The Best Westerns of All-Time (Updated)
600 7.9 81. The Searchers (1956)
This movie is considered by some to be the greatest western ever. It contains what I consider to be John Wayne's best and most complex performance. It was directed by the great John Ford and features many of his stock actors like Ward Bond, Ken Curtis, Harry Carey Jr, Hank Worden, and Patrick Wayne. It also features Jeffery Hunter, Natalie Wood, and Vera Miles.
Wayne's character is enigmatic and has a mysterious past. He shows up at his brother's house from the Civil War, several years after it had ended with a large amount of gold. It is never stated, but visually implied that there is a connection between him and his brother's wife.
The main plot centers on his search for his niece that was kipnapped by indians. This becomes an obsession to him and the search lasts for several years. In the process of his hunt, we see his predjudice and his intentions of killing the girl after finding out she was taken as one of the chief's wives. Some viewers have speculated the girl may secretly be his daughter by his brother's wife. This is Wayne's Oscar caliber performance, it is much better than the one he actually won for in True Grit.
Once Upon a Time in the West
1445 8.5 8.72. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
This is probably the best spaghetti western ever made. Sergio Leone, who had already proven himself with the Dollar Trilogy featuring Clint Eastwood, was given a generous budget and access to his favorite actor, Henry Fonda by United Artists.
He cast Fonda against type as the villian and made Charles Bronson the hero. These two were usually playing just the opposite in those days. It has some great western actors like Jason Robards, Jack Elam, and Woody Strode.
Fonda did not want to do the movie after reading the script. Eli Wallach, who had worked with Leone on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, convinced him to do it. He told Fonda the script doesn't matter, it is the style in which Leone works that makes his movies good.
296 7.5 7.73. Shane (1953)
This movie is another classic western that is ranked very highly. It has some great shots of the Grand Tetons and high plains near Jackson Hole, Wyoming that earned it an Oscar for cinematography.
It stars Alan Ladd as a gunfighter, who takes up with a homstead family in an isolated valley in Wyoming territory. After accepting a job as a farmhand, he gets drawn into the conflict between the settlers and a powerful cattle baron, who wants to run all the homesteaders out of the valley. This leads to the ultimate confrontation between Shane and the cattleman's hired gunslinger.
In addition to Ladd, the movie features Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Ben Johnson, Elisha Cook, Jr, and Edgar Buchanan.
The story is told through the eyes of the settler's son, Joey, who idolizes Shane. The movie was very influentual and you can recognize where it has inspired other movies, like Pale Rider. There was even a short-lived 1960s TV series starring a young David Carradine in the title role.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
463 7.7 7.94. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
This is my favorite Clint Eastwood western. It tells the story of how a Missouri farmer comes to join a band of Confederate guerrillas during the Civil War as revenge after his wife and son are murdered by Union Jayhawkers from Kansas. He becomes a skilled gunfighter. The guerrillas are offered amnesty in exchange for their surrender at the conclusion of the war. Wales refuses to surrender to the murderers of his family, and as a result, survives the massacre that was set up under the ruse of amnesty.
After gunning down several members of the Union Army with a Gatling Gun, Wales becomes a wanted man with a price on his head. He begins a life on the run from Union militia and bounty hunters as he still seeks revenge for the massacre and the chance for a new life in Texas. In his travels, he aquires a group of companions that include a funny old indian, a young Navajo woman, an old Yankee Woman and her granddaughter.
The movie has lots of what you would expect: plenty of gunplay, and some tough one-liners from Clint.
The film features Cheif Dan George, who gives a very funny performance as the old indian.
Also featured are Sondra Locke, John Vernon, Sam Bottoms, Shed Wooley, Royal Dano, Matt Clark, John Russell, and Kyle Eastwood.
Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid
286 7.8 7.45. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)
This movie takes place in the 1880s, but is very much a product of the 1970s. On paper, it seemed like it couldn't miss. For long-time western fans, it boasts just about every legendary western character actor in Hollywood and the great action director, Sam Peckinpah. For the younger audience of 1973, it had Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, and Bob Dylan (who also scored the film that featured 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door', which came to be one of his most popular songs).
The story is the familiar legend of Billy the Kid. It is not historically acurate, but none of the Billy the Kid movies are, unless they are documentaries. The main story centers on the myth that Pat Garrett was an old friend of Billy's and they used to ride together. Although the two definitely knew of each other, there has never been any evidence of them being friends or riding together. Garrett, played here by James Coburn, reluctantly hunts his old partner down after becoming sherriff of Lincoln and warning Billy to leave.
