Yeehaw! Saddle Up For Our List Of The Best Western Movies Ever, Ranked

Yeehaw! Saddle Up For Our List Of The Best Western Movies Ever, Ranked

25. Deadwood: The Movie (2019)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 98%


Fans of the HBO Western-themed television series Deadwood were not disappointed by the series’ film, Deadwood: The Movie. The drama centers on the often unsavory characters who inhabit a gold mining base in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota in 1876. The film follows the evolution of the settlement, and its residents, from makeshift gold mining camp to town in a newly established state, South Dakota.


western movies

IMDb/HBO Films


Some fans did not enjoy the long wait between the last episode in 2006 and the Western movie in 2019. Others felt it was long overdue. They believed that the series’ abrupt ending left fans wanting more. Critics were impressed by the film’s ability to accurately continue the beloved characters’ story in a way that fit well into the narrative defined by the show.

24. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 90%


No stranger to the genre of Western films, Clint Eastwood delivered one of his most powerful performances in the 1976 film, The Outlaw Josey Wales. The film is considered a “revisionist Western” — differing from traditional Westerns in the sense that Native Americans, and women, played larger and more positive roles. Like many Westerns, though, the film centers on the themes of revenge, retribution, and outlaws.


The Outlaw Josey Wales

IMDb/Warner Bros.


The film follows Southerner Josey Wales, who loses his family to a band of pro-Union militants. Seeking revenge, he joins a Confederate guerrilla group and quickly becomes an outlaw. With bounty hunters hot on his trail, he heads west. Along the way, he meets other outsiders. The film also helped give life to a genre of film, which many felt had been dying by the 1970s.

23. No Country for Old Men (2007)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 93%


Using author Cormac McCarthy’s nihilistic novel of the same name, brother filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen created the unforgettably haunting and chilling movie, No Country for Old Men. With a bleak sun-scorched landscape to paint an even more depressing story, the movie follows the deadly domino effect that occurs after a man comes across the remnants of a drug deal gone wrong while hunting in the back country of the Texas/Mexico border.


western movie

IMDb/Paramount Vantage


The film won four Academy Awards, and continues to top “Best Movie” lists. Some also believe that the film, which can generally be classified in the Western genre due to its themes, inspired other Western-themed shows and movies, albeit in a contemporary setting, dubbed “neo-Westerns”.

22. Django Unchained (2012)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 87%


Set just two years before the Civil War, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained focuses on common Western film themes of revenge and retribution seen through the eyes of a freed slave in the pre-Civil War South. The slave, Django, is on a quest to find his German-speaking wife, who was torn away from him by the horrors of slavery. Now serving his own will, he rides horseback in an unmistakably Western get-up.


Django Unchained

IMDb/The Weinstein Company and Columbia Pictures


The film received numerous accolades despite the extreme and gory violence seen throughout. Critics were impressed by Tarantino’s take on the uncomfortable truths of slavery and enduring racism in the United States, subjects many filmmakers shy away from addressing. Anchored by strong acting performances by Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, and the seminal Samuel L. Jackson, Django became one of Tarantino’s biggest box office hits.

21. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 93%


In many Western movies, the wide open landscape of the American West represents a new, fresh start for characters looking to start over. Tapping into this theme is the classic film uniting screen titans John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The movie follows a new-in-town lawyer who runs into trouble when he crosses paths with the town’s vicious villain, Liberty Valance.


western movies

IMDb/John Ford Productions


Despite the film lacking the usual sweeping landscapes of the Wild West, critics applauded the film’s focus on the more political side of life on the range. With issues such as impending statehood, small town politics, and the role of print media in politics, the film was certainly unique. One of the last films from prolific Westerns director John Ford, fans of the 1962 movie consider it to be a “genuine masterpiece” and “one of the greatest Westerns ever made”.

20. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 98%


Inspiring a sub-genre of Western movies called “spaghetti Westerns” (Western-style films by Italian filmmakers), this film was the first in the Dollars Trilogy by director Sergio Leone. The story centers on the often violent events that follow the mysterious protagonist known as the “Man with No Name”, played by a perpetually scowling Clint Eastwood.


A Fistful of Dollars

IMDb/Constantin Films


Largely inspired by the Japanese Samurai film Yojimbo ,the film was groundbreaking in that it sought to blur the lines between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. Eastwood’s character often looks rough and disheveled, as he engages in some morally ambiguous behavior. Leone, a fan of traditional Western films, wanted to explore more believable and humanistic story lines.

