The 17 Best Western Movies

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 4, 2013 · 552 comments

in Movies, Travel & Leisure


Few figures in history have had as powerful an impact on American masculinity as the cowboy. For over a century, the cowboy has — for better or for worse — been a standard of rugged individualism and stoic bravery for the American male. While the mythologization of the American cowboy began all the way back in the 1880s with dime novels and Wild West shows, it wasn’t until the advent of twentieth century cinema that the cowboy cemented his place as an icon of manliness.

The Western has been a popular genre of cinema since the very beginning of film, and successive generations of filmmakers have used the “Wild West” as a backdrop on which to explore the social issues of their respective eras. Many of the early silent films at the beginning of the 20th century were Westerns, the most famous being 1903′s The Great Train RobberyDuring the 1920s, the Western film genre produced some of Hollywood’s first megastars such as Tom Mix and William S. Hart. These early Westerns were heavy on action, but light on plot. Their primary goal was to simply entertain.

It isn’t until the 1930s that the Western became an avenue for telling stories with searching and hard-hitting messages. Directors and screenwriters used the genre to overtly and symbolically explore the pressing subjects of their day like racism, nationalism, capitalism, family, and honor — issues deeply meshed with manhood. During the Great Depression, for example, when men felt punished by the economy even though they had worked hard and done the right thing, Western plots often revolved around a man who is mistaken for an outlaw and falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit and must find the real criminal and seek justice himself. In the 50s, it was society’s anxiety about conformity that began to be reflected through the prism of the Old West. Instead of taking on bad guys with a posse, the protagonists in these mid-century Westerns (Shane and High Noon being the best examples) were loners who were compelled by their own values to fight against wrong while those around them cowered in fear like sheep. The tenor of Westerns changed once again during the cultural, social, and political upheaval of the 1960s. Like many films during that time, the antihero now took center-stage, and the heroes in these films were typically outlaws who were fighting against a corrupt system of justice and inequality (see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). During the 70s and 80s, the classic Western went into hibernation. It wasn’t until the late 80s and early 90s that the genre returned to prominence in film and TV. Reflecting the post-modern era in which they were made, these more recent Westerns are much more morally ambiguous (Unforgiven) or satirical and/or comedic (City Slickers) than their earlier counterparts.

Because the Western has played such a huge role in the shaping of American masculinity (not to mention simply being enjoyable entertainment), I thought it only proper to highlight some of the best from the genre. Below you’ll find my picks. I tried to get a good mixture from different time periods. It goes without saying that John Wayne makes an appearance in several of these films. Enjoy.

High Noon


High Noon is film about being torn between duty and love and standing up for what you believe in, even when everyone else abandons you. Gary Cooper plays Will Kane, a town marshal from New Mexico, who settles down with his pacifist Quaker wife (played by Grace Kelly, one of your grandpa’s babes). Kane’s plans to retire to a peaceful life are interrupted after he gets word that a former gunslinger is coming in on the noon train to settle an old score with him. His wife pleads with him to leave town, but Kane knows he can’t. He has a duty to defend the town and his honor. Will finds himself alone in the battle as everyone in town, including his deputy sheriff, have turned away from him. The tension builds, leading up to the final gun battle — the quintessential mano-a-mano showdown that historians say rarely actually happened in the Old West, but has become an indelible part of popular culture.

Best line: “Don’t shove me Harv. I’m tired of being shoved.”



This is the movie that made John Wayne a star and set the standard for all subsequent Westerns (some would say it set the standard for all 20th century cinema). Directed by the legendary John Ford and shot on scene in Monument Park, Stagecoach follows a group of nine strangers as they cross dangerous Apache territory in — you guessed it — a stagecoach. All of the characters have their own personal demons that they’re running from and the journey through the treacherous Apache territory in many ways serves as a symbolic road to redemption for each of them. The acting and screenplay is top notch. Despite being filmed in 1939, the movie is still fresh and engaging. Be on the lookout for the epic chase scene featuring one of the most famous movie stunts of all time performed by Yakima Canutt.

Best line: “Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.”

The Searchers


In this film, also directed by John Ford, John Wayne gives the most intense acting performance of his career as the dark and vengeful Ethan Edwards, a man who vows to kill the Comanche raiders who murdered his beloved sister-in-law, brother, and took captive two of their daughters. Wayne does a fantastic job in embodying a conflicted, complex man whose racism and desire for revenge sets up a situation far more morally ambiguous than Cowboys vs. Indians.

Best line: “That’ll be the day.”

Lonesome Dove


Technically this isn’t a movie, but rather a TV mini-series, but I don’t care. Lonesome Dove is a Western every man should see. Even if you don’t like Westerns, you’ll love Lonesome Dove. Its themes of friendship, regret, and love will resonate with any man. The action scenes are just icing on the cake. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Larry McMurty, Lonesome Dove follows two retired Texas Rangers — Augustus McCrae (Robert Duvall) and Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones) — as they lead a cattle drive from South Texas all the way to Montana. The production on Lonesome Dove isbar none, the best in Western cinema. The costumes, the locations, even the way the characters speak make you feel like you’ve been plopped on a horse in 1876 America. But what really separates Lonesome Dove from the rest of the Westerns on this list (and I’d go as far as saying most movies ever made) are the characters. Thanks to top-notch writing and acting, Lonesome Dove is one of those rare movies that makes you feel like its fictional characters are real life people. Not only that, you feel like old friends with them by the end. You’ll cheer their triumphs and bawl your eyes out when tragedy strikes. Do yourself a favor and rent the complete series and watch it. You’ll be a better man for it.