The movie was poorly received when it was first released. As a result of the studio being unhappy with Peckinpah's alcoholism and the cost of his production overruns, they demanded an unrealistic release date. This forced him into a desperate situation in order to finish on time. He managed to do a complete director's cut on time, but the studio was not happy with it. They wanted several sequences cut. They took the movie from him and truncated it to a shorter running time. This was the version released and panned by almost everyone. The movie credited 6 editors. It was difficult to follow the story and was a big disappointment to people expecting another 'Wild Bunch' from Peckinpah. The movie restored its reputation after the directors cut was released on video and laserdisc in the 1980s. This version led to a rediscovery and re-evaluation of the film. It is now regarded as something of a modern classic.
Some of the famous western actors featured are Richard Jaeckel, Chill Wills, Barry Sullivan, Jason Robards, RG Armstrong, Matt Clark, Jack Elam, Paul Fix, LQ Jones, Slim Pickens, Harry Dean Stanton, and Charles Martin Smith.
For A Few Dollars More
1154 8.1 8.46. For a Few Dollars More (1965)
This was Sergio Leone's sequel to his first successful collaboration with Clint Eastwood. It is the second film in what has become known as the 'Dollar Trilogy'. I think it is a better movie than 'Fist Full of Dollars'. It has a better story, and it has Lee Van Cleef.
The story is about 2 bounty hunters (Van Cleef and Eastwood) who discover they are both working the same territory. After initially butting heads, the 2 decide to join forces to take down the most ruthless killer in the territory. It is revealled they both have totally different motivations for doing this. Van Cleef is very good in this role. It was probably the first good guy role he had after working for years in bad guy or henchmen roles in Hollywood. The film also features Klaus Kinski in a small supporting role as a member of the outlaw gang. Clint solidified his strong, silent, shoot first and ask questions later character that he had originated in the first movie.
Leone wanted Charles Bronson for the role that Van Cleef played, but Bronson passed because he thought the script was too similiar to the first movie.
This is an under-rated and often overlooked film. After achieving acclaim in The Wild One, On The Waterfront, and A Streetcar Named Desire, this was Marlon Brando's directorial debut.
The story involves betrayal and revenge between 2 bankrobbers. Brando's production company initially hired Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah, but after they stalled, Brando fired them and hired himself as director. He shot extensive footage and ran over-budget due to his artistic and perfectionistic view of the scene set-ups. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinemaography, but made no money upon release. This resulted in Brando never directing another movie and the loss of his Hollywood clout for the rest of the decade. He acted in other roles, but never fully recovered the lost respect until The Godfather.
The film is now in the public domain and you can probably find it on DVD at the local dollar store. It remains an unusual western with some complex characters and beautifully shot scenery. It also features Karl Malden and supporting roles by Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens. I consider this a great lost masterpiece.
767 7.5 7.98. Tombstone (1993)
The gunfight at the OK corral and the Earp vendetta have been the subject of countless western movies. They usually are not very historically accurate. This one is pretty close. It has a lot of the western outlaws and lawmen involved. It is still a work of fiction based on historical fact.
Val Kilmer deserved acclaim for his portrayal of Doc Holliday and Kurt Russell (who also served as an uncredited co-director) is suprizingly good as Earp. I will not re-hash the plot, as I am sure we are all aware of the basic story here.
The movie was originally to have Robert Mitchum as Old Man Clanton, the head of the Clanton family and the cattle rustlers known as the Cowboys. Mitchum suffered a horse riding accident that left him unable to work. His part was written out and he became the narrator of the film. Much of Old Man Clanton's dialogue was spoken by other characters, mostly by Curly Bill.
The movie has an entertaining story and solid support from a very good cast including:
Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Chalton Heston, Jason Priestly, Terry O'Quinn, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, John Corbett, Dana Delaney, Billy Zane, Harry Carey, Jr, Frank Stallone, and Buck Taylor.
107 7.2 7.49. Hombre (1967)
Paul Newman was a great actor. He didn't make many Westerns. I can only think of this one, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, The Outrage, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Left-Handed Gun, and Buffalo Bill and the Indians (Which really wasn't a Western at all).
This one may not be remembered as much as Butch Cassidy, but it is much more serious and dramatic. It is considered a revisionist Western, because it views the Native American in a much more truthful way than previously seen in Westerns.
Newman is a white man raised by Apaches. He faces predjudice in the white world when he leaves the reservation to claim the inheritance left by his white father.
