CindyJean's "Top 10 Western Movies" List

Mar 25, 2004

The Bottom Line Who's the best in the west? Read on to find out!


My husband and I enjoy a lot of different movies, but one of our favorite genres has got to be the western. A good western has action, adventure, romance and even a laugh or two.

Many people think that westerns are poorly done, stamped out movies with little to make them worth watching, but I’d have to say they’re wrong. While some may be of lower quality, a good western rivals any other genre around.

With that in mind, I’m going to share with you my favorite westerns!

#10–Rustler’s Rhapsody

Tom Berenger stars as Rex O’Herlihan, the Singing Cowboy in a hilarious western comedy that takes a look at what a ‘B’ western might look like if it were made today (1985). A star-studded supporting cast (Sela Ward, Marilou Henner, and Andy Griffith to name a few) adds immeasurable humor to this good-natured mocking of bad movies. You’d be hard pressed to find a better spoof in any genre.

Brief Synopsis
Rex O’Herlihan ‘knows’ the future. Well, not in detail but in general. He knows all about western towns because they’re all the same. All western towns have the ‘pretty but somehow asexual new school marm,’ ‘the cattle baron,’ and ‘the railroad coming through.’ It’s okay though, because the good guy always wins–or at least the most good ‘good guy.’

#9--Support Your Local Sheriff

What do you get when you have a new sheriff in town, taking the job while he’s “on his way to Australia?” The hilarious western comedy “Support Your Local Sheriff” starring James Garner. Adding to this movie’s comic value are the supporting roles of the village idiot-turned-deputy played by the late Jack Elam and the bumbling bad guy played by the perennial villain Bruce Dern.

Brief Synopsis
While on his way to Australia, Jason McCullah (James Garner) stops off to do a little fund-raising. He takes a job as sheriff and gets a little gold prospecting in on the side. Setting out to clean up the town, he takes on the Danby family led by Pa (Walter Brennan) and embarrassed by Joe (Bruce Dern).

#8–Dances With Wolves

Back before Kevin Costner lost his mind and started producing REALLY bad movies (i.e. “The Postman” and “Waterworld”) he made this little gem, the Oscar award winning tale of unlikely bonds. It’s certainly one of Kevin’s best movies!

Brief Synopsis
A Civil War soldier, Lt. John Dunbar, requests duty on the western frontier, only to find himself assigned to a deserted post. Gradually Lt. Dunbar becomes accepted by the local Sioux tribe and begins to shed his ‘white man’ ways in favor of the Indian way of life.

“Maverick” (1994) is a remake of sorts. It stars Mel Gibson in the lead role of Bret Maverick made famous in the late 1950s and early 1960s by James Garner. Don’t worry, as James isn’t left out of this one. James Garner plays Marshal Zane Cooper, one of the most respected lawmen of the time. Add Jodie Foster as Mrs. Annabelle Bransford and you have an all-star cast that will keep you in stitches.

Brief Synopsis
Bret Maverick is a card player heading for the game of a lifetime, a $500,000 pot at stake. The problem? He’s a few thousand dollars short of the entry fee ($25,000) and is trying to collect the money owed to him by various characters. Add to the fiasco Mrs. Bransford and Marshal Cooper, whom are all headed to the same game.

Mel Gibson, as always is fantastic in his role, but the real shining star of the movie is Jody Foster, who turns in an impeccable performance as a spoiled southern belle.

#6–Shanghai Noon
In this movie, East meets West in a big way. Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson star in an unlikely pairing of buddies who must rescue the princess to save the day. I love this movie because it is truly unique and has a substantial element of humor, while having all the actors deliver solid performances.

Brief Synopsis
When Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu) is kidnaped from the Forbidden City, Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) asks to be allowed to help in the rescue, feeling partly to blame for her kidnaping. In the American west, where Pei Pei has been taken, he teams up with Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson) to go after the girl. For Chon it’s a mission of honor, for Roy it’s all about the gold, for the audience it’s all about the laughs. Hounded by a psychotic marshal and a bloodthirsty Chinese ‘businessman, these unlikely heroes have their work cut out for them.

John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara–one of the greatest on-screen combinations ever to grace the silver screen. What more is needed to make a western great? When you add to it the hilarious story of misunderstandings, presumed affairs, Indian wars and a beloved daughter’s homecoming you have a great story for these equally great actors to bring to life.

Brief Synopsis
With daughter Becky returning home to McLintock, Colorado (named for her daddy), Kathrine (Maurine O’Hara) has returned from her self-imposed exile to try to convince G.W. (John Wayne) to let ‘Rebecca’ live with her, but G.W.’s having nothing to do with that idea. G.W. has his hands full avoiding an all-out Indian war, keeping his daughter from falling for a ‘dude’, and getting to the bottom of why Katie has left him. The chase scene that is the culmination of this even will have you laughing out loud!

