In 1992, Robert Rodriguez set out to make his first movie with nothing but his camera and determination.
As he tells in his book, Rebel Without a Crew, he volunteered for medical testing for pay to save up the money to make El Mariachi and even cast the villain in that movie with a man he met while at the medical facility.
The rest is history.
Rodriguez spent a total of just over $7,000 to shoot his movie, and it was a success, getting him attention from studios, who hired him to make a sequel/remake in Desperado. He followed that up with a studio effort in The Faculty before deciding he liked doing things on his own.
Troublemaker Studios is Rodriguez’s home base that he owns and where produces his own movies, which he then sells to studios, making him one of the most successful independent filmmakers in the world.
With a great filmography, here is a look at the 15 best Robert Rodriguez movies of all-time.
Robert Rodriguez movies missing the cut: Roadracers (1994), Shorts (2009), Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011). Another film, Red 11 (2019), has released at festivals but has not received a release outside of that yet. It will receive a release on Tubi sometime this year.
15. Machete Kills (2013)
In 2013, Robert Rodriguez brought back Danny Trejo for his sequel to Machete.
Titled Machete Kills, the film sees Machete and Sartana (Jessica Alba) trying to capture weapons dealers. However, they are betrayed, Sartana is killed, and Machete arrested.
Luckily, before his execution, the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen) saves him and offers him U.S. citizenship if he can execute an enemy of the country (Demian Bichir).
The problem here is that Machete Kills never feels as fun as its grindhouse predecessor. Credit does need to go to the crazed villain, shockingly played by Mel Gibson.
14. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
The first Sin City movie was a visual masterpiece, taking images from the Frank Miller graphic novels and recreating them on the big screen.
For the sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez was unable to create the same magic, although the movie was far from bad.
Josh Brolin replaced Clive Owen as Dwight, with the reasoning that he had plastic surgery to hide his appearance. However, he was suckered in this time by a femme fatale played by Eva Green.
Mickey Rourke returns as Marv, Jessica Alba as Nancy, and Bruce Willis is back as John Hartigan, the protagonist from the first movie.
13. Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002)
There were a total of four Spy Kids movies, and while Robert Rodriguez wanted to make a fifth, he created an animated series instead since his kids were grown up by the time it rolled around.
The second movie sits in this spot, subtitled The Island of Lost Dreams.
This movie has the new child spy program at the Organization of Super Spies (OSS) in full development with both Carmen and Juni as agents.
Despite being the original Spy Kids, they are not the best and have to prove themselves when Juni is framed for a crime.
12. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)
The third Spy Kids movie took the new 3-D craze to new heights, and Robert Rodriquez made sure that he used it to the full effects that it was initially known for – to throw things in your face.
In this movie, the Spy Kids have to infiltrate a virtual reality game when a mysterious criminal mastermind threatens to take over the world.
This movie has one big thing going for it. Sylvester Stallone is the bad guy, known as The Toymaker, and hams it up like never before. Ricardo Montalban also has a significant role as the kids’ grandfather.
11. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005)
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is often unfairly lambasted as a bad movie.
It isn’t a bad movie, although it isn’t great by any means. However, Robert Rodriquez wanted from the start to make movies his kids could watch in between his violent action movies.
In this movie, a young boy has a Dream Journal that he keeps track of all his dreams in. When a bully steals it, something strange happens, and two of the characters from his dreams show up needing his help in the dream world.
Taylor Lautner played Sharkboy years before he appeared in Twilight.
10. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Robert Rodriguez started his career with the indie low budget movie El Mariachi. In 2003, he was able to complete that story with the third movie in the trilogy.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico took the original Mariachi (played by Antonio Banderas since the second movie) and sent him on a deadly mission.
This movie reveals that his wife, Carolina (Salma Hayek), died between the first and second movies, and he wants revenge. A CIA Agent, played by Johnny Depp, shows up and gives the Mariachi a chance to get his revenge.
9. Machete (2010)
Machete got its start in a strange way. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino made the movie Grindhouse, where each filmmaker made a grindhouse film with fake trailers in between the movies.
Rodriguez directed one of the fake trailers with Machete.
Fans loved the trailer with Danny Trejo as Machete and wanted to see the movie, so Rodriguez gave it to them. In the film, Machete is out to kill everyone, and his main target it a brilliant mustache-twirling villain played by Steven Seagal.