He winds up a passenger on a stagecoach of whites who, upon disovery that he is a half-breed, have him ride on top with the Mexican driver. The stage gets held up and the same bigots appeal to Newman's character to protect them.
Newman conveys his character with very little dialogue. Much of the role is conveyed through mannerism and action.
Richard Boone does a good job as the leader of the stage robbers. The cast includes:
Paul Newman, Richard Boone, Frederic March, Cameron Mitchell, Martin Balsam, Frank Silvera, and David Canary.
Blood on the Moon
27 6.5 6.910. Blood on the Moon (1948)
This is a rare phsycological Western from 1948 starring Robert Mitchum. It has many film noir elements.
Mitchum is a drifter offered a job, not realizing his new boss is a crook who intends to swindle landowners in a feud between cattle ranchers and homesteaders. He planned to have the cattle owner lose his grazing rights and thereby lose his stock.
After figuring out the scheme, Mitchum switches loyalty to the cattle owner and his family. This, of course, leads to a bloody showdown.
The movie is remembered as having a good sound story, good acting, and a change of pace from the usual run-of -the-mill formula westerns of the era. It climaxed with a knock-down drag-out fight, a long chase across snow-covered mountians, and a gun battle between Mitchum and the henchmen.
The cast includes, Robert Mitchum, Robert Preston, Walter Brennan, and Barbara Bel Geddes.
The Long Riders
94 7.2 7.111. The Long Riders (1980)
The Jesse James legend is another popular Western movie subject. They usually focus more on the legend and less on the historical facts.
This version is best remembered for the gimmick of casting 3 sets of real life acting brothers as 3 historical brothers involved with the James-Younger Gang and for the the soundtrack of original music by Ry Cooder.
James and Stacy Keach as Jesse and Frank James
David, Keith, and Robert Carradine as Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger.
Dennis and Randy Quaid as Ed and Clell Miller.
Christopher and Nicholas Guest as Charlie and Robert Ford.
The best performances are David Carradine as Cole and Randy Quaid as Clell.
The movie also features Kevin Brophy and Harry Carey Jr.
50 6.9 712. The Bravados (1958)
This is another tale of Western vengence. Gregory Peck plays a rancher, whose wife was murdered by a gang of outlaws. He goes to see the hanging of 4 men who fit the description of the murderers. When they escape, he volunteers to help track them down.
He dispenses his own brand of justice on each man, but after going on alone into the home of the last man, he has a revelation that causes him to re-think the whole thing and come up with a different conclusion.
Peck gives his usual solid performance and is supported by a cast that includes Stephen Boyd, Albert Salmi, Henry Silva, Lee Van Cleef, Andrew Duggan, and Joan Collins.
Rio Bravo / El Dorado
462 7.9 8.113. Rio Bravo (1959)
I put these 2 Howard Hawks/John Wayne films together because they are practically the same movie.
Rio Bravo was the first one filmed. The plot centered around a sherrif with one deputy who turned into a drunk, another who is an old man, and a young gunslinger named Colorado. These men have to guard a prisoner in the jail to prevent his gang from overtaking them and busting him out.
John Wayne plays Chance, the sheriff
Dean Martin is Dude, the drunken deputy
Ricky Nelson is Colorado, the young gunslinger
Walter Brennan is Stumpy, the old man
The cast also includes Ward Bond, Claude Akins, John Russell, and Angie Dickinson.
161 7.1 7.714. El Dorado (1966)
Director Howard Hawks made this loose varation of the same theme a few years later. Again, Hawks directed, Wayne starred, and the script was written by the same writer. It still centered around the idea of working against an outlaw element by 'holing up' with their prisoner in the jail.
When Wayne was told about the project, he asked Hawks if he could be the drunk this time, but Hawks said no.
Instead, Robert Mitchum played the drunken sheriff.
Wayne played a hired gunman and old friend of Mitchum's.
James Caan played Mississippi, a young man who is very good with a knife.
Arthur Hunnicutt played Bull, the old man.
In comparison to the first movie, you could say that Mitchum got the Dean Martin role,
Hunicutt got the Walter Brennan role,
and Caan got the Ricky Nelson role, but in a twist, he had him inept with a gun, but very skilled with a knife.
And John Wayne played John Wayne.
Although Wayne was not the sheriff this time, he still had the same function of organizing everyone and sobering up his drunk friend.
The cast also included Ed Asner, Christopher George, RG Armstrong, Paul Fix, Jim Davis, Johnny Crawford, and John Mitchum.
High Plains Drifter / Pale Rider
360 7.3 7.715. High Plains Drifter (1973)
These 2 Clint Eastwood movies are put together because they are very similiar.