19. 3:10 to Yuma (1957)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 96%


Premiering during the peak of the era of classic Western films in Hollywood, 3:10 to Yuma is one of the most revered classics by fans of the genre. The dramatic and thought-provoking film offers a suspenseful look at how morality can be influenced by desperation, for both villains and supposed heroes of the film.


3:10 to Yuma

IMDb/Columbia Pictures


In the story, a poor farmer feels inclined to take on a risky job: escorting a prisoner to a jail in Yuma, Arizona. As the two await the afternoon train, the prisoner begins to manipulate the now morally conflicted man. Critics applauded the film’s complex take on the Western movie, which focused on the psychology of its main characters. A classic part of the genre, the film inspired a remake, which was equally well-received.

18. Blazing Saddles (1974)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 89%


While many diehard fans of the Western genre may not label Blazing Saddles a true Western, even if it does parody many of the genre’s most common tropes, it’s a Western film through and through. Keeping in line with his other films, this ridiculous and bawdy comedy is filled with Mel Brooks’ signature outrageous gags and raunchy humor.


Blazing Saddles

IMDb/Warner Bros. and Crossbow Productions


While the film initially opened to mixed reviews, it later went on to gain a strong cult following as a comedy classic. Central to the hijinks of the plot is a black man being sent as the new sheriff in a rather bigoted frontier town. With Richard Pryor writing behind the scenes, the film became one of Brooks’ most popular genre-spoofing comedies, another example of his successful pairing with the late actor Gene Wilder.

17. The Magnificent Seven (1960)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 88%


With the Western film The Magnificent Seven, audiences got to experience the magic of a true ensemble film in which a group of misfits get together to save the day. The film, however, has its roots in a cinematic and cultural tradition somewhat far removed from those of the Old West: Japan.


western movies

IMDb/United Artists


The movie is based on a Japanese film called Seven Samurai, which tells the story of seven warriors defending their village against bandits. The Western retelling featured a similar band of fighters, moving the setting to a small town in Mexico. While both films are universally lauded, The Magnificent Seven has often been called one of the best films in the Western genre.

16. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 100%


Using the novel of the same name as inspiration, John Huston’s film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic film that explores the human experience as wound up within the consequences of greed. The film revolves around the distrust and malicious intentions that overtake a group of men prospecting for gold in the countryside of Mexico.


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

IMDb/Warner Bros.


Considered one of the genre-defining films before the golden age of the Western, the film also made cinematic history as being among the first Hollywood productions filmed outside of the United States, let alone a Western. The timeless lesson about the dangers of greediness, and strong acting by leading man Humphrey Bogart, have cemented the movie’s place on many best Western movie lists. Tune in for an unforgettable quote about those stinkin’ badges.

15. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 77%


While the 1950s may have been the peak of the classic Western genre, a new revitalization emerged in the 2000s with a slew of revisionist Westerns. These films attempted to portray the classic themes of the genre through a more modern, nuanced, and humanized lens.


western movies

IMDb/Warner Bros.


An example of this was the epic Western film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Starring Brad Pitt as the charismatic outlaw, the film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, and became a critically acclaimed classic. Critics were not only impressed by the strong performances of the leads, but the film’s timeless themes surrounding criminality and heroism, and the often dangerous fame that follows.

14. The Searchers (1956)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 98%


Often called one of the “most influential films ever made”, the John Ford epic The Searchers was both a commercial and critical success. The film is set during the tumultuous times of the Texas-Indian wars, and follows an aging former Confederate soldier searching for his niece, who has been abducted.


The Searchers

IMDb/Warner Bros.


While his quest to find the missing girl begins with good intentions, it quickly spirals into madness. His search becomes more frantic, and obsessive, after he learns the girl may have been kidnapped by the Comanche people. The acclaimed film is considered by the American Film Institute to be the “Greatest Western of All Time”.

13. The Wild Bunch (1969)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 92%


Considered controversial for its extreme and unsettling violence, the film The Wild Bunch continues to shock viewers, even half a century after its release. In the film, a band of outlaws is adjusting to the increasingly modernized West of 1913. Living on the Mexico-Texas border, the gang decides to execute one last robbery before giving up the criminal life and retiring.


