Top 10 Best Western Movies Ever Made
Nov 24, 2009
The Bottom Line Here's the ten best western movies ever made! Movies with big landscapes, big men, and big gunfights.
Horses, 6-shooters, cowboys in white hats and villains in black hats. You can have a few indians here and there, and maybe even a cattle drive or a bank robbery --- but the horses and 6 shooters are absolute musts. Can't have a western without a good shootout and a ride into the sunset, can we?
A good western was the stuff of Saturday afternoon movies when I was a kid. You don't see as many good westerns being made as you used to, but they still come along every so often. It's not like the real heyday of western movies. Westerns were BIG in the 1950s. They've been around since the dawn of the silent movie era, but there were LOTS of them coming out every year during the 50s. The 50s was also the time of John Wayne --- one of the most popular actors in westerns. Clint Eastwood did quite a few westerns in the 60s and 70s, but in my opinion, it's John Wayne who rides tallest in the saddle, and he's my all-time favorite cowboy.
Figuring out my favorite westerns takes a bit more time. So many classics to choose from. Without further ado, these are my ten favorite western movies. Hope you like 'em too!
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As always, I like to count 'em up, starting with my very favorite western of all time...
1. Shane (1953)
Cowboy: Alan Ladd as Shane
Gun quote: "A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything."
Boys need their role models, and a young fella could do far worse than to worship a gentle-hearted gunslinger looking for some peace and quiet and good honest work. Alan Ladd is outstanding as Shane, the stranger who rides into the home and hearts of the Starretts --- homesteaders in a region where cattle ranchers view the newcomers as impediments to free, open grazing country. Change is inevitable, but the cattle barons won't go down without a fight --- especially when they can hire a badass gunslinger (Jack Palance) to do the fighting for them. Love the chemistry between Shane and Mrs. Starrett....love the hero worship of little Joey Starrett...love his echoing plaintive cries of "Shane! Come back, Shane!" at the end of the flick...an absolute masterpiece of the western genre!
2. Red River (1948)
Cowboy: John Wayne as Dunson
Gun quote: "There are only two things more beautiful than a gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good... Swiss watch?"
Cattle aren't fetching nearly the price in Texas that Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) would like, but Dunson hears tell that better prices can be had by driving the herd north along the Chisholm Trail to Missouri, where the railroad can efficiently get the cattle to market. The movie has great scenery, but it's mostly a psychological story about how relationships break down under stress. Dunson is the boss, pure and simple, and his hired hands soon find out that it's his way or the highway (except there's no highways and backing out of commitments once the drive is under way isn't going to set too well with the boss). Bigger than life characters, bigger than life scenery, and bigger than life soundtrack all team up to make this film one of the most powerful westerns ever to grace the silver screen.
3. The Searchers (1956)
Cowboy: John Wayne as Ethan
Gun quote: "Ethan will put a bullet in her brain. I tell ya, Martha would want him to."
Like any rather shifty southern gentleman, Ethan Edwards claims to have fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. After the war was over, he heads home to Texas where he spends too little time with his brother and nieces before Comanches raid the ranch and kidnap the nieces. Ethan teams up with Texas Rangers to go after the Comanches and get the girls back (this was in the days before "missing" photos on milk cartons). It would be a long trek through vast empty lands, filled only with heartache and conflicted passions. Magnificent landscapes give a feel of bigness and wide open spaces. Great flick!
4. The Wild Bunch (1969)
Cowboy: William Holden as Pike
Gun quote: "We've got to start thinking beyond our guns. Those days are over."
When the wild, wild west started becoming a kinder, gentler kind of country, the rough and tough needed to either adapt or to become extinct. Pike and his outlaw cohorts figure that they'll adapt --- AFTER robbing the railroad payroll. The movie opens with one of the most brutal gunfights ever before filmes, with gore galore and amazing close-ups, slow mo shots, and brilliant speed ups. Relentless bounty hunter chases ensue and not even refuge among a band of Mexican revolutionaries will stave off the inevitable (which of course, involves more brilliantly violent gunfights). Classic Peckinpah style with more blood than a Red Cross bloodmobile! Awesomely brutal!