High Plains Drifter was directed by Eastwood and the influence of his 2 major collaborators, Sergio Leone and Don Seigel, is evident.
The story is about a mysterious stranger with a hint of the supernatural. He rides into town and winds up literally painting the town red. He is hired by the town to protect them against 3 outlaws the town has double crossed after the outlaws had whipped and killed the sheriff for them. The sheriff had discovered illegal operations within the mining company and the town wanted this kept quiet. After the outlaws did the town's bidding, the town turned on them. Now the outlaws are returning for revenge. In payment for his services, the town offers the stranger anything he wants and the stranger proceeds to indulge in all the town's products and services.
On the eve of the outlaws' arrival, the stranger rides out of town. The outlaws have no trouble in getting the people all captive in the saloon by nightfall. The stranger returns after dark and takes out the outlaws one by one. He dispenses some justice on the corrupt townspeople as well. The next morning as he rides out, it is implied the stranger may have been the sheriff's brother or perhaps his spirit, as he rides off and disappears into the heat of the high plains.
In addition to Eastwood, the movie features Verna Bloom, Geoffery lewis, Paul Brinegar, Richard Bull, John Hillerman, and John Quade.
415 7.2 7.316. Pale Rider (1985)
Clint Eastwood directs this movie that has plot
similarities to Shane and High Plains Drifter.
The film is set in a Californian town that is the base for a big-time hydraulic mining company. The big company wants to run the group of struggling miners and their families out of the area where they are panning for gold. When the big mining company's thugs shoot up the small mining camp, they shoot and kill a young girl's dog. She buries him in the woods and prays for help over his grave. The next thing we see is a stranger riding toward town. He gets there in time to single handedly beat up the thugs that were beating a miner trying to buy supplies from the store.
It is revealled this mysterious man has scars on his back that would indicate he has been shot full of holes at one time, but somehow survived. He is also wearing the collar of a preacher and that is what the small miners call him. He works with the miners and keeps the thugs away from their camp.
When the head of the big mining company is unable to hire the Preacher, or bribe him with a new church, he hires outside gunmen to come in and take care of him. This leads to the big showdown between the gang of gunmen and the Preacher.
The supernatural aspect of the story is more obvious than the implied, flashbacks of High Plains Drifter. Several Bible passages are referrred to, such as the "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death." Eastwood has admitted the character Preacher was an out-and-out ghost. The hired gunman seemed to know this mysterious man, but said the man he knew is dead. When he finally is taken down by the Preacher, he looks at him in shock and says, "You!". This seems to support that this is the dead man he knew. Prior to killing the main gunman, Preacher took out all his henchmen one by one like the stranger did to the outlaws in High Plains Drifter.
The movie is similiar to Shane in that the big powerful force in the area is trying to eliminate the smaller claims. In Shane it was the big cattleman against the small homesteaders. Here it is the big miner against the small prospecters. The scene where the miner hits a big load and comes into town only to be murdred by the hired gunmen is almost the same as in Shane. The scene where the Preacher is helping the miner bust open a big rock in the creek is similiar to Shane helping the homesteader dig up a big stump out of his field. And, finally at the end, when the Preacher rides out, the girl calls after him, like the iconic scene at the conclusion of Shane.
The cast includes Michael Moriarty, Carrie Snodgress, Richard Dysart, Christopher Penn, Sydney Penny, Richard Keil, and John Russell.
The Wild Bunch
655 8.1 8.117. The Wild Bunch (1969)
This movie is widely regarded in the top 10 of many different lists of best Westerns. It was directed by Sam Peckinpah and was controversial due to its depiction of graphic violence (often using multi-angle editing and slow motion images) and its portrayal of crude men attempting to survive by any means possible.
This was inspired by Peckinpah's perception of the lack of reality seen in Westerns up until that time. He meticulously captured the chaotic nature of the action in a gunfight. Up until that time all gunshots in a Warner Bros movie had the exact same sound, regardless of the type of weapon fired. He insisted each different type of firearm have its own specific sound when fired.
It is more of an anti-Western. It tells the story of an aging outlaw gang trying to survive in the changing times of 1913. It was the end of the outlaw gunfighter era and the Bunch was living by an anachronistic code of honor that was out of place in 20th century modern society.
It was well received by the critics in spite of the violence and was nominated for several Academy Awards.
The cast includes William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O'Brian, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin, LQ Jones, Bo Hopkins, and Dub Taylor.
It was announced in January 2011 that this movie will be remade by Warner Bros.
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