The Wild Bunch

IMDb/Warner Bros.


The extreme violence was a great contrast to the Western films before, which usually alluded to murder and violence but shied away from actually showing blood. It was later revealed that the director intended for the film to be an allegory for the Vietnam War, which was at its peak at that time. Although difficult to watch, the film remains a classic for the genre.

12. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 95%


Another famous spaghetti Western is the epic and incomparable film, Once Upon a Time in the West. With star leads like Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson, the critically acclaimed cinematic masterpiece has become a classic. Like other films in the category, it touches on key themes found throughout many other Westerns: the encroachment of modern technology into the frontier, and vengeance.


western films

IMDb/Paramount Pictures


A new railroad line threatens the land that contains the town’s only drinking water supply. The conflict over land soon turns violent, with characters seeking and exacting justice and revenge after a series of senseless killings. While initial reviews of the film were mixed, many famous filmmakers have credited it with having inspired their work. With Henry Fonda playing against expectations as a villain, legendary director Sergio Leone, and an iconic score by Ennio Morricone, it’s absolutely arresting.

11. Rio Bravo (1959)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 100%


Considered one of the highest-ranking Western movies, Rio Bravo has become a classic of the genre. The film follows the violent repercussions resulting from the arrest of a well-connected rancher by the town’s sheriff. While the movie has been criticized for its often slow-moving pace, it garnered ample praise for its strong acting.


Rio Bravo

IMDb/Warner Bros.


The film also gained attention after it was revealed that the movie, and its themes, were purposely written to contrast against another Western, High Noon. John Wayne, star of Rio Bravo, had been supposedly disgusted with what he perceived as cowardice on the part of High Noon’s protagonist. Because of this, his character in Rio Bravo is shown as being fearless and unwavering in his commitment to serve.

10. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 97%


Following the bloody trail left by the “Man with No Name”, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the last film of the Dollars Trilogy by director Sergio Leone. The mysterious loner played by Clint Eastwood appears in the film as the same snarling, poncho-wearing, cigarette-smoking outlaw.


western movies

IMDb/United Artists


While early Westerns typically featured very obvious differences between heroes and villains, Leone’s heroes often looked unshaven, dirty, and dressed in dark clothing, which had usually been used to indicate the “villain”. Critics hailed the more character-driven stories, which featured complex and realistic characters. He is credited with introducing the concept of the ambiguous hero, the lone wolves who acted on their emotions and according to their inner moral code.

9. Red River (1948)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 100%


The classic Western movie fictionalizes the epic story of the first cattle drive to Kansas from Texas. The emotional and physical difficulty of the complex maneuver is brought to life through this Western movie’s powerful leads, John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. Critics praised the sweeping film for its stunning cinematography and solid acting.


western films

IMDb/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.


As the two men make their way to Kansas, they encounter a series of difficult situations threatening to drive them off course. The men find themselves not only fighting off attacks from the outside, but also dealing with betrayal within their own camp. The film has steadily maintained its acclaim, with even the late movie critic Roger Ebert calling it “one of the greatest Western films of all time”.

8. Shane (1953)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 97%


With the horrors of the Civil War behind him, a mysterious drifter finds refuge in a small Wyoming town in the classic film Shane. While the film is celebrated for its sweeping footage of the mountains of the frontier, it was lauded for its exploration of the tension, and conflict between cattlemen and the homesteaders who were slowly acquiring the contested land of the West.


Shane

IMDb/Paramount Pictures


The film helped make viewers take a deeper look at the gunslingers who many usually saw as heroes, but could now be interpreted as criminals. Critics also praised the film for showing life on the frontier through the eyes of a child, a point of view not typically explored in Westerns.

7. True Grit (2010)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 96%


Remaking a beloved film like True Grit requires, well, some grit. Luckily, the Coen brothers used their filmmaking talents, and a strong cast, to do justice to the Western classic. The 2010 remake tells the story of a young girl seeking revenge for the cold-blooded killing of her father.


western film

YouTube/Movieclips/Paramount Pictures


Mattie Ross, the young girl, soon assembles a makeshift team of an eccentric Deputy U.S. Marshal and a Texas Ranger. As the three tackle the trials and dangers of the wild frontier in search of the killer, each character is tested in a unique way. The film was universally praised, particularly the performance of Mattie Ross, who was played by then-newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.

