25 Best Westerns of All Time, Ranked


The Western genre has been a defining hallmark of cinema ever since it first rose to prominence as far back as the 1930s. Reaching its pinnacle in the 50s and 60s, it became emblematic of American film with screen icons like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Gary Cooper prolific stars of the genre. However, with the advent of Italy’s spaghetti Westerns, which surged in popularity through the 60s, the Western has become a cherished pillar of cinema’s identity on the global stage.

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One of the strengths of the Western, and the reason for its evergreen timelessness, has been its willingness to constantly evolve, with each new generation of filmmakers able to re-align the genre to contemporary sensitivities. As such, the Westerns’ greatest films span across the better part of a century. From pioneering classics of the 30s and 40s to modern-day iterations of the genre, and everything in between, the 25 best Westerns of all time make up some of cinema’s most iconic and enduring achievements.

25 ‘My Darling Clementine’ (1946)

Director: John Ford

Image via 20th Century Fox

John Ford’s take on the legend of Wyatt Earp (played in this case by Henry Fonda), My Darling Clementine might just be the acclaimed filmmaker’s most underrated movie. Fleshing out the story behind the famous O.K. Corral shootout, it follows Earp as he arrives in Tombstone with his brothers, only to awaken the next morning to find one of them dead and their cattle stolen. While the Earp brothers seek revenge, Wyatt sparks a romantic interest in Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), the former lover of Doc Holliday (Victor Mature).

Fonda turned in a truly iconic cowboy performance while Mature had a career-best outing as the ailing Doc Holliday. With the film displayed in the brand of epic, cinematic grandiosity that defined many of John Ford’s greatest pictures, it remains a true Western classic and one of the best depictions of Wyatt Earp ever put to screen.

My Darling Clementine
Release Date
December 2, 1946

Director
John Ford

Cast
Henry Fonda , Linda Darnell , Victor Mature , Cathy Downs , Walter Brennan

Runtime
97 Minutes

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24 ‘Compañeros’ (1970)

Director: Sergio Corbucci

A Swedish arms dealer and a Mexican revolutionary surrender.
Image via Tritone Filmindustria

While Sergio Corbucci was typically known for the confronting sense of violence he brought to spaghetti Western cinema, his 1970 film, Compañeros, was a masterful blending of comedy and Western. Essentially a buddy movie, it follows a Swedish arms dealer and a Mexican peon as they are dispatched to reclaim an intellectual leader of the revolution from an American prison. Hilarious misadventures aplenty ensue, while the duo are also tracked by a one-handed gunslinger harboring a vengeful fury.

With genre icons Franco Nero and Tomas Milian occupying the starring roles, Compańeros boasted a vibrant energy that saw it go from Western to comedy to all-out action on a whim. There is a degree of ridiculous excess to Compańeros which is perfectly balanced against its narrative progression to be an exuberantly fun viewing experience for Western lovers.

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23 ‘Shane’ (1953)

Director: George Stevens

Shane (Alan Ladd) wears a light hat and jacket as he rides on horseback on a sunny day.
Image via Paramount Pictures

A Western classic that was catapulted back into mainstream consciousness with its appearance in, and influence on, 2017’s superhero hit Logan, Shane is a brilliant and contemplative example of the genre. Set in 1880s Wyoming, it follows the titular bounty hunter as he arrives in a small town and begins working as a farmhand. As Shane (Alan Ladd) befriends the family who employ him, he begins dreaming of a quieter life on the homestead, before the arrival of a ruthless cattle baron forces the gunslinger to take up arms once more.

One of the most influential films in Western cinema, its tale of a violent man hoping to settle into some normality and peace only to return to his brutal ways for the greater good is one which has been replicated countless times. Few films, however, have done it with as much pathos as Shane. Rich with gorgeous views that embody the Old West, Shane won Best Cinematography at the Oscars while also earning a further five nominations.

Shane
Release Date
April 23, 1953

Director
George Stevens

Cast
Jean Arthur , Van Heflin , Jack Palance

Runtime
118m

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22 ‘True Grit’ (2010)

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

An old, eye-patch wearing gunslinger kneels beside a wounded girl, aiming his gun up into the snowy nighttime air.
Image via Paramount Pictures

An exceptionally rare case where a remake surpasses the original film, the Coen Brothers‘ re-creation of the 1969 John Wayne classic was masterful. With young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) desperate to avenge her murdered father, she enlists the crotchety, drunken US Marshall veteran Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her bring the culprit to justice while insisting that she accompanies him on his journey.

