Best Westerns Of All Time
Here is our list for the best western films of all time!
20. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Brad Pitt leads a stellar cast including a young Casey Affleck in his breakout role in this quiet, moody, artful take on the western genre. This is an epic film more so in it's length and depth than it's scale and scope. Instead of telling a sprawling story, Andrew Dominick's film tells a much more intimate one about the relationships between Jesse James, Robert Ford, and the rest of their outlaw gang. It's a moving and beautiful piece of filmmaking that stays with you long after it's over. Don't expect too much action, as this is more of a thought-provoking film about hero worship, complex relationships, and the consequences of a life of crime. Where this one may lack excitement in it's action, there's plenty of suspense and character development to make up for it.
While some may not think this film belongs on this list, last year's Logan has everything you could want in a western. It's set in the American west on the U.S. border of Texas and Mexico, and features a gunslinger, er, claw-slasher, who has to protect his family from a group of outlaws. The aesthetic writer/director James Mangold puts on screen is clearly that of a western and the themes are that of any classic film about the wild west. This movie itself even references the classic western Shane multiple times. This is a brilliant way to reinvent both the superhero and western genres and turn a comic book character into a grizzled anti-hero who must face his demons.
18. Jeremiah Johnson
Jeremiah Johnson features Robert Redford in what may be his best and most iconic role. This is a film about a frontiersman who makes his way on his own long before the west was tamed. Director Sydney Pollack made a survival film which becomes more about the titular character growing up and learning about what's important in life. There's a wonderful story told in this movie and some memorable characters too. You won't soon find a better character journey in a western.
After a tumultuous production Tombstone came out on top as the quintessential modern Hollywood western. It's got shootouts and gunplay a plenty, but audiences really like this movie for it's unforgettable characters as Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer are the only ones most people think of when you mention Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton play the other Earp brothers rounding out a superb cast. It's certainly the most flashy film on this list and also has more quotable lines than most movies. This is a film you'll want to watch again and again.
16. The Revenant
Best Actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio deserved his golden statue for this mesmerizing performance. Playing real-life trapper Hugh Glass in the gorgeous, yet deadly, snow-covered mountains of the American west, DiCaprio brings an intensity unlike anything seen before. Shot on location in mostly natural lighting, Alejandro Inarittu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki give the film a sense of urgency and realism that hasn't been matched in any other film before or since. This is a truly harrowing tale of survival, betrayal, vengeance, and the triumph of the human spirit.
15. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Sergio Leone reinvented the western in the early 1960s with his Man with No Name or Dollars trilogy, the third of which is this classic. It's actually a prequel to the first two films as we get the origin story of Clint Eastwood's nameless anti-hero. Lee Van Cleef plays the Bad with a cold cynicism and Eli Wallach plays the Ugly to disgusting perfection. This is a story of double crosses and gunfights galore, and it features some of the best music ever put to film by Ennio Morricone. This film would be imitated multiple times in the future with none even coming close to it's coolness and originality.
14. The Proposition
When it comes to modern westerns none took as many big risks and bold moves as The Proposition, an Australian western from director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave. Faced with an impossible situation, Guy Pearce must traverse the harsh outback with bandits and thugs on a mission of mercy and death. It's a fantastic film to look at whether it's the unique landscapes, realistic violence, or intimate character moments that all work together for an unforgettable film viewing experience.
13. Red River
Has there ever been a more masterful and versatile director in all of Hollywood history than the great Howard Hawks? He made romantic comedies, action/adventure films, and of course one of his best movies, the western Red River. Featuring John Wayne as the old wise man among a band of young bucks looking to strut their stuff, this movie is an epic journey across the wild west as these cowboys must move a herd of cattle and protect them from predators of all kinds. It's got great characters and lots of tension between the leads which explodes at the end of the film. This one's expertly crafted by Hawks and perfectly played by this incredible cast.
12. Hell or High Water
This is the definition of the modern western. Set in present day Texas, two brothers rob banks to save the family farm. It's touching story of brotherhood from the perspective of the criminals and the lawmen who have to take them down. Ben Foster and Chris Pine deliver knockout performances as the distant bank robbing brothers as do both Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham as the Texas Rangers who take tough love to a new level. Director David Mackenzie has a great eye and shoots in a very naturalistic way allowing the actors and cinematographer to improvise to get the best shots possible. Taylor Sheridan's writing is also very realistic which makes this one something truly special.
11. Dances with Wolves
A wonderfully realized western, Dances with Wolves is Kevin Costner's best work on screen and behind the camera as he directs it with a grand and epic scope and scale reminiscent of a bygone era in the Golden age of cinema. It's an emotional and meaningful story with amazing shots of the untamed American west. There's not just great visuals here howeer, but also dramatic tension in many scenes and some really funny moments as well. This is an ode to the old west, a fish out of water story, unexpected romance, and a commentary on the relationship between the native Americans and European settlers.
10. Slow West
It's clear that a musician made Slow West, not just because it has excellent musical ques, but because of the film's overall pacing and rhythm. John Maclean directs this film with a deft hand as it's slow pacing (which the title suggests) never gets boring because the story is compelling and you care about the characters. The actors are so interesting to watch as Kodi Smit-McPhee plays a young man looking for his lost love with a doe-eyed innocence and Michael Fassbender plays the rough, tough, cold-hearted bounty hunter who learns compassion through their journey together. It's got a great villain in Ben Mendelsohn too who has a blast in his small role. This is a touching, artfully told story you shouldn't miss.