#4–Young Guns II
Seldom is a sequel equal to or better than the first installment, but “Young Guns II” far outshines “Young Guns.” This movie has action, adventure, betrayal and honor–all the hallmarks of a top-notch western. It’s also good for a few laughs, at just the right moments, to lighten the intensity of this tale.

Brief Synopsis
After the Lincoln County merchant war, Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez) and Pat Garrett (William Peterson) ‘make a living’ in the cattle business–rustling that is. After irritating all the wrong people, including John Chisum (played to perfection by James Coburn–what a voice!), the governor of New Mexico decides that you need a rat to catch a rat. Hence the idea to offer the position of sheriff to Pat Garrett in hopes of bringing in Billy. A game of cat and mouse ensues, with the audience left guessing whether or not Billy was actually killed that night at Ft. Sumpter.

#3–Lonesome Dove
What on earth could make a made for television mini-series one of the best westerns around? Normally made-for-TV means sub-part quality acting, directing, writing and more. In the case of “Lonesome Dove,” however, you get a top-notch cast who makes this epic novel by Larry McMurtry come to life.

Brief Synopsis
This is the story of two dear, but drastically different friends and the adventure of a lifetime. Capt. Woodrow F. Call (Tommy Lee Jones) gets the idea of driving cattle in his head, and cannot get rid of it. Soon he convinces Augustus ‘Gus’ McCrae (performance of a lifetime by Robert Duvall–no stranger to western movies) that they need to leave Lonesome Dove, Texas and go north to a land unspoiled and uncrowded. Gus and Call, along with their ragtag group of cowboys (including Call’s son–though he won’t admit it–played by Rick Shroeder) drive a herd of cattle north and face all manner of adversity. Not everyone will reach the final destination, but the trip is worth the risk!\

#2–The Shootist
In the twilight of John Wayne’s career, a movie came along that was perfect for him. Though not the original choice for the lead role, I cannot imagine an actor better suited. Knowing that this movie was likely to be John Wayne’s last film, actors–such greats as Jimmy Stewart, Lauren Bacall, and Ron Howard--lined up for the supporting roles, often working for much less than they otherwise would have. It was a fitting way for John Wayne to end his career–his swan song.

Brief Synopsis
John Bernard ‘J.B.’ Books (John Wayne) is an aging gunfighter diagnosed with cancer. He’s faced with two choices–die with an incredible amount of pain and very little dignity or find another way out. Even old Doc Hostetler (Jimmy Stewart) says that if he had Books’ courage he wouldn’t die that way. The only complication is that he’s become attached to the woman (Lauren Bacall) who runs the boarding house he stays in as well as her son (Ron Howard).

#1–The Cowboys
How could the #1 western movie on anyone’s list go to a movie starring anyone other than John Wayne? It can’t, plain and simple.

“The Cowboys” is a bit different role for John Wayne. He wasn’t the sole focus of the movie, and was actually almost a supporting character. It came at a time in his career when he had actually developed some acting ability. There are many places in the movie when John Wayne delivers his lines without uttering a word. The looks, the emotions, the ideas just seem to be evident in the way he carries himself.

While “True Grit” was a fine performance for John Wayne, winning him his Best Actor award at the 1969 Oscars, it does not hold a candle to the mastery he shows in “The Cowboys.”

Brief Synopsis
When a gold rush leaves him without any cattle hands to drive his cows to market, Wil Andersen (John Wayne) is forced to resort to hiring boys from the local schoolhouse. He’s pretty sure he won’t make it with any cows, but what choice does he have? Then his cook doesn’t even show up (got drunk on Sunday, married on Monday), so he’s left with a replacement–Jedediah Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Brown–the narrator from “Babe”).

Andersen and his ‘boys’ go through a lot of adversity on the trail, but they seem to be getting the job done. The problems come in when a group of bad men try to rustle the herd away from Wil and the boys, thinking it to be easy work. When the bad men kill Andersen (yes, John Wayne dies in this movie) they think they’re home free. It seems they underestimated Wil’s boys!

Honorable Mention

An American Tale: Fievel Goes West
I wanted to mention “An American Tale: Fievel Goes West” in here because while it’s not in my own Top 10 count, it is by far the best children’s western movie around. The engaging story of mice going west for a better life and working together to survive is top-notch. Added to the great story is the excellent voice casting, most notably having Jimmy Stewart do the voice of Wylie Burp, the greatest law dog in the West.


Now you have what I view to be the best of the best in the category of western movies. Please feel free to leave comments about what you view as my omissions.

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