True Grit represented the first pure-genre film by the Coens. It was an exercise they excelled in as well, with True Grit perfectly capturing the atmosphere of the Old West while drawing terrific performances from the talented cast. In addition to being one of the best Western movies of the 21st century, it also stands as one of the best movies of 2011, one which received 10 Academy Award nominations.

True Grit
Release Date
December 22, 2010

Director
Ethan Coen , Joel Coen

Runtime
110

21 ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller’ (1971)

Director: Robert Altman

Julie Christie and Warren Beatty as Constance Miller and John McCabe in McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Image via Warner Bros.

Described as an « anti-Western, » McCabe & Mrs. Miller abandoned more flashy, cinematic ideas of the Old West and was more invested in depicting the way people actually lived. Directed by Robert Altman, it follows gambler John McCabe (Warren Beatty) as he arrives in a quiet mining town and opens a brothel. While many of the townsfolk are charmed by the enterprising newcomer, cockney prostitute Constance Miller (Julie Christie) is awake to his facade and makes herself his business partner.

A revisionist Western decades before the introspective subgenre became a trending idea, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is viewed by many to be among the greatest Westerns of all time. Bereft of macho heroism and suave shootouts, its focus on ordinary yet complicated people in a brutal though romanticized era remains a fresh take on the genre even more than 50 years since its release.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Release Date
July 8, 1971

Runtime
120 minutes

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20 ‘3:10 to Yuma’ (2007)

Director: James Mangold

Outlaw gunslinger Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) aims his revolver in a field.
Image via Lionsgate

While it could be viewed as another Western remake that served as an improvement on the original film, James Mangold‘s 3:10 to Yuma is probably more adequately described as its own adaptation of Elmore Leonard‘s short story « Three-Ten to Yuma. » Making use of a brilliant cast, it follows small-time rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) who, desperate for money, agrees to help transport a dangerous outlaw, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), to the train station.

While there are plenty of twists and turns on the journey, 3:10 to Yuma isn’t so much a triumph for its story as much as it was celebrated for its effortlessly smooth presentation. Bale and Crowe were both magnificent in their starring roles, portraying the characters’ initial opposition with an understated sincerity which made the respect that evolved between the two men all the more compelling.

19 ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960)

Director: John Sturges

Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn in The Magnificent Seven
Image via United Artists

An adoring recreation of Akira Kurosawa‘s mesmerizing samurai epic Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven has become a true classic in its own right, one which maintained many of the Japanese film’s beats while adorning them in a cowboy aesthetic. A rousing tale of honor and camaraderie, it follows seven gunslingers who agree to help a poor Mexican village fight back against a group of bandits.

The film was largely defined by its incredible ensemble cast, with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburg as just some of the iconic actors appearing. With its rollicking score, conflicting character motivations, and emotionally arresting tale all feeding into the film’s overt though surprisingly earnest and welcoming masculinity, The Magnificent Seven remains just as triumphant a viewing experience today as it was way back in 1960.

The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Release Date
October 12, 1960

Director
John Sturges

Runtime
128 Minutes

18 ‘Django’ (1966)

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Django (Franco Nero) fires a large machine gun.
Image via Euro International Films

Beyond the films of Sergio Leone, there would be few spaghetti Westerns as iconic as 1966’s Django. Co-written and directed by Corbucci, it follows a lone gunslinger who drags a coffin behind him everywhere he goes. When he stumbles into a border town divided by Mexican bandits and an early Ku Klux Klan faction, he immerses himself in the struggle between the two factions.

While the film initially earned some negative reviews on account of its strong violence, it has since come to be viewed as one of the best spaghetti Westerns of all time. Its ability to mix the genre’s sense of style with a gritty story in which no one emerges redeemed (or in one piece) made it a strikingly brutal Western that has long been celebrated for its amoral lens. That being said, Corbucci’s venomous disdain for fascists is made apparent with one particularly frenetic shootout scene.

