Westerns are an American tradition, dating back to 1903 when the first of the genre, The Great Train Robbery, was released. From there, legends like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood began playing cowboys and saving the wild west from outlaws in films like The Train Robbers.
So, saddle on up because here are some of the best westerns of all time.
High Plains Drifter
The 1973 western High Plains Drifter was directed by Clint Eastwood, who also starred in the film as the no-name drifter roaming from town to town. In the film, the drifter uses his gun-slinging abilities to help various townspeople, with the last village asking him to take care of a band of criminals.
The film earned a solid 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Train Robbers
In 1973, John Wayne starred in the Western film The Train Robbers, directed and written by Burt Kennedy. Playing the part of Union Army veteran Lane who helps a widow find a stash of hidden gold, Wayne was praised for his performance.
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said the film is a “traditional-style John Wayne adventure…There’s a neat balance between action and comedy, and Wayne himself is in top form.”
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
Arguably one of the most iconic westerns in American cinema, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid brings together beautiful cinematography while telling a gripping story of the infamous outlaws.
Starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, the film was widely praised with one Alcazar Theatre critic saying, “With its iconic pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, jaunty screenplay and Burt Bacharach score, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid has gone down as among the defining moments in late-’60s American cinema.”
Never Grow Old
After a peaceful frontier town is turned upside down, thanks to an outlaw, it is up to Undertaker Patrick Tate to either continue to help the outlaw’s gang or refuse the money and help save the town.
Never Grow Old earned a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, with one critic calling the movie “Unbelievably good. A very well acted, gritty, moody, character study.”
Ride With The Devil
Based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel Woe to Live On, the western film Ride with the Devil explores politics, revenge, and the violence of war. Set during the American Civil War, the film explores both sides of the war as its characters engage in guerilla warfare.
The film was widely praised for its various themes and its attention to detail, including the costumes and set.
The Missouri Breaks
Starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, The Missouri Breaks follows the story of rival gangs as they steal horses to try to “get even” with one another. Of course, that doesn’t usually work out, and one of the gangs hires a sharpshooter to finish things off.
Brando’s performance as the hired gun was widely praised, with critics calling his “out of control method acting” well worth it.
Starring Clint Eastwood as Corporal John ‘McBee’ McBurney, The Beguiled is a western gothic set during the American Civil War. After finding himself wounded at the end of the war, McBurney seeks shelter at an all-girls school.
But, after a few twists and turns, one girl, in particular, makes it very difficult for him to leave. The film was widely praised and earned an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the 1980 western Bronco Billy. As the leader of a Wild West Show, Billy becomes disheartened as the public loses interest. Insert a spoiled newlywed heiress that becomes his assistant, and the entire movie is a fantastic whirlwind of drama and emotion.
Janet Maslin of The New York Times called the film “the best and funniest Clint Eastwood movie in quite a while.”
When Open Range was released in 2003, it was a box office success, grossing $68.3 million against a $22 million budget.
Following the story of three cowhands, the plot follows them across the open range and into trouble as one of them gets taken by the hostile people of a village.
Dances With Wolves
Kevin Costner starred in and directed the western film Dances With Wolves. Following the story of Civil War 1st Lieutenant John J. Dunbar, the story finds him becoming friends with the local Lakota tribe, where he is welcomed as one of their own and given the name Dances with Wolves.
The film was widely praised by the Native American community and wound up winning seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a new take on the infamous outlaw Jesse James, aka the fastest gun in the west. When a bounty is placed on James’ head, two of his gang members decide it’s time to take the legend out.
The film wound up earning two Academy Award nominations, including Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor.
The Long Riders
Released in 1980, The Long Riders stars four sets of actual brothers who portray on-screen brothers, such as James and Stacy Keach, played Jesse and Frank James, respectively. Following the escapades of those notorious brothers, the film was widely praised for its artistry.
Hilary Swank stars as Mary Bee Cuddy in the western film The Homesman. In the film, Mary Bee Cuddy saves the life of George Briggs, who she later persuades to help her escort three women to a safe haven.
The film was widely praised, namely for Tommy Lee Jones’s direction, with one critic saying, “A squarely traditional yet somewhat progressive Western, The Homesman adds another absorbing entry to Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial résumé.”
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers
In Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Adam marries Milly, prompting his six ill-mannered brothers to look for wives themselves. Unfortunately, that leads them to kidnap six local girls!
The western musical was met with great reviews and, according to the American Film Institute, is one of the best American musical films ever made.
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
A 1966 Italian epic spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is widely considered one of the best of the genre. Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach, the film follows the three characters as they team up, betray one another, and team up again to find hidden cash.
