120 Best Western Movies For A Wild Trip To The Ol’ West
There are a few things that are a must in a Western movie: a story centering on a cowboy who rides a horse and is armed with a revolver or a rifle, action set in an arid, desolate landscape of deserts and mountains, and a Western music score. However, one thing distinguishes good Westerns from the best Western movies. And that's having either John Wayne or Clint Eastwood in the lead role. Okay, okay, there are a few exceptions to this rule. And although this post is not about films starring John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movies, below you will undoubtedly find many Western movies featuring "Duke" and the Hollywood mega-star and prolific director.
However, there is only a dime's worth of new Western movies worth making it to the best list. And there's a solid reason why the Western genre has been declining: it doesn't do well at the box office. The Lone Ranger (2013), starring Johnny Depp, was the third Western to flop in four summers and the most expensive, losing Disney over $160–190 million. Among the new Western movies of this century, perhaps the most profitable ones were Open Range (2003), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and True Grit (2010), with two of the three being successful remakes of older Westerns. The short answer to why Westerns fell out of popularity is cultural irrelevancy. There are no longer any frontiers, and it's never as straightforward as good vs. evil or white hat versus black hat.
However, despite often being historically inaccurate, Western movies have great cinematic value, and heck, they are so compelling to watch! To reminisce on some of the greatest works of cinema in the shoot-'em-up genre, we've compiled an extensive list of, in our opinion, the best Western movies of all time. And don't be surprised to see many old Western movies on the list, as they are total champs in the genre. Do you agree with our selection? Which cowboy picture would you deem the best Western movie? Let us know!
1993 | 2 hours 10 minutes | Directed by George P. Cosmatos and Kevin Jarre
Starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott
Arguably one of the best of its kind, Tombstone is an exciting shoot-'em-up Western that works because it never tries to be anything other than what it is. This is one of those rewatchable epics with high entertainment value that came late to the Western genre when not many such films were being made. Straight into the movie, the opening minutes succeed in startling and shocking the audience. We enter into a dramatic shoot-out that follows some purportedly historical footage that is introduced by actor Robert Mitchum. Soon we learn about The Cowboys, the Mafia of that time, led by Curly Bill (Boothe). The movie was one of the better accounts of what happened, even if it was probably 90 percent historically accurate. It has all the elements that made the genre famous in its heyday. Anyone who likes Westerns will find this an exciting journey, and it's also a terrific movie to introduce newcomers to the genre.
2003 | 2 hours 19 minutes | Directed by Kevin Costner
Starring Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Diego Luna
We are instantly drawn to two characters in Open Range: an aging, lonely cowboy named Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and his longtime comrade Charley Waite (Kevin Costner). They use two young helpers to transport their herd of cattle over a vast prairie: the giant Mose (Abraham Benrubi), a kind man who primarily serves as the wagon driver and chef, and Button (Diego Luna), a young orphan eager to earn the respect of his elders. The four free-range cowboys first encounter the town's cruel boss Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon), a frightening Irish immigrant who actively despises free-grazers and wants their herd removed from the region. This sets the stage for the plot. Nothing especially novel is done by Open Range; it simply accomplishes everything exceptionally well. Labor of passion clearly paid off for actor, director, and producer Kevin Costner. It is not only a movie about boys with firearms; it also offers a lot to adults, both men, and women, to enjoy. Many factors contribute to the success of this film, and the acting is by far the largest. Additionally, the setting, soundtrack, and cinematography all contribute to creating a superb Western. It is certainly worth checking out.
1969 | 2 hours 8 minutes | Directed by Henry Hathaway
Starring John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell
True Grit deals with one of the traditional Western themes (also one of the conventional themes in all of literature), which is revenge. Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), a teenager, is looking for someone who can assist her in finding Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey), the person who killed her father. Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne), a U.S. Marshal, is the person Mattie picks. Cogburn is old, overweight, one-eyed, and a big drinker, but Mattie chose him because she's heard he has "real grit." Along with 'La Boeuf' (Glen Campbell), a Texas ranger who wants to detain Chaney in connection with another murder, the two of them venture out into the Indian Territory in search of Chaney. Although True Grit is an excellent Western, it may not have the same depth of meaning as some early ones, and that's perhaps one of its downfalls. Nonetheless, it's a quick-paced, thrilling adventure that's pleasing to the eye.
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
1966 | 2 hours 58 minutes | Directed by Sergio Leone
Starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef
In the movie, three men search for information about the whereabouts of a hidden treasure trove of coins, often at the expense of others. Clint Eastwood's character Blondie, The Good, is a professional gunslinger looking to make some extra cash. As long as he is paid, hitman Angel Eyes, The Bad (Lee Van Cleef), always commits to a job and sees it through. Tuco, The Ugly (Eli Wallach), is a wanted bandit seeking to protect his own skin. Blondie and Tuco work together to profit off Tuco's bounty, but when Blondie unties the partnership, Tuco sets out to find him. Blondie and Tuco discover a horse-drawn wagon full of dead bodies, and the lone survivor, Bill Carson (Antonio Casale), tells them that he and a few other men have hidden a cache of gold in a cemetery. The plot is captivating. There is never a dull moment. Although the film is lengthy, you will enjoy being able to watch it for three hours because of Leone's excellent direction. This is the Citizen Kane of Westerns. This is a benchmark for every Western movie, not just Spaghetti. This movie is highly recommended not just for fans of the Western genre but for all cinema fans in general.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
1976 | 2 hours 15 minutes | Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke
It's the American Civil War, and Josie Wales (Clint Eastwood) is a dirt farmer in Missouri. One day, a group of American raiders under the command of Captain "Red Legs" Terrill (Bill McKinny) assault and burn down his property while also killing his wife and little boy and leaving Josie for dead. Soon, a group of Southern raiders led by "Bloody Bill" Anderson (John Russell) takes him into his gang as Josie mulls his next course of action. This plot has frequently been used in movies because the hero has nothing left to lose, which is an excellent justification for endless gunplay. This occurs to some extent in this film too. It follows a conventional Western formula, but it is also more than that. As the narrative progresses, Josey Wales begins to mend his wounds and replace the companionship and later the love he has lost. As he recovers, he also starts to develop away from violence as a way of life. It is arguable whether this is Eastwood's best film, given his impressive collection of work. It remains, however, one of the best films ever created in any genre and undoubtedly ranks among the best.