Trivia: Our son’s name — Augustus McKay — was inspired by August McCrae. That’s how much I love this book and movie.

Best line: “It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living.”



Cinema often glorifies the Old West as a mythic time when good guys wore white and the bad ones wore black. In Unforgiven, director/actor/producer Clint Eastwood shines a light on the dark, violent, and morally ambiguous aspects of life in frontier America. Clint Eastwood plays William Munny, a once notorious and violent killer. Now, he’s just a quiet and tired farmer who is a devoted father still mourning his dead wife. But Will’s old life comes back to haunt him when he’s asked to do a hit on a cowboy who slashed the face of a prostitute. Will is transplanted from his farm in Kansas to a town in Wyoming where he meets Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a mean son-of-a-bitch who is determined to not let the hit go down, no matter what it takes. Hold onto your hats, partners, this isn’t your grandpa’s Western.

Best line: “Hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”



This is a great sheepdog movie. A quiet gunslinger who is trying to escape his past befriends a pioneer family that has settled out west. He attempts to settle down and become a hired hand to the family, but the ranchers who want to drive cattle through the homesteaders’ property are attempting to push them out. Shane tries to stay out of the disputes, but keeps being drawn in and is finally compelled to put his six shooter back on to protect his adoptive family. Perhaps the most touching part of the movie is the relationship Shane develops with the farmer’s son.

Best line: “A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.”

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


Based loosely on the real lives of Western outlaws Robert LeRoy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy) and Harry Longabaugh (aka the Sundance Kid), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a classic movie about two buddies trying to make it in a changing world. What’s funny about this flick is that you forget that these guys were hardened criminals who robbed banks and trains for a living. The easygoing charm Robert Redford and Paul Newman bring to their roles makes you like the characters despite their choice of profession. Their clever hijinks and humor make the movie an enjoyable ride.

The Magnificent Seven


Inspired by the classic Japanese film Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven follows a group of seven American gunfighters who band together to defend an oppressed Mexican village. This film has it all: great story, great cast, and one of the most iconic movie scores of all time.

Best line: “It’s only a matter of knowing how to shoot a gun. Nothing big about that.”

Red River


What happens to a man when he’s consumed by obsession? That’s the question that we see answered in 1948′s Red River. John Wayne plays Thomas Dunson, a determined and sometimes ruthless man who has the goal of forming the largest cattle ranch in America. With nothing but his trusty trail-hand (Walter Brennan) and a young boy who survived an Indian attack on his wagon train (Montgomery Clift), Dunson does just that. To make money, though, he’s got to get the cattle to market, so Dunson sets out to drive thousands of cattle from Texas to Missouri. Along the way, Dunson’s brutal and dictatorial leadership causes his young protege and adopted son to mutiny and take the cattle from Dunson. Dunson vows to find and kill his boy. Does he do it in the end? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Best line: “Get a shovel and my Bible. I’ll read over him.”

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the last in Sergio Leone’s trilogy of “spaghetti westerns.” Despite being the last, it has come to stand on its own. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you probably know something about it. Most likely you’ve heard the iconic theme song with its spooky “wha wha wha” shouts. And you’ve probably seen images and scenes of Clint Eastwood wearing a poncho and smoking a cigar. The film follows three cowboys during the Civil War who try to double cross each other in search of Confederate gold. There’s not much of a deep message in this film. It’s just a lot of fun to watch.

Best line: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”


True Grit (2010)


Hired by a young girl to track down the man that killed her father, Jeff Bridges takes on the role of Rooster Cogburn, the marshal with “grit” enough to bring the man to justice. The 2010 version is definitely better than the 1969 John Wayne version. Bridges simply did a superior job portraying Rooster Cogburn, and thanks to the Coen brothers, the movie just seemed more real and alive.

Best line: “Fill  your hand you son-of-a-bitch!”

The Wild Bunch


The Wild Bunch is a tale about a group of outlaws who see the world they know quickly disappearing. Set in 1913, the West by then was no longer “wild.” The old rule of “might makes right” had been replaced by government-dispensed justice. Moreover, technology had made many of the skills and know-how needed to survive and thrive in the Wild West obsolete. Sensing that their time is up, a group of outlaws decide to go out in a blaze of glory and gore. The Wild Bunch was and is a controversial film. Its violence and nihilism paints a bleak picture of life at the end of the American West. In many ways, The Wild Bunch symbolized the end of the classic American Western. Just as the outlaws in the film were out of step with a changing society, so too were Westerns out of step with 1969 America. It’s interesting to note that very few new major Westerns were produced after The Wild Bunch was released in 1969.

Best line: “Let’s go.”

Rio Bravo


A small-town sheriff (John Wayne) in the American West enlists the help of a cripple (Walter Brennan), a drunk (Dean Martin, of course), and a young gunfighter (Ricky Nelson — how dreamy…) in his efforts to keep the brother of the local bad guy in jail. Director Howard Hawks made this film in reaction to High Noon. Both he and John Wayne despised what they saw as the wimpy and unmanly lack of resolve in Gary Cooper’s character. I’m not sure I agree with Wayne and Hawks about that, but that’s a debate for another day. Overall, Rio Bravo has everything you should expect in a good 1950s Western: action, adventure, and heroics. We even get to hear old Dean-O sing a tune. 

Best line: “Hey, Dude! How do ya like them apples?”



