There aren't many stars as iconic as Raquel Welch.
In a career spanning nearly 60 years, Welch experienced a long and storied life. From her humbling beginnings as a background actress in the Elvis Presley film, Roustabout, Welch soon became one of the most recognized stars in all of Hollywood by the 1960s.
An influential figure in modern pop culture, Welch made a name for herself, starring in various films from the '60s onwards, playing strong female characters who proved there was more to her roles than her obvious physical beauty. Inheriting the role of an internationally-known beauty symbol from earlier predecessors like Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe, Welch broke the preconceived mold for female stars of her day, portraying characters who were as strong and fully formed as her male counterparts.
From her earliest breakthrough performances to her starring roles in Westerns, sci-fi, and fantasy films, here are some of the greatest Raquel Welch movies.
One of the campiest, most over-the-top science fiction films released during the 1960s (a period in film characterized for campy, over-the-top sci-fi films), Fantastic Voyage made for the kind of lighthearted movie that audiences had loved so much throughout the '50s and '60s.
Directed by Richard Fleischer, Fantastic Voyage follows a submarine crew shrunken down to microscopic size who travel into the bloodstream of an injured scientist to repair his brain.
Along with the 1957 adaptation of Richard Matheson's The Incredible Shrinking Man, Fantastic Voyage is one of the main movies that launched a focus on miniaturization in science fiction, with Fantastic Voyage still being referenced in various movies and shows over the years, from Innerspace, to Dexter's Laboratory, to Rick and Morty.
An overwhelming success from a critical and commercial standpoint, Fantastic Voyage also served as a milestone in Welch's career. Her first film under contract for 20th Century Fox, it helped establish Welch as a leading actor, becoming her first major breakout success in Hollywood.
One Million Years B.C.
Known today for producing one the most iconic publicity stills of all time, Welch's starring role after Fantastic Voyage came with the 1966 remake of the 1940 fantasy film, One Million B.C.
Set during a fictional prehistoric age where both dinosaurs and cavemen inhabited the world at the same time, One Million Years B.C. stars John Richardson as a tribal outcast named Tumak who finds refuge with a peaceful band of cave-dwellers, including the quiet but enrapturing Loana (Welch). After Tumak is once again banished from this new tribe, he is joined by Loana as the two wander the hostile, dinosaur-infested land, with only each other to rely on for survival.
Like Fantastic Voyage, One Million Years B.C. made for another major career success for Welch. Despite having only three lines of dialogue, her role as the silent but formidable Loana won her instant acclaim. Of course, the now-famous publicity photo she took for the film wearing her character's fur bikini also played a significant role in her newfound career promence, propelling Welch to immediate pin-up girl status.
Following the breakout success she received from Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C., Welch next appeared as a supporting character in the Peter Cook, Dudley Moore film, Bedazzled.
A comedic retelling of Faust set in '60s Swinging London, Moore plays a depressed young cook who agrees to sell his soul to the Devil (Cook) in exchange for seven wishes. Advising Moore's character throughout are the Biblical seven deadly sins, with Welch playing “Lilian,” as she is also referred to in the film.
Like many of Moore and Cook's various projects, Bedazzled is a light-hearted romp of a movie, showcasing both actors' comedic talents, with Roger Ebert favorably comparing them as the spiritual successors to earlier comedy partnerships like Ray Goulding and Bob Elliott. Welch provides one of the film's funniest moments, sharing a short but memorable bedroom sequence where she seduces Moore's hapless short-order cook.
However minor her role was compared to Cook or Moore’s, Welch's casting further indicated her growing appreciation in audiences' eyes. Having her appear as the literal embodiment of physical desire may have been a bit on the nose, but it proved her popularity as one of the quintessential female actors of the 1960s.
Welch starred in a number of Westerns during the late 1960s into the '70s. Her first starring role in the genre came with 1968's Bandolero!, with Welch portraying the romantic interest of leading man, Dean Martin.
The film centers around two estranged brothers (Martin and Jimmy Stewart) fleeing across the Texas desert with a gang of brutal bandoleros and a law-abiding posse in hot pursuit.