8. Planet Terror (2007)
As mentioned before, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino teamed up for a movie in 2007 called Grindhouse.
This film paid homage to old-school grindhouse movies, with Tarantino making a movie called Death Proof and Rodriguez making his movie called Planet Terror.
Planet Terror is a grindhouse movie with zombie-style creatures battle military units, while a go-go dancer (Rose McGowan) finds herself on the front lines. She also loses a leg and has it replaced with an assault rifle and a grenade launcher
7. Spy Kids (2001)
The first Spy Kids movie is still the best of the franchise.
Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara are two children who end up in danger when their parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) disappear. They soon learn from their uncle (Cheech Marin) that their parents were spies.
They also get some weapons to help them from Machete and set out to battle the evil Mr. Lisp (Robert Patrick) to save their parents.
6. The Faculty (1998)
After making his name with his first two El Mariachi movies and teaming with Quentin Tarantino on From Dusk Till Dawn, Robert Rodriguez got the chance to make a studio movie.
It made him choose to return to independent filmmaking after that, but the studio movie was a good teen horror movie called The Faculty.
The cast here was excellent, with Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, and Jordana Brewster leading the students against teachers who end up possessed by aliens.
Those teachers are played by some more big names, including Robert Patrick, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, and Piper Laurie.
5. El Mariachi (1992)
The movie that started it all.
In 1992, Robert Rodriguez raised over $7,000 t0 make his feature debut and made it with just the hopes of getting it as a DVD release. What it got Rodriguez was a career in the movie industry.
The movie was about a young mariachi in Mexico who accidentally got his guitar case mixed up with one full of guns. He then has to fight for his life as a gangster comes for his weapons.
4. Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
In 2019, Robert Rodriguez teamed up with Avatar filmmaker James Cameron to bring the anime Battle Angel to life.
Alita (Rosas Salazar) is a cyborg that a scientist (Christoph Waltz) finds and puts back together. She is a special cyborg and ends up running afoul of cyborg serial killers.
She ends up joining in a racing sport called Motorball and realizes that she is not only fighting to win the race but also trying to stay alive as a revolution starts to rise in the city around her.
Alita: Battle Angel ended up making over $400 million worldwide, making it Robert Rodriguez’s highest-grossing movie.
3. Desperado (1995)
The first big-budget movie that Robert Rodriguez made was a remake/sequel to his debut movie El Mariachi.
This time around, Rodriguez had a professional cast, with Antonio Banderas stepping into the role of the mariachi and Salma Hayek appearing as his girlfriend.
Steve Buscemi and Cheech Marin also appear in the movie as the mariachi’s friends, while Joaquim de Almeida stars as the villain, Bucho.
After paying just $7,000 to make El Mariachi, Rodriquez watched Desperado make $25 million in the United States on a $7 million budget.
2. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
In 1996, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up to write and produce the movie From Dusk Till Dawn.
Rodriguez directed the movie while Tarantino starred in the film alongside George Clooney, in his breakout movie role. Tarantino also guest directed a scene in the film.
The film is almost a mixture of Tarantino and Rodriguez, with the first half of the movie a crime drama ala Tarantino and the second half a straight-up vampire movie ala Rodriguez.
There were two sequels, neither directed by Rodriguez, and a TV series that aired on Rodriguez’s El Rey network.
1. Sin City (2005)
Sin City was a genre-breaking graphic novel by Frank Miller, and when Robert Rodriguez decided to adapt it into a movie, he did something unique.
Rodriguez shot the entire movie in front of a green screen and then used his skills to re-create scenes from the comic books behind the actors, for what might be the most faithful looking comic book movie of all-time.
There are four stories in this movie.
Bruce Willis stars as a police officer named John Hartigan, one of the only good cops in Sin City who wants to stop a serial killer, while people in power try to stop him.
Marv (Mickey Rourke) is a tough guy who wakes up to find his one-night stand has been murdered, and he ends up running for his life from the police and the people responsible.
Clive Owen is Dwight, a man who sets out to get revenge against his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, a cop, but ends up in Old Town, where the police will protect their own regardless of his crimes.
What resulted was the most impressive looking comic book movie to hit theaters at that time.