After years of chasing outlaws, legendary lawman Wyatt Earp retires and takes up residence  in the town of Tombstone, Arizona. His plans to live out his days as a respectable businessman are interrupted when a gang of hell-raisers called “the Cowboys” starts causing trouble in the area. Not able to stand the lawlessness, Earp joins his brothers in getting rid of the Cowboys. Tensions between the Earps and the Cowboys heats up and eventually leads to the infamous showdown at the O.K. Corral. Action-packed and fast-moving, Tombstone is definitely a Western that suits modern moviegoers’ tastes. Not to mention, it has some of the best mustachery in the history of cinema.

Best line: “I’m your Huckleberry.”

The Outlaw Josey Wales


Directing and starring Clint Eastwood. It’s about a man named Josey Wales who lost home and family during the Civil War to a band of pro-Union Jayhawkers. Driven by revenge, he joins a posse of pro-Confederate soldiers so he can find the men who destroyed the things he loved. The Civil War ends and the band of Confederate fighters surrender. But not Josey. Revenge, sorrow, forgiveness, betrayal  love, family, and honor  take center stage in this Eastwood classic.

Best line: “Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy.”

Editor’s Note: I added this one after initial publication. I can’t believe I forgot to put it in! Lots of other great suggestions in the comments too, by the way.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford


This 2007 film directed by Andrew Dominik is the film version of the 1983 novel of the same name. Brad Pitt stars as Jesse James with Casey Affleck taking on the role of his killer, Robert Ford. When James’ gang plans a train robbery in Missouri, Ford makes multiple attempts to join the gang. Ultimately, Ford gets rejected by James, and so sets out to get revenge. The film is star-studded, but surprisingly had lackluster results at the box office despite excellent reviews, with one critic even saying that it is “one of the most wrongly neglected masterpieces of its era.”

Best line: “It seems to me if you have something to confess, you outta be right and you spit it out now.”

The Shootist


Nobody wants to die alone. Especially gunslingers. In a haunting portrayal that foreshadowed his own fate, John Wayne plays J.B. Books, an aging gunfighter dying of cancer who resigns himself to live out his days in private. But skeletons from his past prevent him from fading away, so he decides to go down the only way he knows how – with his six-shooter blazing.

Best line: “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”

What do you think are the best Western films of all time? Share your picks with us in the comments!

{ 552 comments… read them below or add one }

301 Berrima Drifter June 5, 2013 at 11:49 pm

O, I must add Open Range too.
A modern western with a classic feel.

302 Dapper Dan June 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Agree with Dick completely! At least one from the Ranown series directed by Bud Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott should be included. “The Tall T” and “Ride Lonesome” are exceptionally good westerns. In 2000, “The Tall T” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

303 chris June 6, 2013 at 12:08 am

Blazing saddles is a western with a message, plus it’s funnier than all get out. I also always liked big jake (minus the stupid motorcycle and its musical accompaniment?). As for the true grit debate, I think that the deciding factor wasn’t the duke vs the dude, because they’re both great. The reason the new one is better is becasue the story is better, the cinematography is better, and the supporting actors, matt damon and that testy girl destroy the original cast.

304 Robert Garner June 6, 2013 at 12:35 am

What great memories. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” blew me away when I seven or eight. Still one of my favorites. The singing cowboys didn’t make the list – Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, but they certainly have a place in the history of the westerns. John Ford’s last movie, “Cheyenne Autumn,” while not his best, deserves honorable mention.

305 geekus extremus June 6, 2013 at 1:03 am

Hondo, the Cowboys, 3:10 to Yuma, the Angel & the Badman, My Darling Clementine,The Man who shot Liberty Valance, Open Range, The Professionals, The Naked Spur, Once Upon a time in the West, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Big Jake, the one eyed Jacks, She Wore a yellow ribbon, They died with their Boots on, A few Dollars More, Winchester 73, The Sons of Katie Elder, El Dorado, The Westerner, Dances with Wolves, True Gritt (1969), A Fist Full of Dollars, Django, Mclintock, Chisum, Pale Rider, High Plains Drifter, Wagon Master, A Man Called Horse, Vera Cruz, Ride the High Country,The Ox-bow Incident, Seven Men From Now, Dead man…

Now you can make a list of 50+ and these are all great films. But really how did you leave the Cowboys or Open Range out ? These are top tens on any true western fans list. This is my western Hard 10…

The Angel & the Badman
The Cowboys
Red River
True Gritt (1969)
The magnificent Seven
Open Range
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Please note 5 star John Wayne
Hope this Helps…see ya’ around Pilgram.

306 mark June 6, 2013 at 1:08 am

You’ve got to put Big Jake in the top 10. John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and fantastic filming and… private citizen Jacob “I thought you was dead” M’candless saves the grandson after the government pooolice fail. A theme never seen today with all the cop shows portraing the citizens as helpless and needing the government to save them.

307 Rock June 6, 2013 at 1:45 am

NEVADA SMITH starring Steve McQueen is a favorite of mine. Open Range has to be on the list

308 Rock June 6, 2013 at 1:52 am

I loved NEVADA SMITH starring Steve McQueen. Open Range really should be on this list and True Grit with John Wayne. Also, if THE ALAMO with John Wayne is considered a western, that has to be on the list too.

309 Dave Young June 6, 2013 at 2:29 am

I think one of my all time favorites would be “Pale Rider” with Clint Eastwood. A small group of miners is scratching out a living in the California gold fields. A large mining company is trying to run the small timers out of their valley so they’ll abandon their claims and the company will move in. A mysterious preacher played by Eastwood joins them and fights off the mining company’s gunfighters single handed.
Best line is a tough call because there are so many, but here are 3.
1) Preacher my ass.
2) Nothing like a good peice of hickory.
3) (girl reading bible as Eastwood enters camp on a light grey horse) I looked and beheld a rider on a pale horse. He was death, and hell followed with him.

