target doesn’t try to run. Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager star as the bickering hitmen in this classic Don Siegel neo-noir. The 1964 version of The Killers might not be as well-crafted or influential as Robert Siodmak’s original adaptation from 1946, but it’s still a gritty, exciting hitman thriller, and Marvin is wholly convincing as a cold-blooded contract killer.
9 The Comancheros (1961)
Although The Comancheros is a starring vehicle for John Wayne, Lee Marvin has a small but memorable role as gun runner Tully Crow. The Comancheros revolves around a Texas Ranger, played by Wayne, reluctantly teaming up with his prisoner, a gambler played by Stuart Whitman, to take down some shady arms dealers. Helmed by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz (his final filmmaking job before his death), The Comancheros has gorgeous CinemaScope visuals and plenty of action to keep the audience excited. Thanks to its universal critical acclaim, The Comancheros holds a rare 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
8 The Iceman Cometh (1973)
Adapted from Eugene O’Neill’s classic play of the same name, The Iceman Cometh revolves around a group of drunken dead-enders living in a flop house above a saloon, whose most successful friend embraces sobriety and suggests that they do the same. John Frankenheimer’s stunning film adaptation brings O’Neill’s seminal stage play to life with impeccable performances from a cast including Lee Marvin. Fredric March plays the lead role of Harry Hope, but Marvin steals the show as Theodore “Hickey” Hickman. The Iceman Cometh manages to hold the audience’s attention for nearly four hours.
7 The Professionals (1966)
The Professionals begins with a cocky Texas millionaire hiring a band of four gunslingers – played by Lee Marvin alongside Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode – to rescue his kidnapped wife from an infamous Mexican bandit. However, when they find the wife, they’re surprised to learn that she doesn’t want to be saved. The Professionals is a no-nonsense Western classic with a tight-knit troupe of heroes and a surprising twist. It remains a staple of pop culture; it was referenced in Reservoir Dogs, with mob boss Joe Cabot repeating Marvin’s line “Let’s go to work.”
6 The Big Red One (1980)
The Big Red One is a powerful, captivating war epic drawn from writer-director Samuel Fuller’s own experiences with his military unit, the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, whose insignia was a big red “1” (via Britannica). Lee Marvin stars as a gruff commanding officer who leads his troops into battle in World War II while still grappling with the guilt of unwittingly killing a surrendering German officer several hours after World War I ended. The Big Red One is often listed as one of the greatest and most historically accurate war films ever made – especially the “Reconstruction” cut, which restored Fuller’s original vision.
5 Bad Day At Black Rock (1955)
Spencer Tracy stars in the neo-Westen film Bad Day at Black Rock as John J. Macreedy, a stranger who wanders into a small town in the middle of nowhere in 1945 and uncovers a dark conspiracy that grips the entire community. Lee Marvin gives a memorably sinister turn as a villain: local troublemaker Hector David. The John Sturges film was universally praised by critics, with a near-perfect 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Bad Day at Black Rock was one of the earliest revisionist Westerns, deconstructing the genre when it was still in its heyday.
4 Cat Ballou (1965)
Cat Ballou is a delightful Western comedy in contrast with the darker Westerns that were getting made at the time. Jane Fonda stars, in her breakout role, as the titular Catherine “Cat” Ballou, who hires a notorious gunfighter to protect her father’s ranch from another notorious gunfighter. Both gunfighters are played brilliantly by Lee Marvin, cast against his usual tough-as-nails on-screen persona with a sillier comedic character. Marvin won the Academy Award for Best Actor — and several other major awards — for his dual roles as a hero and villain. The American Film Institute listed Cat Ballou as the 10th greatest Western ever made.
3 The Dirty Dozen (1967)
An all-time classic of the war film genre, The Dirty Dozen is the quintessential guys-on-a-mission World War II movie. Marvin stars as Major John Reisman, who is assigned a war movie squad of convicted murderers to take behind enemy lines to kill German officers en masse. The titular dozen is rounded out with some of the most legendary actors in Hollywood history, from Charles Bronson to Donald Sutherland to Jim Brown to Telly Savalas to John Cassavetes. Marvin ably leads the all-star ensemble cast with the grit and guile of a battle-hardened war veteran.
2 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
When a U.S. senator played by James Stewart returns to his old frontier town for the funeral of a friend played by John Wayne, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance tells his complicated backstory in flashbacks. Marvin plays the titular outlaw in one of his most iconic villain performances. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is hailed as one of John Wayne and director John Ford’s best movies together. Its cynical telling of a grisly, violent story introduced a previously unheard-of sense of pessimism to the Western genre, which influenced the creation of the Spaghetti Western in Italy.
1 Point Blank (1967)
After being double-crossed and left for dead, a mysterious man known only as Walker goes on a roaring rampage of revenge to retrieve the money that was stolen from him in John Boorman’s Point Blank. Walker, a man of few words ruthlessly seeking vengeance, is not only one of the defining roles of Lee Marvin’s movie career but one of the earliest antiheroes in a Hollywood production. With its breathtaking minimalist thrills, Point Blank has become one of the most influential action movies ever made, inspiring everything from John Wick to Mulholland Drive.