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17 ‘Stagecoach’ (1939)

Director: John Ford

John Wayne riding a stagecoach and looking out the window in Stagecoach.
Image via United Artists

After working prolifically through the late 20s and the entirety of the 1930s, John Wayne finally got his big break in the now-revered Western classic, Stagecoach. Set in the 1880s, it follows the clashing personalities aboard a stagecoach bound for Lordsburg, New Mexico. With a drunk, a philosophizer, a prostitute, and Wayne’s vengeful outlaw, the Ringo Kid, among the travelers, their trek sees the nine passengers begin to understand one another as the ever-present threat of an Apache attack hangs heavy over their voyage.

A universal story about human interaction, Stagecoach has managed to both transcend the Western genre and become one of the finest examples of it. It made exceptional use of the striking views of Monument Valley – making the location a staple of Western cinema for decades to come – while also displaying Hollywood legend John Ford at his film-making best. A highlight of the astonishing year 1939 was for film, Stagecoach has become a timeless achievement in cinematic storytelling.

Stagecoach
Release Date
March 2, 1939

Director
John Ford

Runtime
1 hr 36 min

16 ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ (1976)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood shooting with a gun in each hand in The Outlaw Josey Wales
Image via Warner Bros

One of the genre’s greatest stars, Clint Eastwood‘s service to Western cinema has perhaps never been more evident than it was in The Outlaw Josey Wales, a film in which he directed and starred. A revenge thriller dressed up as a Western, it follows a Missouri farmer who embarks on a quest for revenge when his wife and son are murdered by Union soldiers. Joining a Confederate guerrilla unit to get closer to his target, he becomes a notorious and feared gunslinger.

While a gritty and grimy picture that hearkens back to Eastwood’s work on the Dollars Trilogy, The Outlaw Josey Wales has more sensitivity on display and also doubles as an effective and damning anti-war film. With a sharper sense of humanity and more regard for the consequences of violence, it can be viewed as an evolutionary step in the context of Eastwood’s career in Western cinema, as well as a powerful film in its own right.

The Outlaw Josey Wales
Release Date
June 30, 1976
Cast
Clint Eastwood , Chief Dan George , Sondra Locke , Bill McKinney , John Vernon , Paula Trueman

Runtime
135 minutes

15 ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964)

Director: Sergio Leone

A drifter cowboy sips water from a well while scowling in the harsh summer heat.
Image via Unidis

In addition to being one of the greatest trilogies ever made, Sergio Leone‘s Dollars Trilogy also serves as a major influence on Western cinema over the past 60 years. Another film that took inspiration from the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, A Fistful of Dollars was a Western re-imagining of the Japanese director’s 1962 picture, Yojimbo. It follows Eastwood’s nameless protagonist as he arrives in a town split by two feuding criminal factions and plays the gangs against each other.

With a low budget, few English-speaking actors, and a relative unknown in Clint Eastwood starring, the film seemed doomed to fail. However, its lack of polish gave it a gritty authenticity that America’s blockbuster Westerns lacked, and the rougher aesthetic was complemented by a grimier story and an out-for-himself anti-hero who remains the best gunslinger in film. A Fistful of Dollars‘ unexpected financial success saw it become a pioneer of spaghetti Western cinema, as well as one of the best movies the subgenre has to offer.

A Fistful of Dollars
Release Date
January 18, 1964

Director
Sergio Leone , Monte Hellman
Cast
Clint Eastwood , Marianne Koch , Gian Maria Volonte , Wolfgang Lukschy , Sieghardt Rupp , Joseph Egger

Runtime
99

14 ‘The Searchers’ (1956)

Director: John Ford

Looking out a doorway, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) walks off into a barren desert.
Image via Warner Bros.

John Wayne has become a cinematic icon for his trademark heroism and chivalry, but The Searchers is viewed by many to be his greatest picture because of his against-type performance. Wayne portrays Ethan Edwards, a Civil War veteran who returns home to find his family murdered, and his niece abducted by a Comanche tribe. Refusing to give up on the young girl, Ethan and his nephew set out on a rescue mission that spans years.

The Searchers cut deeper into the fabric of Western tropes than most other movies even thought of, addressing the violent characters and underlying racism the genre often exhibited casually. Nothing evinced this more powerfully than Wayne’s career-best performance as the openly racist and viciously spiteful protagonist. In many respects, The Searchers is an even better film to watch today, as people’s understanding of topics like racism, violence, and frontier life is more mature and better informed.