310 bigsky June 6, 2013 at 3:25 am

Open Range is my favorite and would be the perfect Western except it had, like most others on the list, the 47 shot six-shooter!

And try making McClintock! today!

Another fun Western is a little known one called, They Call Me Trinity.

311 Rik June 6, 2013 at 3:59 am

Personal picks I would have included:
-3:10 to Yuma (2008) epic, psychologically interesting twist on the classic.

and Tarantino’s latest masterpiece Django Unchained, because it includes all that makes westerns cool, yet confronts audiences with the unpleasant parts of American history (Slavery, Racism) that many westerns completely ignore

312 Michael Meek June 6, 2013 at 4:08 am

Lonely Are The Brave: loyalty; horse love; self-reliance; ingenuity; free-thinking; anti-authoritarian; tough; and altogether manly as hell.

Big Country: modest; honest; tough; discriminating; able; self-actualized; and altogether manly as hell.

Nevada Smith: “Well, who woulda thought a wet-nosed kid woulda made a big thing out of it?”

“It’s the Indian in him.”

“One of the best knife-men I knew was Jesse Coe. He killed him with a knife.”

“Then he tracks Bowdre to Louisiana,
gets himself thrown in prison just to gun him down, then he escaped.”

Others on a must see list: ; Missouri Breaks; McCabe and Mrs. Miller; A Man Called Horse; Seraphim Falls;

313 anne bright June 6, 2013 at 4:28 am

In addition to “The Shootist” as my favorite all time movie, John Wayne’s coming of age film “The Cowboys” is fantastic on so many levels. The “Duke” is the greatest!

314 Mr Ecks June 6, 2013 at 5:35 am

Vera Cruz
Open Range–in which Robert Duvall proves equal to his old antagonist (John Wayne in True Grit) as an iconic Western star.
Hombre–(Paul Newman)low key but great ending

315 Philip June 6, 2013 at 6:06 am

The DUKE rules!

316 Andrew Ramirez June 6, 2013 at 6:16 am

“Wild Bill” with Jeff Bridges was a western about a frontiersman who didn’t tolerate anyone messing with is hat.
Also Vera Cruz with Cooper & Lancaster was omitted. Perhaps the list is too short.

317 Todd June 6, 2013 at 6:32 am

Great list but The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence is one of the best Westerns ever made and just might be the very best. It is a masterpiece of the genre and I was surprised to see it left off of this list.

318 Chad June 6, 2013 at 6:53 am

Another vote for Silverado! I love how it followed individual stories of each of the main characters yet tied them all together.

319 MC Fox June 6, 2013 at 7:04 am

Winchester 73
3:10 to Yuma
One Eyed Jacks
Naked Spur
I was never impressed by Magnificent 7, especially after seeing the Japanese original. Robert Vaughn was a poor fit in my opinion.

320 Dick B June 6, 2013 at 7:11 am

“Three Burials . . . absolutely!
“Last of the Dogmen” (OK, modern western)
“Monte Walsh” (Lee Marvin)
“Snowy River” for sure
“Tom Horn”

Some of your list but – “Rio Bravo??????”

321 Vance Rowe June 6, 2013 at 7:24 am

As much as I like Unforgiven, it could have been replaced with Once Upon in a Time in the West and Tombstone could have been replaced with How the West was Won. Why is there only 17 movies instead of twenty or so.

Why did you put the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in there? It was a long boring movie that was hard to follow at times. It was good as far as Spaghetti westerns go but there are too many westerns better than that, like the ones I mentioned and Dances With Wolves. I am glad you included The Shootist in there but were remiss in not adding the Angel and the Badman or the Sons of Katie Elder.

322 Stephen Patrick June 6, 2013 at 7:30 am

Cowboys and Aliens (fun movie, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are great)
My Name is Nobody (finally a movie that I like Henry Fonda in)
Unforgiven (brutal)
Dances with Wolves (excellent)
High Plains Drifter (the greatest revenge western ever)

323 Don June 6, 2013 at 7:51 am

GOOD OLD BOYS, with Tommy Lee Jones — this is a different western, focusing upon the clash between the old cowboys and the new automobile culture, in west Texas — as Hewey Calloway, Jones portrays the wandering cowboy who just can’t be domesticated but who could be maybe by Sissy Spacek … until the next foray back into into the remaining old west comes up. Written by the dean of western writers, Elmer Kelton, it has authenticity, honesty, and humor. Well worth your time

324 liljoe June 6, 2013 at 8:15 am

Any discussion of classic western cinema that omits the Ox-Bow Incident should be regarded with a fair amount of suspicion…

325 mark smith June 6, 2013 at 8:16 am

Missouri Breaks with Brando and Nicholson.
Tom Horn w McQueen
Brando in a prairie woman

326 Kammes June 6, 2013 at 8:34 am

Best space western: Firefly (series), Serenity (movie, watch the series first)

Best Line: “I aim to misbehave”

327 filiusdextris June 6, 2013 at 8:43 am

My favorite Western is John Wayne’s Angel and the Badman. I also enjoyed several RoyRogers/GeneAutry flicks, of which Autry’s Public Cowboy No. 1 stands out as my favorite.

328 Dapper Dan June 6, 2013 at 8:48 am

Like many here, I also believe ‘Open Range’ should be included with the other fine films on the list.