5. The Ox-Bow Incident (1942)
Cowboy: Henry Fonda as Gil Carter
Gun quote: "Start somethin'. For every hole you make, I'll make two."
The best movies are always those that give us pause and make us think about hard questions. One of those hard questions is how to defuse "popular sentiment" that's just plain wrong. Ibsen explored those kinds of themes in "An Enemy of the People", and Walter Van Tilburg Clark explored the same kind of mob hysteria issues in this classic western. Henry Fonda is a feet-on-the-ground kind of cowpoke who rides into town along with his sidekick Art (Henry Morgan) just in time to get caught up in a vigilante mob looking for a scapegoat in a local murder. The mob finds three outsiders who will fit the bill just fine, and the three are promptly hung for the crime...no need for investigation or contemplation.
6. High Noon (1952)
Cowboy: Gary Cooper as Marshall Kane
Gun quote: "I've heard guns. My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn't help them any when the shooting started."
Being a peace-loving Quaker is all fine and good if you're selling oats, but it's no way to survive out in the wild, wild west. The Marshall's wife had better figure that out fast if she's ever going to live happily ever after with the man she loves. Thumping the bible for peace is all fine and good, but when push comes to shove, the good book doesn't end a gunfight nearly as quickly as a Colt Peacemaker. Violent bandits and a town full of cowards are just two of things that Marshall Kane would rather not have to face.
7. The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
Cowboy: Clint Eastwood as Blondie
Gun quote: "You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig."
What would a great 60's movie list be without a nod to the spaghetti western, that delightfully dark interpretation dished out by Sergio Leone. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was first in a 3-film sequence that would forever etch Clint Eastwood into the hearts and minds of gunfighter fans everywhere. It's a movie that exemplifies raw macho at its purest, with little extraneous dialog but plenty of dark scowls. It's a movie in which the draw of a gun and a double-cross will always speak louder than words.
8. High Plains Drifter (1973)
Cowboy: Clint Eastwood as "the stranger"
Knife quote (because it's better than any of the gun quotes): "You're gonna look mighty funny with that knife sticking out of your asss."
Classic 70s era western featuring Clint Eastwood as a mysterious stranger who will either be the town's salvation, or its annhilation. Maybe even both. The town is rife with corruption and cowardice, neither of which the strange rider seems to care for. It's a place that's not too safe for a an upright, straight-shooting cowboy ... but Eastwood's dark spirit might be just the thing to give the local mining company and its brutal minions a little taste of their own medicine.
9. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
Cowboy: John Wayne as Tom Doniphon
Gun quote: "Hey, pilgrim! You forgot your pop gun!"
Them low-down cattlemen! Only thing lower than a low-down cattleman in the wild west were the low-down skunks who did their dirty work! (That wouild be Lee Marvin as Liberty Valance --- a rough and tumble bully of a gunslinger who is used to getting what he wants and throwing other peoples' steaks where he darn well pleases.) A young peaceful lawyer comes to town and runs afoul of Liberty Valance, but miracle upon miracle, the lawyer manages to shoot down Valance like the dirty low down dog that he is. Or so it seems... Could there be more to the story than meets the eyes of all the eyewitnesses? Does John Wayne like the Talking Heads' song "Burning Down the House"? Watch this classic flick and find out why a man really does need a gun in these parts...
10. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Cowboy: Yul Brynner as Chris Adams
Gun quote: "I'll tell you what. Don't shoot the gun. Take the gun like this, and you use it like a club, all right?"
When a small farming village gets tired of being beat up and robbed by a gang of bandits, they decide to buy some guns...and a group of 7 gunfighters to use them (despite the "fair odds" of having at least 30 bandits on the other side of the gunsights). As they get used to village life, the gunfighters and farmers start bonding as they train for who knows what kind of bloody warfare. Eventually gunfire ensues, and eventually, good triumphs over evil and the meek inherit the village.
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There you have it! Ten classic films about right and wrong at the business end of a Colt .45 back in the days of the wild, wild west! Did I miss a couple of your favorite westerns? I do apoligize...but please, leave a few comments and toss your horse into the stable. I always love chattin' movies!!