Watching the Dirty Harry movies in order is a thrilling, action-packed adventure. Even though this film franchise began more than 50 years ago and spanned 17 years, you will undoubtedly recognize lines from the iconic film series.
Whether you’ve never seen these movies before or are merely looking for a refresher before you begin another movie marathon, this article will be your ultimate guide on the franchise. So go ahead and make your day by watching the Dirty Harry movies in order.
Who is Dirty Harry?
Harry Callahan is the protagonist within the Dirty Harry film series. He earned the nickname “Dirty Harry” through the dirty tricks he’s willing to play in pursuit of his version of justice. He also has a strong penchant for his .44 Magnum firearm.
He’s an inspector within the San Francisco Police Department Homicide Division throughout the series although he does have periods of reassignment and suspension due to his antics. His morals are murky and gray at best and come across as a bit of a disregard for the letter of the law. Dirty Harry will stoop to unconventional, and sometimes brutal, methods to apprehend his suspects.
Despite his unconventional methods, Harry is known for some iconic one-liners that have been recognized by the American Film Institute. The organization looked at the 100 best movie quotes across 100 years and Harry made the list twice.
“Go ahead, make my day” is the sixth most memorable line in movie history according to that list by the AFI, which put the quotes to a jury of more than 1,500 members of the creative community. Criteria demanded the quotes be from American films that permeated the national lexicon, became part of popular culture, and evoked treasured memories, cementing its historical legacy.
The other Dirty Harry quote which is on the list in the 52nd spot is one that is often misquoted as, “Do you feel lucky, punk?”
The quote from the actual movie is: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
This scene also contains another gem right before this line in which Harry asks the criminal whether he thinks he’s already fired six shots, or only five.
Clint Eastwood, who stars in the film series as Harry Callahan, nails the smirk in this scene.
A Bit More About the Franchise
The Dirty Harry movies were a phenomenal success grossing around $227.5 million at the box office. But the movies weren’t without controversy.
Some claim the films are racist and misogynistic with the portrayal and treatment of women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color on screen. There are also claims the films promote fascism in the way police brutality is depicted as a solution to problems.
Alternatively, others claim the movies offer an insightful critique about the limitations of the law.
It appears the franchise responded to some of the critiques following the first film. The plot of the second film features Harry pursuing a group of vigilantes. In his pursuit he clearly defines what separates his actions from their brutality and paints his own morality with thicker brushstrokes.
So, while each movie can theoretically work as a standalone with a case being solved, to understand the nuance it’s important to watch the Dirty Harry movies in order. If you watch the movies in order of release date, which is the chronological order, you will gain a better understanding of the main character and his motivations.
The nuances of Harry, and Clint Eastwood’s portrayal, become apparent with this watching order. Each movie builds upon the previous installment to depict a more in-depth character story.
However, don’t expect Harry to go completely soft. He does maintain quite a few of his hard edges by the end of the series.
And it is very likely that we have seen the end of Dirty Harry. The last film did not perform as well critically or commercially. Allegedly Eastwood refused to reprise the role of Callahan again, saying that his age would make a mockery of the movies.
However, it’s irrefutable that Dirty Harry is, and will remain, an iconic figure within American cinema.
Dirty Harry Movies in Order
So now let’s dive into the Dirty Harry movies in order. Again, the best way to watch these movies is in chronological order, which is the same as the release order. This makes it simple to ensure you’re watching the films in the best order possible.
Dirty Harry Spin-Offs
If you’ve already watched the Dirty Harry movies in order, or are already anticipating you’ll want more Harry Callahan content once you do, there are a few spin-offs from this film franchise.
At its peak the movies inspired two spin-offs which were not canon, but featured references to the movies.
The first spin-off was a series of novelizations of the films. Twelve novels were published across three years in between the third and fourth film. However, there were no more books after Sudden Impact hit theatres.
While copies of these books have become hard to come by in the decades that have passed you can find a full list here and keep an eye out at second-hand bookshops if these capture your interest.
The film franchise also inspired a video game, The War on Drugs, in 1990. As previously mentioned, the video game was not canon, but it did include some references to the films.
A Summary of the Dirty Harry Movies in Order
But now let’s dive back into the Dirty Harry content that is readily available for you to binge. Here we have included a summary for each of the Dirty Harry movies in order. If you have never seen these movies before, read the summaries with caution as some may contain spoilers for previous installments within the series.
1. Dirty Harry
This is the first installment in the franchise which introduces us to the cop “Dirty Harry” Callahan. In this film Harry is attempting to track down a psychopathic rooftop killer before a kidnapped girl dies. The murderer is calling himself “the Scorpio Killer” and menacing the city of San Francisco.
When Harry finds him, Harry abuses the murderer’s civil rights, which puts the killer right back on the streets. But, just like Harry predicted, upon his release the killer hijacks a school bus and Harry must go after him again. The only way to stop this vicious killer is in cold blood.