“Some things a man can’t ride around.”
~ Pat Brennan (Randolph Scott)

329 John June 6, 2013 at 9:16 am

From The Outlaw Josey Wales: It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues.

330 a s boyers June 6, 2013 at 9:28 am

Two recent Westerns which are quite good and I would include in a Top 10 -20 List .
Appaloosa with Ed Harris and Viggo
Morgenstein .
Blackthorn with Sam Shepard .

331 GJackson June 6, 2013 at 9:30 am

What? Blazing Saddles didn’t make the list?!

332 Manderson June 6, 2013 at 9:33 am

It’s a “modern” western but I think No Country for Old Men can be included in the genre. Regardless, an excellent joint.

333 Mattoomba June 6, 2013 at 9:42 am

I’ve got to echo the praise for:
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: a classic — archetypal characters and conflicts.
Open Range: a new classic
3:10 to Yuma: The one starring Gladiator. The nobility of sticking to your word (with the protagonist), and the odd honor found in the criminal (Crowe).

Pale Rider is a good omission–it’s a rip-off of the much better Shane.

334 Erik June 6, 2013 at 9:46 am

I’ll agree that “The Good the Bad and the Ugly” can stand on its own one would be mistaken to not add the first two films:

Fist Full of Dollars

Best line “I don’t think it’s nice, you laughin’. You see, my mule don’t like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you’re laughin’ at him. Now if you apologize, like I know you’re going to, I might convince him that you really didn’t mean it.”

For a Few Dollars More

Best line: “Alive or dead, it’s your choice.”

335 SicSemperTyrannis June 6, 2013 at 10:04 am

Wow… a list with two remakes – and both of them inferior to the original? Don’t get me wrong, both fine films, but can’t hold a candle. I realize Seven Samurai isn’t a western but seeing it first totally ruined Magnificent Seven for me. Or maybe it was Yul Brynner’s accent….

336 Mike Dennis June 6, 2013 at 10:12 am

I would add Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, an epic tale that encapsulates nothing less than the story of the West. It also features the best opening 15 minutes of any Western ever made. And with no dialogue!

Best line: You brought two too many.

337 Peter Courtenay Stephens June 6, 2013 at 10:43 am

Take out Red River and put in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.
Red river is believable until the end when 5’6″ Montgomery Clift fights 6’4″ John Wayne to a draw and then Wayne laughs it off.
Apache is another fantastic film.

338 Jim June 6, 2013 at 10:55 am

“Once Upon a Time in the West” – Sergio Leone

Henry Fonda is the villain, and Charles Bronson is the protagonist.

339 Nick June 6, 2013 at 11:09 am

Great list! Need some Anthony Mann, Jimmy Stewart classics though. Winchester 73 and the Naked Spur should be one this list.

340 JB June 6, 2013 at 11:21 am

How does a website about men and manliness not have John Wayne’s “The Cowboys”? It was a movie about boys becoming men and one of John Wayne’s best. I’d also put the highly underrated “Professionals” on the list and possibly even the remake of “3:10 to Yuma”. Always thought “High Noon” and “The Wild Bunch” were dramatically overrated.

Honorable mention to “Hondo” too.

341 Charlton Griffin June 6, 2013 at 11:45 am

“My Darling Clementine” is absolutely one of the finest westerns ever made. It is easily one of John Ford’s best. He directed it in 1946 at the height of his creative powers. All of the elements that went into the making of a great John Ford movie are here. There is a director’s cut out there. Check it out.

342 The Oz June 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Great list, but I would suggest adding two Coen Brother films to the list:

- No Country for Old Men (perfectly crafted plot, real-time slowly developing tension and suspense, one of the scariest villains ever, amazing acting, close-up first person perspective in the the western style – an around around great western!)
- The Big Lebowski (Yes, I said it! It is a true western in the classic sense – and a superb one at that! Lot’s of humor and everlasting one-liners to boot. Hey, it even has Sam Elliott doing his classic western thing in high style!)

343 Gary June 6, 2013 at 12:42 pm

1.China 9 Liberty 37 with Jenny Agutter–if nothing else, great love ballad.
2.Open Range of course. Good shoot out at the end. Lots of misses. Plenty of smoke out of those old smoke wagons.
3.The Long Riders–pretty decent Jesse James Movie–gave the bluebellies what for.
4.She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Second to the Shootist for my Duke favorites.
5.Can’t go with Dances with Wolves: Knocking a buff down with the puny 1866 Winny too silly for me.
6. Tom Horn. Steve McQueen sort of fits that old photo of Horn standing in jail waiting for the hangman. Horn, however, did not use an 1876 from some sources I read.
7. Remake of 310 to Yuma. Don’t think anyone can shoot full house 45 Colt loads that fast and accurate, but still good movie.

344 Mark June 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Well done. Please add Open Range.

345 Brandon June 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Great List! I’m glad to see Shane made it, if for no other reason than it has the best bar fight of all time.

I think The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance deserves a spot on the list too.

If you want a more fun-loving western I recommend McClintock! and Maverick. They are both a blast and even my wife will watch them with me.

346 John June 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Thank you for putting the masterpiece “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” on the list. This is by far my favorite western of all time. The cinematography was amazing, the story was epic, and the acting superb, how it didn’t win an Oscar is beyond me, and why I have no interest in that popularity contest anymore. Anyone who has doubts about the acting ability of Brad Pitt, needs to see this movie. Truly an amazing film.

347 Tim June 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Have I mentioned how much I loved these lists?

I’m renting The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford tonight.

