Top 10 Westerns of All Time
1. Silverado (1985), starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Linda Hunt, Rosanna Arquette, Jeff Goldblum & John Cleese.
That’s right – John Cleese as a small-town, old west sheriff. This film just gets better from there. It’s all about debts paid & owed, brotherhood (literal & figurative), corruption, bigotry, and justice. There’s saloons, a fire, and even a standard man vs. man shootout that settles things once and for all. Fantastic dialogue even if the story is a little predictable, and the scenery and cinematography can’t be beat.
2. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969), starring Paul Newman & Robert Redford.
Lethal Weapon before Lethal Weapon was Lethal Weapon – only without the bother of the main characters actually having badges. Slick, witty and historically incorrect, it’s just about the perfect “fun” western.
3. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach & Lee Van Clef.
Possibly the definitive Western, TGTBATU has the greatest three-way standoff ever committed to film. Eastwood is, of course, iconic in his youth and intensity, and nobody before or since has made a serape look as good. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is as iconic as the film. This is the third of three stellar so-called “spaghetti” Westerns made by Sergio Leone and while A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More are also excellent movies, this one takes the cake & represents the series on the list.
4. Blazing Saddles (1974), starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn & Harvey Korman.
Not just a great Western, but a great comedy as well. Rife with racism, foul language, sexual innuendo and violence, this is one fantastic flick. Mel Brooks can practically do no wrong as the writer/director, and it’s wide open from the theme song to the closing credits. Note that this film includes one of the most epic fourth-wall-breaking sequences in film history.
5. Unforgiven (1992), starring Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman & Gene Hackman.
I love Gene Hackman as the bad guy – the seething, bitter bad guy who may or may not be a monster. Clint Eastwood by the early 1990s is practically a Western trope all by himself, and both his directing and acting in Unforgiven deliver on all levels. Another great modern Eastwood Western is Pale Rider (1985), where Eastwood plays a vengeful preacher. Honestly, I had trouble choosing which one to include on the list, so mentioning it here serves me well.
6. The Magnificent Seven (1960), starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn (in a rare, non-weasel role) & James Coburn.
All about its terrific ensemble cast, TM7 is John Sturges’ well-known Westernization of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai. Swap guns in for the swords and fly across the Pacific from Japan to the American southwest and you’ve got TM7. Will they save the town? Will they all die in the process? You’ll have to watch to find out.
7. El Topo (1970), directed by & starring Alejandro Jodorowsky.
This is a Western on acid. Seriously. Just a bizarre movie, and therein lies its charm. The hero wears black and there’s a naked kid running around, but in the end, it’s a classic story of redemption mixed in with a lot of philosophical imagery.
8. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), starring Henry Fonda & Anthony Quinn.
Talk about gripping. It’s old and in black & white, but TOBI is a great, great movie that hits all the important Western tropes – a posse, some shootouts, a stagecoach, and a good old-fashioned hanging. Sort of. You’ll have to watch it to discover whether the cattle rustlers are guilty or innocent. This is Henry Fonda at his youthful best – though his acting chops don’t start to drop off for another 30 years, his intensity and earnestness are at their peak here in the early 1940s. Filmed when the US was at its tipping point in World War 2, it’s hard not to see the underlying questioning of the nature of truth and justice in this film. For another great Henry Fonda Western, see Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
9. Three Amigos (1986), starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase & Martin Short.
There never were any three actors less likely to star in a stellar Western than Martin, Chase & Short. They’re not right for the genre, and of course, that’s exactly why they work so well. This isn’t just a Western, it’s a fish-out-of-water and coming-of-age story as well, and a bit of a revenge epic wrapped in a comedy bow. It’s absolutely ridiculous, which is its charm.
10. 3:10 to Yuma (2007), starring Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda, Alan Tudyk & Gretchen Mol.
I’m not a fan of remakes in general, but in this isolated case, the remake is better than the (1957) original. Russell Crowe is a great bad guy and Bale comes across well as the broken, desperately poor rancher. The ending is a bit weird, but it’s not so far out there that it’s unsatisfying.
Honorable mentions (not mentioned above): The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Professionals (1966), and High Noon (1952)