1992 | 2 hours 10 minutes | Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman
Old and retired gunman William Munny (Clint Eastwood) has committed crimes in the past that would make the devil appear mild-mannered. He's tempted out of retirement for one last paydirt job because he's widowed and struggling to raise his two kids on a meager farm. Unforgiven is ultimately a lesson in skillful filmmaking, given how effectively everything about it works. The man in charge, Clint Eastwood, is an expert in this genre. He took advice from his peers and, as a result, created a work with a rich philosophical underpinning that is both beautiful and unquestionably stark despite its violence and cruelty. Whether you like the genre or not, this film is a great masterpiece and a high point of contemporary filmmaking. An unforgettable view of life, man, and the genuine West. Unforgiven is definitely among the most moving movies of the 1990s.
1985 | 1 hour 55 minutes | Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Clint Eastwood, Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress
The action of the film is set in California in the 1850s. A small group of squatters and their families are terrorized by a greedy mining company ruled by Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart). LaHood's desperate attempt to drive the peaceful but tenacious homesteaders off their land by using violence ends in a fiasco. Hull Barret (Michael Moriarty), who is leading the homesteaders, aspires to a better life for himself, his lover Sarah Wheeler (Carrie Snodgrass), and her daughter from a previous marriage, Meagan (Sydney Penny). Soon, a mysterious man known only as "The Preacher" (Clint Eastwood) rides into their lives. He rallies the strong-willed people and gives them the courage to resist LaHood. Pale Rider may not be as good as Eastwood's Unforgiven and The Outlaw Josey Wales, but it can be regarded as a strong effort in what has been an illustrious career for Eastwood. There weren't many well-written 1980s Westerns produced, but Pale Rider is one of them. We wholeheartedly suggest it if you enjoy good Westerns.
1972 | 1 hour 48 minutes | Directed by Sydney Pollack
Starring Robert Redford, Will Geer, Delle Bolton
In the film, Robert Redford plays Mexican American War veteran Jeremiah Johnson. He decides to travel to the High Alpine Rockies to become a mountain man. Loosely based on Vardis Fisher's novel, the protagonist wants the life of a trapper because it offers solace, untamed adventure, interactions with native people, and the potential for legendary deeds. Johnson is befriended and threatened by both Native Americans and mountain veterans over the early years of his adventure, who both teach him and put him in danger. Cowboys, Indians, bad dudes wanting to steal the land, gunfights in the streets, and heroes who are essentially invincible are all common themes in American Western movies. Unfortunately, historically speaking, most of this is incorrect. Most people in the West did not wear cowboy hats, the Native Americans were typically quite peaceful, and when a shoot-out broke out, it was typically one man shooting another in the back and never at "high noon" on the main street. This is where Jeremiah Johnson is different from the rest. It's a movie that de-romanticizes the West and depicts what life was really like in the early days of Western expansion. A compelling storyline, excellent acting, and stunning imagery combine to make a really engaging movie worth seeing numerous times and giving yourself plenty of thought time.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
1959 | 2 hours 21 minutes | Directed by Howard Hawks
Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson
Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) is being detained by Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) for the murder of an unarmed man. Only Joe's brother Nathan (John Russell) is motivated to free Joe, and he will stop at nothing to do this. Until the arrival of the federal marshal, Chance must fend off the brother and his hired guns. He is helped by an elderly man named Stumpy (Walter Brennan), a deputy with a drinking problem named Dude (Dean Martin), and Colorado (Ricky Nelson), a young man who is new to the area but skilled with a pistol. The plot is deceptively straightforward, but it simply goes to show that interesting stories don't necessarily need to be complicated. A terrific character Western with a slow but steady pace. With how skillfully he handles these characters, their flaws, and virtues and delivers a straightforward yet impactful tale, Howard Hawks demonstrates why he is one of the all-time greats. This movie's good image has persisted for decades. From Quentin Tarantino to John Carpenter, it has influenced many filmmakers. Truly a classic.
The Last Of The Mohicans
1992 | 1 hour 52 minutes | Directed by Michael Mann
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means
The movie The Last of the Mohicans by director Michael Mann is simply fantastic. The French and Indian War wreaked havoc on the frontier wilderness, which serves as the backdrop for the film's epic plot filled with adventure and romance. Generally speaking, the movie covers the story of three trappers who aim to protect the daughters of a British Colonel during the French and Indian War. It has a captivating plot, compelling characters, lovely landscapes, an outstanding score, terrific action, and a sweet romance. The Last of the Mohicans is a magnificent, visually stunning adventure that vividly depicts the horrors of battle, the untamedness of a chaste frontier, and the fated and wayward romances of the characters. Mann may not come to mind when you picture a leading director for a set in an 18th-century action/adventure/romance film. But after witnessing what he does in this movie, it is impossible not to be astonished by his bravura and range.