348 Walter Sasiadek June 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Sorry about that.
1). The Searchers
2). Red River
3). High Noon
4). Lonesome Dove
5). Outlaw Josey Wales
6). Fort Apache
7). Magnificant 7
8). Ox Bow Incident
9). Man Who Shot Liberty Valeance
10). The Professionals

Honorable Mention:
The Gunfighter – Gregory Peck 1950
My Darling Clementine – Henry Fonda 1946
Pale Rider – Clint 1985
Dances w/Wolves 1990
Stagecoach – John Wayne
Unforgiven – ClintEastwood
Last Train From Gun Hill – Kirk Douglas
How the West was Won

So many Great Westerns – I have them all on DVD and rewatch them often.

Thanks again for a FUN post!

349 Tim Smith June 6, 2013 at 2:02 pm

It seems “The Ballad of Little Jo” is relevant to this website. It’s all about the protagonist heading west and learning the arts of manliness there. (Points to the first poster who notes why this is unusual.) Highly recommended.

350 Eric June 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Jeremiah Johnson
Little Big Man
The Quick and the Dead

351 brian June 6, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Great list but I must agree with a couple of the other comments. You missed out on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This is not only one of the greatest Westerns but on my top 5 movies of all time. Ethan in the Searchers is probably The Dukes best role but his portrayal of Tom Doniphan is a close second….maybe equal to.
Good Stuff

352 Louis June 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I’m surprised “The Big Country” staring Gregory Peck didn’t make the list. In my book, it ties with High Noon as the best western of all time.

353 MJohnson June 6, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I didn’t get to read all the comments BUT, I was all fired up to email after being forwarded this list yesterday, on some serious wrongs here BUT, then I looked today and “the Outlaw Josey Wales” was rightfully included AND Open Range also. But, I still have some grips, one no SILVERADO as a modern western flick – just the story (and dialogue) about “the dog” is enough to get it included. Also, no Autry movies?? no FIRECREEK?? Too much John Wayne – lose “The Shootist”. “True Grit 20110″ – no thanks can’t best SILVERADO, PaleRIder, the Man Who Shot Liberty Vance, No Glen Ford representation doesn’t seem right………I could go on.

354 Eric June 6, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I think I have to go with “Once Upon A Time In The West” as my all time favorite.

Its got a great story, script, and awesome cast. Henry Fonda’s performance as the villain is fantastic, especially since everyone is so used to him as the good guy.

355 Dave June 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm

I grew up watching Roy Rogers movies and “The Lone Ranger”, which also produced a couple of pretty good feature-length (and color) movies in the ’50s starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. When my wife and I saw Tom Selleck’s “Crossfire Trail” it inspired us to go on vacation at a ranch. Spent a week at Homeplace Ranch in the Alberta Rockies and it was one of the best vacations ever.

356 Ray Aaron June 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Growing up in the digital age my generation is more apperciative of video games. Depending on the game they can be manly. Fortunately Red Dead Redemption exists. Red Dead is a must play for any man or boy growing up in the digital age. This game is the pioneer in the western genre (no pun intended). It has a lot of John Wayne references and the scenery is visually stunning. Produced by Rockstar games, it is a pleasant break from their famed Grand Theft Auto Series. In every list of video games the Western game makes the top three…in history.

The plot follows John Marston who is on a quest to redeem himself after giving up the outlaw lifestyle. Things are complicated whenthe government kidnaps his family and forces him to hunt down his old gang. The game ends in true western fashion. The story has enough content to make up three stand alone movies and if anybody gets a chance jut to ride a horse around an hunt or even just take in the scenery they should all arrond great game.

357 40 shades of green June 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Kudos for including lonesome dove. I think it is the best Western ever made.

358 Gruesome June 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm

RANGO – best Western of all time!

359 Stephen P June 6, 2013 at 5:19 pm

An important and interesting fact was missed about High Noon. It was filmed to be almost real time. I also think it’s the only movie to do that.

360 Ben June 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Fist Full of Dollars is still my favorite Western.

361 StudioJoe June 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm

What? No mention of The Long Riders?

362 Jim McClelland June 6, 2013 at 5:49 pm

I don’t why I love this movie, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, but it has been a long time favorite. John Ford did a fantastic job, with John Wayne fighting the Indians. Great supporting cast, also.
All of your top 10, is just about the my old favorites The locations in Monument Valley are just Stunning.

363 Steve June 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Here’s my 17
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Jeremiah Johnson
The Gunfight at O.K. Corral
They Died with their Boots On
Ulzana’s Raid
The Stalking Moon
Hour of the Gun
Ride the High Country
The Wild Bunch
The Professionals
Tom Horn
The Culpepper Cattle Co.
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

364 Phil June 6, 2013 at 8:03 pm

A fun post. It makes you think about all the Westerns you’ve seen. The good ones and the duds (Cowboys and Aliens!)

The Best Line from Butch Cassidy was left out, tho:

Can’t SWIM?! Hell, the fall’ll probably kill ya!!

Thanks again.

365 RP June 6, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Lonesome Dove is my all time favorite. I wanted to name our second child Augustus if it was a boy. She was a girl and we named her Maggie (also from the Lonesome Dove series). The four books in the series are masterpieces.

366 Sean June 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Very good list! May I suggest one of my favorites: An Australian Western based in the 19th century called The Proposition (2005). A haunting and thrilling movie about an antihero faced with difficult choices that test his morality and family values. One of the most brutal westerns I’ve ever seen.

367 Gene June 6, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Valdez is coming. I love the underdog who whale the hotshot arrogant big dogs. Laconic Burt Lancaster.

