10 Great Western Films to Get You Hooked

10 Great Western Films to Get You Hooked

One of the oldest and most well-liked film genres in history is the Western. They often feature cowboys, outlaws, lawmen, Native Americans, and settlers as they portray the exploits and tribulations of the American frontier. The settings, attire, music, and themes of the Wild West had a strong influence on the style and aesthetic of Westerns.

Popular film genres that portray the American frontier and its mythologies include Westerns. But not every Western is the same. There are various subgenres that represent various viewpoints and styles. The revisionist Western, which first appeared in the 1960s and 1970s as a critique of the classic Western, is one of the most renowned subgenres.

Revisionist Westerns challenge the stereotypes and conventions of the classic Western, such as the heroic cowboy, the savage Indian, the lawless frontier, and the moral simplicity. They often portray the West as a complex and violent place, where the characters are flawed and conflicted, and where the conflicts are not easily resolved. Revisionist westerns also explore themes such as racism, sexism, imperialism, and environmentalism, and question the legitimacy of the American expansion.

Some examples of revisionist Westerns are The Wild Bunch (1969), Little Big Man (1970), McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), and Unforgiven (1992). These films show a darker and more realistic vision of the West and challenge the audience to rethink their assumptions and values.

Revisionist Westerns, in my humble view, are more entertaining and relatable. When I first watched The Outlaw Josey Wales, the characters were much more real to me than the typical "Cowboys" I was used to seeing. My passion of Westerns evolved thanks to this genre. As always, it's all up to you. Both styles occasionally provide something fresh and intriguing.

In contrast, traditional Westerns celebrate the myths and legends of the West, and present a more idealized and romanticized view of the frontier. They often depict the West as a land of opportunity and adventure, where the heroes are noble and courageous, and where the villains are clearly defined and defeated. Traditional Westerns also reinforce the values of individualism, freedom, justice, and patriotism, and affirm the American identity and destiny.

Some examples of traditional Westerns are Stagecoach (1939), High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956), and Rio Bravo (1959). These films show a more optimistic and heroic vision of the West, and appeal to the audience's emotions and fantasies.

If you are new to the Western genre and want to explore some of its classics and gems, here are 10 great films to get you started. They are arranged from the earliest date released to the most recent one. We have tried our best to offer contrasting styles, multiple decades and multiple Directors. Rest assured all 10 of these films will open you up to the beauty of Western filmmaking!ā€Œ

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)


Directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach, this is the third and final film in Leone's "Dollars Trilogy". It is a sprawling epic that follows three gunslingers who compete to find a buried treasure during the American Civil War. The film is famous for its iconic music by Ennio Morricone, its stunning cinematography, and its tense showdowns. Feel free to watch the first 2 instalments first, I watched this one as a stand-alone film before the other 2 (don't ask) and it felt complete.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)


Directed by Robert Altman and starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, this is a revisionist western that subverts many genre conventions. It follows a gambler who arrives in a mining town and opens a brothel with a madam. However, their business attracts the attention of a powerful corporation that wants to buy them out or eliminate them. The film is a realistic and melancholic portrayal of frontier life, with a haunting soundtrack by Leonard Cohen. I'm a huge Altman fan and this is up there with his best work!

High Plains Drifter (1973)


Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, this is a dark and violent western that blends elements of horror and mystery. Eastwood plays a mysterious stranger who arrives in a small town and is hired to protect it from three outlaws. However, he has a hidden agenda and a connection to the town's dark secrets. The film is a commentary on the morality and violence of the frontier. The film just works, check it out!

The Shootist (1976)


Directed by Don Siegel and starring John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, and Ron Howard, this is Wayne's last film and one of his finest performances. He plays an aging gunfighter who is dying of cancer and wants to spend his last days peacefully. However, he is haunted by his past and challenged by his enemies. The film is a poignant and elegiac tribute to Wayne's career and the western genre. The film also reunites some legends of the screen in James Stewart, Harry Morgan and John Carradine.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)


Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, this is another masterpiece by the actor-director. He plays a farmer who joins a group of Confederate guerrillas after his family is killed by Union soldiers. He becomes a wanted man and flees across the country, meeting various allies and enemies along the way. The film is an epic saga that explores themes of revenge, redemption, loyalty, and survival. Chief Dan George plays a cameo role for the ages. Well worth the view!

The Grey Fox (1982)


Directed by Phillip Borsos and starring Richard Farnsworth, this is a biographical film based on the true story of Bill Miner, an old train robber who resumed his criminal career in Canada after being released from prison in 1901. He became known as "The Gentleman Bandit" for his polite manners and charm. The film is a charming and gentle portrait of an ageing outlaw who tries to adapt to a changing world. This is my wild card pick on the list. Any opportunity I get to promote this Canadian gem, I will. Richard Farnsworth should have won an Oscar for his role! The cinematography is breathtaking, and the soundtrack is stunning... Fantastic film.

Silverado (1985)


Directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, and more, this is a star-studded homage to the classic westerns of the 1950s and 1960s. It follows four friends who reunite to help a town threatened by a corrupt sheriff and his cronies. The film is a fun and adventurous ride that celebrates the genre's tropes and traditions. Our first comedic western with a young cast who would mostly all go onto stardom. Think of yourself as a kid playing Cowboys and Robbers - this film brings that reality back.

Unforgiven (1992)


Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, this is a masterpiece that won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It follows a retired gunslinger who is persuaded by a young man to take on one last job: to kill two cowboys who disfigured a prostitute. However, he faces a ruthless sheriff who will stop at nothing to prevent him. The film is a deconstruction and critique of the Western genre, showing the harsh realities and consequences of violence. William Munny (Eastwood) is my favourite character in any Western film, he is so full of layers of hatred and remorse (a big ass onion). It is a marvel to watch the film unfold. Not many films make you question who the hero and protagonist is as many times as this one!

Tried to put on my James Earl Jones and deliver a poem I wrote - you be the judge!

Tombstone (1993)


Directed by George P. Cosmatos and starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, and more, this is a blockbuster western that depicts the events of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and its aftermath. It focuses on the friendship and rivalry between Wyatt Earp, a retired lawman, and Doc Holliday, a gambler and gunslinger. The film is a thrilling and entertaining spectacle that features some of the best performances and dialogue in the genre. The cast all nail their respective roles but Val Kilmer will forever be etched into your mind for his portrayal of Doc Holliday.

True Grit (2010)


Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin, this is a remake of the 1969 film based on the novel by Charles Portis. It follows a 14-year-old girl who hires a drunken and gruff U.S. Marshal to help her track down her father's killer. The film is a faithful adaptation of the source material, with witty dialogue, memorable characters, and stunning visuals. Many people cringed when they heard the Coen brothers were dusting off a True Classic. Is it better than the original? Well, that's up to you, I for one thought it was fantastic. The chemistry between Bridges and Steinfeld holds the film together beautifully.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read. Please leave a comment on your thoughts, we'd love to hear from you!

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