9. High Noon
A man stands alone. Basically every film that can be broke down to that plot line (Die Hard, First Blood, Commando etc.) owes a debt to Fred Zinnemann's High Noon. Gary Cooper plays a sheriff abandoned by his townsfolk when a gang of bandits and murderers come to hunt him down. If that weren't bad enough he's just gotten married to the lovely Grace Kelly and she just wants him to leave with her. Bound by duty and honor, and maybe some pride, Cooper stands off with the entire gang single-handed and the showdown is one for the ages. It's got great action and even better performances from it's terrific cast. The tight script by Carl Foreman takes place in real time which is an amazing accomplishment as the tension builds to the ultimate slam-bang finale.
The story of a gunslinger who rides into town to deliver some frontier justice is perhaps the most well known and cliche western plot there is, but none do it better than Shane. As he helps a family of ranchers who are being terrorized by a ruthless cattle baron, Shane discovers that there's no place left for him in an increasingly civilized world. It's a heartbreaking movie with outstanding performances that's also full of plenty of brutal bar room brawls and slick shootouts. Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, and Jean Arthur stand out among the cast as does the villainous Jack Palance, but Brandon deWilde is the real stars as the rancher's son who idolizes Shane for all the wrong reasons.
7. The Outlaw Josey Wales
Going out on his own, Clint Eastwood made a big statement as both star and director with The Outlaw Josey Wales, a tale of revenge in the American west during the brutal War Between the States. This is one of Eastwood's best performances and most memorable characters to ever grace the silver screen. It's a testament to his talent as he expertly handles the duties of playing the lead role while crafting the story through the lens. This one's got an emotionally heavy story which is counter-balanced by funny and odd characters. There are some intense shootouts and thrilling action scenes throughout the film, and it's all seen through the eyes of one man who's out for blood.
6. Once Upon a Time in the West
This movie has an overwhelmingly awesome style and an impeccable cast who all give astonishing performances. Charles Bronson has never been cooler than he is as Harmonica, Henry Fonda is shockingly sinister as Frank, and Claudia Cardinale is both beautiful and bold as Jill McBain. The opening scene alone is one of the best sequences in cinematic history. It's full of iconic moments, sharp and witty lines of dialogue, and some of the best visuals the genre has ever seen. Italian auteur Sergio Leone outdid himself here which many thought impossible after the success of the Dollars trilogy, but somehow he pulled it off.
5. The Searchers
John Wayne's best western is also John Ford's magnum opus. The Searchers stars Wayne as his meanest, most cynical, and unlikable character, as former Confederate soldier Ethan Edwards who goes after his kidnapped niece when a band of savages take her away from home. It's a long journey full of trouble, but his determination and loyalty make his character grow on you. The story is surprising and compelling with lots of laughs, gun fights, and drama. This is the most grown up and personal of Ford's films and is a shining example of the best work of his long and illustrious career.
Director and writer Scott Cooper delivers his best film with this brutal and emotionally gripping modern revisionist western. Christian Bale gives an intense and nuanced performance as Captain Joe Blocker, a soldier tasked with escorting a mortal enemy to his homeland. Playing the former native warlord Wes Studi fills Chief Yellow Hawk with weary wisdom and hopeful joy. Actress Rosamund Pike brings a vulnerability to her emotionally broken character who overcomes great odds for a hopeful future. It's got a great score, beautiful cinematography, and wonderful historical accuracy. This is an important story which speaks to our modern times with it's visceral themes and has some of the most poignant moments seen in the genre in years.
3. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Based on the brilliant book by B. Traven, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre tells the tale of three men with gold fever who will do anything and everything to get their hands on the shiny stuff. It's a tour de force of acting from Humphrey Bogart, Tim Colt, and Walter Huston who must work together to find the titular treasure. Of course, not all goes according to plan as they encounter Mexican bandits and other money-hungry, unsavory individuals who want a piece of the loot for themselves. This one's a psychological thriller full of twists and turns, deceptions and lies, betrayals and death. It's a important lesson that reminds us where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.
2. True Grit
The Coen brothers have never created a more beautiful, emotional, character-driven, or meaningful film than True Grit. The story of a young girl seeking justice for her dead father is compelling, but when you add an old, rough, grumpy U.S. Marshall into the mix things get much more interesting. The 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld astonishingly leads this cast with all the poise and grace of a veteran actress playing the infinitely determined Mattie Ross. Meanwhile, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon support her with the hilarious musings of a drunken former Confederate soldier in Rooster Cogburn and a prideful Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf. It's a great cast including Barry Pepper as the nasty gang leader Ned "Lucky" Pepper and Josh Brolin as the vile and murderous Tom Chaney. The music is meaningful and the script is absolutely perfect with some incredibly hilarious and witty lines of dialogue as well as many simply poetic ones.
The best western film is Unforgiven. This is Clint Eastwood's greatest achievement as both a director and as an actor. He's building on his own personal history as a wild-west gunslinger in the movies to play the worn out former gun-for-hire William Munny. It's a brilliant, subdued, weighty performance which is matched by his co-stars including the snide "Little" Bill Dagett played by the always great Gene Hackman, an incredible Morgan Freeman as the brave and loyal Ned Logan, and the suave and stubborn English Bob portrayed brilliantly by Richard Harris. It's a story of redemption and the cost of living lives of violence. A beautifully shot masterpiece, this is in fact one of the best films of all time as the music, costumes, props, sets, cinematography, acting, writing, and directing all are brought together perfectly to tell this important story.