368 Big Murth June 6, 2013 at 10:43 pm

You guys didn’t help by posting the original blog and not having a spot for me to immediately toss in my two cents, but thanks for sending me a new link….which now enables me to reiterate what numerous other Western fans have weighed in on, including, “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance”, and of course, “Open Range”…featuring Duvall in another highly sympathetic role as the rough but big-hearted codger, and Costner playing to his best type—the resolute one with few words to mince…..let me add one more…..”The Big Country” that features an all-star cast of Gregory Peck, a very young set of Charlton Heston and Chuck Connors…who are all outdone by one of the greatest performances in this genre, by none other than Burl Ives (the verbal tirade he invokes against his cross-valley enemy, Henry Terrill is unbelievable…I believe was an Academy Award for Ives).

369 AfghanVet June 7, 2013 at 1:04 am

No doubt “The man who shot liberty valance” is in the top five. IMHO

370 Brady June 7, 2013 at 1:40 am

The top Westerns of all time ? Boy that is a tough one,especially what mood I’m in. I think it should be at least top 50. I don’t know why,but I prefer to watch these in the Fall…….

My top are:

Tom Horn
Outlaw Josie Wales
The Stalking Moon
Jeremiah Johnson
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Lonesome Dove
The Wild Bunch
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
True Grit-’69
Fort Apache
Chisum-”I’m gonna do what I would’ve done 20 years ago” “Whats that ?” “Break out the Winchesters !”
McClintock !
Nevada Smith
Angel and The Badman-”you know,its a funny thing about pancakes,I seem to lose my appetite after the first coupla dozen !!”
Valdez is Coming

The list could go on,but these are some of MY most memorable with Tom Horn at my top. In the movie,he indeed used an 1876,but in real life it was a Model 1894 30-30 with smokeless powder. In his days as a scout in Arizona,no mention,but I would think it was a lever. God Bless all westerns !!

371 Julio June 7, 2013 at 1:52 am

Sean, I agree, “The Propositon” was an astoundingly good and mind-blowing Western. Does anyone remember : “Quigley Down Under” with Tom Selleck. One of my favorites with the best line: ” I said I never had much use for a pistol, never said I didn’t know how to use one”

372 Julio June 7, 2013 at 2:06 am

Does anyone remember this obscure but great Western with Johnny Cash and Kirk Douglas called “The Gunfight”. Just a great movie!

373 Evan June 7, 2013 at 4:45 am

As numerous people have already mentioned (5 at my count), I can’t believe you didn’t include Once upon a time in the west. It is widely regarded as the greatest western of all time and rightfully so. A culmination of all the conventions one would expect in a great western presented in the ultimately cool style of spaghetti western. Not to mention the score provided by Ennio Morricone (one of his best in my opinion).

374 Jules June 7, 2013 at 5:56 am

“How the West was won”. Great film great cast. Often overlooked. It should serve to remind Americans of the many great (& manly) things you have lost in the process of becoming a ‘modern’ ‘democracy’.

375 Jules June 7, 2013 at 5:59 am

@ Big Murth – you hit the nail on the head Sir – “The Big Country” & Burl Ives performance within is unexpected & very hard to beat. Academy award richly deserved.

376 Tactical Tom June 7, 2013 at 7:44 am

Unbelievable, I can’t believe I read read 368 comments and not a single person mentioned “Quigley Down Under!”
A film that brought Tom Selleck back to the mainstream at the time.
Great story and an amazing character.
Best quote”I said I never had much use for one. Never said I didn’t know how to use it.”

377 Buckeyecopperhead June 7, 2013 at 8:40 am

OK, one more addition to the list I didn’t see mentioned: “Bronco Billy” (1980). Not a typical Western, as it was set in (then) modern day America, but still a great performance by Eastwood and his stock crew, mourning the loss of Western traditions and heritage.

378 greg w. locke June 7, 2013 at 9:17 am

Decent enough list, but wait … Tombstone and no Once Upon a Time in the West? No El Topo but yes The Shootist? No Dead Man? I’d also find a way to get The Proposition on there in favor of one of the old standbys like Red River. Or how about Delmer Daves’ Jubal?

379 Erik June 7, 2013 at 9:48 am

The Outlaw Josey Wales for sure. ‘The hell with them fellers. Buzzards gotta eat, same as worms [tobacco chew spit].”

And The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is an absolute masterpiece. Just the opening credits will perk up your day.

Unforgiven, absolutely. ‘Look, men! It’s William Munney, kiiller of women and children.’ To which a resolute but somehow shakey Eastwood replies, simply: ‘Reckon so. Killed everything that walked or crawled one time or another. And now I’m here to kill you.’ And Hackman’s: ‘I don’t deserve this. I was building a house.’ ‘Deserved ain’t got nothing to do with it.’

But where’s Once Upon a Time in the West?

(And Pale Rider. OK, that one’s for my dad.)

380 Steve Vernon June 7, 2013 at 11:17 am

Isn’t it funny how you start talking “BEST WESTERNS” amongst a group of duster fans and before you know EVERYBODY is slinging lead!

I’d have to say BIG JAKE is my favorite John Wayne flick.

UNFORGIVEN for Clint Eastwood.

LONESOME DOVE is a miniseries and book that I’ll sit down with in a heartbeat.

And one that I don’t think anyone mentioned was MONTE WALSH. Both the Lee Marvin and the Tom Selleck versions were brilliant in their own way – and I love them both.

381 Max Foster June 7, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I cannot agree with you about the recent True Grit. The John Wayne version was a classic and much better than the 2010 version. However much the Coen Bros did to the movie it was not an improvement on the John Wayne version. Just one man’s opinion.