The film was a box office success, grossing $25.1 million at the box office.
The Hateful Eight
Following the story of eight strangers as they take shelter from a blizzard, The Hateful Eight is an American Revisionist Western that deserves all the praise it received.
Starring Kurt Russel, Samual L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and more, the film won an Academy Award for Best Original Score while receiving nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Cinematography.
Based on a Robert B. Parker novel of the same name, Appaloosa follows the story of two law enforcement officers as they try to save a small New Mexico town from a rancher who is wreaking havoc.
The movie was met with great reviews, specifically for the chemistry between lead actors Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris.
The Outlaw Josey Wales
In 1976, Clint Eastwood once again stunned in a western film. The Outlaw Josey Wales follows the story of the title character as he seeks revenge on the man who murdered his wife and child.
The film was widely praised, with film critic Roger Ebert applauding Eastwood’s direction. He said, “Here, with the moody, gloomily beautiful photography of Bruce Surtees, he creates a magnificent Western feeling.”
Released in 2017, Hostiles stars Christian Bale as Captain Joseph J. Blocker, a man who is tasked with escorting the imprisoned Chief Yellow Hawk back home. The film was widely praised for the actors’ performances as well as the visuals.
One critic wrote, “Hostiles benefits from stunning visuals and a solid central performance from Christian Bale.”
The Wind mixes together the supernatural, horror, and western genres in a magical way. Lizzy is a tough frontierswoman who senses a sinister presence on her land she began to settle, something that becomes worse when a newlywed couple moves in next door.
One critic wrote, “The Wind offers horror fans an admirably ambitious story further distinguished by its fresh perspective and effective scares.”
Lone Wolf McQuade
The 1983 film Lone Wolf McQuade starred Chuck Norris as the title character. Breaking out of his typical Kung fu-type characters, Norris plays a Texas Ranger bent on revenge, seeking out the man who hijacked a U.S. Army convoy.
The film actually helped build the premise of Norris’s popular series Walker, Texas Ranger.
The Good, The Bad, And The Weird
A remake of the beloved western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the South Korean western The Good, the Bad, and the Weird plays off the original film’s plot but with its own flair. In the film, it’s an epic race to find a treasure map.
The film won numerous awards and was praised for being downright fun to watch.
The horror western Bone Tomahawk is unlike others in the genre. Dealing with cannibals who kidnap townspeople, the film follows the story of a sheriff, deputy, and cowboy who make it their mission to save the people from being eaten.
With a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics have praised the film for bringing something new to the genre.
The western drama Little Woods was released in 2018 and was met with a whole lot of praise. Following the story of two estranged sisters who find themselves back in each other’s lives after their mother passes away, the film is gripping, emotional, and shows that sisters are still willing to do anything for family.
One reviewer wrote, “Led by standout work from Tessa Thompson, Little Woods tells a grimly absorbing tale that marks a commendable debut for writer-director Nia DaCosta.”
The Electric Horseman
Starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, The Electric Horseman is unlike other westerns in the genre. This comedy-drama romance western has a has-been rodeo star promoting cereal, only to run away with the $12 million electric-lit horse and costume.
The film was a box office success and became the eleventh-highest-grossing film in 1979.
The comedy Blazing Saddles is a satirical take on the typical western genre. In the film, Bart, a railroad worker, becomes the sheriff of a small town, something the townspeople hate until thugs run into town, and he and his drunk gun-slinging friend are their only hope.
The film wound up earning three Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actress, Best Music, and Best Film Editing.
The Magnificent Seven
The 1960 western The Magnificent Seven is one of the best in the genre. After bandits raid a Mexican village, the people decide to hire seven American gunslingers to defend their homes. The magnificent seven do just that while training the villagers to defend themselves, as well.
The film was met with both critical and commercial success.
For A Few Dollars More
Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Gian Maria Volonte, it is no wonder For A Few Dollars More is one of the best western films in history. After learning about a bounty on a famed outlaw’s head, two criminals decide to go after him, teaming up in the process.
The film was met with great reviews and earned a 92% percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
The True History Of The Kelly Gang
Released in 2020, The True History Of The Kelly Gang revolves around the Australian bushranger Ned Kelly as he and his gang hid from the authorities during the 1870s.
Even though the “true story” is highly fictionalized, the film was met with stellar reviews and earned an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio in an Oscar-winning performance, The Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass, a frontiersman exploring uncharted territory in 1823. After sustaining a life-threatening bear attack injury, Glass is left for dead and has to use his survival skills to get out of the wilderness alive.
The film earned DiCaprio his first-ever Academy Award.