The Searchers
Release Date
May 26, 1956

Director
John Ford
Cast
John Wayne , Jeffrey Hunter , Vera Miles , Ward Bond , Natalie Wood

Runtime
119 minutes

13 ‘High Noon’ (1952)

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Gary Cooper standing in a saloon with a group of men behind him in High Noon
Image via United Artists

A rather contentious film upon release, High Noon was met with fiercely mixed reviews as a complete subversion of Western tropes, but it has come to be revered as one of the most commanding and daring films in the genre. Gary Cooper stars as Will Kane, a newlywed marshal whose plans of settling down are disrupted when he learns a freed criminal he imprisoned is coming to town for revenge. Kane’s attempts to form a posse to fight with him falter as the townsfolk reject him or flee.

The tale of one man, cast out by his own community, and forced to go into battle alone stoked the ire of many. John Wayne even described the film as « the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen ». The conjecture is made all the more intriguing considering High Noon‘s screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was blacklisted for having Communist sympathies. Over 70 years on, though, High Noon is a universally celebrated movie that is admired as one of the earliest revisionist Westerns. It won four Academy Awards from seven nominations.

High Noon
Release Date
June 9, 1952

Director
Fred Zinnemann

Cast
Gary Cooper , Thomas Mitchell , Lloyd Bridges , Katy Jurado , Grace Kelly , Otto Kruger

Runtime
85

12 ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969)

Director: Sam Peckinpah

William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, and Warren Oats in The Wild Bunch
Image via Warner Bros.

The barnstorming breakout of director Sam Packinpah, The Wild Bunch was as shocking as it was sensational, becoming a critically applauded hit shrouded in controversy. An ultra-violent masterpiece, it follows a crew of aging outlaws looking to make one last big score before retiring as the world around them rapidly changes. However, the heist turns out to be an ambush that sees the gunmen flee to Mexico, where they cross paths with a vicious general in the Mexican Federal Army.

Boasting a wide cast of characters which ranged from sadistic villains to remorseful killers, The Wild Bunch made for a more mature and nuanced Western than many that had come before it. Its contemplation on, and skewering of, violence as a spectacle, and what that makes of an audience, was as relentless as it was brutal. Its capacity to affect audiences has diluted little over the decades, with the film earning universal praise retrospectively.

The Wild Bunch
Release Date
June 19, 1969

Director
Sam Peckinpah

Runtime
135 Minutes

11 ‘Rio Bravo’ (1959)

Director: Howard Hawks

John Wayne and Angie Dickinson stand in a hotel room of a saloon in 'Rio Bravo' (1959)
Image via Warner Bros.

Another of John Wayne’s classic films, Rio Bravo was cited as being his and director Howard Hawks retort to the aforementioned High Noon. Wayne stars as John T. Chance, a small-town sheriff whose arrest of a local cattle baron for murder sees the crook’s vicious gang ride into town to break him out of prison. In response, Chance enlists the aid of the town drunk, a young gunslinger, and a crotchety old man to defend the town and hold the criminals accountable.

An embracing of all that was glorious about the American Westerns of the 50s and 60s, Rio Bravo had the honorable underdog heroes fighting for what was right against a wave of uncivilized evil. Boasting an all-star cast which included Angie Dickinson, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Walter Brennan, it is a true icon of American cinema. It also helped popularize the siege movie, with John Carpenter stating it inspired his cult classic Assault on Precinct 13.

Rio Bravo
Release Date
April 4, 1959

Director
Howard Hawks
Cast
John Wayne , Dean Martin , Ricky Nelson , Angie Dickinson , Walter Brennan

Runtime
141 Minutes

10 ‘The Great Silence’ (1968)

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Jean-Louis Trintignant as Gordon/Silence in The Great Silence
Image via 20th Century Fox

Widely regarded as Sergio Corbucci’s greatest-ever film, The Great Silence exchanged the barren waste of the frontier for raging blizzards in Utah. It follows a mute gunman known as Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as he seeks vengeance for the murder of his parents. His vendetta sees him cross paths with a young widow who asks him to help her avenge her own loss, thus seeing Silence stand with a group of outlaws against a savage gang of bounty hunters.