Clint Eastwood stars as Harry with Andrew Robinson starring as the Scorpio Killer. Harry Guardino stars as Bressler and Reni Santoni stars as Chico. The director was Don Siegel.
The creators of the story were Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink with Dean Riesner also contributing to the screenplay.
2. Magnum Force
The second Dirty Harry flick begins with Harry on reassignment to stakeout duty. Several criminals who have been allowed to walk free and avoid conviction are being gunned down by apparent vigilante cops on motorcycles.
Harry’s superiors at the San Francisco Police Department fear that this might be some kind of gang war. So, they move Harry from the Homicide Division to stakeout duty to work the case. Even though “Dirty Harry” has a tendency to lean towards violence in the pursuit of his belief of justice, these murders rub him the wrong way and he is adamant in his hunt for the killers.
This film confronts some of the criticisms the first film received. Namely that Harry was a vigilante and the film promoted fascism. It also might be in reference to the real murders which took place in Brazil during the mid- to late-1960s.
Clint Eastwood returns as Dirty Harry. Joining him were Hal Holbrook as Lieutenant Briggs, Mitchell Ryan as McCoy, and David Soul as Davis. Ted Post was the director for this installment. The screenplay writer was John Milius, building off the original story by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink.
3. The Enforcer
The third film in the Dirty Harry franchise sees Harry Callahan again on a reassignment from homicide, but to personnel this time after his latest use of excessive force in the field. In the transition he gets a new partner. Inspector Moore is still green in the field, and a woman, and Harry is not too excited to be working with her.
Meanwhile, a terrorist group calling themselves the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force organizes a series of crimes in San Francisco, hoping to enrich themselves. The group is made up of disgruntled Vietnam veterans demanding a large ransom. When they kidnap the mayor and steal rockets and rifles for their next attack, Harry and his new female partner, Inspector Kate Moore, must stop the terrorists.
The director for the third installment was James Fargo. Stirling Silliphant wrote the screenplay, once again building off the original story and characters by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink.
Clint Eastwood was once again the star as Harry Callahan and joining him were Tyne Daly as Kate Moore, John Crawford as the Mayor, and Bradford Dillman as Captain McKay. Returning to the series was Harry Guardino as Lieutenant Bressler.
4. Sudden Impact
Many years ago Jennifer Spencer and her sister were raped by a group of men, but the crime went unpunished. Now she demands revenge, killing off the men that attacked her years before.
The murders attract the attention of Harry Callahan, who is on a forced vacation due to his violent approach to police work. The case becomes even more complicated when Harry develops a relationship with Jennifer. Now it’s up to Harry to make the right decision when Jennifer’s life is under threat for a second time.
Sondra Locke joins Clint Eastwood on screen as Jennifer Spencer. Locke and Eastwood were romantically involved for a long period of time, including for the duration of filming this movie. The film also stars Pat Hingle as Chief Jannings and Bradford Dillman as Captain Briggs.
This film is the last appearance of Albert Popwell within the series. Popwell played a character in each of the first four films. He was a bank robber in Dirty Harry, a pimp in Magnum Force, the Uhuru leader in The Enforcer, and Horace in Sudden Impact.
Joseph Stinson wrote the screenplay for this installment. As well, this is the only Dirty Harry film of which Eastwood was the director.
The film also contains the iconic line, “Go ahead, make my day.”
5. The Dead Pool
In the fifth and final installment of the Dirty Harry series, gritty cop Harry Callahan is fresh off the conviction of a major mob boss.
Meanwhile, when horror film director Peter Swan develops a “dead pool” betting on celebrity deaths, he is shocked when a serial killer begins targeting those named, including TV reporter Samantha Walker and Callahan himself. The first celebrity victim is rockstar Johnny Squares, while Swan was directing his latest music video.
Action and violence abound as Callahan tracks the killer in an attempt to stop the murders.
Alongside Clint Eastwood, Liam Neeson stars as Peter Swan; Patricia Clarkson as Samantha Walker; and Jim Carrey, credited as James Carrey, as Johnny Squares.
Steve Sharon wrote this screenplay and the director was Buddy Van Horn.
Final thoughts on the Dirty Harry movies in order
There you have all of the Dirty Harry movies in order, as well as some fun trivia about the film franchise.
While ranking the films from best to worst is entirely dependent on personal option and therefore varies, there is a general consensus that the first Dirty Harry movie is the best, with the last one being the least well-received. Have you watched these movies? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
But, if you haven’t, ask yourself if you’re feeling lucky and start watching the Dirty Harry movies in order today.
Looking for more movies in order?
If you’re looking for more movies featuring a steely-eyed, morally-gray cop, check out this list of the Jesse Stone movies in order.