Admittedly, Bandoleros! isn't an altogether great film. It's mired by the tired performances of both Martin and Stewart, who may have played the two dashing outlaw brothers well if they were paired together in the 1950s, but were starting to show signs of noticeable fatigue and visible aging in this film.
However unremarkable the movie is, Bandolero! illustrated Welch's continuing success in Hollywood, as she found herself playing opposite established Hollywood icons like Martin and Stewart. Like Bedazzled before it, her role in Bandolero! was a relatively minor one, but it showcased her rising star status in the 1960s as an actor able to hold her own against veterans like Martin, Stewart, and George Kennedy.
From 1968 to 1971, Welch starred in a series of films that failed from either a critical or commercial standpoint. After the panned Myra Breckinridge, Welch broke her streak of underwhelming films with the 1971 Western revenge film, Hannie Caulder.
In a role outside her usual range of performances, Welch stars as frontier wife Hannie Caulder, a happily married woman whose life is destroyed by the sudden arrival of three outlaws (Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, and Strother Martin) who assault Hannie, kill her husband, burn down their house, and leave her for dead. Barely surviving, Hannie enlists the help of a bounty hunter (Robert Culp) to teach her how to use a gun, embarking on a mission of vengeance against the three men who ruined her life.
In the 1970s, revisionist Westerns had become the new norm, with directors trying to put some sort of spin on the traditional Western narrative. Casting Welch as the strong, competent prairie wife hunting down those who wronged her made for an interesting, much-needed career change for Welch, the actor bringing an emboldened, no-nonsense performance to the film.
Following her lead role in Hannie Caulder, Welch's next project saw her join Burt Reynolds, Jack Weston, and Tom Skerritt as officers of the fictional “87th Precinct” in 1972's Fuzz.
An adaptation of Ed McBain's crime novels (who also provided the script for this film), Fuzz follows the all-star police team investigating numerous crimes, including an extortion racket causing the deaths of numerous high-ranking city officials, as well as a series of arson attacks on the city’s homeless population.
It's always tough to balance an ensemble piece –one or two actors always tending to outshine the others involved – but in Fuzz, everyone manages to balance their performances to the benefit of one another, playing off each other's energy and giving the film enough momentum to keep moving forward.
Kansas City Bomber
Sports dramas were all the craze in the 1970s, with studios churning out dozens of entertaining movies focused on football (The Longest Yard), baseball (The Bad News Bears), and hockey (Slap Shot) that blended comedy with some mild action sequence. Like many stars of the '70s, Raquel Welch was not immune to these cinematic trends, and in 1973, she found herself starring in the roller derby sports drama, Kansas City Bomber.
The film follows Welch as a talented roller derby skater who moves from Kansas City to Portland to take care of her young daughter (a young Jodie Foster). As she starts playing for a new team, she becomes romantically involved with the team’s owner (Kevin McCarthy), who soon reveals a more ruthless, twisted side to his character and motivations.
Like Hannie Caulder before it, Kansas City Bomber made for a unique entry in Welch's filmography. Looking back at her extensive career, Welch had either featured in supporting roles or in ensemble-heavy pieces. When given the chance to take center stage in a film that played to her strengths as an actor, Welch proved herself capable of delivering, brilliantly playing the main character of Kansas City Bomber.
The Last of Sheila
In 1973, Welch figured into yet another ensemble piece, a murder mystery film titled The Last of Sheila that pitted her alongside actors Richard Benjamin, James Coburn, Ian McShane, Joan Hackett, Dylan Cannon, and James Mason.
The plot of The Last of Sheila follows a group of friends attending a one-week pleasure cruise thrown by a wealthy, successful movie producer (Coburn) on the anniversary of his wife's unsolved hit-and-run death. As the friends set sail on their cruise, the producer's parlor games grow more and more serious, appearing to center around the identity of his wife's killer.
A straightforward murder mystery film, The Last of Sheila is a classic whodunnit in the manner of Clue or an Agatha Christie adaptation, down to the isolated, extravagant setting. It's a rich, entertaining movie, with Welch more than able to perform alongside Hollywood heavies like Coburn, Mason, and Hackett, as had been the case with her previous ensemble films.