382 Nate June 7, 2013 at 1:10 pm

You have to add The Cowboys and 3:10 to Yuma (both of them, really), Big Jake, The Crossfire Trail, and of course, you forgot Young Guns!

Also, I must strongly disagree that the new True Grit was better than the original. Good list, though!

383 Jack June 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Most people wouldn’t call it a western but “Gran Torino” was essentially a remake of “Unforgiven”.
I think “The Assassination of Jesse James” did so poorly because it is one of those movies the first time you watch it you get up at the end wondering what just happened. But like “There Will Be Blood” after you let it sink in for a few days you realize how outstanding it was and have to go rewatch it.

384 Old Field Grade June 7, 2013 at 3:17 pm

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon…hands down, John Wayne’s best acting ever. The catch in his voice as he leaves command. Wow.

385 Adam Elston June 7, 2013 at 5:04 pm

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” is by far one of the best modern westerns that have come out. Great selection. When I was deployed during OIF/OEF, i watched it on my laptop all the time. This film got me through some tough times.

386 Patrick Reumann June 7, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Two western that have not been mention.
Silverload. The best “High Noon” type move made after High Noon. I think it even better than High Noon. A Man life is destroy and a whole Town turn on him, when a Stranger make unconfirmed accusation against him.

Terror in a Texas Town.
The movie that add a new rule to movies:
Never bring a gun to a Harpoon Fight.

No Name on the Bullet. From Gene Coon of Star Trek fame. Audie Murphy best film

And how can any one chose the remake of 3:10 to Yuma over the Original. The 1958 version belong not only on any list of best Westerns but on any list of Best Movies.

387 Hunter Fontenot June 7, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I always loved the 1972 film “The Cowboys” with John Wayne. I’ll watch pretty much anything with The Duke.

388 KENT June 8, 2013 at 9:45 am

when the legends die-
rancho deluxe-
the lusty men-
you know my name-
the rounders-
j.w. coop-

389 Phil June 8, 2013 at 11:07 am

Pale Rider absolutely deserves a mention. Talk about moral ambiguity, the preacher ends up sleeping with the mother of the girl who’s fallen in love with him and the wife of the man he’s helping.

And whoever said this was a rip off of the “much better” Shane, I’ll not argue about the plot similarities, but I thought Pale Rider blew Shane out of the water.

390 Rob C June 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm

DEADWOOD is the best hands down, I know , I know it’s TV , but it’s HBO and you put Mini-Series Lonesome Dove on the list….nothing beats the dialogue

391 Bakhos June 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Glad you added a mini-series because I´d love to mention Kevin Costner´s “Hatfield & McCoys” mini-series. Well I don´t know what to say, but I loved it, and the Hatfield & McCoys story is a classic of the American folk. The 2012 series was shot in Rumania, the outlets are amazing, and the music, heartwarming. Kevin Coster & Modern West, and John Debney & Tony Morales made a real art work of music.

392 GMc June 8, 2013 at 4:45 pm

My personal opinion…”The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” should be included for the early 1960′s Best Westerns. GMc

393 Michael B. June 8, 2013 at 5:40 pm

The modern version of 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit were good. Fantastic? Eye of the beholder I say. But I’ll watch both of them over before watching the older ones, honestly.

Tombstone cane out when I was like 14, so of course it holds a fond spot.

The Young Guns movies inch in on nostalgia for youth.

Desparado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the second for Depp’s turn alone.

I’m also glad someone mentioned No Country for Old Men – the pinnacle of modern-age western.

That give me 8.

First Clint Eastwood I enjoyed on my own; Two Mules for Sister Sarah.

Shane… Shane… COME BACK SHANE!


Classic childhood favorite; Cat Ballou

Pure parody; Rustlers’ Rhapsody

I think Appaloosa with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen is slept on.

Maverick was a fun nod.

… and I’m still 3 short.

394 Collin June 8, 2013 at 8:38 pm

how is the cowboys not on this list? who can forget this?

395 fjpoblam June 8, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I think Silverado takes all the elements of a good western and distills them into one fine summary. We’ve watched it so many times we nearly have it memorized.

396 Robert June 9, 2013 at 11:27 am

And NOW for something totally different:
“The Villain” with Kirk Douglas, Anne Margaret, Arnold Schwarzenegger as
Handsome Stranger (“I was named after my fatha”). A very silly Western.

And any western with Strother Martin,
Slim Pickens, Jack Elam, Dub Taylor.
I’m always glad to see them.

397 Andrew June 9, 2013 at 12:19 pm

This list is incomplete without Once Upon A Time In The West. Best western ever.

398 Michael June 9, 2013 at 10:10 pm

The list needs to include The Cowboys. Also, I would add the original True Grit

399 Daniel June 10, 2013 at 1:03 am

Nobody here for El Dorado with John Wayne and a young James Caan?

Oh well. Also, the modern 3:10 to Yuma was phenomenal and deserves a spot with Open Range.

400 Tucci78 June 10, 2013 at 8:28 am

Might as well throw in Anthony Mann’s The Tin Star (1957) with Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins, Betsy Palmer, and Neville Brand providing one of the most accessibly hate-able bad guy characters of the era.

Even though the production values were more in line with the TV westerns being made at the time, Fonda’s acting chops elevate this entry out of the ordinary.

Memorable line: “There’re a lot of guys bragging about shooting a gun out of somebody’s hand. They’re lying. They shot to kill. A wounded man can still kill you.”

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