Back in 1992, El Mariachi was made by then-23-year-old Robert Rodriguez in northern Mexico for $7,000, with all the intentions of being distributed across the Mexican home video market. Instead, Columbia Pictures took notice and released the film nationwide, earning international acclaim and even a spot in the national film registry for the young filmmaker.
In the 11 years that followed, Rodriguez wrote, directed, and edited two follow-up movies, Desperado in 1995, recasting unknown Carlos Gallardo with movie star Antonio Banderas (who turns 55 today), and the star-studded Once Upon A Time in Mexico in 2003. With considerably more capital to work with, Rodriguez elevated his game with each installment, creating more complex and elaborate action sequences every time. Take a look at some of the best bloody, blown-up, and bullet-ridden scenes throughout the trilogy.
Azul strolls in for a beer
Fresh from the assassination attempt that lead to his escape from jail, Azul continues his path of revenge against Moco, the boss who orchestrated the hit against him. Tense stand-off scenes like this would become a staple of the trilogy, and Rodriguez’s style — the gritty, low-budget quality punctuated by the almost deafening silence — heightens the tension.
“I just killed four men.”
After confusing their two guitar cases, El Mariachi, who’d come to town simply to play guitar, is confronted by a group of Moco’s thugs, mistaking him for the notorious Azul. El Mariachi, discovering the weapons at his disposal, sets events in motion that continue throughout the trilogy. It turns out that playing the guitar isn’t his only talent.
Moco’s Last Stand
After Moco’s rage costs El Mariachi everything he had in the world (including his right hand — at least through the end of this installment), he kills him in front of his henchmen, who simply walk away. It’s a blunt, anticlimactic end to a violent and kinetic film, and almost seems to subvert the 90 minutes of over-the-top action that preceded it.
Looking for Bucho
1995’s Desperado treaded a lot of the same ground as its predecessor, as we’re re-introduced to El Mariachi as he strolls into a cantina with a single objective: wanting to find and take revenge on Bucho. It doesn’t take long before the entire scene erupts in gunfire, though the unconventional humor works its way in through a prolonged gag about the inevitability of running out of bullets. If that wasn’t enough, you’ve got Quentin Tarantino as the joke-telling pickup guy, too.
“I told you, no more bloodbaths!”
Buscemi pleads with El Mariachi, telling him there’s no revenge for the loss of the woman he loved. Despite him assuring him just minutes earlier that he intends to live a long life, Navajas shows up to prove otherwise. As El Mariachi manages to escape, Bucho’s goons show up, which leads to another violent showdown. Honestly, any time Danny Trejo ends up in a knife-throwing fury it’s worth noting.
As even more of Bucho’s henchmen quietly surround Carolina’s apartment above her cafe, El Mariachi manages to get her out of the way just before another shootout ensues. This one is topped off with his stellar backwards jump from one roof to another, landing just in time for an iconic “walk away from an explosion” moment.
With the second film’s explosive finale, there’s really nothing much to add here besides reminding everyone how cool the combination guitar case/machine guns and bazooka were, right?
Sands hears the legend
The third film, Once Upon A Time in Mexico, begins with the one-eyed Belini sitting down with rogue CIA agent Sands, telling him a story about the now legendary El Mariachi, who’s upgraded the guitar case filled with guns to a guitar/gun hybrid, playing a song before annihilating another bar full henchmen. As Belini explains to Sands: “The story’s been around, I’m sure there’s been some embellishments.”
Escaping in chains
Waking up finding himself chained to Carolina and armed bad guys closing in, El Mariachi uses the situation to his advantage in getting the two of them down the side of a building from the fifth floor. While it turns out to be one of his passing daydreams, it’s a marked leap in complexity from what was attempted in the prior two installments, while also paying clever homage to the original.
“You… are last!”
As El Mariachi meets Cucuy in the time square, he makes one simple conclusion: that he has no choice but to kill them all (I mean, obviously) before opening fire. After El Mariachi makes the promise to kill everyone else first, what ensues is a large-scale gunfight followed by a motorcycle chase, some cactus jumping, some dead bystanders, and even a Wilhelm scream. It may be the best scene in all three.
Sands’ sightless showdown
Enlisting the kid who tried to sell him chicles on the street earlier, Sands, now blinded after an encounter with Ajedrez and Barrio, uses the kid as his eyes to escape a henchman in hot pursuit. Thanks to the kid’s help and a well-placed spin move, Sands walks away with only a bullet in his arm.
The Day of the Dead massacre
As the parade suddenly erupts into a showdown between revolutionaries and the President’s army, it becomes a chaotic, disorienting, and ambitious action sequence with every character drawn into the crossfire. Of course, with it comes betrayal, double-crossing, and Rodriguez’s willingness to kill off major characters at the drop of a hat.