Westerns Film Guide: Overview

*Last Updated: 2/16/2023
You can find my Top 10 Essential Western Films Here HERE
You can find my Greatest Western Actions Scenes of All-time list HERE

To keep my Top 10 Essentials list to something manageable and readable, I excluded a lot of other possible lists I wanted to create. For instance, how would I rank the Eastwood films I've seen? What Western "classics" do I think are the most overrated? How would I rank the best musical scores from Westerns? That's what this post is for. Scroll through the following overview of the Western genre and remember that while I was able to watch well over fifty of the most talked about Westerns, I didn't watch everything in the genre. There is a lot I missed - this isn't meant to be comprehensive. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. Is there a glaring omission here?

  • Brutal Reality of Life on the Plains: The Homesman (2014)
  • Nihilism Behind the Moralist Veneer of the West: The Wild Bunch (1969)
  • Gunfighter Myth vs. Reality: Unforgiven (1992)
  • Cattle Drive / Settling the West: Red River (1948)
  • Fur Trapping / Wilderness Survival: The Revenant (2015)
  • Life of the Upper Plains Indians: Dances with Wolves (1990)
  • Mountain Man Living: Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
  • The Gold Rush: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) (hon. ment. to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)
  • Civilization vs. Barbarism: The Proposition (2006)
  • River Rapids Sequence: How the West Was Won (1962)
  • Buffalo Hunt: Dances with Wolves (1990)
  • Train Robbery: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
  • Best “Wyatt Earp” Movie: Tombstone (1993)
  • Best Exploration of Masculinity: The Power of the Dog (2021)
  • Best Western Character: Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993)
  • Western Musical: Oklahoma! (1955)
  • Animated Western: Rango (2011)

  • 1990's Dances with Wolves - Romantic Western Score LINK
    • Runner-Up: 1989's Lonesome Dove LINK
  • 1960's Dollars Trilogy - Stylized Western Score LINK
  • 2014's The Homesman  - Contemporary Western Score LINK
  • 1980's The Long Riders - Traditional / Folk Western Score LINK
  • 1960's The Magnificent Seven - Classic Western Score LINK 
    • Runner Up: 1991's City Slickers LINK

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): Despite the pleasant chemistry and jokes between the two titular leads, this Western feels rather aimless, rambling, and unable to justify glorifying thieves that end up taking the lives of many. There are a handful of fun moments and some nice dialogue, but everything feels rather pointless since there’s never any genuine goal or obstacle to overcome other than don’t get caught. I don't get the "classic" status this film gets.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966): A grossly overrated Western that never comes close to justifying its three-hour runtime. Like Sergio’s Once Upon a Time in the West, this film is drenched in memorable style (spaghetti Western art direction and that iconic Morricone score) but lacks genuine substance. I don’t think there’s a single thing this film does better than the two previous entries. If anything it doubles down on all the worst parts of the first two. This is the Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End of the “Dollars Trilogy” – tons of ambition, drenched in the style of the first two, but it never feels substantive or clicks like the earlier ones. The plot is a cat and mouse chase for confederate gold with the Civil War in the backdrop. The narrative always feels like a continual wheel spinning to me and I never remember it long after watching. The shootouts are dramatic and iconic (but not shot as ‘action’ scenes), and like the previously mentioned style, are the saving grace of this three bore fest.
  • Once Upon a Time in the West (1968): My thoughts on this one are similar The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The opening standoff sequence might be the most famous one in the entire film & it's a good bellwether for how you will like the rest of the film...I'm not a fan. I concede the great cinematography, art direction, & concept behind it, but I think it's ultimately just too indulgent. For more, check out my live tweeting during my recent viewing.

*For commentary on these three films, see the Top 25 List
  • The Homesman (2014): See my commentary in the Top 10 Essential Western Films Here HERE
  • Open Range (2003): A solid Western that plays like the reverse of Shane about free grazers clashing with a town cattle baron told with a sense of romanticism. At times that romanticism can be a strength (the sweeping vistas, the wholesome dialogue and morality, the score) but it can also be a detriment; none moreso than the stilted and boring romantic relationship between Costner and Benning. In the end, it’s a nice Western, a little long, that stands out mostly for its excellent finale shootout.
  • The Proposition (2006): This Western takes place in the Australian "West" - as British soldiers were looking to tame and civilize the frontier there. Ray Winstone plays Capt. Stanley who is charged with capturing the notorious outlaw Arthur Burns. To get Burns, Stanley captures his two outlaw brothers first, and offers Charlie (played by Guy Pearce) a pardon and freedom for his younger brother Mikey if he betrays his oldest brother Arthur. The cat and mouse game Stanley is playing becomes an affront to the civilized town folk who want all the brothers punished, but Stanley knows its really Arthur who is the ring leader. In one powerfully affecting sequence, the town demands that Mikey be whipped, but when it becomes too bloody and severe, they turn away. This is a solid Australian Western that explores the thin line between our barbaric nature and civilization.

