Willie Nelson's Eight Best Movie Roles

Willie Nelson in Barbarosa
In honor of the Texas hero's 80th Birthday celebration and legendary 4th of July Picnic, we're celebrating Willie Nelson Week here on DC9 at Night. Check back for interviews, retrospectives and more.

Texas's greatest treasure, Willie Nelson, has been popping up in films since 1979, playing everything from a no-scruples music manager, a vicious outlaw to Willie Nelson. It's been a pretty interesting career for Willie in the movies, so we decided to offer up a retrospective of his best roles.

1. The Electric Horseman

Willie's first film appearance came in a Sydney Pollack film that starred Robert Redford and Jane Fonda that dealt with a man's quest to liberate a horse from the world of being a corporate mascot and return it to the wild. It's very much a '70s ode to screwing over the man. Pollack praised his mostly improvised performance, and Nelson's contribution to the soundtrack made it a hit.

2. Thief

Michael Mann's feature debut is the stylistic forebear for Drive. In fact, at times it seems like Nicholas Winding-Refin lifted shots directly from the film. Staring James Caan as a jewel thief looking to settle down, the film traverses the underworld, never letting Caan gain too much ground. In a role that's almost a cameo, Nelson plays Caan's incarcerated best friend, Okla, who sets Caan on the road to trying to settle.

3. Barbarosa

Nelson's second staring role holds the distinction of being one of the best Western films most people have never seen. The American directing debut of well-regarded Australian director Fred Schepisi, Barbarosa tells the tale of a Texas farm boy who has to flee to Mexico after accidentally killing his brother-in-law. In Mexico he hooks up with Barbarosa who shows the boy how to survive in the elements. Nelson plays the role of Barbarosa perfectly, all slyness and restrained fury. The movie also features a still sane Gary Busey in the role of Karl, the boy from Texas.

4. Wag the Dog

Barry Levinson's pitch black take on the machinations at work behind political scandals features Willie playing a Rhinestoned' version of himself, leading a group of singers in a quickie charity production of a "We are the World"-like song. It's not the films most cynical moment, but it's damn close.

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What kind of effin' moron includes Half Baked, Surfer Dude, Dukes and Beerfest in this list over Songwriter and Honeysuckle Rose?  That's like saying On the Road Again is a better song than Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.  Listen, the last thing the world needs is yet another bandwagon Willie Nelson fan.  The second-to-the-last thing the world needs is another bandwagon journalist writing about Willie.  So do the world a favor, okay?  Pull your lower lip over the top of your head and swallow. 

Joe Downey
Joe Downey

Hope you include his Cowboy Video filmed at the ROUNDUP starring Jim Walker formerly of Channel 11 News

Lonnie Beene
Lonnie Beene

He was pretty good in an episode of Miami Vice, too ("El Viejo").

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