The Three Musketeers
In 1973, acclaimed British director Richard Lester decided to adapt Alexandre Dumas's now-classic adventure novel, The Three Musketeers, in the fourteenth adaptation of Dumas's novel.
The film focuses on a young country bumpkin named D'Artagnan (Michael York) who aspires to one day become a French musketeer. As he travels to Paris to pursue his dreams, D'Artagnan soon encounters three musketeers that he quickly becomes friends with, the four combating the villainous, power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) and his attempts to gain control of France.
In his adaptation of The Three Musketeers, Lester managed to stay largely faithful to the original source material and overall story, but also added in a decent amount of comedy to make the 19th-century text somewhat more appealing to modern audiences. The effort resulted in an entertaining movie that blended swashbuckling action reminiscent of 1940s Errol Flynn adventures films with plenty of light-hearted humor, featuring a fantastic cast that included talents like Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, Christopher Lee, Heston, York, and of course Welch.
Mother, Jugs & Speed
A decent enough dark comedy forever tarnished by the personal actions of Bill Cosby, Mother, Jugs & Speed still makes for an enjoyable enough movie, based on Welch’s performance and the unique chemistry she maintains with her co-stars.
To replace his injured partner (Bruce Davison), a driver for an independent E.M.T. service (Cosby) takes a disgraced detective (Harvey Keitel) on as his partner, the two later being joined by their brash receptionist (Welch).
Like Fuzz, Mother, Jugs & Speed’s impressive cast makes it the entertaining if forgettable comedy it is. While the movie’s half-baked premise doesn’t always satisfy, the performances of the main cast (especially Keitel and Welch) make it an underrated entry in each of their respective careers.
The Wild Party
After a small return to more comedy-centric performances in The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, Welch's next role found her starring in the 1975 comedy-drama film The Wild Party.
Set in 1929, the film focuses on silent movie star Jolly Grimm (James Coco), who has the otherwise perfect life – including a happy marriage to a beautiful wife (Welch), a lovely mansion, and extreme wealth – except for the fact that he is fading in popularity among audience members. Looking to make one last, career-altering comeback, Jolly decides to make his own epic film that will transition him from silent films into the “talkies,” throwing a lavish party at his mansion for the premiere.
Inspired by the life and career of Fatty Arbuckle, The Wild Party is indeed wild in every sense of the word. Part comedy, part melodrama, part character study, initial reviews of the film were mostly negative, although some faint praise did go to Coco's main character and Welch's supportive wife.
Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult
Never for a moment falling under the spell of her celebrity status, Welch made a habit out of often providing humorous, self-deprecating performances mocking her on-screen identity, as seen from her guest appearance on Seinfeld and her cameo in Naked Gun 33 ½.
The final installment in the Naked Gun trilogy, Leslie Nielsen returns as the Gungho police lieutenant Frank Drebin. Exiting his retirement, Frank races against time to stop a terrorist group from blowing up the Academy Award ceremony.
Featured as a caricatured version of herself, Welch figures into the plot of Naked Gun 33 ½ when she appears alongside Frank (impersonating Phil Donahue), the two presenting an Oscar in an otherwise botched segment. A rare role that showed Welch’s ability to work within comedy, it also demonstrated her penchant for creating standout cinematic moments despite her limited screen time.
Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Fangoria, and Sportskeeda, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.
Richard has been an avid consumer of movies, television, books, and pop culture since he was four-years-old. Raised on a diverse mix of Clint Eastwood Westerns, Star Wars, sci-fi and horror films, Alan Moore comics, and Stephen King novels, he eventually turned his various passions into a creative outlet, writing about film, television, literature, comics, and gaming for his high school and college newspapers. A traveling enthusiast, Richard has also managed to create a career out of journeying abroad, venturing to such awe-inspiring places as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the scenic coastline of Haiti. Upon graduating from TCNJ, Richard set his sights on a career in journalism, writing extensively about the art of traveling and the entertainment medium for various online publications. When he’s not busy making his way through The Criterion Collection, he can be found either reading or planning a trip somewhere (preferably someplace with a scenic hiking trail).