*That I've seen
1. Unforgiven (1992) A
2. High Plains Drifter (1973) B
3. Pale Rider (1985) B-
4. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) B-
5. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) B-
6. For a Few Dollars More (1965) B-
7. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) C

*That I've seen
1. Red River (1948) B+
2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) B+
3. The Shootist (1976) B-
4. The Searchers (1956) B-
5. Rio Bravo (1959) B-
6. Stagecoach (1939) B-
7. Fort Apache (1948) C+
8. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) C+
9. True Grit (1969) C
10. Rio Grande (1950) C-

Including Comedy, Modern, & Contemporary Style Westerns

Young Guns (1988)

81. City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold (1994)
80. Cimarron (1931)
79. Rio Grande (1950)
78. The Lone Ranger (2013)
77. Young Guns (1988)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

76. Wild Bill (1995)
75. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
74. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) 
73. True Grit (1969) 
72. An American Tale: Fievel Goes West (1991)
71. Appaloosa (2008)
70. The Big Country (1958)
69. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
68. Heaven’s Gate (1980)
67. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
66. One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
65. Silverado (1985)
64. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

63. El Mariachi (1992)
62. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
61. Wyatt Earp (1994)
60. Man of the West (1958)
59. My Darling Clementine (1946)
58. Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)
57. Fort Apache (1948)
56. The Magnificent Seven (2016)
55. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
54. Almost Heroes (1998)

The Searchers (1956)

53. Desperado (1995)
52. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
51. The Quick and the Dead (1995)
50. Stagecoach (1939)
49. The Hateful Eight (2015)
48. 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
47. Rio Bravo (1959)
46. Pat Garret & Billy the Kid (1973)
45. The Long Riders (1980)
44. For a Few Dollars More (1965)
43. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
42. How the West Was Won (1962)
41. The Harder They Fall (2021)
40. The Searchers (1956)
39. Blazing Saddles (1974)
38. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
37. The Shootist (1976)
36. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
35. Tombstone (1993)
34. News of the World (2020)
33. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
32. Pale Rider (1985)
31. Shanghai Noon (2000)

The Three Amigos (1986)

30. Oklahoma! (B) 1955
29. The Three Amigos (B) 1986
28. 3:10 to Yuma (B) 2007
27. True Grit (B) 2010
26. Shane (1953)
25. High Plains Drifter (1973)
24. Lonesome Dove (1989)
23. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
22. Open Range (2003)
21. Hostiles (2017)

High Noon (1952)

20. Hell or High Water (2016)
19. Rango (2011)
18. The Proposition (2005)
17. Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
16. High Noon (1952)
15. The Power of the Dog (2021)
14. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
13. Dances with Wolves (1990)
12. City Slickers (1991)
11. Django Unchained (2012)
10. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
9. Red River (1948)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

8. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
7. The Wild Bunch (1969)
6. The Homesman (2014)

Sicario (2015)

5. Wind River (2017)
4. Sicario (2015)
3. The Revenant (2015)
2. No Country for Old Men (2007)
1. Unforgiven (1992)

  • Broken Arrow (1950)
  • The Gunfighter (1950)
  • Winchester ’73 (1950)
  • Bend of the River (1952)
  • Apache (1953)
  • The Naked Spur (1953)
  • The Far Country (1954)
  • Vera Cruz (1954)
  • The Kentuckian (1955)
  • The Man From Laramie (1955)
  • The Last Wagon (1956)
  • Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
  • Ride the High Country (1962)
  • Major Dundee (1965)
  • Custer of the West (1967)
  • Cat Ballou (1968)
  • The Scalphunters (1968)
  • Lawman (1971)
  • Ulzana’s Raid (1972)
  • Tom Horn (1980)
  • Maverick (1994)
  • Wagons East! (1994)