Bereft of sentimentality or any form of glamorization, The Great Silence is famous for its violent and bleak portrayal of the West, and the ruthless nature of the lawlessness which defined it. Its coarse tone and wintery setting ensure it remains a unique Western film even today, while its vicious conclusion solidifies it as one of the genre’s most uncompromisingly brutal pictures.

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9 ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (1969)

Director: George Roy Hill

Paul Newman as Cassidy and Robert Redford as Sundance on horseback turning to face the camera in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Image via 20th Century Studios

One of the best aspects of the Western genre is the interesting and complex characters it creates, whether they are fictional or, in the case of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, mythicized versions of actual people. Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) serves as the quick-thinking leader of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang, with the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) as his trusty right-hand man. However, when the crew’s train robbery goes bad, the two outlaws must flee to Bolivia to evade the law.

The titular duo makes for one of the greatest pairings in cinematic history, with Newman and Redford’s incredible chemistry the defining quality of the film. Also imbued with some excellent action sequences, a rewarding love story, strong comedic instincts, and an unforgettable ending, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a highlight of 1960s American cinema which revolutionized what a Western could be.

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8 ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ (1962)

Director: John Ford

A cowboy and a gunslinger argue in a diner with their hands on their guns as a waiter stands behind them watching on.
Image via Paramount Pictures

The notion of Western heroes and quick-drawing cowboys has become something of a modern American myth. Few movies have delved into the difference between history in earnest and the great American fable of the Old West quite like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance which followed U.S. Senator Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) as he and his family attend the funeral of a humble rancher, Tom Doniphon (John Wayne). With questions asked as to why a Senator would be there, Stoddard speaks to the media about his old friend.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was more considered than the average Western, and showcased an enticing eagerness to contemplate the nature and identity of the genre. It was the second last of 14 films Wayne and John Ford worked on as star and director and it has become an icon of Western cinema, enduring as one of America’s greatest-ever movies.

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7 ‘For a Few Dollars More’ (1965)

Director: Sergio Leone

Two bounty hunters stand side by side, with one wielding a rifle while the other stands unarmed.
Image via United Artists

The second film of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, For a Few Dollars More sees Clint Eastwood reprising his role as the poncho-wearing Man with No Name, while Lee Van Cleef entered the fray as his unlikely ally. It centers on the uneasy bond between a bounty hunter and a former army officer as they pursue El Indio (Gian Maria Volonté), a cold-blooded bank robber, murderer, and rapist who is at large after being broken out of prison by his gang.

Few Westerns were able to realize grizzled gunslingers quite like Leone’s Dollars Trilogy and, where so many of the greatest examples of the genre have subverted or challenged violence as a central trope, For a Few Dollars More actively embraced it. The result was a heart-racing, engrossing, and intense film that made outstanding use of Ennio Morricone‘s sublime score to be a glorious display of spaghetti Western cinema.

For a Few Dollars More
Release Date
May 10, 1965

Director
Sergio Leone
Cast
Clint Eastwood , Lee Van Cleef , Gian Maria Volonte , Mara Krupp , Luigi Pistilli , Klaus Kinski

Runtime
132

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6 ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948)

Director: John Huston

Humphrey Bogart as Dobbs and Tim Holt as Curtin in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Image via Warner Bros.

It’s a big call considering he also made The Maltese Falcon, but the 1948 Western adventure film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre could be John Huston‘s greatest picture. Set in 1920s Mexico, it follows two American drifters who, having fallen on unfortunate times, team-up with a veteran prospector and trek into the Sierra Madre in search of gold. While they find the treasure they seek, they also find great dangers in the form of lurking bandits and the growing distrust within their own little gang.

In addition to being a tremendous Western, The Maltese Falcon also stands as a gripping psychological thriller and a dazzling adventure movie. Hollywood icon Humphrey Bogart turned in a career-best performance, while it also saw Huston win the only Oscars of his career (Best Director and Best Screenplay). Despite the story being re-worked multiple times, none of its remakes have come close to surpassing it.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Release Date
January 24, 1948
Cast
Humphrey Bogart , Walter Huston , Tim Holt , Bruce Bennett , Barton MacLane

Runtime
126 Minutes

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