6. Stagecoach (1939)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 100%


One of the most significant film contributions to the Western genre was the 1939 John Ford film, Stagecoach. The film begins with a group of strangers traveling together on a train. As the plot progresses, audiences begin to understand why these characters have decided to risk taking the dangerous trip through territory controlled by the Apache nation.


Stagecoach Film

IMDb/United Artists


The film has been credited with popularizing the now-common motif of diverse characters working towards a common goal. What’s more, it revived the Western, mostly gone since the era of silent film, reinforcing its ideas and character tropes. While the movie has often been seen as a defining piece of cinematic work, many criticize the negative representation of Native Americans in the story.

5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 90%


Based on the equally fascinating story of the real-life outlaw, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of the most well-known Western movies. Taking inspiration from the true story behind the famous robber, the film centers on Butch’s criminal exploits from the frontier all the way to South America.


western films

IMDb/Twentieth Century Fox


Despite being pressured by studios to remove the scenes where Butch goes to South America, the film’s director wanted to stay true to the outlaw’s cross-continental journey of criminality. Initial reviews of the classic ranged from mediocre to negative, with many critics taking issue with the film’s ending. Today, the chemistry between leading lads Robert Redford and Paul Newman is seen as absolutely iconic.

4. Dances with Wolves (1990)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 83%


Kevin Costner’s impressive directorial debut was a film adaptation of the novel, Dances with Wolves. The sweeping Western drama followed the epic story of a Union Army soldier left at a remote military post on the American frontier. Alone in the rugged wilderness surrounding the post, he soon meets the daughter of the chief of the local Sioux nation.


Dances With Wolves

IMDb/Orion Pictures


As his character becomes more involved with the Sioux, their relationship is soon threatened. The historical drama was universally acclaimed, and won seven Academy Awards. The film was also celebrated by many members of the Native American community who appreciated Costner’s positive portrayal and his incorporation of the Lakota language in the film’s dialogue. Many believe that Costner’s film helped revitalize the drama, paving the way for a series of other Westerns to grace the silver screen.

3. High Noon (1952)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 96%


One of the most controversial Western movies is also undeniably one of the best: High Noon. Shot during a time when fear of Communism in the United States was at its height, the film is often considered to have strong political undertones. In the film, two-time Oscar winner Gary Cooper plays a small town marshal faced with fending off a murderous gang of outlaws on his own.


High Noon

IMDb/United Artists


Set to arrive on the noon train, Cooper frantically, and unsuccessfully, tries to assemble a protective coalition. Many believe the themes of abandonment were tied to the “blacklisting” of the movie’s screenplay writer Carl Foreman. Critics had mixed views on the film’s uncommon-for-the-genre passivity of the male lead. John Wayne famously called it “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life”. Yet it is precisely this defiance of expectations that makes it iconic.

2. Unforgiven (1992)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 96%


A famous fixture in Westerns, Clint Eastwood helped breathe new life into the genre with his dark film, Unforgiven. The movie, which starred and was directed by Eastwood, tells the story of aging criminal who agrees to take on one more job, despite having supposedly moved on from his outlaw past.


Unforgiven Clint Eastwood

IMDb/Warner Bros.


The film was universally acclaimed, becoming one of several Academy Award winning films for Eastwood. Critics applauded the film’s realistic depiction of a man trying to leave his past behind, but being drawn back into the dark underworld of violence. The film also touched on the societal changes happening during the late 1800s, and how despite the modernization of the frontier society, man’s more animalistic nature still couldn’t be tamed.

1. Tombstone (1993)


Rotten Tomatoes Ranking: 74%


It’s a bold claim, but Tombstone arguably stands the test of time as the best Western movie ever made. Its modes aren’t antiquated, its performances still spellbinding. The rowdy period picture took inspiration from real events in the West, as well as real historical figures. Critics appreciated the film’s attention to detail in terms of its historically accurate costumes, scenery, and props.


Tombstone

IMDb/Buena Vista Pictures


Influenced by other classic Westerns, the film’s director focused on the relationship between the two protagonists. Many praised the strong acting of leads, Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell. One of the highest grossing films of the last forty years, the film has gone onto become a cult classic, directly reviving the popularity of the Western genre for generations to come.


Sources: The Guardian, Rotten Tomatoes, The Independent